“Earnest, to me, is a bad word.” Dean Wareham is reclining on a cream-colored couch in the offices of P-Vine, his Japanese record label, looking over a list of adjectives a popular Web site uses to describe his band, Luna. Curious, amused and slightly wary, he skims the list, eyebrows raised, quickly conceding that, sure, words like “dreamy,” or even “spacey,” might be fair assessments. But “earnest”? “I don’t know. Whenever I hear that word it makes me think ‘overserious,’ like early U2 or something, and that’s not us at all.”

It’s hard to tell if Luna is a “serious” rock band. At live performances, such as last week’s gig at Harajuku’s Astro Hall, the four-piece are often still and solemn. But then Wareham sings an almost nursery-rhyme-like stanza:

And now I realize I’m livin’ like a trucker does

Although I haven’t got the belly

And though she followed me from California all the way

I only wanna watch the telly

It’s difficult to judge whether Wareham hides his sincerity behind a veil of sarcasm, or the other way around. Yet when these contradictions gel in his flat, artless intonation — like a Shel Silverstein poem sung by Lou Reed — it no longer matters. He is oil and vinegar: separate, yet satisfying when taken together.

It’s no wonder Luna’s fan base began in the irony-embracing college music scene. “Yeah, [our albums] always go to No. 1 on college radio,” Wareham says, thoroughly unimpressed. “I don’t know how much that affects sales, though.” Luna’s 1994 album, “Bewitched,” he tells me, sold 100,000 copies in the United States. “But that’s peanuts to a major label. They want bands that sell a million records.”

That explains why their old imprint, Electra, decided to drop them in 1997. “Their culture changed around that time, I think,” he says. “It used to be that the A&R people made those decisions, and then it changed to radio people making those decisions.” Instead of sounding bitter, Wareham seems surprised they stayed on a major label for so long without ever providing a radio hit.

There were other chances at commercial success, he admits. Casual clothing giant, The Gap, approached the band about doing one of their now-famous celebrity spots, which would have had them following in the footsteps of megastars such as Madonna and Aerosmith. Wareham turned Gap Inc. down.

“Maybe that was very stupid of me,” he says, grinning, and then soberly states: “Actually, without the occasional TV commercial, it would have been very hard to make a living over the last 10 years.” He is not averse to that ilk of work; both Budweiser and American Express have used music he composed. “I think that the people who work in ad agencies who select music are much more adventurous and eclectic in their tastes than people who work at radio stations,” he says, citing the glut of electronica on TV today that would never be found on mainstream radio in the U.S. “That’s the way they connect with young people.” But with The Gap spot, he says with a slight wince, “We had to be in the commercial.”

Wareham’s observations of the record industry and its ubiquitous marketing culture have a sense of distance, removed from the emotions that characterize talk of art and money’s dubious relationship. And by next year, he may remove himself from the record industry entirely. Luna will tour until the end of the year, promote their final album, “Rendezvous,” and then call it quits. He and Luna’s bassist, Britta Phillips, put out a record of covers and duets last year, and they’ll make another one, he says. But right now his future in the biz is uncertain, and it doesn’t sound like he’ll miss it much.

Touring has taken its toll on Luna, and their relationships with record labels sound like exasperating exercises in tolerance (lead guitarist Sean Eden laughs wearily when he tells me how their present imprint, Jetset, never returned phone calls until they heard about the break-up indirectly). For the time being, Wareham will set his sights on the silver screen. He has already starred in the recent indie-film, “Piggie,” by Alison Bagnal, co-writer of “Buffalo ’66.” He’s also contributed music to a friend’s upcoming documentary about singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston, and spent time in Paris recording songs with actress Maggie Cheung for the new Olivier Assayas film, “Clean.” Oh yeah, and maybe, just maybe, he’ll write a book.

The literary undercurrent in Wareham’s lyrics isn’t hard to spot: How many rock bands reference Paul Auster and Don Delillo? When asked if he’s a big reader, the corners of his mouth curl up slightly. “For a musician, yes, but I’m not a trained musician. I think it’s the case that the principal songwriter in a band is usually the weakest musician — or the least versatile, anyway. And conversely, all sorts of fantastic musicians cannot write songs, or rather lyrics, because all they’ve ever done is study music.”

Wareham, a New Zealand transplant to New York City, received a degree in social sciences from Harvard before embarking on a music career. In 1986 he and two old high-school friends formed Galaxie 500, an influential but grossly underappreciated dream-pop trio said to be a precursor to the slow-core, shoegazer and postrock movements. In 1991, Wareham dismantled G500 and formed Luna, building on the dueling-guitar templates of bands like Television and The Velvet Underground.

Wareham accepts comparisons to his influences, and is quick to pay respect: “Well, The Velvet Underground changed the course of rock history, didn’t they? Listen to David Bowie before he heard V.U. and then after. It totally changed him. And as for Television, I don’t think we sound like them — I don’t think anyone sounds like them. But we are a two-guitar band from New York, so . . . “

The respect is reciprocal: Lou Reed personally asked Luna to open for the Velvets’ reunion tours in Europe and the States during the early ’90s. Afterward, Velvets’ guitarist Sterling Morrison played on several tracks of “Bewitched” (1994). On the following album, “Penthouse” (1995), Television’s Tom Verlaine sat in on guitar for several tracks.

When the subject turns to Luna breaking up (or “disbandment,” as he puts it), Wareham’s speech becomes deliberate, with frequent pauses for the right word. He wants to get it right, possibly because several music and fan sites have launched their own theories on the split. Some claim artistic rivalry, since Eden penned two new songs for “Rendezvous” on his own. Others purport romance as the culprit, citing Wareham’s lyrical turn from wry and dry to starry-eyed soon after Phillips joined the band. Their recent duet album, “L’Avventura,” further fanned the flames.

Wareham sighs and stares at his moccasin-shod feet for a moment before commenting. He seems to be tired of the subject. “You know, it’s funny. People still ask me why Galaxie 500 broke up. I think,” he pauses again, “being in a band for this long is like being in a relationship for this long: There are times when you think about getting out.”

He goes on to compare a band to a company: “It’s difficult, financially, to keep everyone together and happy and employed. . . . People always want to hear that there’s one incident or something, or that someone can’t stand someone else. It’s just not like that.”

It’s no secret that tension invariably builds between long-term bandmates — sharing vans and motel rooms for over a decade will do that to you — but if there is any, it is neither heard nor felt on the new album. Where the last half of Luna’s career flirted with edgier tempos and sun-splashed pop, “Rendezvous” returns to the languid, hypnotic feel of their early work. This music is reflective yet buoyant, like post-party floating in the pool, stargazing after everyone has gone to sleep.

The album’s producer Bryce Goggin (Pavement, Phish, The Ramones) retains the energy of their live shows by avoiding overdubs and gadgetry, instead putting the band in one room together and keeping the best take.

That may be why “Rendezvous” translates so well onstage. As they sink into the first chords of opener, “Malibu Love Nest” — the yawn of Eden’s guitar fills curling over a fluid bass line — I realize that they aren’t solemn, they’re just under the spell of their own music. And judging by the capacity crowd, the spell is contagious.

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