It’s clear that guitarist Eric Krasno has big plans for 2018. At the start of the year, Soulive announced a collection of concept EPs dubbed Cinematics, with the first volume of the series out last week—marking the iconic jazz-funk trio’s first new music in six years. This weekend, they performed their only scheduled dates at Ardmore Music Hall with special guests John Scofield and Danny Mayer.
Furthermore, the guitarist plans to create another concept album as a follow up to his 2016 debut solo album, Blood From A Stone. As he explained to Live For Live Music, this new solo effort “takes place in Brooklyn and follows around characters that live in a building” and will incorporate experiences with people who have helped formed Krasno’s understanding of Brooklyn as a place to live and a cultural symbol for gentrification and change. He has called on his diverse pack of musical friends to create the characters that will be featured on the record and its subsequent animation.
During our interview with Eric Krasno, he also discussed his dizzying array of past and current collaborators, which run the gamut from Phil Lesh, Derek Trucks, and his hero, John Scofield, to Pretty Lights and Talib Kweli. He also discussed his upcoming plans for a number of Eric Krasno & Friends performances, including the recently announced three-night run at the iconic New York City venue, The Blue Note, from March 19th through 21st, which will feature special guests Cory Henry on March 19th, a special guest to be announced on March 20th, and Robert Randolph on March 21st. Across all the nights, Nigel Hall, Louis Cato, and Chris Loftlin will round out Krasno’s band. You can read Live For Live Music’s full interview with Eric Krasno below, and snag tickets for Krasno & Friend’s upcoming six-show stint at The Blue Note here.
Live For Live Music: You are a very busy guy. What are you working on at the moment?
Eric Krasno: I’m making a new record—a new album of my own. It’s a concept album that I am doing animation for. It’s a really cool and different sound for me, and I’m working with a couple really cool artists on it. It’s basically like a storyline that takes place in Brooklyn and follows these characters that live in this building. It’s hard to really explain without people hearing it, but I am really excited to get it out there and for people to see the visuals that we’re putting together. It is kind of like animation and there are some illustrations that will be the counterpart to it. I am deep in that at the moment. I am mixing and tweaking and getting it together, so that has been fun.
L4LM: When can we expect that to come out?
EK: I don’t know. I know I am going to put the video and the single out in the springtime and then the album will follow sometime this year. I am not exactly sure. I think I’ll probably put a few tracks out before releasing the whole album.
L4LM: Is the storyline for the album inspired by your life in Brooklyn?
EK: Yeah, yeah. There are definitely aspects of it that are a narrative of my own experience. Then, some of the characters in it are an amalgamation of different people that I have met here. People that have kind of helped shape my understanding of Brooklyn. And then, there’s a little bit about how Brooklyn is changing and gentrifying. I have been here for over seventeen years now, and I have seen a lot of change happen. It’s more about these lives and these stories, but there is a bit about Brooklyn as a whole and the culture here.
L4LM: You will also be releasing videos with the new Soulive album, Cinematics Vol. 1. It’s different because it’s not animation, but is this something you always wanted to do with your music?
EK: Yes, exactly. I have always been obsessed with concept albums. Whenever there is a storyline in there, it just fascinates me. Also, as a writer, in my twenty years of making music, I have done a lot of writing for other people. On my last album, I wrote along with my writing partner on that record, this guy named Dave Gutter. It was just writing as an artist and as myself, and I realized that I really enjoy writing from different people’s perspectives, so that is where the concept came out of.
It made the writing part of it really interesting and fun. I was like, “If I was this person, this is what I would say,” and “If I was this person, I would do that.” It takes me out of it because I narrate the story. In this case, I have a few artists that are portraying some of the characters on the record, so that will be really cool too. I get to work with some artists that I really love.
L4LM: Are a lot of these artists also based in Brooklyn?
Eric Krasno: No, but they are in New York City for the most part. In most of the cases, I am giving them a concept and they are helping to develop things from that. Then, some others are just writing and singing it.
