“He invented so much… Some of the funkiest stuff ever recorded was by Fred Wesley… His horn arrangements are ridiculous! When he came in, he had pages and pages of stuff. Most of it we never used! He had all these arrangements he was showing us, it was nuts!”
Alan Evans, Soulive
Alan Evans (drums), Eric Krasno (guitar), Neal Evans (Hammond B3 organ, clavinet)
Having been purveying their unique combination of Jazz, Funk, Soul and Blues across all continents for just over twenty years, the trio hailing from Buffalo, New York are well positioned to give their informed views on the industry and also the plethora and diversity of artists they’ve performed with, both on the live circuit and in the studio.
Michael ‘The Dood’ Edwards broached these subjects and more after Soulive had just walked off stage at London’s infamous Jazz Cafe, following another high octane performance for which they have become renowned.
The Dood: Great to see you all! An awesome performance by the way, the crowd really enjoyed it. Is this your first sojourn to the UK?
Eric Krasno: No…We’ve been to the Jazz cafe maybe five or six times!
The Dood: So you guys are originally from Buffalo, New York. Would you say it’s a city that has a strong Jazz and Blues culture?
Soulive: It was!!! (They all laugh loudly)
Alan Evans: It was a great place to grow up. There was obviously a lot of musical history like Grover Washington Jr, Rick James, the Dorsey brothers and a lot of Big Band stuff came out of there. The thing is back in the day when our father was going out to check out music, that (New York) was like one of the spots on the circuit everybody passed through. My father saw Count Basie and Miles Davis when he introduced his new drummer, Tony Williams. There was a lot of stuff going through there. So by the time we were growing up it started to peter off, but there was still a lot of ghosts or whatever you want to call it. The vibe is still kinda there, but it’s not quite the same anymore.
The Dood: Let’s rewind back to 1999 and the inception of the group Soulive. How did the name come to be?
Neal Evans: That came from when Al and I had a group with a friend of ours and Al and I did this one track where we were just bugging out and free-styling. Then I said this is ‘so – live’ and Al said ‘live – soul.’
That was something we recorded years before, so we were sitting around one day thinking about a name and that hit me. I just remembered it and I said to Al, ‘I got it! I got it! And I said ‘Soul Live’ and then we just did a little word play you know.
The Dood: Are you guys self taught musicians or classically trained?
Eric Krasner: Yeah, it’s kind of a combination. I went to music school for a little while, and then I dropped out. I had some training here and there but mostly I’ve got family that play music and of course I learned from them.
Neal Evans: We both like trained. I started taking piano lessons when I was eight years old and I went on to study at the Manhattan School of Music for a while…It’s a combination. It’s funny when you say self-taught because that would be like sitting in a room by yourself. We’ve been around so many musicians and heard so much music. Like that’s where you learn right.
The Dood: Tell me about that seminal ‘Get Down’ EP on Velour Records which led to you forming the trio?
Eric Krasner: Basically…they did one gig with a vibes player initially. It was just two of them and the vibes player and I showed up. I knew them from previous groups, we played together, we knew each other, we jammed together and stuff.
The Dood: This was for the E.P?
Eric Krasner: This was before the E.P! Somebody told me y’all were playing in Boston and I showed up to the gig. I ended up sitting in and the vibe was happening. A few weeks later Alan called me up and said, ‘Hey man you wanna come out to the house and see what happens?’ That day was the first time we played together and also we recorded ‘Get Down.’
Alan: The funny thing is we knew each other for years before, but we never played together before that day! Ever! We just hung out, but never played together…The thing is Kras had a lot of shit going on in Boston you know. So at one point Neil and I said we need to find a guitarist. So we started looking for a guitarist, and Kras was like, ‘I’ll help you guys!’ So we had some shows booked and he said he’d help us out until we found a guitarist. We were like alright cool! The thing is as soon as we recorded and listened to this shit it was like we knew Kras was the one.
Eric: I think the day after or right around that time my band got the gig performing with The Average White Band, so that all kind of worked out.
