The Moment is Soulive- A Roundtable with Eric Krasno, Alan Evans, Neal Evans and a touch of Ivan Neville
After a few weeks of back and forth with Soulive’s tour manager I finally hammered down an interview. I couldn’t have asked for a better scenario with all three band members joining in and Ivan Neville hanging out in a comfy chair in the corner. The following conversation looks back over the band’s career, its current tour and its latest release, a remix of Turn it Out. We even roust Ivan towards the end.
Jake: It has been a fast four years for Soulive with many impressive things happening. What has been the toughest aspect of that time for you?
Alan: I would say the toughest part and perhaps this holds true for a lot of bands, is being classified. For us it’s our music being called jazz. Well maybe that’s not the toughest, but it’s annoying. They call us jazz or organ trio, people put us in a little box. That’s frustrating because when you go outside of what people think you’re supposed to be doing they’re thrown. I personally don’t dig it cause jazz is just one facet of what we do or what we are like. We’re just music that’s all it is.
Jake: Why was Turn it Out picked to remix?
Eric: Because it’s the only one we could. That one we did independently so we had rights to the masters.
Jake: Did each of you pick your own songs off the album to remix?
Neal: It just kind of happened; Eric did the first one a while ago while we were working with this guy Shuman an MC from Boston. We wanted to remix Steppin’ because Eric thought it was already a hot hip-hop groove. Steppin’ was barely a remix.
Alan: I jumped in adding some drums and some different sounds to it.
Eric : From that we kinda built on it and other DJ’s wanted to get involved. We started working with DJ Spinna, he got involved and then DJ Krush in Japan. Then we decided to each do another remix, so we did remixes of our own music as well as getting other producers help with our stuff.
Jake: To what extent were there arguments going in about what a particular track should sound like?
Eric: There were all different producers working with it so the whole point of it was to get a really eclectic vision of what could be done with the tracks. We never really said that it had to sound like this or that.
Alan: In most cases in terms of the remixes they were all individual efforts. Neal did some organ stuff on yours, Eric, but it was not the three of us all in the studio remixing at once. I did one, Eric did a few, and Neal did a few.
Eric: It was actually a process over a while, a couple years really. The one in Japan came out last year. That has different music on it than this remix album because we ended up redoing a couple tracks on it. The process was only worked on sporadically.
Neal: The thing about it doing a remix album is there really wasn’t much thinking for us to do. We just picked tunes and said ok. Spinna just called us one day and said Kraz play guitar here and Neal play keys here.
Alan: It’s definitely not the normal album making process.
Eric: It’s also not really been done like this before. Remix means take the vocals, leave them the same, and remix the track underneath it. Well with ours there’s no vocals so a lot of times we added vocals. I haven’t really heard any other records like that. It tuned out pretty random, but I like the way it came together.
Jake: When you perform on a night like this do you often say, "Hey let’s do that song like the remix?"
Alan: Yeah sometimes we will do that.
Eric: Heck, we do a remix all the time. We will take a hip-hop track we’ve been listening to or something else and Neal or Al will play that beat underneath the melodies of an original tune. Or take melodies from one tune and put that over different chords of another. That’s just us doing live.
Jake: Speaking of live, how did you end up with Meshell Ndegeocello and Ivan Neville on tour with you?
Eric: My brother manages Meshell. He also manages us and thought that the two of us would work well together. We went with it and it turned out to be a good idea. We are grabbing two different crowds from two different styles yet kinda having some similarities.
Jake: Do you enjoy pulling two different crowds together?
Eric: Sometimes it works and sometimes it’s kind of difficult.
Alan: It’s really up to the crowd. We have found on this tour that some people are just there to see Meshell, others are just there to see us. Then there are the others who stick around for both and fall in the middle. It has been good for both of us because we have hipped a lot of new people to each other’s music.
Jake: How did you end up working with the Beatnuts?
Neal: We met them when we were working with Dave Matthews. He had just cut vocals on a tune, we came in the studio and they were in another room. We ran in to them in the hallway and said, "What’s up?" They invited us over to check out what they were doing. While over there, we played a cd of what we had been working on across the hall. Then we were both saying we should do something together. A couple years latter, it happened.
