- RJ Bee
In episode 1, we welcome Grammy-winning musician and producer Eric Krasno.
For nearly two decades, Eric Krasno has been an omnipresent figure in popular music. We’ve heard his virtuosic, innovative guitar playing with Soulive and Lettuce, seen him onstage supporting the likes of the Rolling Stones, Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer and The Roots, watched him take home multiple Grammy Awards, and benefited from his deft, behind-the-scenes work as a producer and songwriter for everyone from Norah Jones and Tedeschi Trucks Band to 50 Cent and Talib Kweli.
Eric tells RJ about his earliest musical memories, how Led Zeppelin was his gateway to discovering funk music, and the real meaning behind the name Lettuce, the band he formed while at Berklee College of Music. They discuss Eric’s development as a producer from a youthful hobby to songwriter for the stars, including “the opportunity of a lifetime” to produce Aaron Neville’s 2016 album Apache with his friend and collaborator Dave Gutter. Eric also traces his evolution as a solo artist and a singer, culminating in the 2019 album Telescope, an ambitious blending of the styles and scenes he’s absorbed along the way. Finally they discuss the recent resurgence of The Grateful Dead’s music, and the importance of mental health support for musicians.
The show closes with Eric performing three songs live from his home studio: “Unconditional Love”, “Ramble On Rose,” and “Carry My Name.’ You can see videos of these and all Past Present Future Live! exclusive performances on the Osiris Media YouTube channel.
You’ll find original versions of these tracks, as well as other songs and artists mentioned in this episode, on the Past Present Future Live! Spotify playlist (also included below).
Past, Present, Future, Live! is brought to you by Osiris Media. Hosted and Produced by RJ Bee. Executive Producers are Adam Caplan and Kirsten Cluthe. Production, Editing, Mixing and original theme music by Brad Stratton. Art by Liz Bee Design. To discover more podcasts that help you connect more deeply with the music you love, check out osirispod.com.
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Past Present Future Live! Episode 1: Eric Krasno – edited transcript
In this first episode of Past Present Future Live! Osiris CEO and host RJ Bee welcomes Grammy-winning musician and producer Eric Krasno.
RJ This is gonna be fun. I want to start way back. What’s your earliest musical memory?
Krasno Wow. I used to take Suzuki violin lessons when I was three years old. So my mom always tells me and I don’t remember this, she used to play music for me all the time. And there’s like a specific story that she tells that we were in a grocery store and I was sitting in one of those things in the cart and, I think it was – “Dun dun dun dun dun dun” – and that’s Beethoven, right? Fifth Symphony? I could be completely wrong. But she said, I started singing it and she was like, “Oh, that’s cute.” And I had sung the first few lines, but then supposedly I kept going and was singing the whole thing before I could talk. She was always like, “Oh, my gosh, he’s got musical gifts.”
Much to her dismay, once I actually did start playing violin and doing the Suzuki method – which is where your parent learns with you – when we learned some melody, which is when you’re supposed to sing “I can play my violin, I can play my violin,” I was saying, “I can break my violin., I can break my violin.” I was just not really into the violin.
But it wasn’t until I was 12 or 13 that my brother had a band. My brother was a musician. He played guitar, a little piano and eventually banjo – he’s a great musician. But my brother had a band, and I remember they would rehearse in my basement and girls would come over, and it was like, cool. He’s six years older than me so I’m 12, 13, and like, man – that’s the coolest thing ever. So, I would go down there and when they’d be playing and jamming, I’d pick up an instrument and they’d stop and go, “No, no, no, you gotta practice man. You gotta figure your shit out.”
At the time, I was obsessed with Led Zeppelin and I used to listen to Led Zeppelin records and I had this little record player in my room. In order to kind of get my skills together, I would steal [my brother’s] guitar. Eventually my dad got me a bass, because he figured if my brother plays a guitar and my dad plays piano, mandolin; he’s like, ‘get him a bass’.
I got this really crappy bass and I used to plug it in the front of one of those old stereo systems that had a record player, a tape player and a plug in. So, if you played a record, you could play along with the record and record it on the tape. I would make mixtapes of my dad’s records and my records and then I would play along to them.
