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Talking Jazz and Cannabis With Lettuce Founding Member Ryan Zoidis

Ryan Zoidis chats with us about inspiration, evolution, and cannabis.

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For nearly three decades, jazz-funk virtuosos Lettuce have been traveling the world and sharing their righteous brand of sophisticated, technical, and incredibly fun music anywhere they could to everyone willing to lend them an ear.  So, it comes as no surprise that over those years the band has built a global community of incredibly passionate fans and remained one of the most interesting and active acts of their genre.

Never satisfied with settling into one particular sound or style, Lettuce is constantly pushing themselves and their music into new territories and tackling more and more ambitious projects. The band’s newest album, Resonate, is culled mostly from a single marathon recording session with legendary engineer/producer Russell Elevado (D’Angelo, Alicia Keys, The Roots) and continues to showcase the group at their tightest and most captivating. 

Recently, we were able to catch up with Lettuce founding member, songwriter, and saxophone player Ryan Zoidis to hear all about the band’s new album, their longevity, and passion for cannabis activism.

We read that the idea for the song “NDUGU” came to your band’s drummer, Adam Deitch, after he watched a video of the late Leon Ndugu Chancler playing with Herbie Hancock in the ‘80s.  Can you tell me a bit about how the band’s song writing process works when someone brings an idea like that to you all?

RZ:  Well, Deitch is really thorough with his part writing and by the time he’s ready to bring a song to us he’s got it pretty well arranged part to part, but he’s not glued to those parts generally.  So, we can add our own take and interpret them the way that we want to and that’s kind of what brings the songs to life.  Then, when we all get into a room together, we’re able to add our input on where we think the form should go, what the solos should be over, and fine tune it until it’s ready.  Generally, if we’re in the studio and have a bunch of demos from all of us to listen to, we’ll all get them in our ears for an hour or so, then we’ll sit down with our instruments, hit record, try a couple versions of it, and by the third version we’re usually ready to cut it.  That was the way we were able to record about thirty songs at our last recording session.

Our understanding is that the songs on Resonate come from the same writing and recording sessions that gave us your last album, Elevate.  Do you all see this as something like a double album released in two parts, or are these two records distinctly separate?

RZ:  I definitely see them as a package.  These two and the bulk of the next one is going to be stuff from the first session for Elevate.  So, these next three records are all gonna go together and capture a certain time frame of the band.  I think it’s a concise representation of where the band is at right now and has been since we solidified our lineup with Nigel Hall.  We’ve played so many shows together that the chemistry has gone to a whole new level and it was the first time we were really able to capture that.  

In past interviews, members of the band have talked about also drawing creative inspiration from marijuana, is that something that inspired some of these recordings as well?

RZ:  We all love cannabis and we all have different relationships with it, but it’s definitely one of the things that’s tied us together as a crew; since the beginning it was one of the things we connected on.  It definitely fueled the recording and mixing sessions.  It’s always a big part of what we do, it’s medicinal for all of us, and everybody is pretty into it. 

Last year, the band played a set at a cannabis cultivation center set up by Terrapin Care Station.  Is it important to the band to throw your support behind some of these newly legalized businesses?

RZ:  Totally!  Weed’s been demonized for so long and we grew up in that era.  So, I feel like it’s important to us to create as much awareness and help people realize that weed is nothing to be threatened by or scared of.  

We know the band has also had a strain named after it, Lettuce Funk, do you all have any plans to collaborate with any brands or license your name to any products?  

RZ:  Yeah!  We’re definitely looking into doing that state to state with different producers and companies.  We haven’t dialed it in exactly yet, but we’ve been talking to a bunch of different people and are trying to figure out how to do it on the widest scale possible throughout the country.  We also bring Head Count out with us on the road too, and they let people know about the weed laws in every state we’re in and encourage them to talk to their local politicians about updating those laws.  

People may not realize it, but Lettuce has been around for almost thirty years.  Is it a bit surreal for you looking back on so many years with this band?

RZ:  Very!  All the time!  We giggle about it on a pretty regular basis, just being around each other for that long and spending so much time with one another, even now when we’re in our forties.  It’s amazing and it’s clearly our vision that we had the beginning coming to fruition.  It’s very surreal, it’s really amazing, and it’s the greatest feeling any of us could imagine, we’re able to play deeply spiritually creative music every night that means a lot to us.