Photo by Casey Flanigan

Adam Deitch on Lettuce's Brand of Soul-Infused Jazz

Lettuce has been laying down the funk, the jazz and more since the group's members first met in 1992 at a summer music program at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. "Let us play!" was their early rallying cry to club owners in Beantown, and it gave rise to their unique handle. Almost three decades later, the skilled jammers are still very much at it, and will ascend to the foothills of Morrison this weekend to display their impressive and time-tested grooves as they headline at Red Rocks.

Westword spoke with the band's drummer, Adam Deitch, now a resident of the Mile High City, a well-regarded producer and an enthusiastic proponent of the Colorado lifestyle.

Westword: Hi, Adam. Are you calling from Denver or the East Coast?

Adam Deitch: I'm in Denver. I live here.

Lettuce started out on the East Coast, though, right?

Yeah, we all met at Berklee [College of Music] in the mid-’90s. Most of us are from back east. I'm originally from New York. I grew up outside the city, and then I lived in Manhattan and Brooklyn for about fifteen years.

When did you move to Colorado?

About five years ago.

Do you like it here?

Yeah, it's been a life-changer. It's amazing. Look at this weather. It's perfect.

I'm guessing that although people complain about the rent here, it's nothing compared to New York.

Yeah, it's a whole different ballgame. It's about half of what you'd pay there.

Did anyone else from the band move west with you?

Yeah, our guitar player, Adam "Shmeeans" Smirnoff is out here, too. The other guys are really tied to where they live. Our sax player lives in Maine with his family, and Benny, our trumpet player, and Nigel, our keyboardist, both live in New Orleans, and our bass player lives in L.A. So we're a little spread out, but we get on tour and it's like a family reunion.

How long do your tours run these days?

About two and a half weeks at a time. If you go out for too long, people start missing home. So about two to three weeks tops feels like a good amount of time to be away from all your stuff.

How many shows can you fit into a two-and-a-half-week window?

Oh, man, if we're out, we're playing every day, with maybe the exception of Mondays.

You've played Red Rocks a bunch, right?

Yeah, this will be our sixth consecutive year.

And you guys have been going for quite a while now.

Yes, we all met when we were about sixteen. It was pre-college, like a camp thing at Berklee. We all met there and just vibed out and became best friends right away. After that, we all went to school there and studied hard. Some of us transferred and some of us got touring gigs. I got a gig with the Average White Band. So I went out on tour and left school. But, yeah, we all wound up getting gigs and going out into the world. Our bass player did graduate from Berklee with a four-year degree. We're proud of him for that.

Has the band's vision or sound changed a lot since the beginning?

At first we were really die-hard funk players, and we really tried to slam people with horns and beats, but now we're incorporating hip-hop influences and psychedelia and stretching out the songs more to where we can play a twenty-minute tune that keeps everyone's attention and keeps the crowd in the palm of our hand with improvised sections and stuff like that.

Do you consider yourself a jam band?

Well, we come from a funk and soul and hip-hop background, so we're not really a traditional jam band, but the jam-band scene is a scene with people who follow their bands around and play different sets every night with different arrangements, and we love that. We love being a part of that scene where improvisation is key. That, to me, comes from jazz and some of the fusion movement that was happening in the ’70s with some great bands. The improvisation element is something that's important to us.

And you're in another band, too, right?

Yeah, I'm in a group called Break Science. And we were also members of the Pretty Lights Live band.

Did you study jazz drumming when you started out?

My parents are both drummers, and they introduced me to everything soul-, funk- and jazz-related, and classical. I grew up in that sort of environment, which all kind of led me up to funk.

Do you play a lot of odd time signatures within a show?

We never really got too into odd time signatures. We like to stay within 4/4 and create interesting rhythms that can help people get into a trance kind of vibe. We do have a new song that we call "Seven Jams," which is our first odd-time song. It's in the time signature of 7/4. It's funky and danceable. I do know a lot of drummers that are obsessed with odd time signatures, but I'm not one of them. I'm more of a 4/4 guy. But as long as it's groovin', I dig any time signature.

I'm guessing you know Dave Watts and the Motet?

Of course. Dave is the OG of the Denver area. The Motet guys have been keeping Denver funky for a long time. We appreciate their contributions to the local scene. Our first Red Rocks show was with them. We're best friends with those guys.

And you've got a new release coming out along with this Red Rocks show?

Yeah, we're dropping our new record, Elevate, on June 14, the day before the show. Our first two singles are "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" and "Krewe." Our version of "Rule the World" is a funkified version of the early-’80s pop song by Tears to Fears. It's a really cool message, and it's an amazing melody. People know the song, and it's beautiful to rework it and throw a funky hip-hop beat underneath it. It's a timeless melody, and we throw a little funk juice on it. The new album has a lot of groovy vibes, and we recorded at Colorado Sound Studios in Denver. We put down thirty tracks in five days. It was a great experience.

What kind of crowd do you generally get?

It's all-ages. We have parents that bring their kids, and young EDM kids who saw us with Pretty Lights and are now really into Lettuce. We have much love for Pretty Lights, who helped bring in a younger crowd. And we have people who are our age who have been following us all along. We appeal to people all across the board. We love the diversity.

Do you have any preference in terms of venue size?

Not really. From Red Rocks to the Blue Note, which is a much smaller venue in New York City, we enjoy it all.

Lettuce (featuring a set with Melvin Seals and JGB) with TAUK and The Soul Rebels, 6 p.m. Saturday, June 15, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison, $39.75.

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