bill bodkin rages with the funkiest band in town …
Who knew that a group of teenage kids who met at a musical summer camp and formed a band named after a vegetable — more on that later — would grow up to become of the most fun, electric and, most importantly, influential musical groups today?
Influential, you may ask?
See, the members of Lettuce are all renowned touring musicians, studio musicians and producers who have worked with artists like 50 Cent, Public Enemy, Eric B and Rakim, Robert Randolph & The Family Band, Redman, Talib Kweli, Justin Timberlake, Daniel Bedingfield, Wyclef Jean, The Fugees, The John Scofield Band, The Game, Britney Spears, Pretty Lights and countless other acts. So while you may be unaware of who Lettuce is, you’ve no doubt heard their beats, riffs and bass lines in some of the biggest songs of the past two decades.
And while this resume is extremely impressive, nothing is more impressive than the music they make as Lettuce. Working with a color palette of of funk, jazz and soul, the picture Lettuce paints with each song they perform is vibrant, joyous, full of soul and spirit. It’s the type of music that’s caused patrons of crowded concert venues to dance like there’s no tomorrow.
And while they still have their own projects and gigs, the band still has an undying love to record music together. And this week — a busy one for the band — is a week they’re putting that love on 2-inch tape. As we speak, they’re laying down tracks for their first studio album in almost four years. And tomorrow night, they will play The Brooklyn Bowl in New York with The Nigel Hall Band as a part of the Second Annual Royal Family Holiday Rage.
Pop-Break’s Bill Bodkin spoke with Lettuce guitarist Adam “Shmeeans” Smirnoff about the band’s new record, the origin of the band’s name and much more.
Pop-Break: You guys are in the studio as we speak, working on your first record since Rage! came out in 2008. How do you feel about being back in the studios with this group of guys?
Adam Smirnoff: It’s like being in the comfort of your home, on your couch, in your comfy clothes. This is how I know music — I’ve been playing with these guys since I’ve been 15, 16 years old. To be honest, we’ve tracked for three days and we’ve already got 15 basic tracks done. If that gives you any idea, if you’ve ever been in the studio before, that’s a lot done! It’s an amazing thing to not only be in the studio with great musicians or great players, but everyone here is a superb writer and a superb arranger. Basically, everyone here could be a band leader. And instead of coming together in the studio and butting heads, everyone’s come together in a beautiful and harmonious way.
PB: You guys came together at a summer program at the prestigious Berklee School Of Music in Boston. Can you talk about how you guys met?
AS: Berklee does a five-week program during the summer. For me, being from where I was in New York, it was a very, very, very important experience. I felt I didn’t have many people to play with growing up. I kinda went there just wanting to meet other people to play with. And the first, the very first minute I get there, I hang out, I do my thing and then I take my stuff into the practice room. And I start playing. Literally within 20 minutes of me being in the practice room playing this young kid, with his hat on backwards comes in and says, ‘Hey man, you sound really good. Would you mind bringing your guitar stuff and bringing it into my drum room and jamming with me in the drum room?’ And it was Adam Deitch (Lettuce’s drummer and the co-creator of the electronic duo Break Science). The first day, I’m there — the first night! And the rest is basically history.
PB: You guys have worked together for so long and have amazing careers outside of Lettuce. For you personally, what is it about working with these guys that keeps bringing you back?
AS: I think you can’t answer that question without a one-word answer. And that answer is love. There’s love in this group, between these people. It’s real, it’s not just a bunch of good players on a stage together — this is a family.
PB: Eric Krasno was quoted in one of your press releases about the new recording saying: “We’re very excited to be documenting the band following one of the best years we’ve had together since forming back in ’92.” Can you talk about how 2011 has influenced the creation of this new record?
AS: I think a lot of us approached this year knowing that it was time to get back into the studio and do another recording. And because we had that mindset, I think we started to come to a lot of gigs with new material — not only for the new record, but for us. It’s a great thing when you sit down and you look at the writings you’ve done and you’re like, ‘Man, this would be really cool if Lettuce did this.’ Then all of a sudden, you bring a demo to your friends and then you’re playing it live in front of 2,500 people at The House of Blues in Boston. Man, what an incredible, transitional thing to watch happen. And I think this record, because everyone did that, we got to get into the studio and half the record we had already been playing at live shows in 2011. So that’s the reason I think we were able to knock out so much so fast and then give ourselves all this time for all this brand new stuff that we’ve never played before and are recording now.
PB: Was it a conscious decision to wait a couple of years to record a new album?
AS: No conscious decision. Things just happened the way they happened. [laughs]
PB: You guys have been together since the early ’90s and started performing together as teens, so it’d be safe to say the band’s sound has evolved. However, was this sonic evolution something natural, or did it turn out to be something you guys never expected?
AS: I think it’s just a very natural progression to where we are right now. I think the thing that we touched on when we were younger was that we all have certain very similar interests and likes and complimentary ways that we play our instruments with each other. I mean, you’ll never meet anyone who loves to groove more than Adam Deitch on the drums. When you have a bass player like Erick Coomes, who just loves to lay down bass lines, how much more complimentary can you get? It’s like being on a basketball team with a great center and great point guard. For me, I just love to play rhythm guitar, I could do it for hours on end. This is the greatest thing for me — a drummer that loves to groove and a bass player who loves to lay down bass lines and let me play rhythm. Then you have Eric Krasno, who to me, is one of the greatest guitar players of our era. He’s going to be like a Jerry Garcia, a Trey [Phish’s Trey Anastasio] — as far as the jam band world is concerned. I feel that this band, with these particular members, is going to be around a long time and create music that’s going to touch people. It’s hard to do to do what we’re doing with this band — it takes a lot of sacrifice and a lot of love, and passion has to be there, or it won’t survive.
It feels good to do what I love to do and get the response I do from the crowd, and I’ve played with a lot of pop acts. I mean, the feeling from a crowd can never even come close then when I’m onstage with Lettuce.
PB: Some people might not know this but you actually opened the Royal Family Ball Tour as a DJ. Is this something you’ve done before?
AS: That was actually my first tour of doing stuff like that. I’ve been involved, like most of us here, like most modern musicians, we’re all, aside from being instrumentalists, we’re all engineers and producers in our own way. We’ve been blessed with programs like ProTools, Logic and Ableton at our fingertips in our laptops. Through the years from being a producer, I’ve been making beats, and when your friends with Adam Deitch, one of greatest beat-makers in the world, it’s hard not to be influenced to go out there make some hot fire yourself.
PB: Off topic, a lot of people have asked me to ask you guys why you named the band Lettuce. They’d like to know the story.
AS: You don’t know the answer to this question? Wow. It’s quite as simple as this. We were young kids at Berklee and we do not have gigs. So we would go to other people’s gig and we’d be like, ‘Damn, we really wanna play.’ And then maybe we’d ask them, ‘Hey, would you let us play your instruments?” [laughs] Is was, ‘Would you let us play your stuff, would you let us sit in on your gig?’ That and it’s a nice, green vegetable.
PB: And finally, what are the band’s plans for 2011?
AS: Lettuce is going to be touring the record this year, touring and playing shows and festivals near you.