Lettuce Active
Popular Funk & Fusion Band Plans to Vibe Up 2019

By Lee Valentine Smith

Lettuce grew organically from the fertile Boston music and party scenes of the early '90s.

Today, band members Adam "Shmeeans" Smirnoff (guitars), Nigel Hall (keyboards, Hammond B-3, piano, vocals), Adam Deitch (drums), Erick "Jesus" Coomes (bass), Ryan Zoidis (saxophone) and Eric "Benny" Bloom (trumpet) are a popular live act, playing up to 80 shows a year across the country.

Their latest release is Witches Stew, an affectionate salute to Miles Davis, one of the band's major influences, using his iconic Bitches Brew record as a jumping off point. There's already a new release of Lettuce originals in the can as well, to be issued sometime this year as their Vibe Up tour continues.

INsite spoke with saxophonist Zoidis by phone just before the band's recent New Year's Eve performance in Austin.

Let's talk about Witches Stew. How did you decide to devote an entire EP to Miles?

That was really a lucky thing that just happened. Our soundman recorded the whole show and it was very relaxed; we did it live at 2 o'clock in the afternoon. The promoter had wanted our trumpet player Eric Bloom to do a Bitches Bloom set and it was cool. There were maybe 500 people there, really chill and mellow. The recording came out great, so we just decided to put it out as a record.

It was released on Halloween of '17. Now that you've had some time to live with it, what do you think of it in retrospect?

Looking back, I can see that it was really a kind of turning point for the band, just as a bit of a transition. Neal Evans, our keyboard player at the time, was on his way out and Nigel Hall was on his way in. He plays Rhodes and synths and really has some different textures for the band now. By doing some of Miles' stuff, I think it really inspired us to improvise more.

Bitches Brew is undeniably a great period for improvizational music.

The cool thing was, we jumped around in that whole era and just picked out the best things. He's always been an influence and it really helped us to rethink the way we want to play our own stuff.

He was big on playing in the moment and it sounds like Lettuce is, too.

Right, he was like, 'I'll play it now and tell you what it is later.' In that same spirit, we do have a new record of original stuff that we just finished. We'll be mastering that before the Vibe Up tour begins. We did about 27 songs and we're excited for people to hear it.

How much of the new stuff will end up in the live set?

We've been playing a lot of it, because we're always trying to add something new. Lately we've just been switching it up and actually playing it different every night so it becomes completely fresh music from night to night and that keeps us happy.

Will the Atlanta gig be a two-set show?

I don't know yet, but I hope so. I really do like doing those because you can get such a different feeling from one set to the other. You play, regroup and it comes out in a whole new way for the second set. I really enjoy the challenge of that.

I know you have a lot of friends in the area. Any chance of a special guest or two?

I'm not sure yet, we're not bringing any special guests along but there's always that possibility. I don't know if there's an opener yet. But I know there's a drummer there, Lil' Jon, and he likes to come down sometimes to chill and play percussion and just sit in with us. So you never know. But I do know Nigel Hall will be singing a couple of things, so like I said, it's always new for us, too.

Tell us about the origins of the band name. I've heard different takes on it, so please set the record straight.

Yeah, we used to go play these college parties around Boston because we were close to the Berklee College of Music. We'd try and find out if there was a band already playing at one of the parties. Then we'd go and ask them if they'd 'let us' use their gear so we could play. Then a keyboard friend of ours kind of nicknamed us Lettuce because of that. We just held on to it. I really think we realized pretty early on that we had something special when we play together. Now after so many years of playing, at this point it basically just comes through us and we let it happen.

Lettuce plays 8 p.m. Saturday, January 26 at Center Stage. For more information, please visit centerstage-atlanta.com.

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