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By Jarrod Dicker
New Brunswick, NJ, USA
Images courtesy of Eric Krasno
Rubber Soulive (2010)
To be there and everywhere / here, there and everywhere - Lennon/McCartney
Though not listed on Soulive’s upcoming Beatles cover record Rubber Soulive, the title “Here, There and Everywhere” literally illustrates the artistic mobility and versatility of world acclaimed funk/jazz guitarist, Eric Krasno. A celebrated musician in today’s vast music scene, Krasno has set himself apart from the competition, creating a signature sound and “family” that could be heard through his many efforts in Lettuce, Chapter 2, Fyre Dept. and jazz trio Soulive--to name a lion’s share.
Following up his ever first solo album, Reminisce, Krasno, Neal Evans and Alan Evans of Soulive do the unthinkable, diving into a hefty Beatles catalog in attempt to inject their signature style into the legendary mop-top formula. Where cover albums have had mixed reviews in both past and present, Rubber Soulive takes the bull by the horns, manipulating 11 key tracks that add some style and funk that would even leave McCartney buckling in awe.
Jarrod Dicker spoke with the guitarist Eric Krasno about Rubber Soulive, Royal Family Records, the solo album Reminisce, Nigel Hall, genre blending, the upcoming Fire Dept. mixtape and more.
THIRSTY: Let’s talk about the newest Soulive record, Rubber Soulive. It’s quite ambitious to cover tracks from the Beatles repertoire. With such an eclectic blend of influences behind the configuration of Soulive, why did the trio choose the Beatles to cover?
Eric Krasno: You know, the Beatles are a band that I’ve always been a huge fan of. They have so many great songs to choose from and I consider them to be some of the best songwriters of all time. So I think that was the main reason behind it. There are so many great tunes to choose from and their music is stuff that most people will recognize. If you’re going to do an album of all covers, you want it to be--at least the point for us--tunes that people will recognize. Then we could change them and add our own vibe to them.
THIRSTY: Can you briefly walk me through the decision process behind the specific Beatles tracks you decided to include on the album?
Eric Krasno: At the time that we selected the tracks for Rubber Soulive, it was when the Beatles were releasing all their remastered material. We just really went through all the albums we had on iTunes and started listening to figure out which ones translate best with Soulive. It was a pretty organic process. We just went through them and once we found one that we really loved, we’d play it for a little bit. If it had a vibe and started to gel then we’d finish it.
THIRSTY: Were the songs selected by the whole group or did someone take the lead with guiding the process?
Eric Krasno: It was pretty much all three of us, everyone was there. It wasn’t premeditated much; we went into the studio and started this project with not much preparation. We’ve been talking about it for years and when we found some open time in the studio--right in the spur of the moment--we just kind of started it up. After, we put all the tracks in and then added our own style on it.
THIRSTY: On that note, what was the recording climate in the studio with Rubber Soulive like? Soulive is a very improvisational, live group. Was there a lot of dubbing or was the album laid down genuinely live and produced as is?
Eric Krasno: It was definitely an organic process. We just went through the tunes a couple times, sometimes only once through, and we’d simply start playing them. It definitely was all about the “live”; we didn’t do that much editing. Maybe a little, but it was very minimal. I might have added guitar on one or two tunes to add a lead part or another rhythm part. But I’d say 99% of it is straight live trio takes.
THIRSTY: The record essentially goes through each track the way--sans vocals--it was originally produced by the Beatles in terms of length and sound. What was your mindset when considering whether to modify the songs and make this an adaptation project or simply keep it as a traditional homage to the Beatles? Do you feel you found a medium?
Eric Krasno: You know, we wanted to make it “Soulive” but we didn’t want to make it long epics. We definitely take solos but I think we saved those mostly for the live show. At live performances, a lot of the tunes are more evolved and there’s a lot more improvisation going on. We save that for the live show. We didn’t want to over think this record. We didn’t want to make the tracks too long. We wanted to keep the Beatles vibe in some way, their style of getting straight to the point.
THIRSTY: What things musically from the original tracks did you purposely try to stay away from on Rubber Soulive? What specifically did you guys add to give these tracks that Soulive sound?
