Soulive: Vocals are the new Soul

Listen to Soulive's new album, No Place Like Soul here, or check out Soulive on Rhapsody here...

By: Forrest Reda

As Soulive, Alan Evans and his brother Neal have been making music with guitarist Eric Krasno since 1999. The soul/funk group is known as one of the best live experiences around, and has achieved true crossover success, evidenced by tours with The Rolling Stones and Dave Matthews. Until now, Soulive was instrumental, with occasional guest vocalists. When it was time to record the band's sixth full-length album, No Place Like Soul, the musicians realized the songs they were writing were vocal-based. Collectively, the musicians decided to reinvent themselves to remain artistically fulfilled, and adding vocals was the next logical step. The timing was perfect, as the band had just reconnected with vocalist Toussaint, a friend of the band for years. Toussaint's path brought him to Soulive as much as the band's path brought Soulive to him.

Read on as drummer Alan Evans shares the synchronicities behind No Place Like Soul, which becomes the inaugural release from the newly rejuvenated Memphis soul label, Stax Records.

JamBase: Tell me about the deal with Stax

Alan Evans: What happened is that our record label [Concord] bought Stax. They bought the whole catalog. Concord put out our last album, Breakout. Even before we ever signed with them, releasing a Soulive record on Stax was one of the carrots they were dangling. They told us, "We just bought Stax, but we don't know what we're going to do with it. Maybe we're gonna try and re-launch it, but for now we're just going to put out catalog stuff." So, the whole time we were kind of hoping it would happen for Breakout, but really in the end I'm kind of glad it didn't 'cause I think this is more of an appropriate album [for Stax], and the timing is right.

JamBase: How did the band meet Toussaint?

Toussaint with Soulive
Alan Evans: Toussaint is originally from Indiana, but then moved to Boston. He was kind of kicking it around Boston with some cats that we knew who lived there, like Adam Deitch, who plays with Eric in Lettuce, but we never connected. So, we started hearing about him, but he was only a reggae singer, as far as we knew. He would come out and sit in with us every once in a while on a reggae tune. We could tell he was a dope singer, but I had no idea.

So, a while ago we were on the road. We did this soul revue with this woman N'Dambi. At the time, she was managed by this cat named Otis. We were all on the bus together and we did the whole country. She used to sing with Erykah Badu. Otis and her parted ways after many years. Otis moves to New York City, and at this time, Toussaint is taking a bus back and forth between Boston and New York just to hang out. Otis saw Toussaint singing in the subway station or something, and was like, "Yo man, this cat can sing!" Kras has a studio in New York where he does R&B and hip-hop production, and Otis brought Toussaint over and they connect. Toussaint and Eric know some of the same people and they actually recorded a couple things and it sounded pretty cool, but again, nothing that is like, "Oh my god, that's the catch."

Years go by, Toussaint leaves Boston and comes out my way, and he's living in North Hampton. Sam Kininger calls me up one night, and he's like, "Yo dude, do you wanna come play with my band in North Hampton?" And I'm like, "Yeah man, I'm home. I got nothing to do." I pack up my drums and go down there and Toussaint's there. He had hit me up on MySpace, so I knew he was around, but I wasn't too close with him yet. Anyway, Toussaint comes out to the gig [and] we're playing, and we're doing all funk. You know Sam, it's straight funk. Toussaint comes up and starts singing Marvin Gaye, D'Angelo and all this stuff off the top of his head. I was just like, "Dude, what's the deal?" That's when he filled me in. He grew up in church in Indiana. He traveled all around Indiana with his family, singing gospel in churches. His whole family sings. They're incredible. So, I'm like, "Cool, man, we're both in North Hampton. We should try and hook up."

Toussaint & Krasno by Krolick
Later, Soulive goes out to Colorado doing a little tour, this is when Reggie Watts [Maktub] was with us. Now, Reggie's an amazing stand-up comic - that's his passion - so at that time he was kind of over the live music thing and he had this opportunity to go to South Africa for a comedy festival. So, Reggie leaves early from the tour, and we had just been offered a gig with Dave Matthews. We had opened up for him a few times and also the Rolling Stones, just doing the instrumental thing. That's cool but you don't really grab people's attention. We've done some shows with Reggie, and we noticed a difference when we had vocals. We were heading in that direction in terms of our own writing anyway, so I'm like, "Yo man, I just did a hit last week with Toussaint in North Hampton." I was telling the cats this, and Kras was like, "Yeah, that dude can sing." So, I just called him up and said, "Yo dude, do you wanna just come out and do some shows with us?" So, he comes out on this little run with us out to Colorado and California and we just start writing and it's clicking.

How does having a vocalist change the dynamic?

It's funny, with Tous - for the first time really - we didn't notice that we had a vocalist. Neal put it really well [when he said], "It's the first time that I didn't notice when Tous was onstage or offstage." He knows when to come out, when to lay back. That's when we kind of knew that there was something there, and then we just started to slowly build on it, jump into the studio and blah, blah, blah there's the album right there.

Continue reading for more on Soulive and Toussaint...

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