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Published: 2012/02/03
by Mike Greenhaus

Eric Krasno’s State of the Union

While his friend Warren Haynes is often credited as the hardest working man in the jamband world, Eric Krasno definitely has his hands in the most diverse range of projects. In addition to his mainstay funk groups Soulive and Lettuce, Krasno is also a solo artist, respected hip-hop producer, label co-founder, festival curator and burgeoning live DJ. Sometimes his worlds feel very far apart and other times they consciously collide, especially during Soulive’s annual Bowlive run of shows at New York’s Brooklyn Bowl. In the coming months, Krasno has his fingerprints on a slew of new releases too, including a Soulive EP, a Lettuce studio effort, a Nigel Hall solo record and a London Souls album. Shortly after New Year’s Eve, Krasno gave us a state of the union on his myriad of projects, including Lettuce’s highly anticipated 20th anniversary recording.

You have several projects slated for release this spring. I was wondering if you could start by talking about Soulive’s upcoming studio EP. I heard it was actually dedicated to your friend Melvin Sparks, who recently passed away.

EK: We ended up deciding to dedicate the album to Melvin a little bit after the fact. We had planned on getting together with Karl [Denson] to do some shows, so we were like, “Why don’t we get in the studio? We might as well.” We just booked two dates in the studio because we kind of wanted to vibe out, and we got four songs done. So the idea is that we might do four songs on a piece of vinyl, and then we might do some bonus tracks and put out a CD. But the main focus was to put out a high quality vinyl EP where each side has two ten-minute songs. We were thinking about the old CTI recordings and Melvin came up in conversation, and when Melvin passed it was really close to when we were in the studio, so when we heard that we were like, “let’s write a song for him.” So we wrote the song “Spark” and then we ended up calling the album that and dedicating it to him. And if we do some bonus tracks I’m hoping that we actually do a cover—we didn’t actually end up covering any of his music but I’m hoping that when we do a volume two or an extended CD, we’ll do some of his tunes.

Where did you end up recording the album?

EK: We actually ended up doing it in Greenfield, Mass. in this guy Pierre’s studio—he works with the Rolling Stones and [Soulive drummer Alan Evans] met him when we were opening for the Stones. It turned out that his studio was down the street from Alan. Alan ended up moving his studio a few years ago mainly into his house, so he has this big old library that has all this old vintage gear, and we ended up just setting up live and pretty much cutting live. We did some overdubs by adding horns and some orchestration to it, but pretty much what you hear is us cutting it live. [Lettuce’s] Ryan Zoidis and a friend of Alan’s who is a trumpet player ended up adding some horns on some tracks.

Your other major studio project is Lettuce’s first album in almost 5 years. What is the status of that project?

EK: I’m hoping that we’re going to mix it in February, so it’ll probably be released a few months after that I suppose. With Lettuce, we talk about making a record for years before it actually happens because it’s hard to get everyone’s schedules to lineup. I’ve written a couple of songs but [drummer] Adam Deitch ended up writing the bulk of the album because he’s a night-owl—he’s always making beats and tracks that he brings to the table. But it was cool because it really was a collaborative thing—everyone wrote on this record: Ryan Zoidis wrote, Shmeeans [Adam Smirnoff] wrote and Erick Coomes added parts to songs, so once we got in the studio, it gelled. We ended up recording 18 tracks in four days and then we spent a few days doing overdubs.

We brought [Dave Matthews Band trumpeter/onetime Lettuce staple] Rashawn [Ross] and Cochmea [Gastelum] from the Dap Kings to fill out the horn section, as well as Brian Thomas. The great thing about it is that Adam [Deitch] and I have been building a space in this one studio. It’s called the Bunker, and it’s basically two studios connected. We’re kind of living in the “B room” now, and we recorded this in the “A room.” So as this was all coming together, we got to make this record and work with an amazing engineer—John Davis and Aaron Nevezie. I produced the Vieux Farka Toure album that came out last year, and I did it with them, and they did The Black Keys album the year prior so they’re just amazing. I’m glad we waited to record the Lettuce album because it’s the best thing we’ve ever done.

When was the last time Lettuce made a studio album?

EK: It was Rage, so it was 2005 or 2006 so it seems like Lettuce records every five years or so. This is our 20th year in existence—we started in 1992. At that point we didn’t really have gigs, we just knew each other and started playing together, but it is the same core members. In 1994 we really started gigging because that’s when we actually ended up going to school at Berklee College of Music. We had gone to a summer program for high school kids and that’s where we met, so it’s been a crazy evolution.

For readers who may not be familiar with how long Lettuce has been around, who’s still in the band from the original lineup?

EK: Ryan Zoidis, Adam Shmeeans, Deitch, Erick Coomes and myself are the original members. Then Sam Kininger’s kind of came in and out for years, and for the last few years [Soulive’s] Neal Evans has been playing with us as well. And then Nigel Hall is kind of an unofficial member—he’s always around—Rashawn Ross has been working with us for at least eight or nine years now.

How did you first meet Rashawn?

EK: He was playing with some friends of mine—he went to Berklee and there was a whole crew of us like Charles Haynes and Jeff Bhasker, who is the old keyboardist from Lettuce. They’re all in L.A. now doing production. Jeff Bhasker just did the Kanye/Jay-Z Throne tour and works with Bruno Mars and Alicia Keys—he’s huge doing that stuff now. So I guess I met him through Charles Haynes’ drummer—he was playing with another band called Yerba Buena, so he came out initially with Lettuce because we were going to Japan to do this live record, and we really wanted a trumpet player. He kind of came in at the last second, and we ended up booking his flight a couple of days before the trip. So we knew we wanted a trumpet player, and he came to one of the gigs and learned all the shit without even rehearsing—he just nailed it. He came out with Soulive for a few years when we had a horn section. It’s this crazy big family that everyone kind of moves in circles, and we catch up with each other at various different times. [laughter]

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