By Timothy Dwenger
The early nineties was an unlikely time for a funk juggernaut to be born. It wasn’t the drug fueled age of flower power, or the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Bill Clinton had just been elected to the White House, the Bulls won the second championship of their threepeat, and Nirvana’s Nevermind was still a relatively new release. It was 1992 and guitarist Eric Krasno was 15 years old and just beginning to find his legs as a performing musician when his parents signed him up for a summer program at the Berklee School of Music. Though Krasno was a little bit reluctant, he made the trip from his small town boarding school in Putney, VT to the big city of Boston where he met a group of people that forever changed the trajectory of his life.
“When I got there I instantly met the Lettuce guys. Ryan Zoidis was in my first ensemble and when he started playing ‘Soul Serenade’ I was like ‘Oh man, this dude’s got soul!’” Krasno said during a recent interview with The Marquee from his home in Brooklyn. “I didn’t know any other kids my age that played music that way. We had our little rock bands but nobody made me go ‘Oh man, listen to that guy!’ Soon after that I met Adam Deitch, and then Adam [Shmeeans] Smirnoff and then Erick [Jesus] Coomes who were the core original members of Lettuce.” Though the band was forced to split up after a few gigs during that summer session, they made plans to reconvene at Berklee for college in 1994.
Though Krasno only lasted one semester when he returned to Berklee, opting instead for the laidback Hampshire College in Western Mass, Lettuce started to take on a life of its own. As buzz around the band grew, Krasno found himself, as the de facto manager and booking agent, driving back to Boston frequently to pick up the rest of the band as they were rapidly developing a fanbase in the Northampton area. Lettuce was playing clubs like the Iron Horse and soon things spread to New York and The Wetlands where Krasno first met New York music impresario, and the man behind this summer’s Grateful Dead shows, Peter Shapiro.
“I remember sending tapes to Pete and corresponding with him and then meeting him for the first time and thinking ‘There’s no way that you’re the guy I’ve been sending tapes to because you’re my age, and you own this club? What the hell? What’s going on here?’”
Krasno and Shapiro went on to form a lasting friendship and working relationship that continues to this day as Krasno’s home field is Shapiro’s Brooklyn Bowl where his other band, Soulive, hosts their annual multi-night Bowlive runs.
Though Lettuce has always been well respected in the funk scene, Krasno stressed the fact that, until recently, the band wasn’t a full-time job for anyone. Over the last year or two, he admits things have changed and the demand for the band has skyrocketed as the music scene in the U.S. has experienced a resurgence of funk. “There was a time period where Shmeeans wasn’t there, there was a time period when Jesus wasn’t there, and there is a time period now where I can’t always be there,” Krasno admitted. “The band and the whole machine wants to keep moving, and I’m really supportive of that, but we had a talk maybe six months ago because it came to a point where we were booking so many dates that I was like ‘Guys, I can’t keep up with this,’ and they understood. It’s hard to be in business with your best friends sometimes but we’ve been able to do it and I’m very fortunate that they have been considerate of my situation.”
One of the strengths of Lettuce is that they have always been a collective of musicians (in fact Krasno used to have cards that read “The Lettuce Collective” that he would pass out to club owners in the ’90s) but as people have had to miss gigs from time to time, the strength of each player in the group has become critically important. While Krasno did confirm that he will be on hand for Lettuce’s first headlining gig at Red Rocks this month, he also took a minute to rave about how Smirnoff has been performing when he isn’t able to make gigs. “Adam is known as one of the great rhythm guitar players but he can [solo]his ass off,” said Krasno. “I’ll check in and watch videos and hear him just ripping face-melting solos so it’s been cool to see that it can happen without someone. Me not being there doesn’t take away from the experience in my opinion. I think it’s just that different people are featured throughout the show.”
Though every member of Lettuce may not be making each and every show these days, fans can take solace in the fact that the band has a new album in the can that will be available in the near future. “The cool thing about Lettuce and the way it’s evolved is that it’s not just about long solos, it’s really about the band itself reaching these cool improvised places that aren’t about one particular person; they are about the band breathing,” Krasno explained. “We have taken certain elements of electronic music, as far as the drops and the builds, and added another layer of dynamics to that. We are taking some of those influences from the electronic world that a lot of us have dabbled in over the last few years and injecting that into what we do and you can definitely hear that in the new album that just got mastered.”
Red Rocks Amphitheatre
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