A Few Funky Questions with Lettuce

Words by: Dennis Cook | Images by: Susan J. Weiand [captured 05.18.12 at The Fillmore SF]

Lettuce by Susan J. Weiand
Crucial funk, real funk, on it like ink on paper funk, give it whatever designator you like but when the genuine article puts the whip-whap on you the truth of it rattles your bones and shakes something loose. There’s a reason George Clinton and his posse talked about dancing out of one’s constrictions. It’s the same impulse that made James Brown pronounce folks needed to “Give It Up or Turnit a Loose.” Funk divines the secret, wild reservoir in our guts and lets it spray every which where, just so long as one surrenders to the bubbling call in their belly. Many try and stimulate these centers with music, many of them stomping on a good foot or three, but few drive the tap in so deep and sure as Lettuce. This NYC-based ensemble is all heavy-hitters – including mainstays Eric “Kraz” Krasno (guitar), Neal “The Hawk” Evans (keys), Rawshawn Ross (trumpet) and guests in good standing like Nigel Hall (vocals, keys), Charles “Dawg” Haynes (percussion) and Cochemea Gastelum (flute, saxes) - fellas whose entire being yearns to ride the groove rapids (or from time to time seduce in the simmering shallows), chasing down riffs, righteous rhythms, and just plain cool ass sounds to stimulate the frontal lobe to jump into some reptile brain capers.

New Album
Celebrating their 20th year together, Lettuce recently unleashed their latest album, Fly (released June 5 on Velour/Royal Family), and it’s a set akin to the Beastie Boys circa Check Your Head or A Tribe Called Quest during their Low End Theory, where one feels the whole damn band is after it in a huge, hungry way – and to their great credit, Lettuce gets it without the use of words most of the time. Yes, the primo ancestors one would suspect float in their sound – Grant Green, War (who get a lovely nod on a fine instrumental take of “Slippin’ Into Darkness”), Stevie Wonder, Parliament, Lonnie Liston Smith, to name but a few – but what this latest salvo announces with authority is that Lettuce are originators not imitators. Fly represents a band completely conversant in ALL the fundamentals of funk that then takes those raw elements and stirs them into slammin’ new combinations. Like their ever-compelling live shows, Fly is a testament to what can happen when musicians listen to one another with care and humility and then trust their instincts and those of the players around them. Feel is central to Lettuce’s mojo and this new studio work is tactile as a motherfucker, a visceral assortment that reveals the variety available within funk’s parameters when handled so capably and imaginatively.

Lettuce by Susan J. Weiand
We fired off a half dozen questions to Lettuce to see what enlightenment we might glean from these masters of booty motion. Core members Ryan "Zwad" Zoidis (saxophones), Adam "Shmeeans" Smirnoff (guitar), Adam Deitch (drums) and Erick "Jesus" Coomes (bass) were kind enough to spill a little knowledge on our domes.

1. What are the first three words to spring to mind when someone says "funk"?

Zoidis: Universal pocket vibe

Shmeeans: Spirituality, Dancing, James Brown

Deitch: Nasty vibing breaks

Coomes: 1. The word ‘fuck’ except you can say it on the radio. 2. Sex 3. Drugs

Lettuce by Susan J. Weiand
2. Slang is essential to this kind of music. What are some of the expressions within the Lettuce camp to note when you've hit upon something good? What pops out of your mouth when somebody nails something tasty?

Zoidis: Crushing

Shmeeans: Someone might look at you after a killing solo and say "Patrice Crushin!!!"

Deitch: When one of us is telling the rest of the guys about a show or record he just heard that was great, usually the voice will drop as low as possible and say, " It was KILLLLing," "Crushville," or "Murder." Kraz likes to combine celebrities names with compliments, such as "Larry Murd" (Larry Bird) or Val "Kill"mer.

Coomes: I like to say Murderville Central or lately, 'Awesome Show Great Job'.

3. What are some of the biggest misconceptions about funk music?

Lettuce by Susan J. Weiand
Zoidis: Just because someone is playing a funk song doesn't mean it's gonna be funky. It’s either funky or it ain’t - no in between.

Shmeeans: One of the biggest misconceptions is that funk ever went away. It has just transformed, helping create other musical genres.

Deitch: The biggest misconception about FUNK music is people not realizing how many sub-genres there are within funk - 60s breaks, Nawlins funk, jazz funk, fusion funk, JB funk, Oakland funk, 80s funk, etc. It’s a very deep genre that has many sub-categories.

Coomes: 1. Disco is funk. 2. The bass player mainly slaps

4. Fly was recorded all-analog to two-inch tape with vintage reverb and delay. How does this recording method affect the music? What does this approach bring to Lettuce's sound that recording digital with Pro-Tools wouldn't?

Adam Deitch by Susan J. Weiand
Zoidis: It’s the best way to capture music.

Shmeeans: Tone is in your hands, your fingers, how you hold your pick or your drum sticks. Recording the album in analog format just helps to bring out all these little nuances in everyone's playing.

Deitch: All the records we love were recorded on tape. We just wanted the sound to be real, present, and WARM.

Coomes: Recording to two- inch tape creates a warm analog sound with true frequencies, harmonics and overtones that actually vibrate on a closer level to the universal waves of life.

5. One classic soul-funk tune that everyone should be familiar with is...

Lettuce by Susan J. Weiand
Zoidis: "Glide" by Pleasure

Shmeeans: Everyone should be familiar with the "Oakland Stroke" by Tower of Power. My high school music teacher, Kenneth Jernigan, put both halves of that tune on a mix tape for me that changed my life.

Deitch: "Just Kissed My Baby" by The Meters (we just got back from Nawlins)

Coomes: “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke

[Sample their selections below these questions]

6. Funkadelic once noted that "soul is a ham hock in your cornflakes." Discuss. And feel to offer another lyrical touchstone for funky wisdom, too.

Lettuce by Susan J. Weiand
Shmeeans: "Giving up food for funk" would be my lyric. Meaning that we are willing to sacrifice food, or whatever it may be, in order to keep bringing our music to the world. In essence a statement that says love for the greater good is more important than the needs of the individual.

Deitch: Funkadelic had a huge political message to bring to light when they discussed their intergalactic funk speak. Corn flakes represents corny music and general white America. Ham Hocks, which are probably one of the "funkiest" of all soul foods, represents African-American culture and music in this instance (Paint the white house black). George mentioned in an interview once that he got the idea for all the spaceships at their shows and on their album covers from asking himself this question: "Where do you NOT see black people? In space." He made it a point to add intergalactic space travel fantasies to his music for that reason.

Coomes: To answer that question specifically and precisely, I would say, "Love everyone you see. Learn to live with each other peacefully and appreciate each other’s differences as well as our similarities. Bless each other with our strengths and help each other with our weakness. And when you're done doing that watch The Ladies Man - it's a great film."

Lettuce Tour Dates :: Lettuce News

JamBase | Elevated
Go See Live Music!


[Published on: 6/20/12]

Take full advantage of all JamBase has to offer by signing up for an account!

You'll receive

show alerts

when your favorite artists announce shows, be eligible to enter contests for

free tickets

, gain the ability to

share your personalized live music calendar

and much more. Join JamBase!