Tonight, Soulive return to Brooklyn Bowl to kick off the eighth installment of Bowlive, the (mostly) yearly residency that the jazz-funk trio holds down over two weekends at the Williamsburg venue, welcoming new guests each night—both announced and surprise. This year’s Bowlive VIII happens to come as Soulive—featuring guitarist Eric Krasno, drummer Alan Evans and keyboardist Neal Evans—are celebrating 20 years as a band, and just as Brooklyn Bowl is celebrating 10 years in business, a planets-aligning event that is sure to conjure some memorable, magic moments.
Starting in 2010, Bowlive has become a much-anticipated tradition in Brooklyn, offering a plethora of incredible onstage collaborations throughout the years, including guest appearances from Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Warren Haynes, members of Krasno’s former band Lettuce, Joe Russo, Oteil and Kofi Burbridge, Marco Benevento, Karl Denson, Questlove, Chris Robinson, Luther and Cody Dickinson, Bernie Worrell, Talib Kweli, Anders Osborne, GRiZ, Lee Fields, Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo, Run-DMC’s Darryl McDaniels, Nicki Bluhm, Steve Kimock and many more. After taking 2018 off because of Krasno and the Evans brothers’ various other musical commitments, the trio is back this week and next with scheduled guest spots from Ivan Neville (Dumpstaphunk) on Thursday, July 11; Oteil Burbridge (Dead & Company) on Friday, July 12; guitarist John Scofield on Saturday, July 13; guitarist Marcus King on Thursday, July 18; bassist George Porter Jr. (The Meters) on Friday, July 19; and saxophonist Sam Kininger (a former member of frequent Soulive collaborators The Shady Horns) on Saturday, July 20.
Just a couple days before returning to the Brooklyn Bowl stage, Krasno called in from his new home in LA—where he moved back in February—to discuss his excitement for Bowlive VIII, how it feels to get back together with his longtime Soulive collaborators, what goes into booking all the guests for Bowlive, some of his favorite memories from the previous seven residencies, whether or not he misses NYC in LA and even a bit about his new solo project, a concept album called Telescope that will be released under the name KRAZ.
After taking a year off from Bowlive, how does it feel as you prepare to get back to the Bowl with Alan and Neal?
It’s been great. You know, I’ve been focused on a lot of things—I moved out to LA and I’ve been producing a lot. Alan has a bunch of different side deals, and Neal was on tour with Jack White. It’s nice that we get to celebrate the 20th year of Soulive along with the 10th year of Brooklyn Bowl, and I feel like the guests we got this year are kind of our top list, you know? Musically, friendship-wise, these are all people we’ve come up with and played with over the years. I just spoke to John Scofield on the phone—I was like his biggest fan growing up, and then getting to know him and him being somewhat of a mentor for me and for the band, it’s just really cool that we get to do it with him. And obviously Oteil has been one of our closest friends all along since the beginning. Same with Ivan—we met him on our first tour in the early days. Marcus is a newer member of the family but is also very close. And then George, who is our King of Bowlive. And on the last night, we reunite with Sam Kininger—and we got some other guests coming that night so it’s just gonna be a family affair, you know? That’s what it’s all about.
How do you and the band usually coordinate the guests that will be joining you during Bowlive?
We usually see who’s available and I’ll reach out and talk music with people. The way that it’s evolved—and it’s really how it’s been all along—our favorite nights at Bowlive are when it’s our friends. And it’s 99 percent people that we talk to on a regular basis, anyway. So it’s usually like, “Oh yeah, Bowlive is coming up—let’s start talking about that in a couple weeks.” It’s people that we’re friends with and are in our social circle, so it just makes it fun. So much of the time, you see them at a festival when we’re running around or we talk briefly when traveling, but it’s also nice when they come to Bowlive because they hang out for the night, we grab dinner, we hang at the Bowl, we hang with Shappy [Brooklyn Bowl founder Peter Shapiro] and we hang with the crew there. It’s a reunion every time we do it.
Now that you’re settling in in LA and preparing for Bowlive back in NYC, anything you miss Brooklyn and New York?
