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Published: 2007/12/20
by Dean Budnick

Eric Krasno Still Turns It Out With Intensity

Eric Krasno is leading a double life. Strike that and amend by a factor of two. The coming year will see him tour with Soulive, Lettuce and his own emerging Eric Krasno Band. Yet in between his live gigs and studio sessions with any of those bands, he’ll be busy crafting beats and re-mixing tracks with partner Adam Deitch as the Fyre Dept (the two had quite a 2007, working with 50 Cent, Keyshia Cole, Talib Kweli and many others). What’s also fascinating is the fact that many of these endeavors are the direct product of the relationships he first fostered as a sixteen year old summer student. Kraz pulled himself away from the studio for the following interview, which wasn’t all that distressing to the guitarist as some computer woes had momentarily stymied him anyhow.

DB- It’s interesting to hear you talk about your computer problems because I’m sure there are people out there, particularly those who are familiar with the early Soulive, who think of you as an analog kind of guy.

EK- I kind of have two different worlds and I just move back and forth. It’s funny because at some point they were merging together but I enjoy the fact that they’re very different. With Soulive, I believe that we should record live to tape, even though so much of the other stuff that I do is very digital and I’m cutting things up and looping and sampling. It’s kind of refreshing to go back and forth between the two things. It makes it more exciting. And with Soulive, we did a couple records where we tried doing more modern techniques but it kind of messed with our overall vibe, so I think we’re going back to the old school way of doing things, which is nice. I think we’ll overdub some stuff but as far as trying to overproduce things, I don’t think that works for us.

DB- Taking your most recent album No Place Like Soul out of consideration, what’s your favorite Soulive disc?

EK- That’s hard to say. There are certain tracks from different records. Overall, though, Turn It Out had a vibe to it I really like. It has a feeling to it that isn’t on the other records. I don’t know how to describe what that is. I’d say that it’s probably my favorite because we didn’t think about what we were doing, we just did it. After that there was added pressure from labels to do this and that and make a certain thing. I like all the other records but on the first album there was no effort to sound a certain way, we put mics up in the studio and hit record. I like that element to it.

I like parts of Break Out too which has more of a hip-hop sensibility to it. I thought it worked on certain tracks. On the whole, I don’t think it was the most cohesive record but there were a couple reasons for that. We recorded it in many different studios. We were between labels and we had our own gear set up here and there and we set up wherever we could. Then we pieced it together at the end, which is why it kind of has a choppy sound to it. But there are certain tracks that have a magic on that record that I really dig. There’s this one called “Cachaca” that every once in a while comes up on my iPod shuffle and I’m like, “Oh, that one’s slamming.” Other than that I’d have to say Turn It Out was a musical statement without us having to think too hard about it: “This is what we’re doing. Check it out if you want.”

DB- I’m sure not all of our readers will recall this, but initially you were a bit reluctant to join Alan and Neal for the studio sessions that yielded Soulive. Can you talk about that?

EK- There were a lot of things going on. That’s when I was first starting to go into producing. I had a little studio set up and I was getting into a rhythm of making tracks for people and also playing with Lettuce. I was starting to think that I could do this between Lettuce and producing. And these guys [Alan and Neal Evans] called me up: “Hey come out and jam with us, we’re looking to get a band together.” They had already done a couple gigs with a vibes player. I showed up to one of their gigs and sat in because I knew them from the Moon Boot Lover days and the vibe was just happening. I’ve always been amazed by Neal, he’s like two people in one. He’s got such an incredible rhythm and sense and the way he connects with Alan is just unbelievable.