The reason I ended up getting a bass was that a friend of mine – I think this was eighth grade, was starting a band and he was like, does anyone play an instrument? And I couldn’t play yet, but I said yes. He said, ‘I’m looking for a bass player’ so I said “I play bass!”. I totally lied and we ended up going to his house and he had this amazing rehearsal space in a barn. He had a drummer and he played guitar, and I remember listening to “Whole Lotta Love” – no, it was “Communication Breakdown” because I was watching him play it. And while I was waiting for them to show up and set up, I learned how to play it in that amount of time. I mean, I’d mess around like plucking the string, but that one is only the open strings. I learned how to do that much literally within the time they would go downstairs and their mom made them a snack. I went upstairs and learned how to play that song, enough for us to jam, and that was it.
Then my dad got me a bass, I think for Christmas and I was pretty much obsessed from there. And my brother had a guitar that I used to always steal – a crappy electric, Les Paul copy. Eventually, I got an acoustic guitar and then I saved my money and got an electric guitar. I played bass and guitar pretty much together for a long time, and then once I got into high school and then started forming bands and stuff, I started focusing more on guitar. But I always played bass, too. Bass was my first instrument.
RJ It’s interesting, because going back to the first story, it sounds like your parents were tapped into the possibility of music.
Krasno My dad played music and he has an incredible ear. He could play piano and he was a huge Beatles fan, and Stones fan. He could sit down and play along to anything and pick it up. He’s got this really natural ability. His dad was a professional musician, played like gypsy music.
RJ So, it did run in the family.
Krasno Yes, it ran in the family. And my mom is a visual artist, painter, and sculptor – so, they were very into the arts. I’m very thankful that they were supportive of that. It was huge.
RJ Did you guys play together as a family? Were there family jam sessions or did everyone do their own thing?
Krasno Mostly our own thing, but we did. I mean, my dad would have friends over and then jam sessions would happen. I wasn’t really a part of it because I wasn’t good at that point, you know. But I do recall that once I could start playing chords – because my dad’s thing was he didn’t know a lot of chords, but when he played mandolin, he would just find these melodies and he’d be really great at improvising and soloing. Once he figured out that I could play a few chords, he would make me sit there and play chords while he’d improvise.
For some reason that sticks out to me because I would start wanting the solo, too. And he’d be like, no – when you have a kid, he can play the chords and you can solo. So, I had to wait. That was kind of good for me, because it made me work on my rhythm.
RJ So, you mentioned Zeppelin. Do you remember the first album that really grabbed you musically?
Krasno I think it was Led Zeppelin I, you know, the first album. But, you know which one stuck out? It’s kind of interesting because it’s not necessarily the one most people would pick out – Led Zeppelin III really resonated with me. I loved the acoustic stuff, so that one lasted with me. But, every Led Zeppelin record. I through IV, Houses of the Holy was big. I remember, “The Crunge” was my gateway into finding funk music, you know? Because I remember playing that [song] and somebody was like, “Oh, you know, that’s just James Brown.” And then that just twisted my whole head, you know?
RJ So you’re playing music in high school and college. Soulive came together in the late 90’s, but you were playing in bands long before that, and I know there’s an origin story there.
Krasno Yes, Lettuce started before that. My parents let me do this Berklee College of Music Summer program in ‘92. And that’s where I met Adam Deitsch and Adam Smirnoff and Ryan Zoidis, and Eric Coomes which are Lettuce. And we started just jamming. The cool thing about it – I was fifteen, I think most of them were sixteen – and we had never met other musicians our age that were as serious as we were. We were all like the kid from our school or from our town that was like most into it. So, for us to find each other was huge.
At the time I had started seeing Phish play and I’d seen the Grateful Dead play, but I was also really into jazz and funk and Herbie Hancock, I was obsessed with the Headhunters. Adam Deitsch had grown up with Earth, Wind and Fire, and Tower of Power. We were all really into Aquarium Rescue Unit, that was a big thing. They were just coming out. So, we just formed a band without playing gigs. We just started jamming in the basement and we would take over the little ensemble room. There was a room that was really supposed to be just for drums and we would stack our little crappy amps and we’d be in there jamming and we’d find a way to record on a shitty tape deck. And that was like, the most epic moments of our lives up to that point.
