Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da Soulive Carries On:
A Day in the Life of Neal Evans
Words by Martin Halo — New York City
Photos by Jeremy Gordon
New York City — In October of 2010, a sweaty Eric Krasno bowed to a packed Terminal 5 on the West side of Midtown Manhattan. Standing alongside vocalist Nigel Hall and his songwriting partners, Alan and Neal Evans, the adulation poured upon Soulive warmed the mid-sized concert hall. The third annual Royal Family Ball, which also featured a sit-in by jazz master John Scofield and a handful of instrumental Beatles compositions [from the recent release of Rubber Soulive], had drawn to a climatic close.
As Soulive retreated behind the curtain to the white walls of the backstage corridor, Allman Brothers guitarist Warren Haynes greeted the band with a smile busting at the seams. Haynes emerged earlier to a thunderous applause for a rendition of Albert King’s ‘Born Under a Bad Sign’. The venue’s crew and promoters shuffle through the inner corridors and gather at the foot of a winding staircase. Rock n’ roll is alive in New York City.
It has been 11 1/2 years since Soulive has grown from their Northeastern roots to redefine the boundaries of funk, soul and improvisation. After returning to Brooklyn and taking a few days to soak in the glory of what keyboardist Neal Evans described as, “our most triumphant New York show to date”, he reflects on the path which led to the doorstep of a new generation of hipsters hell-bent on the thrill of live music.
“It is funny”, Evans leads, “when I was in grade school the teacher made us write down on a piece of paper where we all wanted to be in the year 2000. I wrote that I wanted to be a successful musician living in New York City.”
Now living in Brooklyn, Evans is a third of a group which includes his brother, percussionist Alan Evans, and ex-Lettuce guitarist Eric Krasno.
“A lot of people refer to us as a soul band, but soul music has such a broad spectrum to it. There is soul in every genre. It is the one quality that connects them all together, the very concept of soul. Whether it is blatantly heard in the lyrics of blues, the improvisation of jazz or the tales of country… as an art form it was founded upon a melting pot of people who had a much different experience than us today.”
But for Soulive the transcendence of their influence spans the bounds between the contemporaries and the legends in a breath of appreciation for a group of musicians reinterpreting the roots of American music.
“We opened for the Rolling Stones over the years and the first time was at the Tower Theatre in Philadelphia. We were at sound check and they were all standing on the side watching us. It might have seemed like a throw back for them or something that they hadn’t seen in a while because afterwards Keith Richards came busting into our dressing room yelling about how he heard one of us was from Cambridge, MA. It was an experience I will never forget,” reveals Evans. “Before the shows Charlie Watts would spend a lot of time with us, and afterwards we would be leaving the venue arm and arm with Ron Wood. What really surprised me about the Stones was after the shows they were in no rush to leave. Everyone would be standing outside by the limos just talking for a bit.”
Touring in support of their 10th studio album, Rubber Soulive, released in September of 2010 on Royal Family Records, Soulive is returning to their independent roots with the individuals who helped break the band in New York over a decade ago. After the Wetlands was closed by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in lower Manhattan, club owner and industry impresario Peter Shapiro spent the greater part of the decade plotting his venue return with a room that would mash his jam band roots with the desires of adults searching for the quintessential watering hole. His answer was the Brooklyn Bowl, a state of the art bowling alley, restaurant and concert venue in Willamsburg. One of Shapiro’s first orders of business was to book Soulive in his new pad for a 10-night residency.
“You can’t calculate what turns into a hit, it is so random. If everything was done over again you might have never heard of Elvis or the Beatles. There is no formula, and the Beatles were a perfect example of that.”
– Neal Evans of Soulive
“I have never been in a bowling alley in my life”, says Evans jokingly. “From the time the venue opened Pete Shapiro has been talking with our management about getting us in there. Our manager’s office is right down the street and he is always bumping into Pete. When the venue opened, we got it see it before it was finished and everyone was just floored. We knew it was going to be this crazy state of the art entertainment venue.”
The residency in March of 2010, dubbed Bowlive, featured a handful of special guests each night and is the subject of a forthcoming concert film by Karina MacKenzie [Shine A Light Productions].
“It was what Pete wanted from the time the club opened and the whole concept of the residency took hold from there. We put together our wishlist of the friends we wanted to join us and everybody did all they could to make it happen”, says Evans. “The Allman Brothers Band were in town during the same week and Otell [Burbridge], Derek [Trucks], and Warren [Haynes] would walk directly off stage and into a car bound for Brooklyn. It was incredible”, Evans reflects, “but it was the hardest bunch of shows I have ever done in my life.”
“We were in rehearsals everyday from noon until about 6. We had a couple hours to relax before the show, played to 1AM and were back at the venue the following morning. We were literally learning the songs during the afternoon. It was exhausting, mentally and physically draining in the best of ways. Pete actually wanted us to do another one is September or October of this year but we were just like, ‘no!'”, laughs Evans.
“We are doing it again this coming March though, it is happening. We want to do everything we can to step it up.”
Besides the special guests, Bowlive featured the Beatles compositions that would make up the band’s soon to be released studio album Rubber Soulive . “It was something we talked about for a long time. We had a ton of different concept albums that we wanted to do over the years, including a ‘British Invasion’ album. The Animals and bands of that nature, that’s my shit1”, exclaims Evans. “That is where my heart lies but the Beatles idea came up a lot and it was something Kranso was always pushing towards. When it came time to make a record we decided to follow through with the Beatles concept and what really sparked it was the re-mastered collection put out in 2009. Krasno bought it and when we had a few days off we convened at Alan’s studio in Western Massachusetts. We found ourselves sitting in a circle around an iPod filled with Beatles songs. Krasno even bought the songbook. To me that was the most fascinating thing, because it is just lyrics and music. When all of the reissued material was released, the accessibility was there to do it.”
Focused on the psychedelically charged intellectual aspects of the Beatles career 1965-1970, Rubber Soulive features ‘In My Life’, ‘Taxman’, ‘Drive My Car’, ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, and a handbag of equally iconic Fab Four gems.
“The Beatles career is a total anomaly”, Evans says. “I remember reading an article in the New York Times a few years ago about labels, and how if Justin Timberlake comes out with a hit they all scramble to put out something similar to it or with the same beat. You can’t calculate what turns into a hit, it is so random. If everything was done over again you might have never heard of Elvis or the Beatles. There is no formula and the Beatles were a perfect example of that”, concluded Evans.
Soulive just finished New Year’s in Boston and are slated to be back at the Brooklyn Bowl this Spring of 2011 for Bowlive II. Additional tour announcements forthcoming…
TheWaster.com | Bowlive