I thought I’d love to play with those guys but when the opportunity came, I just had all this stuff going on. I had a bunch of dates booked already. But then right at the same time, Adam Deitch got the Average White Band gig and he was like, “Alright, I’m taking off.” And I’m like, “Well if he’s taking off” He was the other main Lettuce person. It had to be at least me and him to be Lettuce. So I was like, “Okay, I’m not going to get another drummer, he and I write most of the tunes, so let me go see what’s up with these guys.” So I went out there and literally the first day, we recorded the Get Down EP. I had a couple tunes, they had a couple of tunes and we recorded them and that was it. We didn’t talk about what we were going to go, we didn’t sit down and say, “This is the concept for Soulive.” We literally just plugged in didn’t say anything and recorded. Then they were like, “Hey we’ve got some gigs booked.” So I said, “Okay, let’s do it.”

I remember talking to you about Lettuce when you first put the book together {The 1998 edition of Jam Bands. I was trying to work the scene a little bit and I had a lot of contacts. And they had the same thing going with Moon Boot, so right away we got a lot of great gigs. We had a Wetlands thing and we knew a lot of people already, so we had a little upper hand in that way. We could open for a lot of acts that knew us. As soon as we got the band together, Derek Trucks brought us on the road, so we were fortunate in that way. I was just graduating from college and we hopped in a van and didn’t come back for a long time (laughs).

DB- I found that original Lettuce cassette the other day. I was wondering if you could talk about the other Lettuce guys and what they’re up to these days. They all seem to have some interesting things going on. Why don’t you leave Adam Deitch for last because you can talk about what the two of you have going on with Fyre Dept.

EK- The way it started was we all were in high school and there is a program that the Berklee College of Music offers called the five week program. You’re allowed to go when you’re 16 and we all ended up in this 5 week program.

The first person I met was Ryan Zoidis, we met in our ensemble class. I remember we were playing “Soul Serenade,” and he kind of reminded me of my friends except none of my friends played music. So I started hanging with him and we really connected. I was really into Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Phish and the Grateful Dead was but I was also into Herbie Hancock and Wes Montgomery.

So he came up to my dorm room and started playing Tower of Power, Earth Wind and Fire, a lot of stuff I’d heard but not really gotten into. Then in our hallway we ran into Eric Coomes who was walking around with a bass. He came in and starting playing us some hip hop. And then we ran into Adam Deitch down in the practice rooms. He was practicing some Tower of Power and we had just been listening to that. And then within two days we had this crew. Every day we would hang out all night and listen to music. Everybody was into funk but had a little different angle in terms of where they were coming from. Like these guys had never heard Phish or any of that scene at all. And I also played them bluegrass like Strength in Numbers, which I was listening to at the time.

So we got this crew and started jamming together every night and all day. Everyone was mad at us because we would take over the little practice room. We’d try to pretend we were an ensemble and we’d just go in there smoke weed and stay up all night jamming. That’s how we started. And then Adam Smirnoff [guitar] came in through Adam Deitch because they were good friends.

Then we all decided that two years later, which would be 1994, we would all go to school there and really started the band for real. So we all ended up there. None of us talked that much before then but we all ended up coming there in 1994. We ended up in the same dorm and we started where we left off and took over the jam room in the basement. The reason we called it Lettuce is we would show up at other people’s shows and literally during their set breaks, we would go play their gear. We’d say, “Let us play.” We had no gigs otherwise. Eventually though we started doing these shows at this place called Wilson House at Tufts. That’s how Lettuce started to get known because we’d go there and play for free. People would go there and party all night and we’d play all night. That was our thing and we were amazed that we could play all night.

At Berklee, though, I was in classes with hundreds of people and I was guitar player number 2,045. I couldn’t deal with that but I loved all the people there. So I ended up going to Hampshire College, which is out in western Mass. but I ended up going back and forth to Boston to hang with these guys.

In the meantime, Ryan Zoidis went back up to Maine and hooked up with the Rustic Overtones. So they were doing a lot of gigs and the rest of the band ended up in Fat Bag, which was big in Boston for a long time. So Lettuce took the backburner for a long time and then when I was about to graduate, I went back to Boston to play with Lettuce, which eventually gets us back to when Adam got the Average White band gig and then Soulive.