The Dood: Okay, so that same summer you released the ‘Turn It Out’ album, followed by five national tours in three years!
Eric: We lived out of a van.
The Dood: Yeah! Like the old cats such as Charlie Parker used to do? There were on the road 24/7?
Neal: Those first couple of years we were on the road most of the time touring non-stop.
The Dood: You mean playing University Campuses and the like?
Eric: All different kinds of gigs.
The Dood: Getting the name out there. You went on to support and work alongside such renowned bands such as The Rolling Stones, The Dave Matthews Band, The Roots, Common and John Mayer.
Eric: With the Rolling Stones, they had heard some of our albums and reached out to us to come and support them. They also asked us back a bunch of times which was great!
The Dood: Excellent! Looks good on the CV as well! Working which such a cross-section of artists with varying musical styles, must infuse the music of Soulive?
Alan: That’s happened with SO many artists. The cool thing is that a lot of them are our friends who we got to hang out with and play with. When we played the Brooklyn Bowl we had on stage The Burbridge Brothers and we’ve known them for fifteen going on sixteen years. It’s funny, because you listen to their albums when you’re young and then you’re playing with them on stage. So that’s always affected our style, some of it must be reflected in what we do.
The Dood: You played all the various open air festivals such as the Monterey Jazz Festival. Where do you get the stamina from?
Alan: You travel a lot, you’re tired, but once you get on stage the adrenalin kicks in…There’s people there to see you whether it’s a paid gig or free gig. They’ve come to see you represent.
Neal Evans, Michael ‘The Dood’ Edwards and Alan Evans
Neal: My chiropractor said to me that it’s like we (musicians) are like trained athletes. It’s the same thing, we train etc. We have crazy schedules where we flat out tired but still take to the stage. It’s like those Super bowl athletes, there’s no difference.
The Dood: Elaborate on your feelings when you initially signed for the legendary Blue Note Records?
Eric: The funny thing about that when we were making our album called ‘Turn It Out’ I remember we were sitting in the lounge and we like, ‘Who knows a year from now we might be on Blue Note Records!’ We were like joking and laughing about it and six months later we were on the label!!
The Dood: Speaking it into existence. Now, your album ‘Doing Something’ it was graced by the one man Funk institution, trombonist Mr Fred Wesley. How did his presence impact on you?
Alan: He invented so much. These cats were around back in day. Some of the funkiest stuff ever recorded was by Fred Wesley. These dudes were like B-Bop players. They were mixing R’n’B with Soul music. He’s a classical trained horn player, he knows his stuff. His horn arrangements are ridiculous! When he came in, he had pages and pages of Most of it we never used! He had all these arrangements he was showing us, it was nuts!
The Dood: So the guy is on point?
Neal: For sure! Have you read his book? (From side man to front man)
The Dood: It’s such a great insight! You’ve toured in Ghana, Russia, Brazil and Europe etc. What have you learned about each other and what have you learned about different cultures through touring internationally? Does travel broaden the mind?
Neal: We are fortunate enough to have seen this shift in technology. We sit around and talk about this all the time. You know ten years ago there were hardly any cell phones. We weren’t thinking like we’re gonna go play in Japan or we’re gonna flood Europe, we were just out there playing right and these things happen…Within a year we had this big Japanese contingent.
The Dood: There’s some here tonight!
Neal: We had fans who could barely speak English coming out to see us who are dear friends now and knew us from the beginning! Then when you travel the World you’ve got friends you’ve known for ten years. When you go to play in their town, they’ll take you out…I don’t think there was ever a point when I thought I’d be playing in Japan or going to Ghana.
And regarding us as a band, after seven years together we figured out we needed to find a balance. We all have our own side-lines; we have other groups that we work in. Al has his recording studio which keeps him busy. I’ve finished my solo album, Kras has his solo album, and Al’s album is done…He’s also started up our own record label.
The Dood: So you’re fresh and creative when you get back together?
Neal: It like this big Royal Family Ball that we’ve been doing. It’s like after ten or eleven years and we’ve just had our best show in New York City. How many people can say that? After all this time we just keep going you know.