L4LM: Interesting. Just like in film, you are allowing them to bring their own perspective to the character?
EK: Yes, and I am excited to get this out there. It is something I have been percolating on for a while. Now that the music is almost done—well, I am about two-thirds of the way through—it’s getting to the point where I can see the end.
L4LM: Where did you find the time to do this while working on the new Soulive album?
EK: Well, the Soulive album we did in two days. For us, when we get together, we just create and it is very live. So for that, we just said let’s get together, and we had a couple of ideas. [Alan Evan’s] studio has such a cool vibe, and the sounds were helping where we went musically. So, we got up there and instantly started playing. When we worked with Derek Vincent Smith and Pretty Lights, we started touching on that whole Cinematics idea of playing music with a bunch of space to it. It is more of a composition. You can hear that it creates moods.
Cinematics made perfect sense for it after listening back to the first track. I was like, “We have to call it Cinematics,” and then the rest of the concept just fell into place, so we recorded it and mixed it in two days. There are only five songs, but still, the creativity was following so we just went there. Then we said, “What if within a month or two, we could write, record, mix, and release the whole thing?” So we put it into gear, and we just released the first single.
L4LM: Why now?
EK: Soulive’s always wanted to do that. We always had labels and hoops to jump through, so we were like, “We are all able to do this, so let’s put something out.” So now we are putting out a series of EPs and are planning to hopefully do a tour in 2019, because it’s the 2oth anniversary of the band.
L4LM: Let’s talk about Soulive. What are the advantages of having the keys play the bass lines?
EK: For me, its only advantage is because we only communicate with two other people, and we’ve all been playing together for so long. I mean Alan and Neal [Evans] have been playing together basically since they were born. Things happen so quickly and easily, like changing the key in the middle of a song. Instead of having to get five people’s attention, we have a certain telepathy amongst the three of us.
Especially in the past year, we don’t tour much, but when we do play—when we play as a trio—we are able to move through the music and meander through different changes and songs without a lot of communicating beforehand, so it’s improvised but composed. I think we have hit a certain stride that’s cool. We have played so many songs at this point, especially for Bowlive. Every year we have so many different guests and we learn all of those songs, and those songs start to be incorporated into our repertoire as a trio. It is a fun place to be, and we’re not touring a lot, but when we do tour again, we’re going to have a blast.
Soulive With John Scofield & Marcus King – “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed” – Brooklyn Bowl – 6/15/2017
L4LM: With the videos you’re releasing with the Cinematics album, where are you getting the inspiration for the actual videos?
Eric Krasno: Alan is creating all of those videos himself, which is really cool. I’m not really involved in that part except that he knows the aesthetic we want for the music, which is kind of like a psychedelic thing. When we are in the studio, he takes videos with his little camera, and we’re going to continue to do those throughout this year. Then, by the end of the year, we’ll just have a bunch of material, which will be great because when we do go out on the road, we can use those to help create the aesthetic live.
L4LM: Grahame Lesh refers to you as the unofficial member of the Terrapin Family Band. How did that relationship start and develop?
EK: As far as my relationship with Phil [Lesh], it goes way back, but we didn’t really connect much. Soulive opened for Phil way, way, back in 2001 or something, so we knew of each other. Well, obviously, I knew of him since I was a kid because I was a fan. A few years ago, as Phil and Friends was happening—you know, he’s done that with Warren Haynes and Luther Dickinson—Pete Shapiro mentioned my name to him. Somehow, he got his hands on my first album, Reminisce, and he dug it.
Shapiro set up this jam session with Joe Russo, Phil, and me. We set up in the middle of Central Park. It was really cool, and we improvised for a while, and he invited me to a show he was doing. It was a very early Terrapin Family Band show at Brooklyn Bowl, and after that, he asked me to do The Capitol Theatre. Then, I just started playing with him frequently, and Soulive went out to Terrapin Crossroads to play with him there.
