Funk band Lettuce hits their creative peak

Three of the band's founding members stopped by the KHOL studios to discuss their 30-year history and the future of funk.
Drummer Adam Deitch, saxophonist Ryan Zoidis, and guitarist Adam “Schmeeans” Smirnoff stopped by KHOL studios for a chat before their sold-out show in Jackson. (KHOL/Jack Catlin)

by | Jan 20, 2023 | Music Interviews

 

For almost 30 years, the Grammy-nominated funk sextet Lettuce has delivered its unique style of loose-form, stone-cold funk. Since its creation in 1992, spurred by band members congregating in classrooms at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, Lettuce has supplied its signature danceable grooves that combine jazz, funk and rock to crowds all over the world.

Released in June 2022, “Unify” marks their eighth album and the third in a trilogy recorded at Denver’s Colorado Sound Studios. “Unify” showcases the coming together of humanity through music, and also marks the most powerful, funkiest version of Lettuce to date. 

In advance of their sold out show at the Center for the Arts on Wednesday, Jan. 18, saxophonist Ryan Zoidis, guitarist Adam “Schmeeans” Smirnoff and drummer Adam Deitch joined us in the KHOL studios.

The following interview transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity. This conversation was recorded on Wednesday, Jan. 18.

JACK CATLIN / KHOL: The song “Keep That Funk Alive.” It’s one of the highlights, if not the centerpiece, of the album, and it must have been a pinch-yourself moment for you all, working with the legendary Bootsy Collins, who is undoubtedly one of funk’s greatest ambassadors of all time. I love the story of how that song came together. Can you guys share that with us?

ADAM DEITCH: I was just on Instagram during the pandemic and in popped Bootsy with a beautiful message about togetherness and staying strong and staying creative during the pandemic period. Like, “Don’t worry, everybody, it’s going to be fine. And we’re going to be back doing our thing.” And, you know, and it was just really inspiring. And at the end of his speech, he just said, “Keep the funk alive. Keep that funk alive.” And he just started just repeating it over and over again. You know, the hip-hop producer that I am, I used to sell beats to rappers, immediately thought to sample that, and it just created a groove around it that the guys could add horns and guitars to. And, you know, Schmeeans wrote the amazing bridge parts of that song and and then, you know, [it was] “How do we get this demo to Bootsy?” And we tried a couple of different ways and it didn’t work. And then somehow, magically through the universe, our friend Paul Levine got the song to Bootsy’s wife Patti, and she played it for him and he absolutely loved it. And we’ve been best friends ever since.

KHOL: You’ve toured extensively throughout the years as a band and your live show is a huge part of your success. How is it being on the road so much and how do you guys all maintain such great chemistry with each other?

RYAN ZOIDIS: I think the music really helps us do that. A few of us have families at home and of course we want to be home a little bit more, but also we’re a family too. So it’s it’s nice to be around each other, especially when we’re making music, because when we’re together, we’re really productive and we can get a lot done. And it also brings us joy and and happiness fully. So that’s one of the things that really fuels our motivation to stay out here.

ADAM SMIRNOFF: And I don’t really think that we’re necessarily on the road so much. To me, it’s more of a balance, right? We want to be on the road enough to have our life musically, and then we want to also keep keep it exciting and make us want to be here more. So finding that balance in life, I think in everything that you do is the key.

DEITCH: And I think reminding young bands that it’s not all about the “big cities.” When you play in places like Salt Lake or Jackson Hole you might have the greatest show of your entire career, that’s what makes it worth it for me. Like knowing that a smaller city could really pop off musically and could stand the test of time as a concert.

KHOL: I wanted to know what your strategy was, if you had one, for your live shows. What can the crowd tonight at the Center for the Arts here in Jackson expect from the sold-out show?

SMIRNOFF: You know, I think the strategy is to just let everyone in the band be creative and throw their ideas out there. And if you let that happen naturally, then new things will always happen.

KHOL: And do you have a strict set list, or is it kind of just a handful of songs and you just look each other and go from there?

DEITCH: We have a complete list of all of our albums handy.

ZOIDIS: And the tunes that we’ve developed live, that might be covers or whatever, we definitely, every day at soundcheck will kind of throw and bring some things back that we need to refresh on and add them in and try to keep everything.

SMIRNOFF: And it seems more and more and more that our setlist is more of an outline for us rather than something strict that we can veer off of and, and get creative like in the middle of a song. If all of a sudden Adam is like, “Oh my God, it would be the perfect transition to go to this.” Then why not just say it and have the band do it, or.

ZOIDIS: Or we just do it and nobody says anything.

KHOL:  Finally, guys, wrapping up here as someone that has been influenced by those that came before you and has obviously inspired many coming up behind you, what is your opinion on the current state of funk and where do you see it going in the future?

DEITCH: There are some really funky bands out there and I think judging by these crowds that we’ve been having, I think people really love funk music and our version of it, which is mixed with hip hop and a psychedelic edge. It seems to be working and we’re still shocked and just amazed and very thankful and grateful that these people are coming to see it. So it’s a great feeling.

SMIRNOFF: I think you really have to respect the past and be your own musicologist and study history and understand that American music is Black American music, and we have to tip our hats and be respectful and try and just make our way within that world and that universe with trying to be ourselves and really respecting what has come before us.

Listen above for KHOL’s full conversation with Adam Deitch, Ryan Zoidis and Adam “Schmeeans” Smirnoff from the band Lettuce.

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About Jack Catlin

Jack is KHOL's music director. He says all music is in some way connected no matter the style and his mission is to provide listeners with a unique and memorable experience each time they tune in to KHOL or see him DJ live.

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