Inside Talk: Soulive | Funking Up the Beatles

Publish date:
Social count:

Soulive, left to right: Neal Evans, Eric Krasno, Alan Evans

Photo: Arthur Shim

Covering material as firmly entrenched in the public consciousness as The Beatles'' repertoire can be risky. Play it too close to the original, and you''ll be thought of as copycats; deviate too far, and you might alienate the people you''re trying to reach. The funky trio Soulive managed to tread that line successfully on Rubber Soulive (Royal Family Records), the band''s 13th studio effort. They were able to stay true to the spirit of 11 Beatles classics while imbuing them with a stamp all their own. The song list includes “Drive My Car, “Taxman,” “In My Life,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “I Want You (She''s So Heavy),” “Come Together,” “Something,” “Revolution,” “Help!,” “Day Tripper,” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

Soulive''s instrumental renditions of these songs are funky, often-jazzy (but not smooth-jazzy), and have a slightly rough-edged feel. Alan Evans'' drums are solid and grooving throughout, and Eric Krasno (guitar) and Neal Evans (organ) split the melodies and soloing duties.

Rubber Soulive was recorded and mixed by the band at Playonbrother Studios, the Western Massachusetts project studio that belong to Evans . I recently spoke to him about the project.

How did you guys decide to do a Beatles cover album?
Well, Eric recorded a Beatles tune on his solo album—he did “Get Back”—but we didn''t play on it; some other cats that he plays with were on it. But we''d always kicked around the idea about doing some Beatles tunes live, but we never did. So after Kraz did that tune, it kind of got the conversation going again. I guess we were just kind of at a point where it was time to record another album, and it seemed like the timing was right. It kind of helped because that was right when all of The Beatles'' remastered albums came out. It was just all around us at that point so it seemed kind of obvious; the timing was right.

Was it at all intimidating to be doing material that''s so universally revered?
Not really. Honestly, the funny thing about the whole process was that before we started, we all had ideas of what tunes we''d want to do. And then when we got into the studio, between all of us, we had all of the new remasters. So we basically listened to every Beatles tune that anybody could possibly hear in the public.

One thing I''ve found about The Beatles'' material is that the chord changes sound simple, but they''re incredibly brilliantly put together and subtle.
Oh, yeah. That''s really the genius of it. Right there, that''s just the perfect example of perfect songwriting. These cats just wrote stuff that''s like, “Oh, yeah, that''s cool; that''s good pop music and it''s easy to digest right off the bat,” so you pull a lot of people in quickly. If you really start to examine the tunes, it''s really crazy. I mean, it''s really brilliant stuff. Obviously, as everyone knows, [Beatles producer] George Martin had a big hand in a lot of that. You know what really amazed me? We were in Santa Cruz [Calif.] right when we started talking about this, and we walked into some guitar shop, and they had The Beatles: Complete Scores.

The one with all the parts written out?
Yeah, so we open up this book and we start checking it out, and I think there might be one picture in the book—I think [laughs]. I mean this thing—there''s no filler. They''re just all tunes. I mean, tunes, tunes, tunes. We were just completely blown away.

Rubber Soulive is the band''s 13th studio album since 1999.

So you picked out the songs and then you had to arrange them. That''s got to be the hardest part of this kind of process: “How do we make it interesting and stay somewhat faithful to the original, but also put our own sound into it?”
We just approached that like we view our own tunes when we''re in the studio. It''s like, “Hey, what makes sense? Who wants a solo? Which instrument makes sense to carry the melody?” We just kind of worked through it until we got something we liked.

You definitely put your own stamp on it. For instance, “Revolution” was a shuffle in the original version, and you changed it to a funky 16th-note straight-four feel (see Web Clip 1). But it worked great. And you took a few liberties with the chord changes in “Help.” Were you worried that people were going to respond badly to those kinds of things, or were you pretty sure they would be cool with it?
To be honest, I don''t think we really cared. Over all the years we''ve been together, one of the things that we''ve learned is that you can''t please everyone. So the thing is, if we come out with something that we really enjoy and that we can listen to and that we''re really feeling, then we would hope that the people who listened to us over the years are going to dig it because they dug other things that we''ve done. And hopefully some new people will appreciate what we''re trying to do. The thing is, on top of that, what''s the point of recording a tune exactly the way they did it?

Talk about recording it. I''ve seen your studio. I''m guessing that you recorded it live, but you and the guys were in the main room and then the amps were in those side rooms.
Yeah, exactly.

Did you do anything different in terms of how you miked up your drum kit to sound more Beatle-like? It doesn''t sound like you did.
No. The only thing I did differently for most of the album is I might have changed the kick drum. Most of the sessions I do in the studio here, most things I do, I use a 22-inch kick drum. And for whatever reason, I changed it to a 20. I have no idea why; I was just like, “Oh, well, whatever.” I didn''t do anything different at all, really, in terms of my miking. The only thing Neal did, which was different, is that he just used the organ. Neal usually uses his key bass and clav and all that kind of stuff, and this one was straight organ.

And he was doing all the bass with his left hand?
Yeah, exactly.

For your approach drumming, were you thinking Ringo in any parts? It didn''t sound like it, but I''m just wondering. You guys play so differently.
No, no. The only tune that I was actually really thinking of another drummer was “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” [see Web Clip 2 target="_Blank"]. It''s kind of funny; all of us approached it as if we were The Police. I was just doing straight Stewart Copeland on that [laughs].

Did you mix the whole thing in your studio?
Yeah. The funny thing about that is that I guess we were listening to all the remasters and everything, and I got my ear kind of in tune on that stuff. So I did a couple mixes and I sent them to Eric and Neal, and they were definitely on the hi-fi side of things. And they were like, “Yeah, man, they sound cool. Maybe could you approach it more like old school? Make it sound more along the lines of the Up Here [Soulive''s 2009] album; make it sound like it''s not a new album.”

When you say “on the high side,” you''re talking frequency-wise?
Well, yeah, kind of frequency-wise, and just like the placement of things. There was more of a stereo, wider—more depth to it. We just put some dirt on it.

What were some of the things you did to achieve the more “old-school” sound?
It''s just things you do in mixing. Certain pieces of gear or plug-ins. A lot of it just has to do with combinations of filtering and certain compressors. I''ve found a way to get that sound, which has become our thing as of late.

Mike Levine is EM''s editor and senior media producer.