So what we’re doing nowEric Coomes, who was the bass player, is from L.A. and has been back there ever since Berklee. He’s played on pretty much every DJ Quik record, tons of Snoop Dogg records. If you listen to the radio right now to Britney Spears new single, the whole big intro is him on a six string bass, playing this high solo bass thing. So if you turn on any radio station right now, you can hear him basically taking a solo on a Britney Spears record, which is hilarious, and he co-wrote the song. He’s played on Mariah Carey records, Janet Jackson, you name it pretty much, he’s the session guy.

Ryan is back with Rustic Overtones and they’re starting up again and doing a tour. Adam Smirnoff, who we call Shmeans, plays with Robert Randolph & The Family band. Robert and I were good friends and he was always trying to get me to come out on the road and I said, “Man, you gotta hear Shmeans, you gotta hear Shmeans.” And eventually he called him and brought him out on tour and he’s been with him off and on.

Sam Kininger played with Soulive for years. Sam wasn’t there in 92 but in 94 when we came back, he was good friends with Adam Deitch and the other guys. So he ended up in Lettuce as well because we wanted to expand the horn section.

And the trumpet position in Lettuce has always been kind of whoever’s around. That’s how Rashawn [Ross] was introduced to the Soulive touring band, through Lettuce. We were doing a Lettuce live album and we were going to Japan and we really wanted to have trumpet in the record. And he came to rehearsal pretty much just to hang out, started playing and sounded amazing, so we said. “Let’s try to bring him to Japan.” So he came with us to Japan when we did the live record but now he’s a little busy because he’s out with the Dave Matthews Band.

We just finished a new Lettuce album which is awesome. It’s by far the best thing that Lettuce has done. We all really came with it this time and Rashawn did the trumpet parts on the record. We’re going to do a short tour but I don’t know if he’ll be able to come out or not, we’ll see.

DB- When will the Lettuce album hit?

EK- It’s tentative for March. We did most of it last February but we wanted to do a couple of vocal tunes. So we had a soul singer named Dwele come in and we redid a Curtis Mayfield tune, “Move on Up.” We also did “Express Yourself,” the Charles Wright version and Sam Kininger sings it and it sounds really cool. And the rest of it is instrumental. We’re just mixing it. Alan from Soulive is helping to mix so we’re mixing a bunch of it in his studio in Massachusetts.

Meanwhile you and Adam Deitch are a production team known as Fyre Dept. The two of you are listed as producers of “My Gun Go Off” on the new 50 Cent album. Can you talk a bit about how that came about? Correct me if I’m wrong but I assume you didn’t sit in the control room when he was recording that track.

We didn’t. Adam has met him a couple times and I know most of the G-Unit Crew. It’s funny, the whole Berklee connection then expands out into a million different things. Originally it’s a guy named D Prosper who works for G Unit and he basically connects rappers and singers with producers and musicians. I’ve known him for many years through a guy named Jamie Siegel I met at Berklee and another guy named Matt Rubano, who was a substitute for Eric Coomes in Lettuce. Matt Rubano through D Prosper ended up on a Laurel Hill record, The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill way back and that was such a big deal. And since then I’ve gotten to know him and his crew and I’ve always given him tracks and beats. As our stuff got better, he got higher up in the world of hip hop and now he’s the right hand guy to all these guys. I’ve given him tracks for years. I’ve been doing guitar and bass work for him for various artists and supposedly 50 had rapped on a lot of our tracks in the past but they never made the album but this one (“My Gun Go Off”) made the album and it was done deal.

DB- So in that situation with 50 Cent, can you explain what it is that you turn over to him?

