Dean of the students

A&E catches up with indie rock progenitor Dean Wareham

Indie rock legend Dean Wareham stops by the Turf Club on Saturday.

Luz Gallardo

Indie rock legend Dean Wareham stops by the Turf Club on Saturday.

Grant Tillery

When Dean Wareham is in South Carolina, he eats fried bologna sandwiches.

He’s also partial to lettuce and Vegemite sandwiches, according to his wife and musical partner, Britta Phillips.

These two offbeat choices describe Wareham’s personality to a T — he’s an irreverent, magnetic rock ‘n’ roller who finds success going against the grain. His bands have been cult favorites for 25 years for their dark, tongue-in-cheek wordplay and dreamy melodies.

Phillips giggled when describing Wareham, who she finds bittersweet and balanced — similar to his music.

“He’s sweet and sour, beautiful and sad. And funny,” she said. “[Dean is] very healthy and normal as far as musicians go.”

Wareham’s equanimity has propelled his career; his bands Galaxie 500 and Luna (which Phillips joined as a bassist in 2000, before forming Dean & Britta after Luna’s breakup) set the sound for things to come, while also keeping an ear to the past with a Lou Reed-centric sound. Though a comparison to the Velvet Underground often gets slapped on Luna, Wareham is quick to dismiss it.

“I learned when touring with [them that] nobody sounds like the Velvet Underground,” he said in his soft-spoken New Zealand accent. “They have a drummer who stands up, a screeching viola player. Different people take — from the Jesus and Mary Chain to Sonic Youth to Galaxie 500 — different elements [of their sound].”

Wareham and Luna headlined several of Reed’s and the Velvet Underground’s tours in the 1990s, so it was natural that Salon commissioned him to write an elegy for Reed.

“It wasn’t a total shock, his death,” Wareham said. “I think back to the morning I heard about it and I thought, ‘Oh, well. That’s kind of expected.’ But then, I started listening to his songs, driving home from Las Vegas. We had just performed this show we do, ‘13 Most Beautiful… Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests,’ and [Reed is] one of the figures in the show — they’re frozen portrait films we set music to. On his final night, he was up there on stage with us in a sense.”

Reed’s legacy lives on through Wareham, who released his first solo album, “Dean Wareham,” in mid-March with help from Jim James of My Morning Jacket. James produced the album, but the sound is unmistakably Wareham — though it deviates from the snarky Reedian influences ingrained in his first two bands and, to some extent, Dean & Britta.

“Dean Wareham” echoes the sounds of ’70s Laurel Canyon, a creative hub in Los Angeles, and sounds like an introspective David Crosby or Warren Zevon record. The canyon influences are most pronounced in the second half of the album; “Love Is Not a Roof Against the Rain” sounds like it could be straight off CSNY’s “Déjà vu,” with its slow strums, dark melodies and hauntingly quiet vocals.

“Holding Pattern” gives a subtle nod to the sunny jangle and atmospheric hooks of the Mamas & the Papas. “I Can Only Give My All” keeps in mind the bleak, esoteric wordplay and radio-friendly riffs of Zevon, combined with driving guitars à la Fleetwood Mac. And “Happy & Free” could have easily been a song that Dennis Wilson sang in one of his happier moments.

These influences have likely become even more prominent in Wareham’s mind after his move last year to Los Angeles — in the “foothills near the Hollywood Bowl” — from his longtime home of Brooklyn.

“I moved out there because my teenage son moved there with his mother,” Wareham said. “I didn’t want to live on the opposite side of the country for the next four years.”

Despite embodying a too-cool-for-school New York beatitude, Wareham loves Los Angeles so far.

“It can be hideous and annoying, but so can Manhattan,” he said. “What we like about it is the weather. We missed the winter from hell.”

When he’s not making music and enjoying the idyllic L.A. weather, Wareham moonlights as a writer. He released his tell-all memoir, “Black Postcards: A Rock & Roll Romance,” in 2008, and he has kept busy writing essays for the Talkhouse and
Salon, where he recently went head-to-head with writer Rick Moody over Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories.”

“[Moody] posted a thing on Facebook saying that one of the worst records of the decade won best record [at the Grammy’s],” Wareham said. “And I was like, ‘What? That’s my favorite album of the decade!’”

Though Wareham downplays his writing credentials, he inevitably wins the battle because of his vast compendium of music knowledge combined with his experience on the stage.

As to where he’s going musically, mum’s the word.

“I have another project this year that I’m not allowed to talk about yet,” he said. “The next thing is that Britta’s going to finish her record — we’ll see if there’s still a music business next year!”


What: Dean Wareham
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Turf Club, 1601 W. University Ave., St. Paul
Cost: $15
Age: 21+