RJ Did you know that you were going to be a musician at that point?
Krasno I was hoping so. I had no idea how it actually happened. But we all decided that we were going to go to Berklee at that point for school, which would have been two or three years later. It was the summer between sophomore and junior year. In 1994, we all did that. For the most part, we didn’t have much interaction for two years. And then we showed up [at school] kind of hoping we’d all be there, and we were.
That fall was when we came up with the name Lettuce, which was based on “let us play”. We would show up to people’s gigs, different friends that would be playing a gig and we’d say during their set break – because we didn’t really have gear or a van or, you know, we would just show up to people’s parties and be like, ‘hey, man, like when you guys are done, maybe we could play?’ And that was, let us play. Eventually, we got a couple gigs at a frat, at Tufts University, and those were the very first gigs. We would only know like two or three songs and we would just jam on them for 45 minutes. Some people were really into it, and other people were like, ‘what’s going on?’
I left after a semester. Berklee didn’t really work for me, but I went to school about an hour and a half away at Hampshire College. There it was cool, because they would let me book shows on campus and promote shows. So, Lettuce would come up there once a month or so. And the venue in town, called The Iron Horse, was where our first gigs were in Northampton, Massachusetts. I ended up meeting the Soulive guys there. They were in a group called Moon Boot Lover way back then, and I was a fan. I went to go see them and ended up meeting them, and eventually Lettuce opened for them. That’s how I met Neal (Evans) and Alan (Evans). Eventually Moon Boot Lover broke up and a few years later they were forming Soulive. They originally had a vibes player, so they played one or two shows without me. They had a guy on vibes and the vibes was cool, but it didn’t really bring the energy. They had me sit in on that first gig in Boston and – I was also just a lot louder than the vibes player.
Within a couple of days they called me and said ‘hey, man, we think you should come jam with us and see about being part of this band’. Right around that same time Adam Deitsch had been called to be the drummer with Average White Band. So Lettuce was already kind of in a lot of the guys in Lettuce were doing other things. I was about to graduate school. This was March, and I was graduating in a few months. Turns out that my thesis performance was Soulive. We performed at Hampshire College for my graduation piece.
Alan and Neil, who had been in Moon Boot Lover, they had a lot of experience being on the road – more than I did. And they had a van and knew what to do. Back then it was mailing lists and we would send out these cards every month that had all our gigs listed on it. We just hit the ground running and started playing, tons of gigs, pretty much nonstop. We were like, okay – let’s just book as many shows as we can and see what we can make of this.
RJ I want to jump ahead a little bit because it seems like you’re talking about Aquarium Rescue Unit. I know you’re a fan of all kinds of music, and by your second Soulive album, you guys are having Oteil (Burbridge) and (John) Scofield on the albums …. how does that happen? It seems like you went from a college band to collaborating with some of your heroes.
Krasno You know, Neal and Alan through Moon Boot Lover had met Oteil. But when we were rehearsing with Lettuce once – and I’ve told Oteil this many times – they were playing at this club that was right near where we were rehearsing and we knew we couldn’t get in because we weren’t 21, but we were like, let’s just walk by and see what happens. We walked by and they were loading in. They saw we had instruments and Kofi was like, Hey, man, you guys want to come in and like, check out soundcheck? I was like, you have no idea. We’re like your biggest fans, you know?
Adam told Kofi (Burbridge) and I think Oteil, you know, Kraz is like a huge fan. He learned Jimmy’s (Herring) (solo from this one song. And they let me play it with them. So, we got to know them and they loved us. We were like these music school kids that were like, we’re not worthy. I think we stayed for the show, too, they let us stay and hang around with them, which is like mind boggling to me now that they would let us do that. So, that was how I met them. But Neal and Alan knew Oteil from touring with Moon Boot.
