It’s hard not to have a natural groove when you’re from New Orleans. After all, it’s the Big Easy, the home of bourbon, bayous, beads and … jazzy funk. Although the sextet of seasoned musicians that form the funk-saturated jam band Galactic is not native to the city, soulful crooner Theryl “Houseman” DeClouet, guitarist Jeff Raines, bassist Robert Mercurio, drummer Stanton Moore, keyboardist Richard Vogel and saxophonist Ben Ellman effortlessly match their grooves to the laid-back pulse of their adopted New Orleans surroundings.

Galactic’s sound has been giving labels as diverse as the sound itself, ranging from “swamp-funk” to “acid-jazz” (read: mind-altering, not hydrochloric). Even these labels, general and inclusive as they may be, do not do justice to the genre-jumping influences audible in Galactic’s music.

Soul, jazz, and touches of rock and R&B flow effortlessly in and out of jams that have been a staple of the New Orleans music scene since 1994. In the style of like-minded musicians Medeski, Martain & Wood and Maceo Parker, Galactic weaves these sounds into a musical tapestry night in and night out.

As is common in the jam-band world, Galactic’s fan base is not built on radio play or outrageously expensive videos. The group’s mission of “spreading the funk” is accomplished by touring nonstop — not the sit-on-the-luxury-tour-bus-in-front-of-a-big-screen-TV type of touring but the sleep-on-a-friend’s-floor-neglect-a-shower type of touring.

When asked what the worst part of relentless touring is, in a recent interview with the Badger Herald, DeClouet responded with a chuckle. “Not sleeping in your own bed!”

This is a small sacrifice for a band that loves what it does. As DeClouet explained, “We try to bring New Orleans everywhere we go. That’s our mission. We want to keep it tight, keep it fun for the people who listen and the people who are doing it. We’re trying to just be happy and make music that the people will love.” Sold-out shows night after night have rewarded Galactic for its dedication to this mission.
Galactic has supplemented its solo tours by playing with many national acts, such as G. Love and the Special Sauce, The Roots and Widespread Panic. DeClouet commented on the experience of touring with Widespread Panic: “It was more or less like a family, one big happy family. They’re all-inclusive. They brought us out on our first really lengthy tour and we had a lot of people come out to the gigs.”

Three studio albums have also helped strengthen Galactic’s fan base. Coolin’ Off and Crazyhorse Mongoose were released in the late 1990s and strove to capture the essence of the band’s live grooves and improvised jams. The band began the new century by releasing its third album Late for the Future. Less a follow-up album and more a continuation of the grooves and jams of the first two albums, Late for the Future is slowly but surely creeping into the national consciousness.

Commenting on the evolution of the band’s sound since the release of Coolin’ Off, DeClouet noted, “I think it’s gotten a little richer and a little better because everyone is participating instrumentally and vocally now. We’re just trying to grow as much as possible. We’re trying to write stronger songs and be relevant in the business.”

Following on the heels of Late for the Future was Galactic’s first live album, We Love ’em Tonight: Live at Tipitinas. While the three studio albums represent a digitally polished and tight sound, We Love ’em Tonight truly captures the essence of Galactic at its best: live. As DeClouet explains, “Everybody always tells us we’re a live band, so what we tried to do was capture that essence at Tipitina.”

A successful album (or four) by no means warrants a break to bask in the glow of Galactic’s rising star. As always, the tour continues. This spring Galactic will venture out of its well-beaten touring paths in the South and into the funk-deprived Midwest, including a stop in Madison at the Barrymore Theatre April 12 and The Rave in Milwaukee April 13.

This is a far cry from the humid warmth of New Orleans, but with “swamp-funk” jams dancing around a theatre full of people grooving to the beats, with the band on stage fulfilling its mission, even Wisconsin can feel like the Big Easy.