Eric: I think it’s because we keep expanding our concept, it’s not just the artistry.
The Dood: So it’s organic, it’s always growing?
Alan: It’s the foundation for something bigger.
Neal: It’s not just about the band!
The Dood: So the Royal Family Record Label is truly a family?
Alan: It is a family! There’s Adam Deitch a drummer from Atlantis, he’s doing his own thing right now. But I’ve known Deitch just as long as I’ve known just as long as I’ve known Kras. And I’ve known Kras since we were in High School! We’ve ALL known each other a long time. Ryan Zoidis, we used to do gigs with his first band ‘Rustic Overtones’ WAY BACK in the day! We’ve all known each other for SO long – We ARE a family!!
We’ve been building for so long with Soulive, then you realise it’s not just about us. It’s about ALL of us.
Alan: It’s like all the stuff we do now is new. It’s feels new, we’re putting out new stuff…We’re all doing something NOW!
The Dood: On your sophomore album, ‘Next’ you kept your loyal followers on their toes by featuring guest vocalists Talib Kweli, Black Thought from The Roots. How did these collaborations manifest?
Eric: We talk at shows and stuff. We did a remix project with Kweli. Basically collaborating with different artist is just an extension to our groove.
Alan: The other thing is they end up being fans of ‘Soulive!’ It’s like they knew about us before, so it’s cool. It’s not just like we called people up randomly, we don’t ever really roll like that. Usually we get approached by an artist who says they’re a big fan of ‘Soulive.’ You know shit doesn’t always have to stay in the same box. On that album, ‘Next’ we had Black Thought on it, Dave Matthews – A cross-section of artists.
Eric: Even just the other night when we did the Royal Family Ball, we had John Scolfield; we had Warren Haynes, Talib Kweli to like Christian Scott. Like really diverse people, but the people in the audience were just as excited about each one. I think part of the future of music is to be open-minded to all influences, because with the internet you have access to all of it no matter where you are.
It used to be localised, like you only listened to what was around you and the people around you and they influenced you. Now you go online, you can find anything. I was watching the crowd and they were pumping their fists and nodding their heads to Kweli and doing the same to Charles Hope and they were just as passionate. So that was really refreshing, we were just like the vessel for them to showcase their talent.
Neal: And I feel like that because I don’t think there are many other groups that do this. It’s genuine, there’s nothing forced about it at all! And we’re like their friends and the people are fans of them and also fans of us. I don’t think there’s any one else out there doing that!
The Dood: I’ll give you a UK equivalent. Have you heard of a group called ‘Incognito?’
The Dood: Well, the reason Bluey named the band ‘Incognito’ was because it meant unknown or in disguise. It allows him to bring in vocalists and musicians in and around core nucleus of the band.
Alan: What most people who aren’t musicians don’t understand is that you don’t become a good musician of any particular style of music without having a lot of other influences. If you’re a Jazz or Latin guitarist or a CC DeVille – One time we were down on Florida and CC DeVille from Poison was on ‘Musical Jeopardy,’ and he knew everything! I’m talking about EVE-RY-THING!! The dude was answering stuff in a flash! Most musicians, if you’re smart you KNOW music!
Neal: The thing is what we’re trying to do and what a lot of the music industry hasn’t done for a long time is show that it is all just music and not put everything in a separate box.
Eric: I was listening to Michael Jackson’s, ‘Billy Jean’ on the radio recently and that Eddie Van Halen guitar solo came on – It’s not a short solo! And even at that time no one made a big issue of it. When that album (Thriller) came out there was no one that thought that solo was out of place. And Van Halen was one of the biggest bands around at that time.
The Dood: Moving on to your ‘Break Out’ album, you had some major guest collaborations on that project also in the form of Chaka Khan and Ivan Neville, son of Aaron Neville?
Neal: Wow! Two great artists, I mean Ivan’s my boy! It’s great to hang out with cats like that too.
Alan: They’re story-tellers’, they’ve been around music for so long. The whole Neville family, that’s musical Royalty right there.