With Scofield, he saw us. I mean, we were doing so many gigs that we were just running into people. Scofield had seen us at this festival in Boston and loved us, and he was literally my hero. A Go-Go had just come out, maybe a year before and we were obsessed with that record. The next time we ran into him was at Berkshire Mountain Fest and he was playing. We asked him to sit in and he said, yes; and it was, you know, a pinnacle moment for me. Then after that gig, we were like, ‘we’re about to record an album. We’d love to have you.’ and he was like, ‘cool. I’d love to be on it’. And that was that.
RJ It’s hard to keep track of all the stuff you do. And it does seem like around this time you started also producing [music]. You worked with Talib Kweli and a bunch of others, and started to go outside of the genres you were playing. How did that happen? How did that evolve so quickly?
Krasno Well, you know, when I was listening to Led Zeppelin, I was also discovering the Beastie Boys and Run DMC, and was super into that music. I got a DJ sampler and started freaking out to like loop beats, and was always into that. Then in college- and in Boston, too – I met a few rappers that realized that I could make beats and I would make beats for them, you know? And that was my thing. I was making beats and figuring out ways to loop things. I always had some weird drum machine that I was messing with. I didn’t really always have an outlet for it. I mean, I just had like my friends that would come over and they’d freestyle. Adam Deitsch was also producing, and Jeff Bhasker, who was my roommate at the time. And so I learned from them and we would trade ideas. When I was going to Berklee before I really ran into the Soulive guys, I wanted to do production and engineering. Like I said, when I was in high school, I found the tape deck. I was always the kid who could hook up your stereo. But it was hard for me to always have an outlet for it.
So when Soulive formed, I was not really a jazz player. I’d never had a hollow body guitar. I’d listened to some of that music, but I was not like a huge Grant Green or George Benson guy. And back then, production and making that type of music always meant ok, we need to sell this to a rapper. Sell this to a singer and find a way to get it out. Whereas now a lot of producers are artists, you know. So that’s that was just a different thing back then.
RJ In the mid 2000s, you had done some work with 50 Cent, you’d done some hip hop stuff… you told a story several years ago about Interscope approaching you to work on something and you had a Soulive gig and they’re like, can’t you just move it?
Krasno And that was after Soulive was playing bigger venues and stuff. We had a New Year’s run that was like the 9:30 Club and some sold eight sold out shows at Irving Plaza. They didn’t know about Soulive or what I was even doing. The guys that were calling me to do these sessions, I was like, ‘no, I can’t change it and I can’t cancel it’. And they did not understand that at all.
RJ You were going between different worlds in terms of production, performance, and recording. Does it all kind of blend together for you, or do you see them as separate?
Krasno I believe that it’s starting to. For so long, they were like two completely different careers. I think it took a long time, but I’m starting to be able to merge them together. I think my last album Telescope was somewhat of a merger where I was using some of the production ideas that I may use in a hip hop session or a pop session, but injecting my songwriting and my playing into it.
It’s been kind of interesting over the years, because in the beginning I just considered them so different. You know, Soulive was over here; Lettuce over here; and then, producing and writing and doing those things, were over there. But one of the things I realized over time is that having different creative outlets is important. I think in certain cases it’s hindered my career because it’s not like I just went out there and just had one band for 20 years, and now that band is massive and selling out stadiums, which also would be a nice life. But creatively, I’ve found so many different outlets that I can do different things all the time. That’s why I love producing, because I can make a folk record one day and I can make a hip hop record the next day. And then I can play bluegrass one day and I can play the Dead music one day, and then I can play jazz. I think I was always so interested in so many different things that it was hard for me to put all my focus in one place.
RJ You know, that makes sense. And I want to talk about Telescope more. But, I want to go back to the Grammys, because every interview introduces you as a “Grammy Award-Winning” producer.
You got you nominated for several and won twice – one for the Derek Trucks album Already Free, and one for contributions on Tedeschi Trucks Revelator. What is it like winning a Grammy?