Well, right as I talk to you, the birds are chirping and there’s a pool back here. I have a recording studio in the back here. Part of [the move] was just wanting to have more space, you know? I’ve always had to have studio spaces that were moving around and renting and blah, blah, blah. One of my dreams was to have a studio where I lived. And there’s a lot of friends and people that I work with here, people in the production and songwriting worlds. My brother and his family are here. It just made sense on a lot of levels. And the weather is not too bad. Besides the earthquakes. [Laughs.]
Yeah, there was a big one recently, wasn’t there?
Yeah, I wasn’t here actually. I was in Denver, so I missed it. But I had friends that were actually here recording and they sent me some videos of what was going on.
How often do you get back to New York?
A lot. I’ve been back like every month since I left, so there hasn’t really been enough time to miss it and I’m pretty sure I’ll be there every few months. It might slow down more later on.I did a run at the Blue Note in the spring, and there are always gigs and different things going on there. I really love New York and I really enjoy being there as a visitor, because I love going out and eating amazing food and listening to amazing music, but then I get to go to a hotel. The parts of New York that were always hard for me were A) the freezing cold winters and B) living in a really small space—especially if you have a lot of music equipment and stuff, that can be a challenge. So I’m definitely happy here, but I still have a deep connection to New York.
I actually wanted to ask about your Blue Note run and how you think it compares with Bowlive, because both are multi-night runs with set group and then multiple guests.
Yeah, I mean honestly the Blue Note thing was originally just going to be with me and Nigel [Hall], Louis [Cato] and Chris [Loftlin], and it just made sense to add to that. So the original concept really wasn’t to be tons of guests, but it’s just one of those things that I’ve come to fall into. I just love collaborating with people, and it’s always fun to have different people on stage and to share their creative energy and to make each night unique. Whenever I’m somewhere and I know someone’s around that plays, I always want to drag them on stage.
That’s part of the whole scene that we’ve created at Bowlive, and I guess it really started way back with the Wetlands when we used to do stuff there and used to bring guests on. When Shapiro started talking about the Bowl, I remember when we first ran into each other: We hadn’t seen each other in a year so and I ran into him at the Allman Brothers at the Beacon, and he was like “I’m opening up a bowling alley! And I want Soulive to play two weeks!” He was yelling from across the aisle and I was like “What? A bowling alley? Two weeks?” Then we actually got in on a conversation, and at first I thought it was crazy and then I was like, “You know what? That’s not a bad idea.”
What is it like getting back together with Alan and Neal, especially for Bowlive, after taking some time away from the band, working other projects? Have you three had any rehearsal time?
Well actually, this past weekend we played a private event and we got to play three sets, so we did some rehearsing which was perfect. Because, you know, I look at the song list which is hundreds of songs—between all the covers we’ve done over the years and all the albums we’ve made and all the songs we’ve written together—and if I think about it I can’t really get my head around it. But, once we start playing, it all falls right into place and my fingers go where they’re supposed to go, for the most part. We’ve done so many shows over the years, it’s like riding a bike. You just get on and you cruise. They’re just such great musicians. I’m really blessed to be in a band with guys like that are just so solid as people and as musicians. Every time we get together, it’s like no time has elapsed since the last one. It’s just fun. I mean, it was always fun when we played, but when there’s a six month gap or a year gap and then we get up in there, we realize how fun it is to play these songs. It’s really a treat.
Absolutely. I spoke to you three guys for a Relix feature I did around your Cinematics Vol. 1 EP, and you talked about a similar feeling of getting back together and realizing how great it. So I’m curious if, when you get together after a while, do you start talking about studio stuff? Maybe making an LP in the near future?
Yeah. You know, after the Cinematics EP, Neal went on tour with Jack White for about a year, but we’re starting to talk about that again, and I think there will be a volume two, maybe a volume three. I don’t know if there’s a timeline in place yet, because we all have a lot going on, but I think we will continue to record. I don’t know if it will be often, but we all really like the Cinematics concept, so…
Just to wrap up the Bowlive talk—and I’m sure you’ve had to answer this before—are there any specific moments or guest sit ins that stick out to you from the previous seven Bowlives since 2010?
