INTERVIEW: Lettuce’s Shmeeans Talks New Album, Brooklyn Bowl, Krasno +more
Lettuce has been around, or at least its members have been jamming, for over 23 years. When the group of musicians met through Berklee College of Music, they had no idea they’d be selling out venues and continuing to grow together as musicians over two decades later. It’s been a privilege to watch them over the past few years, and I can’t wait to watch them get better every time. I chat recently with guitarist Adam Smirnoff, most likely known to you as Shmeeans, about a variety of topics yesterday. Peep the transcription below.
So, the new album Crush is out. Take me through the process of making the new album.
I think the process really started because we were playing a lot more, and in playing a lot more we needed a new injection of creativity and songs and repertoire into out sets because pretty much, we are a live band and we like to keep the live show exciting and changing. Not just for the audience but for us so its always fresh and fun. So people started coming in with new tunes and demos and we would start playing them live and letting them evolve and change over time and adding sections to them and finding places where tunes can oen up and improvise within the structures of the songs. And once we were really comfortable with that, then we went into the studio and recorded.
Since then the tunes have progressed and changed and evolved more since we’ve recorded them. That seems to be the way of the Lett.
Yeah this album sounds the most comfortable to me, in terms of studio albums. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Well, first of all thank you very much for saying that. That’s definitely the goal that we all have in mind, and I hope that’s true for a lot of different reasons. We’re more comfortable with the process now, we’re older, better songwriters and better producers. We have more concept of what the group sound is just from playing a lot more. I don’t really know the answers, I can just…
Speculate, yeah. It’s been fun watching the band progressed from seeing you guys at the Suwannee years ago to playing two shows at Playstation Theater just recently. The band started in 1992, is that correct?
Well that’s when we met. That’s when Ryan Zoidis, Erin Coons, Adam Deitch, Eric Krazno, and myself, Adam Smirnoff, originally met. The summer of 1992, which was the summer program for kids at the Berklee College of Music.
So you guys have been on the slow and steady grind for a while. It must be amazing to do two packed shows like Playstation Theater now, right?
Are you kidding? I’m so thankful, I’m so grateful to have fans and people who love music to come and see us. A lot of us probably thought that we could make headway in music, and play shows, but really to walk this path and to understand how lucky we are and how a lot of it has to do with being at the right place at the right time with the right people. It isn’t necessarily about who’s a great musician, because there’s so many musicians out there that never really get this kind of opportunity. So, I don’t know, it’s a really special thing and I am not taking it for granted one bit.
It’s great to hear you say that. So, 1992 would put you at 23 years of playing together, and you’re still graduating to bigger rooms. How big can you guys get? How big can a funk band be?
I just hope that every time we play together, no matter how many people are in front of us, that we continue to play and get into really tight pockets that make your skin get goosebumps and make you want to bop your neck. That’s really what’s important to me, and the thing that has kept us goin’ forever. Whatever, about the hype, you know? All of us, for the love of it, for the fun of it, will always get together and play.
Cool. So I know that you didn’t play in the Pretty Lights live band, but some of your bandmates did. Do you think that’s attributed to the hype and the growth?
Oh, there’s no question that the connection between Pretty Lights, Derek, Lettuce, his crew that came out and helped us…it’s really nice when people kind of bless you like that. You get to see that and through Break Science and our audience expanding from 10 years ago to where we are today. I think it’s directly a correlation between Break Science, the work that Adam and Borahm Lee have done, and Derek and Pretty Lights and all those guys. [Along with] Family Affair [it’s a] cross pollination, and I love it.
That’s a good way to put it. There’s a little bit of a stigma between some of the older heads and the electronics, but you guys, especially as of late, have really been embracing it. For example, Zoidis is doing some really weird stuff on the saxophone, and Kraz has a keyboard up there. Go ahead and talk about that style working its way into Lettuce.
Well I think it’s just really a natural progression, and not stuff that’s really too new. When you look at the hip hop influence in this band and the amount of artists that we’ve all worked with, it’s just something that’s in our DNA. As far as psychedelia, that’s always been there too. And then as far as the new stuff, I could liken what Ryan is doing to a futuristic, modern-day Eddie Harris with what he’s doing on the saxophone. And he’s one of our biggest influences and definitely one of Ryan’s biggest influences, but I think he’s doing his own thing with it. And with Kraz having his own keyboard up there, I mean he’s just such an incredible multi-instrumentalist. You heard him play bass with the Nigel Hall Band? Oh my God! He’s like Paul Jackson. He plays keys, he plays guitar, and some of the stuff he’s doing is what he recorded on the records. I think now that it’s been put down on the recordings, we’re trying to stay true to those songs.
What’s it like with him playing sometimes and not others, since he’s so amazing. Does that throw a wrench in things?
Nah, not at all.
Yeah it doesn’t really seem like it, although you would think such a talented dude’s absence would be a bit more of a hindrance.
It might be to some of our older fans, and I’m sorry to them, but I can’t force my brother to come out when he doesn’t want to come out. He’s busy with his record label, and songwriting, and producing, and putting his hands on every project, [like] freaking Phil Lesh and the Grateful Dead. [He’s] producing multiple records from Aaron Neville’s, to Nigel Hall, to the London Souls, and starting his own label. I mean, you need to respect each other’s paths, and I think really that’s what’s kept Lettuce together for all these years. For the first 15-17 years of this band it wasn’t a full-time project for any of us. Now it is, and when Kraz wants to come hang, he can come hang, and it’s gonna be like riding a bike, and I’m playing with my homie that I’ve been playing with – I’ve known Kraz longer than anyone else in this group. I met Kraz when I was 13 years old, at [a] summer guitar workshop in Connecticut.
Woah that’s amazing. It’s nice that you guys can do that because a lot of the other bands in this scene that have had a shift in their lineup.
We’ve had major, major shifts in our lineups from the beginning of Lettuce til now. I think that’s all part of the task of any band, you know? Things change, and the point is that when you get a bunch of guys on stage, are playing together? Are they having fun? Are they spreading love? Is the audience feeling it? Those are the important things.
That’s beautiful. I couldn’t really agree more. I think you guys do that most often at the Brooklyn Bowl, where you guys are playing come New Year’s. What is it about the Brooklyn Bowl?
I think that starts and ends with Mr. Peter Shapiro, and the vibe that he has set for his club. To me, it goes all the way back to the Wetlands days. All the guys who work there, and run it, they’re family to us. People like Peter Costello, you know, these are guys that we’ve been working with since the beginning of Lettuce really. Brooklyn Bowl is our special home in New York, and the audience that goes there, I liken to being back at the Wetlands. I was going there and trying to meet kind people back then and I think you can do the same thing now with the audience that comes there.
I agree. I love having that place down the street from my house. That’s all I have for you Adam, thanks for your time. Anything you’d like to add?
Thank you so much for taking your time and caring about what we do. I appreciate you, man, thank you!