The Art Of The Sit-In | Adam Deitch
Words By: Chad Berndtson
Welcome to another edition of The Art of the Sit-In, where we mix it up with the scene’s most adventurous players and hear some stories from the road. For more, check out our recent interviews with Neal Casal, George Porter Jr., Jason Hann, Jason Crosby, Vince Herman, and many more.
You don’t get Adam Deitch’s reputation if you don’t know your way around beats and grooves, and as legions of Deitch collaborators can attest, the man definitely does. From Lettuce, Break Science and Pretty Lights to 50 Cent, Wyclef Jean, Ledisi and John Scofield’s Uberjam Band, there doesn’t seem to be a single musical idiom that gives Deitch trouble, especially if what’s called for is in any of this hip-hop, jazz, funk and electronica comfort zones.
While Deitch’s priorities remain Lettuce and Break Science, he’s on the road for a handful of dates this spring with DRKWAV, the supergroup trio with keyboardist John Medeski and Skerik that calls on all of his gifts.
DRKWAV’s music –captured on a new album, The Purge, out this week –gets as deep and dark as its moniker suggests with generous coatings of psychedelia and even humor. But this isn’t just skronk-stuffed “out” music; Deitch told us in a recent interview, it’s coming from musicians who are cool, calm and collected in spaces that might utterly terrify anyone short of a master improvisationalist. And that’s why it works.
JAMBASE: So how did DRKWAV come together?
ADAM DEITCH: The three of us did a few small things and also a gig at the Royal Family Affair with Lettuce was playing that, and we just had a great time. I originally met John [Medeski] through John Scofield, and we also played together on the Uberjam record –we have a history of playing together. I’ve come to realize how awesome he is as a person as well as a player and of course he and Skerik really complement each other in terms of their concept of music and how out they really want to take it. My place is to keep it danceable while they go completely out there and get dark on their instruments. It’s evolved to a point where we want to spend some time with this.
JAMBASE: You guys all have jam-packed schedules, though. What’s the thought process on how to make it a priority when it’s tough to grab time?
AD: Lettuce and Break Science are my main priorities right now, but Medeski and Skerik had really talked about how much they wanted to do this. Skerik was the one who really drove putting it together, getting help with the record to get it recorded, and taking the reins to schedule this. He pushed us all to clear up time and deal with the schedules.
JAMBASE: Did you spend much time woodshedding together?
AD: Not really [laughs]. We had some concepts, everything from these ancient chants to things we looked at doing that were psychedelic in nature. This was a really interesting process making this record because it came from a mostly improvisational place, with some overall concepts and vibes.
JAMBASE: And was it always the plan to keep DRKWAV just the three of you? It seems that when there’s something this highly improvisational there’s always a question of how many ingredients to have.
AD: It’s the three of us. Shmeeans [Adam Smirnoff] was in with us one of the days and played on it, and Nigel Hall actually came in for one point and played some rogue stuff that I’m not even sure made it onto the record. But the three of us, yes.
JAMBASE: Do you anticipate more DRKWAV dates?
AD: I can see that happening, yeah. This is the kind of thing where we could do sporadic things throughout the year for, I don’t know, the next 50 years or something. We’ll return to it. We all get along so well and we’re so like-minded. Lettuce and Break Science are nothing like this –this is really going out onstage and having no idea what you’re going to play.
Other situations I’m in have songs and bridges and intros and outros. But this? This we all have to keep our heads up and also use our boredom sensor to know that when something’s going on for three minutes and not really going anywhere it’s time to move it to something else. A lot of bands say they’re improvising or whatever, but this is one thousand percent improv-based. We’ll play these shows and maybe we’ll only do one of the songs off the record and just make up the rest of the show as we go. It’s only with guys like Medeski and Skerik that you can create on the spot like that and bring interesting things out of the cosmos.
JAMBASE: When you’re deep into improvisational space with Medeski and Skerik, what’s going through your mind?
AD: I’m thinking less about what I’m doing than what are we going to do as a group next –what kind of groove can I throw at them that’s going to make them come up with interesting stuff. We may be sitting on a hip-hop groove for example, but after two minutes, maybe I go into a double-time straight jungle groove and we’ll all switch it up. My job is to throw different grooves at them at different points during the set, knowing that they will instantly create something. They’re folks who can do that.
It’s fun for me to watch their expressions while this is happening. They’re very calm and comfortable within the unknown. Most musicians are not at all calm in the unknown and definitely not calm when they don’t know what they’re supposed to be playing. But these guys, they’re so comfortable. I end up laughing through most of the set.
JAMBASE: But you must be that comfortable too.
AD: I’m not as comfortable as they are! [laughs]
JAMBASE: But if you’re laughing it sounds like you’re at least having fun.
AD: Yeah. Being comfortable doing that in rehearsal is one thing, and doing it for a room full of people is another. It still stresses me out a little bit. It’s like, wow, this could fall flat, or go smooth, but do we want it go smooth? But when I’m playing with master improvisers like Medeski or Skerik or Scofield, they make me feel comfortable. From them I get, play one of your beats, or play some of your stuff, or play free. It’s learning to be more and more comfortable in that environment.
JAMBASE: Do you have go-tos when the boredom sensor kicks in, as you mentioned, and you need to shift the group differently?
