Talking Rubber Soulive with Eric Krasno
Tribute albums are funny critters. They can be an absolute bundle of smiles with big love for the subject at hand coming from the strangest of places – or they can be a total train wreck, weirdly uncomfortable and coming off like a half-drunk Holiday Inn cover band on a Monday night.
There’s much to consider: how much of the band being paid tribute to does one leave in? And how much of itself does the band paying the tribute insert into the mix? When does an interesting spin on some familiar music turn into a case of two worlds colliding in a bad way?
Let’s ratchet up the potential for problems: say the band being covered is The Beatles, whose music is etched into the DNA of a good portion of the world’s population. You may not consider yourself a Beatles freak – or even a casual fan – but chances are in a pressure situation (a television game show, we’ll say) you could reel off more Beatle song titles than you might think. Let’s face it – those crazy mopheads really did a number on us all.
Over the years there have been a number of Beatles-themed projects. The bad are best forgotten; the good (including Booker T. & The M.G.’s McLemore Avenue – complete with an Abbey Road-knockoff cover) are worth remembering and few in number.
Add one more to the list of keepers: Rubber Soulive, 11 tracks of funky Beatleness that definitely nails the right combination of respect for the originals and flavorings of the host band (in this case, groove kings Soulive). No doubt, the formation of their own label – Royal Family Records – was key to the soul jazz trio being willing to take on such a project. With no one to answer to but themselves, brothers Neal and Alan Evans (keys/bass and drums, respectively) and Eric Krasno (guitar) holed up in the studio last year, burrowed into The Beatles’ sonic catalog, and let things evolve as they wanted to. The result is definitely Soulive, definitely Beatles, and definitely served up with love and respect.
Jambands.com had a chance to discuss the Rubber Soulive project with guitarist Eric Krasno recently – may the smiles come through the words.
BR: Right off the bat, it needs to be acknowledged that tackling The Beatles’ catalog could be considered a risky trip …
EK: Oh, yeah … (laughter)
BR: So my first question is, what inspired the three of you to do it?
EK: You know, we talked about it kind of casually for a long time – like, “It would be really cool to do a Beatles instrumental record someday” – and we messed around with some different songs now and then. When I did “Get Back” for my solo album Reminisce, that brought it all back up again – “Oh man, we should do this with the band.”
It finally came together when we ended up back at Alan’s studio in Hatfield, MA after a weekend of gigs last year. We were planning on unloading the equipment and driving home for a few days – and then coming back to load up again for the following weekend. We’d already decided to do a Beatles set for a couple of Halloween shows that were coming up, so we were definitely serious about it. We were in the middle of unloading the gear at Alan’s studio when we decided it was time: “You know what? Rather than driving home and then driving back in a few days, let’s stay right here and work on that Beatles idea.” It really was that spontaneous.
BR: It was time, right?
EK: Exactly. I actually went to a music store and got a bunch of the new re-mastered stuff. The first day in the studio, we just did a lot of listening – listening and talking about which tunes to do and how to do them. We wanted to do some stuff that already sounded like it was in our lane – the groovier, funkier stuff. But we also wanted to delve into other songs that were more open to our interpretation, you know? We ended up with a lot of pretty straightforward stuff where the melodies were easily recognizable, plus a couple that are more …
BR: Out there?
EK: Yeah! (laughter)
BR: So during that process – or prior to then – did you listen at all to McLemore Avenue, the album of Beatles instrumentals that Booker T. & The M.G.’s did back in 1970?
EK: (laughs) You know what? I knew about it, but I had never heard it. Which is insane, because I’ve listened to so much Booker T. and so much Stax stuff over the years. I think I knew that they had done that, but I’d honestly forgotten about it until after we’d recorded our album. Oddly enough, I was at Warren Haynes’ Christmas Jam last December and the Booker T. album was playing in the van that they had to take us around in. It was cool to hear it after we had gone in and done our thing.
I really think that they did their album in the same vein as we did ours; we didn’t spend a lot of time on complex arrangements – we just went in and played the stuff. And I think that’s what they did, too – only it sounds different because that’s them and this is us, you know? Same approach, but different feel.
BR: It’s cool that you didn’t listen to it until after you guys had recorded Rubber Soulive. I’d been wondering if you’d intentionally done certain songs – or not done certain songs – because of the Booker T. album.
EK: You know, I still don’t know exactly what they did for songs. Did we do the same tunes at all? Probably if we’d known, we would have avoided them. (laughs)
BR: Well, it’s a little bit different right off the bat because McLemore Avenue is made up of three long medleys. They did do “Something” as a standalone, which you guys cover on your album. But it really and truly is two different bands.
EK: In the end, what we wanted was an album that was easily recognized as Beatles tunes, but for people to say, “Hey, wait a minute – that sounds like Soulive!”
BR: Which it does.
EK: And you know what was cool? We originally didn’t know how far it was going to go – we’d talked about laying down a few tunes and doing an EP, you know? But once we got going, we were having so much fun with it that we just stayed in the studio and kept recording tunes, one after the other. It was a very organic process – not too overly thought out.