(credit: Rob Chapman)
Eric Krasno: I think part of it is that we wanted to choose particular songs that we could make a groove to or could see ourselves shaping into a cool groove. Part of the Soulive thing is that we want to play all our material live. We like people to dance while also listening to the music intently. Certain tracks on Rubber Soulive we kept pretty true to the original and other ones like “Eleanor Rigby” we created a whole new take on. So it was deciding which ones will translate at a live show and come through truly sounding like us.
THIRSTY: As the guitarist and “voice” of the predominately instrumental Rubber Soulive, did you have any difficulty substituting the vocal arrangements on the tracks with your lead guitar?
Eric Krasno: No, I think it was pretty natural throughout. If it didn’t seem natural than it wasn’t the right tune, you know? And also, Neal plays melodies on a couple tunes too. So the ones where I wasn’t totally comfortable playing the melody I gave to him and the ones where he wasn’t comfortable I would take; if both didn’t work, we’d move on to something else. I think it’s just fun to play those melodies like “In My Life” which was so strong and simple at the same time. It was really fun for me to do that track.
THIRSTY: Are there any other artists Soulive would create a cover album around, maybe Led Zeppelin or Jimi Hendrix?
Eric Krasno: Yes, we’ve definitely been talking about doing something like that. I think we’ll keep this going; it really is a fun project. As you know, we have our own label (Royal Family Records) and our own studio so it’s kind of like, why not? It’s a fun thing to do and I’m sure we’ll keep making original records, too. But we have already talked about a few ideas for the next one, so I would definitely expect this to continue.
THIRSTY: How did your first solo album Reminisce come together and what led up to the making of that album?
Eric Krasno: Yes, well, that one started a while back. The first sessions were around 2006-2007. I would occasionally take time off and then come back to it. So this record took a lot of different turns. They’re a million tracks that were intended to be on that album that ended up being solo songs on the No Place Like Soul Soulive album. Those were originally meant for Reminisce because I was doing a vocal record--wrote a lot of lyrics and stuff--but it ended up on that Soulive record. Some other tracks that were intended for my solo record are now going to be on Nigel Hall’s new album. In the end, I decided to do a primarily instrumental record which was settled on just in the last year, really. So half of Reminisce is from back then and half of it is more recent. Every once in a while I would work on my album; this week, or today, or whatever. It was a lot of spur of the moment sessions spanned over time. But in the end I think it came together and I’m happy with it. There were a lot of outtakes though [laughs], I could make three other albums with the outtakes. This group of tracks seems to be the most cohesive.
(credit: Rob Chapman)
THIRSTY: What was the concept behind Reminisce?
Eric Krasno: The whole concept of this record was to pay homage to the different eras of guitar playing that I grew up with. So there’s a nod to Santana, there’s a nod to Jeff Beck; it’s my own take on it but the reason I called it Reminisce was to look back on the records that influenced me growing up and create my own version on an album around those influences.
THIRSTY: So is it safe to say in the Royal Family Records hierarchy, you put your solo efforts second or third behind the group work among the different projects?
Eric Krasno: I guess you could say that. We don’t really address it too much but I think the touring machine is Soulive, obviously. So we always want to make sure that we have an album out with them. And my record is something that I will sell on tour and do shows behind, but you’ll see more touring from Soulive. It’s something that we’re going to keep doing; putting out records and whatever. What we’ll also do, and what we’re talking about in the spring, is doing a whole Royal Family tour that focuses on Soulive and the many other releases. As time goes on, pending when/where the touring is and where the focus is, we’ll shift from one thing to another. The great thing is that we’re all involved in a lot of different things. We all want to have a community where there’s a communal outlet so everyone could put out their different projects. We’ll see where it goes. If Nigel Hall’s new solo record blows up then we’ll focus on that. Either way, I know that Soulive will continue to tour and record.
THIRSTY: Talking about Nigel, I had the pleasure of speaking with Adam Deitch a couple months back and he mentioned that this is going to be a monster album.
Eric Krasno: Definitely, we’re excited about it and it’s really close to getting done. We have some good music on there and a bunch of collaborations. It’s going to be great.
(credit: Rob Chapman)
THIRSTY: Adam also said that he and you write for a bunch of projects within Royal Family; are you integral in the songwriting and creation of every artist on the Royal Family label?
