Photo: Casey Flanigan
Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominees: Lettuce's Adam Deitch On 'Elevate,' Improvisation & His Funk Heroes
After two-and-a-half decades as a band, funk-jam heroes Lettuce have been nominated for their first career GRAMMY Award for the aptly named Elevate. Their groove-heavy, uplifting, experimental and fun fifth stretches their improvisation-infused sound to new heights on it's way to a nomination in the Best Contemporary Instrumental Album category.
We tracked down Lettuce's versatile and enthusiastic drummer Adam Deitch to hear about the band's experience working with the great Russ Elavado (D'Angelo, Alicia Keys) on Elevate, how the band came to cover Tears For Fears' "Everybody Wants To Rule The World" in a new way, what they do to cool out off-stage on the road and more...
Congrats on the nomination! What was your reaction when you found out? Do you remember where you were?
I was in my tour bus and I got a call from our manager, Hillary, and she was just like, "Have you looked at your phone yet?" And I said, "No," and she starts screaming, and I immediately just woke up and I was just completely excited. And it felt, I couldn't even believe it. I still can't. It's a lifelong dream and to get nominated with my best friends and guys I've been together for over 25 years making music with it's pretty special.
And I also want to send a shout out to everyone else in the category because I checked it out and it's a lot of our friends and homies so we're just super excited for them as well. For Mark Guiliana and Christian Scott and all their bands and people that they play with. We're just stoked to be in a category with them as well.
At this point in your career, what does it mean for Elevate, specifically, to be recognized in this way?
Well, we put so much into this and into writing and to recording it, and we put so much into the band itself that getting this gives us such a boost emotionally, spiritually, everything. And my parents are both musicians, they both went to Berklee College of Music, they both play drums. They both are huge supports of this band, so for them to experience this, having their son being nominated, it's just incredible for the whole family. It's a complete honor and a shock.
And also having the idea to get Russ Elevado involved with this record and reaching out to him, him saying yes, I think that was just a huge part of it and a huge part of the sound of this record and why it got nominated.
Can you talk a little bit about the making of Elevate?
We have a studio in Colorado. Our guitar player and his wife were pregnant, and he wanted to record it in Colorado to be near his wife, obviously, and we found the spot Colorado Sound that was cool and we heard that D'Angelo had recorded their once or something like that so we're like "Okay, cool, we'll record it and we'll bring Russ here." And we were all nervous, so none of us had met him and we all idolized him because he's done so much as far as working with all these people. So we were excited and he got in and he just was so cool and so zen, and once we started recording, everything just flowed. And before you know it we had 30 songs tracked in maybe four or five days.
Wow, that's prolific.
It was pretty wild.
I'd love to ask you about a couple of tracks in particular. "Krewe," do you remember putting that together in the studio?
We ran that down maybe, it might have been a first take or maybe a second take, and we have been playing "Krewe" live at our shows for a little while prior to recording it, and so we had a good feeling about it. It was sort of just a dedication to like our crew like just that we all were always together, we were always writing together, making music together, so it just flowed then. It just had a vibe and also it has that sort of like almost like a break-dancing feel to it, it's sort of like a beat boy feeling to it. So we definitely were thinking about that as we were recording it and as we cut it.
So do you always track live as a group?
As a group. All of us. That's how we do it. It feels good, it feels right and we want it to feel like the show, have that excitement of hearing people and allowing for that improvisation, that little middle of the tune, that part that just starts happening. We need to have everyone together for that. So we got everybody set up and recording at the same time.
Maybe you can talk a little about your approach to improvisation. It's is one of those things that's kind of hard to put words to, but as a band that's been playing together and friends have been playing together all this time, do you have an philosophy for building an improvisational section of a song or do you guys really not talk about it and kind of let it come?
Cool. Yeah, we definitely have a shared vision of improvisation and basically like it comes down to the guitar player and the bass player, [bassist Erick] "Jesus" [Coomes] and [guitarist Adam] Smirnoff. The way that they come up with like a different line, like a different baseline or like a really funky new guitar part over the beat that I'm playing. And then it just starts happening we're like, "Oh, here we go. They've thought of something new again," and the horns all hear that and they'll sing something to each other right into each other's ears and then come in with a brand new horn part that's like perfect.
And [keyboardist] Nigel [Hall] is always so fast with the keyboards and like hearing what we're doing and adding to that. So it's up to me to just kind of keep the groove solid and let the guys come up with something that's new and that really sparks us and makes us excited, especially when that's happening live or it's happening in the studio we get really excited and the song takes on a sort of a new meaning as it goes. It feels like you're in the now, it feels like it's happening right now. So we enjoy that.
I want to ask you about the really cool re-imagination of [Tears For Fears'] "Everybody Wants To Rule The World." How did you guys gravitate towards that song and put together your version of it?
