Veteran progressive funk sextet Lettuce is currently in the midst of a golden age. In June of 2019, Lettuce released Elevate, a new studio project nearly four years in the making. Elevate was met with overwhelming critical acclaim—so much so that it garnered Lettuce their first-ever Grammy Award nomination.
Meanwhile, the band toured heavily across the country, making stops at major festivals and revered venues nationwide. The long list of particularly special live Lettuce shows in 2019 includes a Red Rocks blowout featuring the Denver Nuggets‘ Skyline Drumline and a special Jerry Garcia Band set, an underground performance at The Caverns, a bi-coastal run of shows with guitar legend John Scofield, and many more. If you go back as far as late 2018, you’ll remember Lettuce’s special performance with the Colorado Symphony.
However, while the band is coming off a banner year, guitarist Adam “Shmeeans” Smirnoff is convinced that 2020 will be even bigger for Lettuce. When he sat down with Live For Live Music on Jam Cruise 18, Shmeeans didn’t even seem interested in talking about his band’s Grammy-nominated LP. “I’m moving on to the next one, man,” he explained. “I’m ready to just go to the Grammys and celebrate that we put it out and move on to the next. Can’t wait for people to hear what we got coming up.”
Over the course of our quick catch-up with Shmeeans, we reflected on Lettuce’s return to Jam Cruise, pondered the possibility of their first Grammy, and dug into the band’s plans for what’s coming next (and even what’s coming after that).
All the while, Shmeeans sported a gracious, knowing smile. His demeanor seemed to say just as much as the words he spoke about the current state of Lettuce: You think this is good? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
You can read a transcript of the interview below, edited for length and clarity.
Live For Live Music: We’ve got Shmeeans here on the MSC Divina!
Shmeeans: Yeah, man! We’re here on the boat, Jam Cruise 18… and the seas are getting a little rough [laughs].
Live For Live Music: We’re definitely rocking and rolling out here today.
Shmeeans: If the boat is a-rockin’, don’t come a-knockin’!
Live For Live Music: Everyone on the boat seems very excited to have you back this year. Jam Cruise 17 last year was the first time in years that Lettuce wasn’t on the boat.
Shmeeans: We’re happy to be back. I’m pretty sure my first Jam Cruise was Jam Cruise 7. Then, I was supposed to come back as an artist-at-large for 8, but I didn’t because I ended up doing this pop tour. And then, I think, we came back on 9 or 10 as a replacement for someone who couldn’t make it last minute. From that point on, we played the rest of the Jam Cruises until last year.
So, here’s what I have to say: Really, honestly, it feels so good to be back and I think for me, personally, a little time away from the boat made me appreciate it just a little bit more, appreciate the experience a little bit more. I’m able to enjoy it a little bit more right now just because last time I was here, my daughter was just born, and I probably wouldn’t let myself enjoy it as much as I could. So things are different now, and I love it.
Live For Live Music: So I hear the Lett crew has a trip to L.A. for this little awards show on January 26th…
Shmeeans: [Smiles] We have been lucky enough to be nominated for a Grammy [for “Best Contemporary Instrumental Album”], and we are truly grateful and extremely happy to be just a part of the whole spiel.
Live For Live Music: Absolutely. Everyone knows the cliché of, “Oh, it’s just an honor to be nominated,” but that doesn’t make it any less true.
Shmeeans: No, no, that’s really the truth. And you know, all the guys [nominated] in our category are our longtime friends. We got Weedie [Braimah], who’s playing on Christian Scott [aTunde Adjuah]’s album, [Ancestral Recall]. He’s a longtime Jam Cruiser, too. We’ve got Stu Brooks, who played for both Matisyahu and Dub Trio and who we’ve known since forever from our Boston/Berklee scene—he’s on the Mark Guiliana record [Beat Music! Beat Music! Beat Music!] and actually, I think, engineered the whole thing. So it’s all of our homies, man, our whole crew is going. Someone‘s winning! One of my homies is winning [laughs]!
Live For Live Music: Amazing. However it shakes out, that will be a memorable night, for sure. Of course, as you mentioned before, that whole night is about work that’s already been done, records that have already been released. You seem more interested in talking about what’s still to come. So what’s good with the next Lettuce album?
Shmeeans: We’re getting the album artwork together, and we’re ready…
Live For Live Music: Oh, we’re real close then, huh? No four-year wait this time around.
Shmeeans: Nah, man, it’s coming. And then there’s another one after that that will come soon, too. We’re on some prolific… we want to release a lot of stuff right now. We want to keep the momentum going. We want to keep our people engaged with new music. Between stuff we recorded with the symphony and stuff that we’ve been doing video-wise, I just think you’re going to hear and see a lot more Lettuce over the next couple years.
Live For Live Music: Was that the strategy when you were recording Elevate? Record a bunch of stuff and play it close to the vest so you can release it all in a short period of time?
Shmeeans: I don’t know if that was the plan. I just think we got in the studio and things were just popping so we recorded a ton of stuff.
Live For Live Music: So the new material is going to come from the same sessions, the same creative space as Elevate? That’s exciting news, for sure. Can you pinpoint what it is about right now, or about the time during which you recorded all this new stuff, that made it such a fruitful writing period?
Shmeeans: I just think the band’s in a really good place right now with our momentum and musically just vibing with each other. It certainly helps to have a prolific writer like Adam Deitch in the band…
Live For Live Music: Lettuce explored all these really cool concepts for live shows in the last year or so, whether it was bringing out a drumline at Red Rocks or playing with the Colorado Symphony. Any interesting live stuff like that planned for the coming year?
Shmeeans: I’m just going to assume that we’re not done with this whole symphony thing, that eventually there will be material released that we could then, hopefully, bring to other symphonies around the world… and we’ll see what happens with that [smiles]. Wouldn’t that be something? Imagine being able to take that and do it with the London Symphony Orchestra, do it with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The possibilities with that are really fun.
For a list of upcoming Lettuce tour dates, head to the band’s website here.