Borne out of the fertile breeding grounds at Berklee College of Music in Boston, funk band Lettuce have come a long way since their formation as fifteen year olds in 1992. If you ask them why they chose the name Lettuce, they’ll tell you it comes from the repeated phrase “let us play” to club owners and venues during their early days. Their hard-hitting take on funk, with soulful grooves and hip hop inspired urgency, has earned them legions of fans. And it’s not difficult to see why when you listen to their latest offering, Witches Stew – a contemporary jazz fusion album that pays tribute to the late Miles Davis, one of the bands’ most beloved inspirations.
We speak to guitarist Adam Smirnoff (Shmeeans), bassist Erick “Jesus” Coomes, and monitor engineer Andy Loy as they tell us about their beginnings, life on tour, and musical achievements.
How did the band members meet and what was “the bond” based on?
Shmeeans: We met at the Berkeley College of Music five-week program for kids and our bond was that we loved funk, soul and hip hop music whereas a lot of other people at Berkeley at that time were playing metal, hardcore fusion or jazz. We were the funk kids.
Who were/are your musical heroes?
Shhmeeans: A hero to me is someone that inspires me to play music, to pick up the instrument. We have so many musical heroes – James Brown, Miles Davis, the list goes on.
Jesus Coomes: J Dilla, P-Funk, ZAPP & Roger, Sly, Graham Central Station, George Duke, The Meters, Trouble Funk, Prince, Curtis Mayfield, AWB, Kool & The Gang, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Jerry Garcia, Sean Patitucci, D.I.T.C. and Gangstar.
What do you never leave home without when you’re on tour and why?
Shmeeans: No lie, I never leave home without my MONO case, my trusty pedalboard and my flip flops. Flip flops because when you’re living on a bus and people go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, they miss. It’s dark, ya know? I like to wear my flip flops to avoid what we call piss foot. It’s terrible, no one wants that.
Jesus Coomes: Generally, crystals. I usually bring this one piece of malachite and black tourmaline to put on top of my bass amp when I play. They make me feel good. I stash a lot in my MONO case. And I can’t forget my bass.
What’s your pre-gig ritual?
Andy Loy: As a crew member we work 12-15 hour days with not much time for anything else. But we usually get a couple of hours between sound check and the show when I try to break away and get a nice meal. It’s nice to get out of the venue even if it is for a little bit.
Shmeeans: My pre-gig ritual is an all-day ritual, an everyday ritual. Wake up early to get exercise, eat good food, think about what to play that night, to have my instrument in my hands at different points of the day to either be creative, practice or just to hold it. At some point, I like to take a nap. At soundcheck, we run over songs that help prepare us for the set list. Then find some dinner, relax and try to get into a good state of mind for creativity and go out there and do your thing.
Jesus Coomes: I go in the bathroom and I pray and I stretch. Stretching and praying simultaneously. I ask the universe to be in my fingertips and play the music for me.
What accessory can’t you function without when playing live and why?
Shmeeans: I need my trusty Dunlop guitar pick. But honestly, there’s nothing you need out there besides yourself, your guitar, and an amplifier. I could play with or without a pick or pedals. You get comfortable with what you do and you get into a routine.
What MONO do you use and what do you love about it?
Andy Loy: As the backline technician, it’s one of my jobs to make sure the instruments get to each gig safe and sound. MONO cases help me finish that job. And the line of pedalboards is amazing. There are versions for any size or shape solution you may need. Whether you need a tiny MONO Pedalboard Lite for your fly gigs, or a full-size MONO Pedalboard for your road gigs, they have you covered. One of my favorite things about MONO equipment is how they manage to make everything super lightweight without sacrificing quality or durability.
Shmeeans: My guitar has lived for the past five years in the MONO soft case that has protected my guitar. Before that, my strap holder got pushed into the guitar in a different case. I feel safe having my baby in a MONO case. Period.
Jesus Coomes: The Tick. It keeps all my pedals and my things in place. It totally kills. It makes my life easier for sure. Also, the FlyBy backpack straps are dope. They definitely made it for me.
What’s your proudest music achievement?
Shmeeans: My proudest musical achievement has been building this band Lettuce from the ground up since we were teenagers being a mostly instrumental band. When we started, at the time, doing what is perceived as popular music when people said what we are doing today could not be done. These were the naysayers. I’m glad we stuck it out, made it through all these years and were able to accomplish this with each other.
Jesus Coomes: My proudest musical moment was playing guitar on My Mom with Eminem and All Falls Down with Kayne West. When I was playing the guitar with Eminem in the studio and he said I was dope. Another time Dr. Dre told me in front of a bunch of people I didn’t know that I was the baddest bass player and that if anyone needed a bass player to call me. But Lockn’ with Lettuce playing with Bob Weir, John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge… that was one of my greatest musical moments.
What line-up would you like to put together for a dream festival/show?
Shmeeans: Only one thing really comes to my mind right now which is somehow Lettuce with Herbie Hancock playing together. That would fulfill a dream for me.
Jesus Coomes: Adam Smirnoff, Adam Deitch, Nigel Hall, Ryan Zoidis, Eric Bloom & myself on stage and see what happens…
What’s one of your favorite albums of all time?
Shmeeans: Stevie Wonder, Innervisions
Jesus Coomes: Breaking Atoms by Main Source
Who was the last band you saw live?
Andy Loy: Water Seed. Really awesome band from New Orleans. Perfect blend of funk, disco, jazz, and rock.
Shmeeans: Ghost Note and Mononeon, who we are touring with coming up next year!
Jesus Coomes: Erykah Badu and then Georgia Anne Muldrow
What’s coming up next for you/band and your career?
Shmeeans: Looking forward to getting back on the road for our New Years run and Vibe Up Tour next year. Also, looking forward to releasing the new music we’ve been working on and have recorded.
Jesus Coomes: Our new record is almost done, it’s incredible. Working on getting the new record out and touring as hard as we can.
You can check out the MONO gear used by the members of Lettuce in the full catalog here.