Krasno Well, it’s kind of strange. I mean I still want one for something with my name on it someday. That’s why it’s a little weird when people say “Grammy Award” because yes, I was a part of those records. Revelator even more so, because with Already Free, I just played guitar. But on the other ones I contributed songwriting and playing. I went with Pretty Lights when we made the Color Map Of The Sun record. I was really proud of that one. And Ledisi, I produced on Ledisi’s album called Turn It Loose. I mean, it’s always great to get that. But there have also been a lot of times where I was working on something where I thought it deserved that and it didn’t get it. So, you know, I don’t know with like accolades like that, of course, everybody loves to get them. But, yes, it’s amazing to have that on your resumé. And I still want more of them, especially something on one of my own albums.
RJ What did you learn from just working with Derek and Susan (Trucks)?
Krasno I love them. I mean, talk about focus. I mean, Derek is the most focused artist I’ve ever known on so many levels. He knows how to lead a band, he knows what he wants. It’s a train, man. He knows that if he keeps doing what he’s doing with consistency, which he does, that it’s going to succeed. I feel like he just sees the big picture, man. He knows what he’s doing, he’s a very confident dude. And you can tell that from his playing and from his artistry. Hugely influential on me being. I was in the band for a while playing bass, which was just a great experience, especially getting to play with Kofi every night was just amazing. They’re the greatest people in the world. They’ve taken care of me on so many levels and I’ve spent a lot of great times with them.
RJ Blood From A Stone in 2016 was a pretty big milestone for you. Take us back to when you were working on that or just before. What was your mindset at that point? Did you think, I need to make a great solo record that was also really good. What was different about walking into that?
Krasno Well, the record that I made called Reminisce was very much cobbled together. It was very much like a lot of the songs could have been Soulive, could have been Lettuce songs, or maybe even written for different groups. With Blood From A Stone I wanted to make more of a rock and roll album. I actually read the Eric Clapton book around that time and –
RJ A good read.
Krasno It’s a great read. It was really interesting, how he started singing and his evolution as an artist. I wasn’t a massive Clapton fan at the time. I was a big Cream fan. But I always liked Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, those are my guys. But after reading that book, I actually went back and listened to all of his solo records. And at the time, Derek was playing with Clapton. So I was just interested in him, I wanted to know more. That was a huge thing for me, reading that book. But even after I read the book, I wasn’t necessarily going to be the singer on the record. I had been writing songs for other people a lot in the years prior, so I’d been writing a lot of lyrics. But I was like, ok, I want to put together a body of work where it’s my writing. I ended up writing a lot of it actually with Dave Gutter, who is an amazing lyricist. But I was thinking about having other singers, Susan, and reaching out to all the different singers I know. And as we started making the demos, I actually called Dave Gutter because out he was the lead singer for a group called The Rustic Overtones. And also really just I’ve always loved his lyrics and the album they had created right around that time. This was like 2012. So I called him up and I was like, ‘Hey, man, I’m thinking about coming up to Maine’ and writing with you, what do you think?’ So I sent him some tracks first and he started writing to them. But then we got into a room together, and the first night we were together, we wrote that song called “Please Ya” and another one called “Jezebel”. And then the drummer from the London Souls, and our other friend, Stu, were in town. It very much just came together on the spot. And I was like, ‘Hey, guys, will you guys come in the studio and cut these songs with me?’ So Ryan Zoidis, who also is in Lettuce and was also in Rustic Overtones, had this weird kind of garage space that they shared with a motorcycle guy. So we set up in there, borrowed a tape machine, borrowed a bunch of microphones with the idea that it was going to be demos. Within four or five days, we cut what became most of that album and wrote most of it right on the spot. I mean it was hilarious, because it was this dusty old room and we borrowed a mixing console and borrowed cables and microphones, and Zoidis is, like, holding mics with one hand and holding the cables, with the drums right in this face. And we had my amp in the motorcycle closet. But, I remember leaving there being like, wow man – this is not what I expected. I expected to have like some demo, like voice memos of songs, and we kind of had an album. It took me a long time to finish it because I didn’t have a record label at the time. And also at first maybe people or other people were gonna sing it. There was a moment where I was singing the demos, I think it was the song called “Torture”, and Dave Gutter screamed into the vocal room, ‘Fuck that man, you’re singing on this record!’, you know? And he kind of inspired me really to sing myself.