Phil Lesh, Joe Russo, & Eric Krasno – “Get Back” – Central Park – 11/9/13
[Video: marc millman]
As the Family Band became more of a touring thing, Phil reached out to me about doing more and more, and I have become really close with Grahame, Ross James, and Alex Koford—it just feels like a band now. This past year, we did Chicago, Nashville, and Alabama, and I went to Hawaii with them over New Year’s. I have also been writing songs with them for their new album. It’s been a really cool experience because, not only am I a huge fan of Phil but also, I really love the band. They all sing really well, and there is chemistry amongst everybody. We are also twisting the songs in a cool way while paying respect to the compositions. It is a really fun experience for me and a challenging one, because I am learning all these songs and singing a lot more with them. It’s been great.
Phil Lesh & The Terrapin Family Band With Eric Krasno – “Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad” – Brooklyn Bowl – 11/14/2013
L4LM: Does your writing process change depending on what you are working on? Or do you approach everything kind of the same way?
Eric Krasno: Certain elements or certain methods I like to use, but it is always different with different bands and different projects. I am always writing things in my notes or hearing melodies and saving them for later, so if I get stuck, I kind of have this pool of ideas. These ideas are super simple sometimes, like a phrase or a concept, and then once we are in the studio or in a writing room, we take out those ideas. It is like putting your toys out on the floor: “What do you want to say today?” [laughs] We go from there.
L4LM: Having worked on so many collaborations, are there any that stand out as having really changed you musically?
EK: Well, I think they have all changed me musically. One of the things I am really happy about with this new album I am working on is that I have finally found an outlet to pour all of my influences into. Because one of the things that has been a strength and a weakness is that I love to do so many different things. Like one day, I am making a hip-hop or a pop record, and the next day, I am on tour with Phil Lesh, and then, I’m doing EDM with Gramatik or GRiZ or Pretty Lights.
I have always been that way. When Soulive made our first record and we went into a big studio and we met these great producers, I was always fascinated by the process and always tried to learn and absorb from those people. I still do that, whether I am in the studio with Gramatik or Phil Lesh. I am always trying to absorb some of that greatness they possess. Every artist on that level is great in different ways, so I try to take little bits and pieces of what I can from those experiences with me. I mean, working with Lettuce and Adam Deitch helped shape me from the beginning. If it wasn’t for them, I probably wouldn’t be doing any of this. I have so much respect for them. But the point is, every little thing along the way is important.
L4LM: Will you be working with Lettuce again anytime soon?
EK: I don’t know. We are always looking at our schedules to see where things line up. There is nothing official at the moment, but I am always keeping it on the radar for sure.
L4ML: What is it like to work alongside John Scofield?
EK: The analogy for that is tough. My friends who know me know that he was my hero in college. He still is my hero, but now he is my friend too, and it’s really weird. The first time I played with him was almost 19 years ago. We have played so much over the years, and he has just been such a huge inspiration. The great thing about him—as a musician, composer, and player—is that he has stayed current for 40 years. That is what is so inspiring for me to see. He’s played with Miles Davis! He created, like, a whole new era with Medeski, Martin & Wood. The A Go Go album was like my bible when it came out; it was so innovative and cool.
His composing is so great, and he’s always writing. He is not just a virtuosic player. It’s rare to have that: to have so much versatility as a player and to also be such a great composer. Every one of his albums is different, ya know? He makes like a country/jazz album he makes like straight up funk fusion with hip-hop loops in it and he’ll make like an acoustic album with like an orchestra (laughing) he’s really just the greatest. One of the greatest of our time. So just to be able to work with him is a huge honor.
Lettuce With John Scofield & Warren Haynes – “Born Under A Bad Sign” – Terminal 5 – 10/2/10
L4LM: With your work in hip-hop and producing hip-hop albums, how did you get involved in the genre?
EK: Well, that goes way back to when I was in college. The first records that I bought as a kid were The Beastie Boys’ License to Ill and Run DMC’s Raising Hell, so that was always a thing for me. My parents had really great taste in music and so did my brother, but that was like my music, the one thing that was my era.
