Personally, I just can't stand doing the same thing all the time," says Soulive drummer Alan Evans. "And all of us feel the same way. I think a lot of musicians, no matter what you're doing, you always feel the need to reinvent yourself."
Subsequently, to keep from stagnating, Evans and his bandmates, who have been known to stretch out live with long improvisations, have begun to focus on shorter songs, which isn't necessarily as easy as it might sound.
"It's a challenge to say something meaningful in a short period of time, within the structure of a song," Evans notes.
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He reached this conclusion one day while he and a friend were listening to a Jimmy Herring solo. The Aquarium Rescue Unit guitarist's playing brought things into focus.
"It was the most insane guitar solo I've heard," Evans recounts. "And he was like, 'Dude, now listen back to it, and I'm gonna time it.' And he timed this guitar solo, and it was somewhere, from what I remember, between twelve and twenty seconds long. Before he pointed that out to me, you would think the guitar solo was like ten minutes long. And that's no bullshit, man. What that demonstrated to me was that you didn't need to take a twenty-minute guitar solo to really make a point, to really say something. Dude did it in less than twenty seconds. He said more than most cats say in a whole evening of playing. I just thought that was really powerful."
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Soulive takes a similar less-is-more approach on its latest effort, No Place Like Soul, the first new release on the recently relaunched Stax imprint. Evans is psyched to be working with the iconic label, which has released some of his favorite records by the likes of Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding and Booker T. & the MG's. In the tradition of those Stax recordings, Soulive wanted to make No Place Like Soul a cohesive album, not just a collection of tunes.
"It's an album, from start to finish," he says, "which I don't think you find very much anymore."
Evans has a point, especially in the singles-driven iTunes era, which didn't even exist back when Soulive first got together and issued its debut, 1999's Get Down! Inspired by organ-based trios led by guys like Jimmy Smith and Big John Patton, Soulive's groove-laden sound straddled both soul and jazz. But as the players matured, they felt like they needed to move forward and rethink things stylistically. As a result, the threesome enlisted the talents of Toussaint, who adds some outstanding vocals to Soul's more funk- and R&B-heavy sound.
"Doing the soul-jazz thing was a lot of fun, but we just got tired of doing it," Evans confesses. "We had a great time doing it, and we wrote some really cool tunes. But especially when you're a touring band like we are, you're playing those tunes every night -- and we were improvising on those tunes. But you can only do so much, and then it's just time to write new tunes."