RJ It’s amazing. It’s a good album and it would be a totally different thing with other voices on it.
Krasno For sure. And also the writing was important. I felt like I needed to say those words. And that was that’s another thing that you know, and Dave wrote a lot of it, too. And he and I had both gone through a breakup. That’s why the whole thing is a breakup album, essentially. But I realized part way through that it was important for me to say this, you know? Rather than getting other people to like try to try this on for size.
RJ I don’t want to draw any conclusions but it seems like that time with Derek Trucks and other people sort of inspired you to embrace your own voice and your own leadership.
Krasno Absolutely. 100 percent.
RJ We’re going chronologically here, and in 2016 your production work continued, of course, and you ended up producing what would be Aaron Neville’s last album, Apache, which is just incredible. What was that like?
Krasno It was such a huge honor. I was at Jazz Fest and I don’t even know how I came up as a producer. I think he’d heard some other things that I’d been doing. His manager. Mark Allen, a good friend of mine, was like, you know, he wants to see you during Jazz Fest, but no one ever said a time. And I had played a gig till five in the morning or something, got into my room at 6:00. And, at 7:00 my phone started ringing and I’m just like, such a mess. And it’s Mark who says, ‘hey, Aaron wants you to come by his hotel and talk with him about the record. He heard your songs and he loves it’. So I went over there and I’m on like half an hour’s sleep, and I’m trying to sell myself to be his producer. He’s very soft-spoken, but a massive guy and pretty intimidating. So, I’m really nervous, you know. But he said I love your music, man. And I was like, I’m a huge fan, your song “Hercules” is one of my favorites. I’d love to make a record that brought that vibe.
And he didn’t really respond to me much at all, but it turns out, that’s his personality. I left and thought there’s no way I got the gig. Then, later that afternoon, Mark said ‘he wants you to do it.’. And I was like, no way. How did that happen? He didn’t even really look at me! But yeah, I mean, making that album was so cool because he hadn’t written a lot of his biggest songs and hadn’t really been so involved in the production of most of it – a lot of it was, come in, sing these lyrics and that’s it. He had written a bunch of poems and he sent me a book of fifty poems and said, Hey, I want you to help me turn this into songs.
Dave Gutter and I had a great rapport at that time, so I called him and said ‘hey man, we just got the opportunity of a lifetime’. He and I went to Vermont, to my mom’s summer house, locked ourselves in there for like four or five days, and took this book of poetry. Some of the songs are just pieces of things, some of them are mostly the poem – and we basically wrote 20 songs out of those poems in five or six days without sleeping much. And then I came back and showed it to Aaron and we started cutting demos of it. And this is the funniest thing, because I was demoing the songs, singing by my range is here… and, Aaron Neville is here. And he basically was like, oh, this is cool. Once we find the right key, let’s mess around and then I’ll have you just do the guide vocal. And I’m just sitting there like in front of him, you know? So every morning we’d go in and he’d be like, ‘okay, now you sing it first and then I’ll sing it’. And I was like, me? Are you serious?
So I would go in there and sing this high falsetto. And the funny thing is I had to try to sound like Aaron Neville, but not so much that I’m like imitating him. So, it was kind of funny and it ended up being really fun. But the first couple of times were so nerve-wracking.
But hearing songs that you’ve created… and, there were a couple of songs that we’d written that we just pitched to him. That song called “Be Your Man” was just a song that me and Dave wrote, and just hearing this idea that he and I had written, sung by Aaron Neville, was unbelievable, man.
RJ Let’s talk about Telescope, 2019. It’s a pretty big departure. You started talking about it earlier and I didn’t want to oversimplify by saying that it’s a melding of a lot of stuff that you’d worked on over the years. But it does sound like that’s the case.
Krasno Definitely. I mean, that’s part of the reasoning behind changing the name too, because the name was under “Kraz”. And the idea of the album was that I really wanted to make a concept album that wasn’t me, you know? Blood From A Stone was like songs I’d written from my perspective and I’m putting it all out there for you. Telescope tells a story, and the reason it’s called Telescope is because the idea was that it takes place in this building that is essentially being watched over by a voyeur from next door. It basically tells the story of this building in this neighborhood that’s gone through this gentrification process over 20 years, and follows the characters that live in there. So, it’s based on three apartments in this building and it zooms in to the world of each one of these characters and then in certain cases, how those lives intertwine with one another. I’ve always loved concept albums, so when I linked up with Josh from Tea Leaf Green, he ended up doing the videos for it, and that was a huge piece of it for me.