There’s not a lot of hip-hop these days that I love, though there’s some, so I just started making beats. That’s what they call producing and finding loops, and I found ways to do that in college. Early on with Soulive, we linked up with Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek and the Rawkus Records people. There’s a guy named DJ Spinna, and through him, I met a lot of other artists. I worked with The Beatnuts and a lot of people from that era. We met the G-Unit guys and did a song with 50 Cent.
L4LM: What was that like?
EK: That was really when Adam Deitch and I were working together all the time—we had a little studio together. I mean, with the 50 Cent record, we weren’t involved in the actual song making. We just made the track and met with them, and they picked the beats they wanted to use. One of those made the album.
Back in those days—I guess they still do this, though—they would record like 50 songs, and we would just hope that one we made would make it on the album. With Talib Kweli, I worked with him a lot closer, like in the studio, helping him mix things, add instrumentation, and bring other musicians in. He had always been someone that really wants to work with musicians and be apart of the process. So with him, it was a little more hands on.
I still love to do it. I am a little more focused on making my own music now, but I am still collaborating with other people. Then, the EDM world started taking off, which has a lot of those same elements. It’s a lot of sampling and creating these soundscapes and beats. Currently, I work with Griz a lot—on his last album, and I am working with him on his new record—and I work with Gramatik frequently. We’ve done a bunch of songs together. Also, Pretty Lights.
L4LM: You played on Pretty Lights’ album, A Colour Map of the Sun, but didn’t you also work with him on stuff that has not been released? What happened to that?
EK: That’s a really great question. We worked on a lot of stuff that hasn’t been released. I wish I knew. We did a lot of sessions in L.A. and Malibu and New Orleans. It’s all on hard drives because there’s so much of it at this point. He will release stuff over time, I suppose. He has been busy doing a lot of different things like putting together his live show, so I hope that stuff sees the light of day.
For that last record, A Colour Map of the Sun, he came to Brooklyn and Adam Deitch introduced him to me and a few other guys in the studio here. We went in and we did what he calls “creating his own crates.” So, essentially, rather than taking old records and sampling them, we created all these sound beds and grooves that he put in his arsenal. Eventually, that kind of came out. There’s a B side that you can find on Spotify; it’s the breaks, and they are all called just numbers.
He would put on tape reels, and he would record us jamming and he would direct us—”play this over the mic,” or he’d put on an old record and say, “I want a sound like this,” and we would go in and recreate that. It was a really fun experience. Joel Hamilton, the guy that engineered all that stuff, is a genius. He was able to get those really dusty, cool sounds that were kind of the bed for that album.
L4LM: Okay, so you said Soulive will probably tour in 2019. What about the Eric Krasno Band?
EK: Yeah, I’m working on that. I definitely want to tour once my album is out. I am doing some shows as Eric Krasno and Friends coming up. I am doing a run at The Blue Note in New York City, March 19th through the 21st, with some special guests every night. Nigel Hall is in the band, plus Louis Cato and Chris Loftlin. We’ve got some amazing next-level guest artists that will come down every night. We’re super excited. So until my album comes out, I am doing Eric Krasno and Friends, so I’ll get to play a mix of my new records and some of my old stuff with different, awesome bands. Once my album is out, I’ll put my band back together and do that.
Eric Krasno & Friends will perform their three-night residency at New York City’s iconic The Blue Note from March 19th through 21st, with two performances each night (one at 8 p.m. and one at 10:30 p.m.). Under the banner Eric Krasno & Friends, the beloved Soulive and Lettuce guitarist has tapped a number of other high-profile musicians to join him for these performances. In addition to Nigel Hall (Lettuce), Louis Cato (Jon Batiste and Stay Human, the house band for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert), and Chris Loftlin (Brian McKnight), the run will also feature special guests Cory Henry and Robert Randolph. Tickets for all six performances can be found here.
[Photo: Andrew Scott Blackstein]