I think it was like one of the first times I got to hang out with Nigel I think. He had just come into our possie a couple of years ago and he and I were in a room with a Fender Rhodes and a drum set and then we just started playing man. And I don't know if I had the idea or he had the idea but we said, let's mess with this old '80s tune which has a great melody, the Tears for Fears tune, and let's just throw a little like kind of hip-hop go-go. He's from D.C. and there's this huge funky go-go scene in D.C. that's been around for years since the '80s late seventies.
So we wanted to throw like a sort of hip-hop go-go beat in place of the original beat but keep the melody and have Nigel sing it. And we just started messing with the arrangement and we played it a couple times and put it to bed and then we played it again once, then we put it to bed and then all of a sudden it came time for the record. [We said], "Let's record that version and see how it goes," and it's become a staple of our set now. People love to sing along to it, it's just one of those songs.
Yeah it's such a familiar song and melody, but your version is so fresh man.
I appreciate that man. Thank you.
Can you tell us about your experience with Marcus on "Love is Too Strong"?
Marcus has been coming up on the scene for a while and he's young and we just see something special in him. Obviously he's his own man, but he's got this young Stevie Ray Vaughan thing happening that is just so undeniable and he's so cool. We just got along. He loves the funk. He's in this beautiful place of just music and lights and we just got along with him. So we had this idea to bring him in, and he was in Denver one night and doing a show at his band and I went to hang out with him and he was giving money to a homeless person outside the club. And she was so nice, she was this old lady, "Oh thank you so much," and he goes, "Don't worry baby...". He goes something like, "Love is too strong. They can't keep us apart". He said something like that to her and I said, "What'd you say to her?" He goes, I said, "Love's too strong," so I said, "That's a tune, that's a title!"
I'm always thinking, I'm always in writing mode no matter where I'm at. And so I said, "we've got to write this tune 'Love Is Too Strong," and I said, "I have this instrumental that me and the guitar player, Smirnoff, we had this instrumental kicking around on my computer for about five, six, seven years, and I sent it to them and I said, "Remember that 'Love is Too Strong.' however you want to say it?" And he came back with the lyrics and the melody and it was just done. It was ready to go and we just had to cut it.
That's a great story. You probably get asked this a lot, but who are some of your drum heroes and bandleader heroes?
Oh man. I mean, for one, I grew up listening to Herbie Hancock and George Benson and so Harvey Mason is like basically— him and Steve Gadd are two of the biggest drummers to me ever. They've played live with so many people, they've recorded with so many people, they made so many solo records on their own, so they're huge influences of mine. I'm also a huge fan of Dennis Chambers who was like with Santana for a while. He's like one of the greats of all time. And James Brown's drummers, Clyde Stubblefield and John "Jabo" Starks like the origin of funk. Like, Zigaboo Modeliste from The Meters. Like these guys invented the genre. Bernard Purdie. Nobody had played funk before these guys like that. So they're the kind of guys that forever inspiration and what they've done and we're forever thankful for what they've done, for the style of music that we play and just inspiring us to write and create.
Lettuce has a ton of touring coming up in the States and Europe. What can people who've never been expect from a Lettuce show, and do you have anything special planned for your 2020 shows?
I mean yeah, we're definitely trying to build Europe a little more this year and our friends from Snarky Puppy and Ghost-Note, they go to Europe a lot. And they call me from over there and they're like, "They're playing Lettuce in the club again. They want to hear Lettuce. They need you guys out here," that kind of stuff. So we're going to do like this three-week tour now and we're excited for that. We're definitely excited to build that. And we're going to be doing some more festivals in the States, some of the really cool like sort of funky fests that are out there and just kind of building both. Building Europe and building the States and hopefully get back to Japan. We're just trying to cover all bases and get this record heard.
And as far as what people can expect from our show, it's like it's raw and you're going to hear the songs from the records, but you're also going to hear in the middle of the song, you're going to hear some new stuff like a new riff or a new idea might spark us and push us somewhere else. So, it's always going to stay funky. I'm always going to keep it funky, but you can definitely expect the music to cater to the now and to the experience that the person is at. So we're excited to just like go out there and now we just play the songs and play Elevate, but expand upon it.
Outside of music, what do you guys do to cool out when you're on the road?
Right on. Yeah, I mean, we're super into healthy food. That's our vibe right now. The horn section they're both like amazing chefs. They could both cook incredible. So we like just eating healthy and eating smoothies and really trying to like better ourselves and not just beat ourselves up on the road. And we take care of each other. Like we play ping-pong. There's a ping pong table around me and the guitar player will go at it. Adam is like, "I used to be the best ping pong player in the band and now I'm getting beat all the time so I got to up my skills." We all love basketball. So it's like if there's a game on, a good game we'll all watch it and check it out. But most of the time we just, we're in music mode.