EK- First, Adam and I come together and literally just vibe it out until we find something and then we make the track, record it and do all the instrumentation. We share the keyboard duties. I do the live bass, live guitar and he does the drum programming. Although we kind of share everything because he plays a little guitar and sometimes I’ll keep what he does and we’ll just vibe and make tracks together. On that particular track we put it together, mixed it all down, gave it the session files to them, they rapped on it and we never saw it again. It’s funny that it’s called production because in that form it’s really beat-making. On the other hand we worked a lot on Talib Kweli’s record [with Justin Timberlake on “The Nature”] and with Talib, you usually get in the studio with him and have more to do with creating the song. So it’s different levels of how involved we are with the artist. I’m kind of the guy who likes to create the songs and be more involved and Adam prefers to be in his own zone and make the beats and that’s it. So it works out because we work well together. What we’ve been doing more recently is actually writing the lyrics and trying to have complete songs done. So by the time we get to an artist, they can hear the entire song and then perform it.

DB- What else is in the works for the two of you?

EK- We just did a remix for Keyshia Cole. We did a song called “Let It Go.” It’s got Missy Elliot and Lil’ Kim on it. We’re also working on a Snoop Dogg remix now and we’re shopping stuff to a lot of people. Most artists who are recording right now hopefully have Fyre Dept. music, that’s what we’re striving towards.

Since the 50 Cent record came out, more people are looking for our stuff. Dr. Dre sent one of his guys to find us, so we sent him a CD and he loved it and we’re trying to work out some sort of collaboration with him. We took some of the money that we got from the 50 Cent record and we got a studio down the street from our houses, we both live in the same neighborhood. We’re trying to make as much music as possible. I’m also making my own album and Adam’s making his album, so we’re using our time to do that as well as make tracks and shop stuff to other people.

DB- From what I understand, the Eric Krasno Band is a little closer to straight ahead rock. Is that correct?

EK- It’s like rock with some soul in there. The biggest challenge for me is having the confidence to be the lead singer. I’ve always sung background here and there but now I’m the lead singer and that’s my next big challenge. I’m off the road with Soulive, so I’m spending the time writing and getting a little local gig going where I can test my stuff out. I’m hoping by next spring my album will be done and I’ll start doing some festivals and stuff with my own band.

DB- Who will be gigging with you when you go out with that band?

EK- I’m kind of figuring that out now. I always try to have Adam Deitch and ideally I want to have the Lettuce rhythm section, pretty much myself and Erik Coomes and Adam as a trio and I’ve had various keyboardists. I’ve had Jeff Bhasker who played for Lettuce a while at one gig. When I was in California for a gig, I had this guy Mike Tiger who’s a great keyboard player. I think when the album’s done, it will be myself, Adam, a bass player and a keyboard player but I’m not sure who yet (laughs). I’ve always used Stu Brooks (Dub Trio) on a bunch of occasions. He lives in my neighborhood and I love his sound. My whole thing with my band is I need someone who knows how to play a four string nice and simple, with a rock sound. It’s not a funk bass type of thing, it’s more of a John Paul Jones vibe.

DB- Back to Soulive, you guys have changed things up a bit over the past few years and also have taken some time off. I know you’re all busy with other things and there have been a couple times when I thought, “Maybe they’ve decided to move on.” Have you shared that sentiment or have you assumed that Soulive would just come back with something different?

EK- To be honest, it’s always changing and morphing. It’s like a relationship, you’ve got to do different things to keep it fresh and keep everyone happy. Also, since we’ve started, the record industry has changed so much. It’s funny, we’ve gone in different directions. When we started it was very jazz-oriented but it had an element of hip-hop and other stuff and the records did very well especially for jazz. Then as the record industry changed, we became a little more accessible, a little more like soul music but it didn’t work out for us for various reasons.

The newest album I think could have done great 10 years ago but right now it’s such a weird time and people knowing Soulive for what they are, it’s hard to give it a fresh start. The record that we did has some great tunes but it was hard to break through and the label wasn’t ready to get behind it in the right way. In a way I don’t blame them because no one’s selling records right now, so dumping money into anything that’s not a sure thing, no one wants to do it. Of course I wish they had but I’m not kicking and screaming too bad, I’m saying, “Let’s keep moving and see what happens.”

