Lettuce is crisp. Lettuce is crunchy. Lettuce is really quite refreshing. No, we aren’t talking about your least favorite sandwich topping at Subway. This Lettuce is much less edible — at least, it would be frowned upon if you tried to eat them — and exponentially funkier.
The soulful sextet has toured their smooth grooves and proficient funk since the early 90s. With a dash of rhythmic originality and hip-hop flair, this band flaunts a tangible unity that elevates their music and live shows to estimable heights, having torn apart the jam scene, sat atop monumental festival lineups, and toured along mainstays like Umphrey’s McGee, John Scofield, and even the Colorado Symphony.
Looking ahead to their show at Port Chester’s The Capitol Theatre on April 20 (read: 4/20), we caught up with Lettuce’s admired saxophonist Ryan Zoidis to get a pulse on what the band has been up to and where they are headed in the near future.
You guys collaborated with [legendary guitarist] John Scofield recently, right? How did you feel going into it?
Amazing. It’s always a learning experience. And I can’t explain how just his energy as an improvisor is just one of a kind and it’s really special to be around somebody like that. I hope that can rub off on us as a band and a group.
Lettuce has collaborated with him over the years. What are some things you really love about working with him?
Yeah, we collaborated with him on our first record actually. Aside from being one of the sweetest, kindest dudes ever, he just has such a powerful personalized approach to improvising and music that it’s inspiring, you know? He has a lot to teach us and he’s never really telling us to do anything, he just kind of exposes us to the dopeness that he provides. And hopefully we can soak up as much of it as possible.
The band last performed at The Capitol Theatre last year with The Motet. What do you enjoy about the venue?
Our friend Peter Shapiro owns it, it’s got a sick vibe and we always generally have a great show there no matter what.
The show is falling on 4/20. Was that intentional in any way?
Yea, I think it was actually [laughs].
Who are some of your favorite artists to perform with in the scene right now?
We just did a run with Ghost Note, and that was incredible. Being around MonoNeon and Sput and that whole band, they’re just amazing. It was really cool to share the stage with them, and just a fun hang.
Any memorable moments from this winter’s recent Vibe Up Tour?
A lot of moments. The band has been playing better than ever, in my opinion. We’ve just been vibing, every song feels fresh even if we’ve been playing it for 20 years. Just every night everything feels fresh and new and inspired.
We’ve been sneaking in all these little hip-hop teases, like the new Kodak Black song, and then we’ll play some old Eric B. & Rakim and kind of just pepper that stuff throughout the set. And if someone knows that music, they’re gonna be like, probably a little bit confused and just like, “How do they know that?!” So that’s been fun.
We’re getting more deep with our communication, musically, too. Just the way we can change directions as a group and change the vibe. We’ve been having a lot of fun every night.
You guys performed last November with the Colorado Symphony. What was playing with them like?
That was a totally different experience and it was powerful. It just made us want to do it again, and spend a little more time with the director arranging some stuff. It just kind of like sparked our imaginations to come up with some orchestral approaches to some of our music too. That was incredible, that was a really amazing time for us.
What were some specific challenges that forced you to come up with a creative way around it?
One of the huge challenges was that we had never even seen the charts, the scores before we rehearsed them with 70 people in the room. So we hung out with the conductor the night before and he had our instruments out and we were just kind of quietly playing through the forms cause the director transcribed the songs from our records, and we have been stretching out our songs and playing so different every night since we recorded them that we had to kind of relearn our songs the way that we recorded them and go back and kind of like relearn them and keep the form together for the part where the whole orchestra was playing. We also had to figure out how we could improvise between that stuff.
So we came up with some cueing signs with the conductor. We actually put the conductor in in-ear [monitors], so our drummer could communicate with him on when to go to the next section, so he could then cue the whole orchestra and move on to the next section.
I hear there’s a new record in the works. What’s it like assimilating new tunes into your live setlists whenever a new record comes out?
Well, we’re not great at that because usually when we have a new song to play, we’ll just play it every night no matter if it’s out on a record or not.
Our record that’s about to come out, we’ve been playing a lot of those songs fort a long time at this point, a good handful of them. But the way that we record them is completely different than the way we play them live. So as a listener you’re getting a special version of that song. The recording when we’re in the studio is a lot higher quality.
We have a record looking to come out in June. We worked with a different producer/engineer, this guy Russell Elevado, who did the D’Angelo Voodoo Record and Black Messiah, so many great records. So that was incredible to be around him. He recorded and mixed it, we recorded about 30 songs with him.
So we’re going to be like coming out with three records in a pretty short amount of time, especially for us. We’re going to be putting out more music than we ever have in the next, like, year and a half. We’re going to try to tighten up the time between releases.