AD: Yeah, I move from any style of hip-hop, from west coast or southern bounce or east coast or some kind of midwest double-time stuff, to things in the electronic music spectrum, dubstep, drum ‘n’ bass, trap. There’s West African Fela Kuti types of things I can bring in, reggae or dancehall things I can do. I’m trying to use modern grooves that maybe you might hear on drum machines or samplers, but in my case playing them on a live kit to push them into the future and not leave them as just an older style. I like to focus on keeping what beats are current in almost every form.
JAMBASE: So it’s going into a situation like this with enough styles to pull from?
AD: I think so. You’re pulling it out of the back of your mind but also listening to the people you’re playing with to figure out what is needed right then.
JAMBASE: Switching gears, you’ve been pulling double duty on this Lettuce/Break Science tour. How’s it been?
AD: It’s been a dream, its been great. First it’s been great to have Borahm Lee on the bus with us. He’s a genius producer and keyboard player and we invited him along to be part of this whole experience. Every night’s been good and everyone gets along so well. I think there are Lettuce fans showing up who have never seen Break Science and there are also maybe some younger Break Science fans who have never seen Lettuce. Everyone can dig it. The real funk fans, when they hear Break Science, they kind of dig it. Some of the young kids who maybe like only EDM, they say, oh, OK, an 8-piece funk band…OK, let’s do it. It’s a win-win situation and I hope we can continue with this.
JAMBASE: Lettuce seems like it’s really been kicking ass since coming back as a full-time band again. Very consistent.
AD: This band sometimes feels like it’s only two or three years old. We didn’t tour heavily across the country like a lot of the bands out there today like Umphrey’s or whoever, and in the past three years we’ve been hitting all of these places that we’ve never really been to before, like Minneapolis and Seattle and Madison, Wisconsin. These are places Lettuce didn’t really hit, but they’re sold out shows and we show up and they’re so into it. I guess we created some kind of demand by not playing them at all. We all stay up late some nights just buzzing because we’re just so excited about how these shows go.
JAMBASE: So Lettuce will stay this busy and also release new music it sounds like?
AD: Absolutely. We planned to cut 12 tracks and ended up cutting 20 tracks for the new album –our engineer now has to work on all 20 songs. But that’s an indication of how focused we are and how much we’re into putting new music out.
JAMBASE: I know Eric Krasno isn’t playing all Lettuce dates anymore so he can free up time to focus on other projects. Has that changed the dynamic much?
AD: Yeah, slightly. He’s still a major part of it, of course, and we talk all the time. He’s making sure he follows his heart and what he wants to do. That’s a difference between Lettuce and other bands: we’re all best friends, and it’s not like if we’re not playing together we’re not talking. We’re super close as friends. So he explained that he wanted to do his thing and we support that.
The downside is he’s not here all the time. But the upside is that people get to see what an amazing lead guitarist Adam Smirnoff is. He really is one of the greatest rhythm guitar players I’ve ever heard in my life, but when he plays lead –when he’s out there soloing –he’s really kicking ass. You hear everyone from Benson to Jimi Hendrix in what he does and what he’s doing to these crowds is in a really melodic style, not a barrage of notes. People sing along in their heads with the stuff he’s playing. He’s really coming into his own and people get to see that he is no joke on the lead guitar — it’s been great seeing him come out of his shell a bit more and do his thing. But Krasno will be there for certain shows, and he’s on the new record, of course. He’s part of it.
JAMBASE: What are your plans for Break Science this year?
AD: Break Science has been a big priority and is my main priority along with Lettuce. Look at the number of Break Science shows over the last few years and it actually dwarfs what Lettuce has done. Borahm and I put a lot into Break Science shows, it’s not just some side project, and I want to see it succeed. We’re doing a new album we’re very excited about and also working on a new video with an amazing visual artist. We’re going to continue moving and continue doing this, definitely.
JAMBASE: You mentioned Scofield earlier and I know there’s plenty of affection out there for the Uberjam Band and your recent reunion on Jam Cruise. How was that?
AD: It was a great reunion. Man, what Sco has done for my career and what a great person, and how great it is to play with him, it’s immeasurable what he’s done. We text each other, once a month or whatever, even when we’re not playing and talk about how we miss playing together. He’s just the nicest guy ever. People get intimidated because he’s a legend, but what a cool guy he is, and he just makes you want to get back out and play with him as often as possible. We did a record called Uberjam Deux [in 2013] and I feel like a lot of people still don’t know that record came out. I’ll play with Sco when I can, we’ll continue to do these things.
JAMBASE: Tell me a good sit-in story, either you with another band or group of collaborators or someone else with one of your lineups.
AD: Well, we’ve been doing this thing we’re calling the Break Science Live Band, where we’ve brought out some of the Lettuce guys to play as part of the Break Science set. The crowd seems to go nuts for this. I don’t know what’s happening but when we do some of the Break Science tracks with live drums, live keyboards, live horns and then add Shmeeans on guitar or whatever, it becomes this full wall of sound. We’ve been doing that a few nights, and we’ve even gotten some offers recently to take the Break Science Live Band to festivals. I call it “Lett Science.” I don’t know, I can see that becoming almost its own thing.
Another one is that I got to play with Cory Henry from Snarky Puppy recently. We were part of a tribute thing to Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, and Cory, wow, he’s one of the greatest I’ve heard since Herbie Hancock. He’s a limitless sort of keyboard player and he absolutely blew our minds. That was a great experience.
Catch Adam Deitch in action during upcoming DRKWAV, Lettuce and Break Science shows.
DRKWAV Tour Dates
Lettuce Tour Dates
Break Science Tour Dates