Jake: What has been your approach to crossing music lines and styles and genres? You seem to do it so easily.
Alan: The biggest part of it is that we don’t consciously sit down and say this is gonna be some hip- hop thing or this is gonna be some jazz thing. It just flows … I guess we have some idea when writing something, but it’s just the music we grew up listening to. It just comes from the inside for us. You can tell when it’s fake. I mean you can hear it when cats try to do something they’re not. We’re not a cover band, we do not take that approach. It is basically our own spin of whatever type of music we are feeling. That’s at least how I look at it.
Eric: We don’t see boundaries on any music. We just play what we feel at that moment. It just comes out in all different forms on this tour. Having Ivan Neville adding his element and bringing his vibe to it adds a whole other level and a whole other sound. We are just always down to experiment seeing how different things work.
Jake: You said a while back that the Scofield / Medeski, Martin and Wood album A Go Go is a definitive album in the new groove movement. What other albums would you place in that category?
Eric: There are some earlier ones like Headhunters and Thrust from Herbie Hancock. They changed a lot as far as melding what people call jazz and the funk thing.
Neal: Actually, many earlier Scofield albums starting from the 80’s… Like the Hand Jive.
Eric: As far as meshing a James Brown school of funk, like that kind off beat with chord changes and improvisation and all that … I always look to all the records that Herbie Hancock did in the early 70’s… Thrust, Secrets….All those records were a real big reason why I play music today. That inspires me to write and to play.
Jake: If you were going to record a similar album is there any specific jazz musician you would ask to sit in today with you?
Eric: Last year we did stuff with Josh Redman and Kenny Garrett. Man it was really fun to play with Kenny. He’s amazing. Also Russell Gunn and Fred Wesley, all those guys. We are never really looking, but there’s always an open invitation for people to come sit in. If any of those guys are around, we invite them to play.
Jake: The current material you have released has a real hip-hop feel is there a next direction that you’re moving in?
Eric: Right now we’ve been writing some material with Ivan plus with some horns. I think a lot of what you hear tonight will be some of the older Soulive mixed with a lot of new sound. The sound is expanding into other realms. We are playing off Ivan and adding the horns to the mix.
Jake: So pretty much your message is the same … shake your ass.
Alan: [Laugh] Get up if you’re not, No political BS, It’s all about having a good time.
Eric: The only thing we really promote through this music is individuality. Just come to the Soulive show and be you.
Alan: It’s funny man we will do a couple Sly Stone tunes every once in a while, I get a feeling how he set such a good example back in the day… about his band and the kind of message he was trying to convey. He did that more vocally then what we do, but we feel just the same about diversity and having a good time. Not worrying about what someone is wearing or the color of their skin. It’s just good time music. Be an individual and being true to that.
Jake: Speaking of Ivan, how is it playing with two keyboards on the stage?
Neal: [Laughing] That’s the dopest stuff we’ve had … It’s been awesome. I have been waiting to do this for a long time. I get sick of playing sometimes you know … It’s great’ now I can try other things on stage.
Jake: Does it ever turn into a piano duel?
Neal: No, we have so much fun up there…(Laughter, waking up Ivan from his daydreams in the corner) There’s no challenge or competition going on cause it’s just seamless. It was just crazy in the first rehearsal we were doing this one tune "Got Soul" and Ivan was playing the exact guitar rhythm part Krasno laid down in the studio. I was like, "Damn that was just what we played in the studio!" Here Ivan was just playing it like he had been there. He had just filled what we had done. I just sat there blown away.
Jake: Ivan, how is it playing with these guys?
Ivan: I love what these guys do period, when I first heard these guys I was like DAMN!!!
Alan: When we first heard Ivan we were like Damn!!!!
Ivan: I was playing with Robben Ford.
Eric: Yeah we were watching their soundcheck, and we were saying, "Damn, this is Ivan Neville."
Ivan: Hey man, I was still learning the songs… [Laughter]
Alan: Yeah, he was singing and had an organ going and I was just blown away. I didn’t want to go on after him.
Ivan: I was looking over at you thinking who are these three guys… [More laughter]
Alan: Whether it was when Sam played with us or right now with Ivan…That’s Soulive. It’s not like there are three of us and some other people. That moment is Soulive.