Neal Evans of Soulive on doing Snowlive there: "Boulder goes off"

Over the last two years, Soulive has set up shop at Brooklyn Bowl for the band's annual Bowlive residencies, which have also featured guest appearances from heavies like by Maceo Parker, John Scofield and Ivan Neville. With this weekend's Snowlive, Soulive will be at the Fox Theatre for a three-night stand with the first two nights (tonight and tomorrow night) devoted to JJ Grey & the Jennifer Hartswick Horns and Soulive running through songs from Rubber Soulive, the band's tribute to the Beatles. Brothers Neal and Alan Evans and guitarist Eric Krasno will also be holding workshops throughout the weekend as well. In advance of the shows, we spoke with Neal Evans about Snowlive, songwriting, working with Karl Denson on the band's new EP Spark, and how the Brooklyn based jazz-funk trio has evolved over its thirteen-year history.

Westword: Is Snowlive sort of an extension to what you guys did with Bowlive in Brooklyn?

Neal Evans: Yeah. That's definitely it. It's kind of like a concept that we've been wanting to do...well, after how successful Bowlive has been, we kind of started thinking about taking it around the country. I guess the other testing ground was going out and doing Royal Family Ball shows that we've been doing over the past couple of years. But there's a completely different uniqueness to doing these shows where we're in a city for a few days with certain guests.

I think it lends itself to a completely different type of musical experience for us and I think for the audience. It's like the vibe of the town. You're psyched to go to a certain town and knowing that different people... I have friends who say, "I'm coming from San Francisco." Also I think that the different musicians that we're bringing on board for the shows it makes a totally different thing.

What was it about Boulder that made you want to do Snowlive there?

Boulder goes off. Hopefully there will be some snow there. It was really one of those things where that entire area has been incredible for us for years. I think the original idea was, okay, Snowlive, the name was awesome. Our manager came to us and said, "Lets do Snowlive." There aren't that many great music spots that happen in really cold areas in this county. Colorado is the spot. It made a lot of sense.

Are the workshops a new thing, or do guys do that in Brooklyn too?

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Not in Brooklyn, but we started it off at our music festival -the Royal Family Affair - last year. It really went over well. It was so great. Kraz did this seminar, which will be happening in Boulder, where he'll be doing a guitar workshop. My brother is doing one on recording, and I'm doing one on songwriting, and there are going to be a couple of others, I believe. It's a really cool chance for us to kind of interact with friends and fans. I think it's really great that you're able to have a conversation with people and really kind of explore what's on their mind.

There was a lot of really interesting stuff like: What was our formula for making music, and the kind of stuff, where, for us, we just go and do it. But it's really great to sit there and explain it. Al is really awesome on the recording process that we go through and other recording processes that he deals with different bands. It's really interesting. I think it's a chance of us to share. I think we're teaching in some way, but it's really more about sharing our musical experiences, whether it is about the technique of playing guitar or what are Kraz's or my approach. I think it's really more about sharing

Do you have certain points that you really think are important that you try to across to people at the workshops? Maybe with your approach to music or the band's approach to music?

A huge of part of mine -- I do one on songwriting -- is what your intent is. You have to really break things down. That always helps me when I'm sitting down working on music I'll have so many ideas going on so you have to break it down like, "What is this specifically for? Am I writing something for my solo album or is this for Soulive? Or is this for a movie?" And once you break it down you have to make these mental outlines. And it really often helps to write stuff out, but for me I'm using more mental.

So what your intent is a huge part of what defines you as a musician, as a writer, an artist or whatever it is that you do. It's really what is your intent and what are you trying to achieve. You really have to know. It breaks down to even when you're actually playing an instrument. You have the ability to wield sound waves. What are going to do with that? What is your intent? What message are you trying to convey to an audience?

I think when you really get in touch with that it just helps you hone in and hopefully achieving it essentially. Then you know what you have to work on. You have to know what you need to practice. When writing music you're thinking about the composition and the arrangement of it and the instruments you're using. Once you know what your intent is, I think everything else kind of comes together.

You guys have a new EP coming out with Karl Denson, right?