The Dood: Let’s talk vocalist. You utilised the Reggae/Soul vocalist Toussaint Yeshua to great effect on your, ‘No Place, Like Soul’ CD and more recently Nigel Hall. What’s the deal with the intermittent use of vocalists?
Alan: The thing with Tous was, he was an amazing singer – I mean that dude was bad! And when we got together in the beginning it was, not so much for the right reasons, more a case of, ‘Let’s make some good music!’ That was the first time we made an album with another person performing throughout the whole album. It was huge for us. But I dunno, the cats at the label at Stax, they were like. ‘Oh we’re gonna blow this shit up!’ But something wasn’t right. It was a great experience but I think the label fell short. They just didn’t live up the hype of what they said they were gonna do!
After that, there was a BIG change in Soulive. We kinda like chilled out and re-grouped. Look everything happens for a reason. And I’m glad that album happened, because if it didn’t, we probably wouldn’t have started Royal Family Records. So there are a lot of things that happened in our past that were maybe negative, not negative, but we learned from. And we’re very happy right now because we have our label and we recently tied up with vocalist Nigel Hall.
The Dood: Was the reason you split from Concord records similar to that of Stax?
Eric: Yeah! That was kinda the same thing…With that album they didn’t work it the way it should’ve been worked. It’s always been like that, we just knew it was time to move on.
The Dood: The latest album you have out is ‘Rubber Soulive’, paying homage and funking up some of your favourite Beatles tracks. Are you happy with the finished product?
Eric: Yeah! As you mentioned, it’s all Beatles tunes. It was a cool project, it was a fun project, because the material was already there and it was our first time ever doing covers…It was awesome to just go through their whole catalogue and do our own thing.
The Dood: What next for Soulive?
Eric: Well we’re doing a bunch of things for the label (Royal Family) – I just made a solo record, Neal’s got one coming, Alan’s got one coming. We’re putting out Nigel Hall’s EP.
The Dood: Spreading the vibe?
Alan: People need to go to www.royalfamilyrecords.com and they can check out everything. There’s so much stuff!
The Dood: And the Royal family Label is like an Umbrella for new and aspiring artists as well as releasing your own independent material?
Alan: Oh yeah! We have like vinyl and stuff. That’s like the hub we want everyone to gravitate towards.
The Dood: Why did you choose the name the Royal Family for your record label?
Neal: Kras was working late and it just came to him…It was kinda funny because at the time I was coming up with a different name along the lines of ‘Royal Rule.’ And he was like, ‘That’s kinda funny because I’ve had the name ‘Royal Family Records’ in my head. It’s just a name, but it sounds cool and I think it looks cool. And there’s a lot of graphics stuff that goes a long with it that was great. I just think it’s kinda a positive cool thing – the Royal Family! It’s catchy!
Alan Evans, Michael ‘The Dood’ Edwards, Eric Krasner and Neal Evans
The Dood: You all look so fit and healthy considering you’re on the road so much. What’s the secret?
Neal: We take care of ourselves. I learned that many years ago on the road from other musicians. I was like looking at cats and thinking, ‘Wow! You live like that, you’re gonna have to face the consequences.
The Dood: A touch of the Charlie Parker’s?
Neal: That’s right! You can’t live like that for ever.
The Dood: Thank you so much for time and keep spreading the love and good vibes! Keep it real!
Soulive: You know that! Thanks.
Michael J Edwards
Essential Live Gig:
Newport Jazz Festival 2008 – Soulive with Fred Wesley
Title Year Label
Get Down! 1999 Velour Recordings
Turn It Out 1999 Velour Recordings
Doing Something 2001 Blue Note
Next 2002 Blue Note
Soulive 2003 Blue Note
Turn It Out Remixed 2003 Velour Recordings
Steady Groovin’ (compilation) 2005 Blue Note
Break Out 2005 Concord
No Place Like Soul 2007 Stax Records
Up Here 2009 Royal Family Records
Live in San Francisco 2009 Royal Family Records
Live at the Blue Note Tokyo 2010 Royal Family Records
Rubber Soulive 2010 Royal Family Records