Eric Krasno: It really depends on the project. With Breakscience, for example, I’ll come in and not necessarily play on the tracks but rather go in and mix some material. With Neal Evans’ record, I play guitar on some of the tracks and did a listen through. It depends; if they want my input I’ll come in and help out. On my record, Alan mixed it and we recorded a bunch of it at his studio. Neal sat in on a bunch of it as well. It’s a really organic thing, literally whoever’s around at that moment. We all hear everyone’s stuff and are open to one another’s opinions. We’ll trade plug-ins and get all geeked out on stuff and pass it around to see what everyone else thinks [laughs]. It is a collective effort, but I think each project has its own story to it.
THIRSTY: You have a very eclectic musical style and background. The music Royal Family Records makes crosses many genre lines. Do you personally prefer a certain sound/style? Or is it a mission of yours to melt genre barriers and classifications?
Eric Krasno: Yea, I mean it’s definitely something we hope to do, but again, it’s whatever comes out comes out. We’re not trying to be a soul label, funk label or a hip-hop label, but we love all those types of music. So what we’re hoping to do is gain a fan base of people that just trust our ears and don’t mind stretching across different genres. You’ll hear a soul/jazz record and then you’ll hear a hip-hop record, or a dub-step track. I think the main thing is that we try to keep the quality at the highest level we can. And I don’t just want to do one thing, I want to keep moving and trying different things so that we’re excited about the music and happy about it. The more we try different things the more creative we get and the more excited we’ll be. In turn, the audience will be as well.
THIRSTY: Do genres even still exist in your opinion? It seems a lot of music on the scene is a hybrid of influences nowadays.
Eric Krasno: I do think that’s changing. For a long time we were on a “jazz” record label and, of course, when you’re dealing with iTunes and certain mediums there has to be a genre that you fall under. But with the fall of the record store it became less important. With iTunes you still have to pick a genre to fall under. The other grievance about that is that you have to attach yourself to a sound that’s popular or an artist that’s popular at the time. It’s something that I much rather do without but in order for the business to work you have to have a label on it. On the creative side of things, I’d much rather not have to think about that. But I think it’s getting broken down more and more to the point where it’s just music. That’s a good thing; it’s just a matter of finding ways to have an outlet. Like I said, in an ideal world people would just say, “Oh, I want to get a new record, let’s go to Royal Family Records [laughs],” that’s the ideal world. But in the meanwhile, we have to go through iTunes and these places to sell music and they feel the need to put a category on it and I completely understand why.
THIRSTY: Soulive recently announced they will be playing Boston’s The Paradise for New Years Eve this year. Being that the group is from a few different cities, and you’re a touring band, does Soulive consider any one city home?
(credit: Rob Chapman)
Eric Krasno: I would say yes, we are a traveling band. I say we’re from New York because Neal and I both live in NY. I would definitely say if we’re from anywhere, we’re from New York. Boston has always been really supportive; San Francisco and New Orleans are also one of our most supportive cities. So I would say we’re not like one of those bands where our identity is a city, but when people ask me where I’m from I say New York even though it’s more complicated than that in reality [laughs].
THIRSTY: As you stated before, Soulive has bounced from various big name labels throughout the years. Now that you have created your own label and sat in it for some time, would you say overall the positives outweigh the negatives?
Eric Krasno: It’s definitely a plus for Soulive and I’d say it’s definitely better for everything in whole. There were times when it was nice to have a big ol’ cushy budget, a fancy studio, and sushi dinners, but that really wasn’t a reality. We were paying for that on the back end of all the other stuff. It’s better now, it’s more realistic [laughs] and we get to do what we want. The only issue being that we still have to pay for it [laughs].
THIRSTY: They’re some plus and minuses
Eric Krasno: Exactly.
THIRSTY: Is there anything else on tap from Royal Family camp that readers should look forward to?
Eric Krasno: Well, The Fyre Dept. (Adam Deitch/Eric Krasno) is coming out with a mix tape called The Lost Files Volume 1. We have a few tracks ready to go and we’re going to be giving it away for free most likely. I’ll be updating on the site how and where fans will be able to get it. It should be completed in four or five days. We got Talib Kweli to come in and do something and Jean Grae. It’s going to be 90% instrumental with a couple songs featuring MCs on them. Also, in New York, we’re doing this Terminal 5 gig with Lettuce, Soulive, John Scofield, Questlove, Talib Kweli, Nigel Hall and a bunch more. I really urge people to get out for that. We’re going to do a bunch of really cool tunes and debut and some new material as well.