Yeah, there’s quite a few I would say. One that pops into my mind a lot: The Allman Brothers used to do their Beacon run, and now that that band is over, the night that Derek [Trucks] and Warren [Haynes] showed up for a three-guitar set was really special. It was one of those things where the curfew was up and Derek had sat in and then Warren shows up, he gets on stage, and Shapiro’s doing the “Keep going!” thing, which I’ve seen many, many times. [Laughs.]
As you look back on things, even though you felt it was special in the moment, you don’t even realize how special some moments were. All the times that Kofi [Burbridge] played with us with Oteil were really special, because they didn’t play together a ton—you know, they did Tedeschi Trucks Band—but they always were talking about the Bowlive connection and playing with Soulive. Those two guys have been our biggest supporters since before anyone knew who we were at all. Oteil was showing up and sitting in with us and supporting us and Kofi was one of the first people that ever gave me inspiration and brought me around other musicians and was like our biggest supporter. So I think a lot about those. There’s a lot of videos of those songs floating around, and when they come across you feel it, those special times. But there’s been so many, I could go on for hours and hours—Susan Tedeschi doing her thing with us, which was really cool, and there are so many little surprise moments that have happened.
How often do those surprise moments happen, when a musician just shows up?
You know, you see someone in the crowd or you get a text from somebody. Like I knew Kamasi [Washington] was down the street a couple years ago near there and he and I were texting and then he was on the side of the stage all of a sudden and then he hopped on stage and that’s just kinda how it goes. People know that they’re welcome, you know? People that I’m friends with, that I respect musically, they know they’re welcome up there—that’s the nature of it.
Anything you can reveal about some surprise guests that might be showing up this time around?
You know, I don’t really have anything. I have some ideas but I don’t wanna… There’s nothing really solid yet, but also I can guarantee that something will happen. That’s the whole thing. A lot of times we don’t know until it’s right there.
Let’s talk a bit about your new project under the KRAZ moniker, the Telescope concept album. Can you talk a bit about how that came about, the idea of writing about residents in Brooklyn Brownstone?
Well I don’t exactly remember the moment that it came together, but what I will say is that my last album [2016’s Blood From a Stone] was very much about my experience. A friend, Dave Gutter, and I wrote the whole album together, and we both had gone through breakups and it was very much a first-person album. So as I was kind of moving away from that. I’ve always written with other people and I’ve done a lot of writing with other artists from their perspective, and I’ve always liked that—like writing for Susan and Derek.
So what I started digging into is what if I made a concept album I wrote from different people’s perspectives—it wouldn’t be just me. And I didn’t want to write all love songs either, so I wanted to try to figure out a way to tell a story that wasn’t a musical in terms of “this person is doing this now.” I wanted to write songs that were from these different perspectives, and I thought, “I’ve lived in this building for 15 years and I’ve seen this neighborhood change over the years and I’ve met all these characters here.” So I created these characters as a compilation of all these people that I knew, and also with the subtext of gentrification and how the neighborhood has changed. I didn’t even know that’s the direction I was moving, but after I moved to LA it was kind of what I owed to Brooklyn.
When I linked up with Josh Clark the animator, it kind of just clicked. I was looking for someone who could make visuals that would really fit the mood of the piece and fill out the whole thing. When he popped up, he just nailed it perfectly, and it’s been a partnership since then. I don’t know if you know, but Josh Clark is part of Tea Leaf Green, a guitarist and singer. But when I first found him—through Tommy Hamilton, actually—I didn’t realize that he was a musician, that he was that guy. After he sent me a few drafts, I was like, “Oh wow, you’re that guy. I know you!” Because [Tea Leaf Green bassist] Reed Mathis is a good friend of mine. So anyway, we made that connection and I was like, “Oh, no wonder you ‘got it.’” And he’s also a great musician, so it’s been cool watching it all come together.
I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to tour the album. I wanna have some multimedia elements to it—I really wanna incorporate the art and innovations, so we’ll figure that out. I’ll have more on that shortly…