Lettuce grew organically from the fertile Boston music and party scenes of the early 90s.
Today, band members Adam "Shmeeans" Smirnoff (guitars), Nigel Hall (keyboards, Hammond B-3, piano, vocals), Adam Deitch (drums), Erick "Jesus" Coomes (bass), Ryan Zoidis (saxophone), and Eric "Benny" Bloom (trumpet) are a popular live act, playing up to 80 shows a year across the country.
Their latest release is Witches Stew, an affectionate salute to Miles Davis, one of the band's major influences, using his iconic Bitches Brew record as a jumping-off point. There's already a new release of Lettuce originals in the works as well, to be issued sometime this year as their Vibe Up Tour continues.
INsite Atlanta spoke with saxophonist Zoidis.
Let's talk about Witches Stew. How did you decide to devote an entire EP to Miles?
That was really a lucky thing that just happened. Our soundman recorded the whole show and it was very relaxed; we did it live at 2:00 in the afternoon. The promoter had wanted our trumpet player Eric Bloom to do a “Bitches Bloom” set, and it was cool. There were maybe 500 people there, really chill and mellow. The recording came out great, so we just decided to put it out as a record.
It was released on Halloween of '17. Now that you've had some time to live with it, what do you think of it in retrospect?
Looking back, I can see that it was really a kind of turning point for the band, just as a bit of a transition. Neal Evans, our keyboard player at the time, was on his way out, and Nigel Hall was on his way in. He plays Rhodes and synths and really has some different textures for the band now. By doing some of Miles's stuff, I think it really inspired us to improvise more.
Bitches Brewis undeniably a great period for improvisational music.
The cool thing was, we jumped around in that whole era and just picked out the best things. He's always been an influence, and it really helped us to rethink the way we want to play our own stuff.
He was big on playing in the moment, and it sounds like Lettuce is, too.
Right, he was like, “I'll play it now and tell you what it is later.” In that same spirit, we do have a new record of original stuff that we just finished. We'll be mastering that before the Vibe Up Tour begins. We did about 27 songs, and we're excited for people to hear it.
How much of the new stuff will end up in the live set?
We've been playing a lot of it because we're always trying to add something new. Lately, we've just been switching it up and actually playing it differently every night, so it becomes completely fresh music from night to night, and that keeps us happy.
Tell us about the origins of the band name. I've heard different takes on it, so please set the record straight.
Yeah, we used to go play these college parties around Boston because we were close to the Berklee College of Music. We'd try and find out if there was a band already playing at one of the parties. Then we'd go and ask them if they'd “let us” use their gear so we could play. Then a keyboard friend of ours kind of nicknamed us Lettuce because of that. We just held on to it. I really think we realized pretty early on that we had something special when we play together. Now, after so many years of playing, at this point, it basically just comes through us, and we let it happen.
This article originally ran in January 2019 in INsite Atlanta. Photograph by Alex Varsa.