I wanted to have like an animation partner, you know, an animation piece that could go with it. So, yeah, it was a cool process. But, I made the whole thing in my apartment so there was no recording studio. When we mixed it, I went to a studio and had a friend help me mix it. But the actual creation of it was all made on my computer, essentially, besides my guitar, which is plugged into my computer.
It was kind of also like a challenge – can I make a record this way? I’d made hip hop records that way, but could I make a record that was mine like that? It’s been cool to see how people dig it or not because it’s such a departure from my other stuff. You know, it’s very much kind of pop, but it’s also kind of psychedelic, it’s weird, the concept is weird, you know?
RJ I think it is like a melding, though, of your previous work. Not your guitar playing work, necessarily, but your production work, the scenes you’ve been around, and the people you’ve been around.
Krasno Right. I think at this point now, if I made another one in that realm, I wouldn’t feel the need to change the name or make it anything, because I feel like even in the last couple of years, people are starting to know me, which is kind of interesting. That’s the age of social media, and I think that it makes sense for me to just be me now, whereas 10 years ago it was hard. No one ever knew what the hell I was doing. You know, they’d be like, this guy produces 50 Cent and plays with The Dead, and what the hell is this? And then the weird thing is, honestly, I realize there’s more and more people like me, the more I express myself. You know, it’s like, wait, there are Deadheads that like Talib Kweli. You know, that’s what that was like when we would do Bowl Live, I’d be scared to have John Scofield and Pharoahe Monch on the same gig, but we would do it and people would love it. You know? I feel like the community that we exist in is pretty open minded. In certain cases, I’ve turned people on to music that was way out of their realm, but then they’ve come back. I love that. I would say a lot of people in the jam scene, which also is something that Soulive never intended to be a part of really – but once we landed there, I realized ok, this is the best audience in the world because they support anything we want to try. They’ll be honest about whether they like it or not, but they’re going to support it and they’re going to listen to it and give it a chance.
RJ I want to touch on the Dead connection real quick, because you haven’t talked about it much, but you’ve been a Dead fan for a long time. The Dead fandom thing is experiencing a new revival as musicians who grew up listening to the Dead now can emulate them, there are tribute albums, and all kinds of stuff. But you’ve had the chance to play with your heroes. Are there any moments that in particular that stick out to you in terms of playing with members of the Dead?
Krasno Actually, there’s one that relates to what I just said, which is that when Phil Lesh decided to do the Apollo Theater, he wanted to do something different and he asked about connecting with some people that would have some impact at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. So we talked about different people and Talib Kweli came up and the Harlem Gospel Choir came up. The Harlem Gospel Choir actually performed with Soulive back in the day, and then Talib Kweli I’ve been working with for 20 years. So I called Kweli and said is there any chance that you’d want to do something with Phil from the Grateful Dead? And he was like, hell, yeah. And then we got the gospel choir, too. The merger of those two worlds together was mind-blowing for me, like having Kweli come to soundcheck. I sent him a couple ideas for songs and he ended up rapping on “Shakedown Street”, and I had Phil in the Terrapin band learning “ Get By” in the gospel choir, singing the chorus. That was huge for me, watching those worlds come together because it’s just something I never would have seen.
RJ I want to talk about mental health. There’s this beautiful Saturday afternoon last August, you’re playing with Oteil and Friends. And Neal Casal sings “Cats Under the Stars” and you guys exchange solos. You guys play throughout the whole set together. And then two days later, he’s gone. What was your initial reaction when you found out?
Krasno Disbelief entirely. I’d been talking to him constantly for that whole summer. You know, we’d been friends for years, but that summer we became really close. I had recommended him to play with Oteil. And when he started playing with us, I was so happy and we were so happy to finally have a project together because we’d talked about working together so much. And those few days before Lockn (Festival), we were talking constantly, sending tons of texts and music and songs back and forth. It’s so eerie to look back at it and all the things we wanted to do in the set.
