Eric Krasno and the Timeless Sounds of Soulive
Photo by Rob Chapman
He’ll be 35 years old this June, and Eric Krasno is doing what he wants. Sure, he’s busy. He’s a professional musician and producer and, like some of his jam brethren – Warren Haynes and Stanton Moore come to mind – he seems ill-at-ease focusing on just one outlet, opting instead to play in several bands, as well as taking up the art of the mixtape and live DJing. Not to mention starting up a D.I.Y. label, Royal Family Records, and shepherding other bands’ releases. We’re on the Soulive tour bus in Albuquerque, NM, and he’s just come off a whirlwind schedule of 5 gigs in 2 days at Jazz Fest in New Orleans, yet seems entirely relaxed about the pace he’s keeping. Like, almost Zen-relaxed. Oh, and he believes he knows the future.
The future, according to Eric Krasno, belongs to the prolific, the original, and the connected.
His jazz trio, Soulive, is going strong 12 years into its tenure as one the best on the circuit, and he has every reason to believe it can carry on for another twelve. “I never thought people would just stop buying music though,” he admits. “All the record stores are gone. I didn’t think we’d have to rely so heavily on touring to make a living.” He grants that this sea change hasn’t affected Soulive so much because they’ve always focused on touring, but he can’t even see printing CDs of his label’s future output. “Making a record is an investment now.”
I thought better of pointing out that making a record was always an investment, but I think what he meant to say is that people generally encounter and interact with music through their “connected” devices now. The days of petroleum-based, real-world discs are so last century. Though, oddly enough, says Krasno, “We’ve been selling a lot of vinyl on this last tour. It comes with a digital download, so even people who don’t have record players get it, they get the download, and then put the album on their wall as a collector’s piece.” With a wry smirk, he adds, “But those of us who do have turntables, it sounds a lot better.”
Ancient arguments on the superior sound of analog versus digital notwithstanding, Krasno sees the future of music going entirely digital. Even performances. “The internet is the future of music. It’s going to be more interactive, more streaming. Bands can stream their performance online. You have to build your own channel and sell sponsorships; get royalties from Rhapsody and Pandora, because you’re not going to get any from radio.” Ouch. That smarts. I mean, I do host a jam show on an old-fashioned, land-based radio station, but I can see where he’s coming from. Besides, the Grateful Dead historically made way less money from their albums than they did from touring, even (or especially) when they were releasing them on their own label. Thus has the live jam band model always been.
The only value the Grateful Dead, or any band, could ever get out of radio play is promotion. This is how labels used to sell albums. Now the internet has cut out the middleman. Or have they? Without promotion, the old movie adage “if you build it, they will come” no longer necessarily holds true. How long did Mumford & Sons toil in relative obscurity even after the release of their (now phenomenally successful) debut album, “Sigh No More,” before they appeared on Letterman and became one of last year’s top-selling internet album purchases? They have ridden this initial burst of promotion, or exposure, to headlining their own concerts worldwide, despite playing music in a non-commercial genre. The album’s not any better than it was when no one had heard of it, but it is pretty great.
Yet nearly no one outside of London had heard of it, had talked about it, or purchased a digital version of it until Letterman. Afterward they purchased it in droves.
As a music lover, I’m still prone to see a band from out-of-town play just to hear something new. Either I like the band or I don’t, but sometimes I like them a lot, and make a point to add a copy of their album(s) to my collection. I seem to remember other music lovers – at least, in the pre-internet age – doing the same thing.
Live music was, and still is (at its best) a holy communion between music lovers and traveling minstrels. This communion is severely lessened, if it exists at all, when viewed on a screen 3 inches wide. Yet, some feel watching YouTube videos of a band is much the same as seeing them in person. Well, it’s not, but you get what you pay for.
Krasno’s prediction (if it hasn’t already come true by the time this gets published) is, “No more CDs, no more hard drives. It’ll all be cloud-based.” Again, I’m tempted to point out the hole in his logic: that Google and Amazon and SoundCloud, as providers of the so-called “cloud” storage service would, in fact, be using hard drives. Massive, gargantuan, stacks and racks of hard drives. But he’s describing it from the user’s perspective, so I allow the statement to pass, unchallenged.
Besides, the creative individual who wishes to store all his output on a cloud-based server must still capture, manufacture and/or tinker with their masterpieces on a hard drive, at least for now, and Krasno knows it; especially now that he’s dipping his toe into the realms of mixtaping and DJing.
“I just put out a mixtape of blends of old funk and hip-hop, a really cool mix of different things. It starts with James Brown and ends with James Brown. I call it the Funky President mix. Kinda goes all over the place from Jay-Z to Black Keys to Syl Johnson to a bunch of rare 45 stuff. There’s some Lettuce in there, some of my own remixes, Michael Jackson a cappella and putting my own beats under it. Just me having a blast.” The mix is a free download at royalfamily.bandcamp.com and Kraz (his DJ moniker) used Ableton Live software and his laptop’s hard drive to produce it. Also, it’s totally awesome. I’m listening to it as I write this.
Of course he’s using hard drives, and presumably will continue to do so, as a producer of other artist’s records. Unless he reverts totally to analog which, for all its aesthetically appealing defects, is a real pain in the ass. Just waiting for the tape to rewind seemed to take forever.
Vinyl LPs were always a little more digital than tape. At least you could jump from one track to another almost instantly. Well, as long as it was on the same side.
Soulive plans to release a new EP by autumn, followed by a full-length album in early 2012 and, according to Krasno, “We’re really focusing on just putting things out on vinyl, or for download. I don’t know if we’ll even make CDs.”
As if to prove the point, Royal Family Records just released (on May 24th) what it describes as an unearthed soundtrack by Crushed Velvet and the Velveteers from a never-completed 1974 Blaxploitation film titled The Big One. Soulive’s Alan Evans reportedly discovered the recordings through a family friend in Buffalo and it’s only available as a free .mp3, or for purchase as limited-edition vinyl. A little shocked, I ask if they can actually sell more copies on vinyl than CD now, to which he replies, “Yeah. To be honest, people barely buy CDs from us.”
Well, didn’t we all think vinyl would be extinct by now? Thanks in part to Krasno, Evans and Evans, vinyl’s actually less extinct than it was 10, even 15 years ago. “I bring my USB turntable with me on JamCruise,” he says. I try to picture Krasno lugging a huge steamer trunk of vinyl with him on board. “We all share sounds on Jam Cruise.”