Who would have thought that a few high school aged kids attending a summer program at Berklee School of Music in Boston would lead to a music journey that spans two decades? That’s just what happened in 1992 when several members of the funk group Lettuce met and began playing.
Returning several years later as undergrads, Lettuce would go on to produce, record and release four studio albums, including their latest via TuneCore, Crush, and build a worldwide fan base of funk enthusiasts on the festival circuit. And it’s the band’s ability to completely blow people away live that has really driven their success – drawing fans from all corners of music who can appreciate the funk ethos of movement and community. Lettuce’s ability to weave influences like James Brown, Earth, Wind and Fire as well as hip hop throughout the decades makes them a live tour de force.
Comprised of drummer Adam Deitch, guitarists Adam Smirnoff and Eric Krasno, bassist Erick “Jesus” Coomes, keyboardist Neal Evans, saxophonist Ryan Zoidis, and trumpet players Eric Bloom and Rashawn Ross, the formation of Lettuce has also seen members involved with projects like Soulive, Rustic Overtones, and Break Science. We chatted with Adam Deitch and Adam Smirnoff about the band’s legacy, fan connection, and new album:
To meet as teenagers who happened to attend the same summer program at Berklee and go on to make music for over 20 years is pretty incredible. Can you describe the initial sense of musical connection and excitement that sparked when Lettuce first began playing together?
AD & AS: To be away from home for the first time, and to meet these extremely cool and funny characters who also happen to be some of the funkiest cats in the school, was a plan by a higher design. We knew it, so we hung out and made as much music together as possible. That feeling is still with us today more than twenty years later.
At the height of grunge, hip hop, and college radio rock, how did the club goers around Boston and Cambridge respond to Lettuce’s brand of funk in the early nineties?
We were unaware when we started that we would be accepted by so many different crowds. At our early stages in Boston, we played house parties that went through the roof! Young people had never heard that style of funk live very often during those days.
We definitely converted a few heads to our style of high energy horn blasts and hip hop bass lines.
Explain the evolution of Lettuce that took place between 1994 and 2002 when you released Outta Here.
After making some live tapes and compilations of our ‘jams’, we became closer as friends and decided that we would make a professional album, in a real studio, on 2″ tape, with a real engineer!
Luckily our friend from Berklee, Ari Raskin, felt the same way and invited us to Chung King studios in NYC where he was working at the time. We had no record deal, no management, and absolutely NO money! Ari didnt care, he just wanted Lettuce to be recorded correctly. Halfway through recording, Velour Records came and saw what was happenning and jumped on board. The rest is history.
Do you feel that there was some magical timing in the music of Lettuce and the rise in popularity of so-called jam bands and festival culture in the 90’s and into the 2000’s? How did it feel to be a part of this rise?
The rise of festival culture was great for us because we were happy to play for any open-minded people. We are very different musically than some of the more popular “jam bands” that everybody loves, and we are thankful so many musically adventurous fans adapted to our style over time. We are from the James Brown school of music, but like Funkadelic, we appreciate the psychedelic sounds and effects that can bring people to a higher place!
Funk, and genres that have derived from it, doesn’t have an inherently huge mainstream fan base. Do you think there’s something to the genre that is universal among music fans once they get the chance to hear it live, even if unintentionally?
Funk is a musical equivalent to a utopian society. Everybody does their part without interfering with the others’ space. When there is a melody or solo, it is merely a story being told that is supported by the community. When the groove locks in a certain way, the listeners can feel that utopian rush of goodness! We are all one! Third eye open!
With so many members and so many respective side projects, how has Lettuce balanced a touring/recording schedule with other individual priorities?
Our priorities are in place! As soon as we really started to believe that Lettuce could be where it is now, we got focused on it. We learned a lot from our other musical experiences. John Scofield, AWB, Dr Dre, Soulive, Robert Randolph, DJ Quik all made us a better band!
We are indebted to these great artists and to all we learned from these projects, but Lettuce is a band of brothers that believe in our destiny, which is to play TOGETHER!
Explain how Lettuce has kept its connection with its fan base active and engaged over the years.
Our fan connection is as grassroots as it gets. From hangin’ with our core fans, staying accessible, and putting ourselves out there is what we stick to. We don’t say much, but our real fans know how dedicated we are and how much we love to play funky soul music!
How would you explain the experience of a Lettuce performance to a fan who’s only had the privilege of jamming on their headphones?
You gotta see it to believe it! We have developed a synergy with our fans that come out to our shows that is out of this world. They know how to get the energy flowing, and it’s a dance party everywhere we go!
As you prepare to release Crush, your fourth studio album, walk me through the writing and recording process a bit. How have things changed over the years? What remains a constant?
I’ll start with what has changed over the years. I think we have all become much better writers and producers, and everyone is bringing great ideas to the band. The recording process generally starts with someone making a demo at home on their laptop or on their computer. It might be one guy, or a few of the guys working on the demo together.
At times, complete ideas will be brought to the table, other times we might add a section or put two parts together in the studio. What remains a constant is the creative passion that we have while we are in the studio, the ability to listen to each other’s ideas, and no matter what is being played, we play it FONKY.
What plans do you have to promote Crush in the upcoming year?
We plan on promoting Crush
by continuing to tour and getting to new areas of the world we haven’t been to yet. I’m really hoping we get to go back to Europe and Japan. We will be releasing a music video for “Phyllis
“, and Documentary called “Let Us Play”.