I think what we’re trying to do right now is simplify. We’re taking some time off to figure out the next move. I think the next thing we do probably will be simpler. More of a live thing. I think we might get into the studio and turn some mics on, a la Turn It Out and just record. Maybe do some shows, get some tunes together and go record them, rather than sit in the studio for a long time and overthink it. I think people really want to hear us having fun and hear us vibe out. I’m starting to embrace the fact that people really want to hear us improvise and have fun on stage, they don’t want to hear a totally rehearsed show. It’s funny, the last tour we did it was a really cool combination of that. It was really tight, the tightest we’ve ever been but at the same time I don’t know if people want that from us. So I think on the next record we’re going to take it a little easier and have fun with it, just turn some mics on and play.

DB- Frankly, I think that the majority of the core Soulive audience is most passionate about the earlier trio stuff. However, there is always that challenge and dynamic in terms of doing what you want versus what others want to hear. Can you talk a bit about that?

EK- At least for me I always wanted to have a super tight Earth Wind and Fire-esque thing. I always wanted it to be so tight and so killing and I’m going to sound a bit confused right now because sometimes that is what I want but sometimes I want to go out and have fun and just vibe. It’s easy for us to be tight because of Neal and Al and how they are but this last tour as tight as it was, there were times I really wanted to stretch out. If you look at the set lists, the beginning of the tour was all vocal tunes and all super tight and halfway through the tour, we started putting in “One In Seven” and all these other tunes and by the end we were doing like three vocal tunes and five instrumentals and then like two vocal tunes at the end. So the concept was being real tight but when you get out there it seems like people just want to hear you take the music to a new place. What I’m realizing now is we have to find that medium because I realize that I enjoy that too. So I think the next move for us is just to be a little less serious, I just want to have a great time making the next record and hanging out with each other.

DB- In the coming days, will Soulive be performing as a quartet or as a trio?

EK- I think until New Year’s that we’ll be a four piece and after that I don’t really know. I know in the coming year we’re going to do a lot of trio stuff but I don’t know when exactly we’re going to start doing that.

DB- So how does your 2008 seem to shaping up?

EK- My own project will definitely be launching over 2008. My goal is to have an EP done by the first of January and through the summer I’d be doing a bunch of Eric Krasno Band dates for sure. The new Lettuce album will be out in March and we’ll do some gigs surrounding that. Soulive also will be doing some dates. We won’t do any major touring until we have a new record, which probably will be the summer or fall.

But also we’ve been talking about Soulive taking a different concept and offering material on line more regularly, doing sessions and putting stuff up there for people to check out. So we’re looking to launch a new site that will webcast our studio sessions. Soulive is trying to build a new concept of getting music out to the people because we think record labels aren’t doing the trick and we’d like to be able to have people hip to what we’re doing right away. We just want to be able to get together and record stuff, do little projects. We’re talking about maybe doing a Beatles project where we do all Beatles music instrumentally and put it up there. We want to be able to put out different projects at a quicker pace, kind of how they used to do singles back in the day. James Brown would have an idea for a song, he’d make a record and people would be hearing it on the radio and singing the lyrics within two weeks. And now with the Internet we’re coming back to that concept, that concept can work again.

DB- The Beatles project sounds interesting and there is a tradition there. Booker T and MG’s have McLemore Avenue, that album where they cover Abbey Road.

EK- Right, George Benson did that too, The Other Side of Abbey Road. We’ve been listening to the Beatles a lot lately. So we could do a record just for fun where we come together for a few days(Laughs) Come together I didn’t mean to…Anyhow, that idea kind of works with the concept of what we’re trying to do.

DB- Well you’ve already got a title, Come Together.

EK- (Laughs) I guess we do.

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