You know, Karl is a dear friend of ours. We hung out with a couple of weeks ago on the Jam Cruise. It's always a blast just hanging out with Karl, and then we really got to watch him and they were with Anders [Osborne], and they did the Rolling Stones.They kill it. It was the first time I got to Anders live, and he's just a beast, an absolute monster. Then Karl and came played with us. You know, he's a friend, a great friend and just an incredible musician.

For years, we've talked about doing something with Karl. We were in California, and we had just landed in L.A., and we were driving to the hotel and we were sitting there going, "We should really go tour Europe. Just do something different like go to Japan and kind of do like a concept album. Yeah, man. We should hit Karl up." And right at that moment Karl called Kraz, and we just started cracking up. I think this might have been the year before we actually cut it. We were kind of clear like, "We have to do this." Then it just kind of came down to figuring out the right time.

I remember at Bowlive last year we were trying to go into the studio after two weeks of Bowlive, but after the first week I was like, "There's no way we're going to be able to just go. We're going to need to rest up." It ended up working out. We did some shows with Karl last year, and the vibe was there, so we're like, "Lets go in and record this." And it came out really great. There was a whole concept behind it. It was really about doing this concept album.

At the time, I think Karl was using one of those download programs. I forget what it was called because I'm not really a big downloader of music. But this is all music that he has or he's had on vinyl and same with Alan. And they were just sitting there and what they were really listening to was a lot of the old CTI jazz stuff. So right there we were like, "Wow, lets cover some of these songs." So we covered three tunes and we wrote this other one. So it's kind of in the tradition of what these albums were. You put on the albums and there were like four songs.

I think fans of Soulive and Karl are really going to dig this. We got away from trying to fit the song into three or four minutes. We really just played and when the song was over it was over. We really just worked it out and who was going to solo and weren't concerned necessarily with the length. It was more of the vibe, like we caught this incredible vibe of the moment.

So it is somewhat of a tribute to Melvin Sparks?

Yeah. He passed right around that time when we went into the studio so we decided to name it Spark. The name of one song is "Spark for Melvin."

In Boulder, you're going to playing some stuff from Rubber Soulive, right?

Yeah. That's some of the most fun stuff that we've done in years, because I think in most of our music, it's always evolving at every show. So you can always think, it's like, "We have to top the last show." After playing Beatles songs, we've made them ours. I thought we kind of captured that with the album. It's just continued to grown, and we've expanded. I think it's always great when you learn great tunes. I feel like I know them now, really know them inside and out. I don't get tired of playing them. I really don't.

I was reading an interview I did with your brother in 2007 and he was saying how you guys don't like doing the same thing over and over. And like you were saying, you're constantly evolving. How would you say you guys have evolved over the last decade or so?

To me, it seems like...I can think of how the material that we've written over the years, these certain time periods, definitely things have influenced us have been different. Musicians that we've me along the way over the years over different periods. The pure fact of changing up our gear is a huge thing, when you change the physical sound of the instruments you're playing.

I remember years ago when I had this Hammond on the road. I was playing this instrument of convenience. It was somewhat convenient. It was heavy as hell, but it allowed me to play bass and have this other keyboard kind of all in one. Then over the years I found, for me, the Hammond organ bass is extremely limiting.

So over the years I was constantly searching for new ways to get across what I wanted to do. I really wanted to be a bass player. I love playing bass. I'm a drummer first. After drums, I love bass. So that's something I've kind of searched for over the years. Then just the evolution of bring the Clavinet into the band and bringing out another side of the music that we grew up loving to play, like bringing out this whole other rock side.

We're kind of like a power trio up there now. Like the keys are like the other guitarist up there. I think a huge part of it is just the sound. Then, not just the other musicians that we've met over the years but the other musicians that we've brought into Soulive over the years, like the horn section, and getting to play with Christian Scott over the years. And Karl. There's so many people.

And that's another reason we feel so comfortable doing a Bowlive and Snowlive is that it's something that we've done for years. We kind of assimilate other musicians into what we do. I think we're able to bring Soulive to their thing. You kind of have this common ground that creates something new and exciting. That's why I think Bowlive was really such a successful thing. Like when you step outside of the real comfort zone that you know. Let's just get down, have fun and make some music.

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