And he was nervous with some of the songs, because some of the songs were like not in his normal wheelhouse, like some of the Oteil songs. So he was definitely hitting me up alot wiht ‘what about this, what about that?’ And after the show, I mean, it was a pretty high point to be up there playing with Bob and Oteil, and there was this huge crowd. So, it was a mind boggling thing. It was weird because I didn’t really sleep the night before. I hung out with Derek all night on that Sunday, and then ended up not sleeping and getting on my flight and having this long flight home. And then I got a call when I finally got back to L.A. and I was supposed to link up with Neal on that Wednesday. That was a Monday night. I was supposed to go up to Ventura to the studio. And, you know, just kind of hang out with those guys. So I was going to come in and just listen to mixes and stuff, and that Monday night… I got the call.
I don’t think I slept for a while. That week, I was recording in here and I just kind of couldn’t. I had known that there had been issues and things going on in his life for the previous year and a half that were troubling. And the crazy thing was that he had thought about this for a long time and he had written down a lot of things. I don’t know what to think about it. You know, I just talked to Chris Robinson about it. It’s just one of those things where you kind of think about the things you could have done. The first couple of days, all I could think about was I wish I had done this, I wish I had done that, and I wish I had been with him that whole night. But really, it seems as if there was nothing anyone could do. It’s just one of the big mysteries that I’ll have in my life – why, you know? Why would he do that?
RJ It seems like it was like a big inflection point for the music community in terms of mental health. Do you feel like it’s reflective of a broader problem?
Krasno I don’t know. That’s a good question. I think he had something specific, there were demons in his world. I do know that it’s great that there’s support and I know that Backline and some other organizations have sprouted up since. And I think that’s important.
Krasno Yeah. I mean, it’s hard being a musician, but it’s just hard being a human I think is really I think that was like he was so, you know, he had a lot of things going on where he had.
I think the thing about being a musician is that to make music and to write music, you have to put yourself in a really vulnerable place and it makes you… it’s hard to put your music out there, especially with him as a songwriter. I mean, his music was so beautiful and so delicate in a lot of ways. It’s hard being a musician, but I feel like it’s hard being anything. So I think if there’s support in the music industry for mental health, that’s a beautiful thing. But I don’t know if it’s because he was a musician that that happened, you know?
RJ Are there any collaborations or things you want to do in the future that are like on your mind or things that you have wanted to do that you haven’t been able to do yet?
Krasno Well, I have a couple of projects in the works. I’m working with Tash Neil from the London Salz and I’m excited to see that actually come to fruition because he and I have worked together for years and I just really believe in him as an artist and as a singer. And I feel like not enough of the world has heard him yet. And I think those are the things that really get me going. Like, sure, be great to get into the studio with D’Angelo or Mick Jagger, or some of my heroes. But to be honest, there’s almost more appeal in helping a young artist get to a new place. And that’s something that’s always been appealing to me as a producer. And, you know, I look at people like Don Was and some other guys that have been mentors as well as producers.
RJ I heard you talking to Marcus King about that, about helping him along years ago when you guys worked together.
Krasno Watching Marcus blow up has been such a cool thing for me and I’ve gotten to see that happen a few times over the years. There’s just so much talent out there, and I get inspired by that when I see young people overflowing with talent. There’s an artist named Victoria Canal that I’ve been working with who is just unbelievably talented. There are also some other production things on the horizon that I’m excited about. I’m working with Kat Wright on a record that I really love. She’s a really great singer and great artist. I’m also working on a project with Son Little, who I’m a huge fan of. I’m always thinking of new ones. I’m always searching for new things to inspire me. If you want a big name, I’d love to work with Kevin Parker and Tame Impala. I’m a huge, huge fan, especially of the first couple of albums. I think his production is so cool.
RJ It is cool. And their new album is really awesome.
Well, you’ve got plenty of projects going on so we appreciate you taking the time to sit with us for this episode.