Soul Calibur

What do jazz cats know about hip-hop, anyway? Plenty, if you ask Soulive. Comprised of brothers Alan and Neal Evans, and Eric Krasno, this East Coast band’s been blazing audiences worldwide with their distinctive brand of funked-out groove soul. In the few years since their inception, Soulive’s toured with a dizzying array of music icons: […]

What do jazz cats know about hip-hop, anyway? Plenty, if you ask Soulive. Comprised of brothers Alan and Neal Evans, and Eric Krasno, this East Coast band’s been blazing audiences worldwide with their distinctive brand of funked-out groove soul.

In the few years since their inception, Soulive’s toured with a dizzying array of music icons: The Rolling Stones, Parliament/Funkadelic, and the Dave Matthews band, just to name a few. They’ve even managed to catch the ear of the underground elite—Talib Kweli, J-Live and Black Thought are just a few MC’s who’ve given Soulive’s instrumentals a lyrical workout. But it’s the undeniable mix of musicianship and creative synergy Soulive bring to their live shows that attract a diverse and devoted fan following.

AHHA caught up with Eric and Neal to discuss their new self-titled album and the relevance of their music to the rap game. Alternatives: What do you feel is the connection to hip-hop and jazz? Why do you feel your music is relevant to hip-hop?

NE: Well we grew up listening to hip-hop and all that’s in our music, I mean it’s all there.

EK: Oh it’s huge. When we’re on the road traveling, we listen to primarily hip-hop. As long as it’s soulful and fresh, that’s what we love. Back in the day a lot of so-called jazz musicians would be playing the dope Stevie Wonder cut that was on the radio. We’ll bust into whatever we’re listening to at the moment. We’re listening to a lot of the stuff that got sampled and to the people who are sampling them so we’re coming from both places and combining all of that. A lot of the stuff we’re playing could be rhymed over at any time but we like to play instrumentally. We like to improvise with it and not necessarily stay to a standard format.

AHHA: You have collaborations with Black Thought, Talib, and J-Live. Could you tell us a little about how each of those came about?

NE: We did a show with with Ahmir and he was like “Yo, we need to get together.” That’s how every collaboration has kind of happened. We meet people and it’s been “We should do something in the studio” Like with Talib we knew about him and he knew about us.

AHHA: How does it work? Do they write the lyrics first or do you guys have the instrumentals beforehand?

EK: Well (for “Clap”) Tariq had written his beforehand.

NE: With Talib (“Bridge to Bama”), he just walked in the studio and he just vibed out for like a long time. He had to split to do this TV show and he was like “Yo I’ll be right back” and literally he was right back. He blazed us so hard that night.

EK: Yeah, Talib is a true professional. He came in, wrote to the track right there and Hi-Tek added a new drum track to it and added some different effects and samples and stuff. Then we played over that. While we were playing, Talib was writing the lyrics. It all happened in one night. We mixed it the next day.

NE: He was just so humble and so appreciative of us feeling his lyrics. He’s like, a true artist. Really very conscious of what he’s saying.

EK: J-Live is another guy who is just amazing. I think he’s one of the best. He did something on our remix album and wrote to one of our songs. I’m working with Live on his next record.

AHHA: You also have a cut (“All Up In It”) on the new DJ Spinna cd. How did that come about?

EK: We chill with Spinna a lot (laughs) He lives in Brooklyn, not too far from me. He’s got a studio. We all produce beats too, so he’s like one of our cats we check out.

NE: He’ll call and be like ” What you doing? Come over and lay some keys.”

EK: He really vibes off the musicianship and we vibe off of how he puts stuff together, his whole production. ‘Cuz you know there’s a lot of people who call themselves “hip-hop producers” that can make a beat but he’s a true producer.

AHHA: Who do you consider to be a true producer?

NE: Some of these cats–they’ll sample somebody and be like “Ok, here’s the rimshot.”

EK: This is one of the things ?uestlove was talking about. He was like “I hate it when people are talking about ‘I did this beat in five minutes’”. It’s all about spending the time making the s### sound good. A lot of guys have a keyboard that does all their stuff. They program everything on their keyboard, and that’s it.

NE: That’s why I have a lot of respect for cats like ‘Dre, his whole camp–he’s into using musicians. DJ Quik is another one, using musicians and making hip-hop, creating something. Timbaland’s another one–that’s a musical cat. I think he’s more on being on the frontier of a sound—he’s pushing sound.

EK: Nothing gets me more hyped than Premier and Pete Rock. Honestly when I wanna hear something against one of our records, that’s what I want our records to sound like. At least for me I’ll play it up against the Pete Rock instrumental beat and try to match up how it should sound.

AHHA: So let’s talk about the new cd. This is your first live album and it was all recorded from your Fall 2002 tour. Are you happy with the finished product? Do you think it catches the essence and energy of your live performances?

EK: It’s never quite like being there obviously but I think this is the closest representation of any of the albums we’ve made.

NE: Except kind of like our old album …there were live cuts on it.

EK: Yeah, “Turn it Out”

NE: We actually wanted our first album on Velour to be a live album but they didn’t wanna do it.

EK: The same with Blue Note. We wanted to make a live album but they weren’t into that idea. So when we finally got to do it, we were really happy.

AHHA: Why do you think there’s resistance to live albums?

NE: People are so into thinking there’s a formula for having a selling album. Whereas back in the day, live albums were put out all the time.

EK: I mean traditionally they say they don’t sell as many when it’s a live album.

AHHA: Common did an article “Ten Points on How to save Hip-Hop” in Rolling Stone Magazine, and he mentioned hip-hop artists needing to tour more. Do you think that’s true?

EK: Yeah, or at least get their live shows tighter. Maybe incorporate live musicians like Common does. The other day I saw JayZ, Freeway and these dudes doing a live show and it was just horrible. I mean I wouldn’t want to see that. Freeway, you couldn’t understand anything he was saying.

NE: I’ll tell you one dope show was JayZ with the Roots. It was tight cuz it was a live band. I’ve seen s### on TV of cats’ live shows. Who’s that one cat? Fabolous–oh that guy sucks. Sucks, sucks, sucks, sucks, sucks. But I’ll tell you who rocked it, who I have a lot of respect for is Puffy.

AHHA: Puffy?

NE: I’m telling you–Puffy came out and got the crowd all hyped up. He’s an entertainer. He knows what it means, his presence, just being there. The way he rocked that show, hyped the crowd up. Fabolous was just there, standing still and Puffy was running circles around him. A lot of these cats don’t know how to rock shows. They’re just so wack.

AHHA: So what is it about Soulive that gets the audiences so hyped?

NE: I remember when I saw Tribe Called Quest before ‘Midnight Marauders’ came out. They were playing tracks from ‘Midnight Marauders’ and nobody knew what these tracks were. This was months before the album came out. They would do these interludes where Shaheed would just drop beats and I remember me and my cats standing there just losing it. And I see the same things when people come to see our shows.

EK: It’s the energy. We explore, improvise and try to find new things and that’s the most exciting moment. If Neal hits something, finds a groove that we’ve never hit before and all of a sudden we’re linking up on something we’ve never done, we’re gonna get crazy hyped. And everyone else is gonna get hyped off that. So it’s really finding those moments that are brand new, creative.

AHHA: Who would you say is pushing the envelope creatively?

NE: The Roots’ new album, I’ve been buggin’ on it. It’s just so well done. Slum Village is in my cd rotation all the time, DJ Spinna’s album, Jazzy Jeff’s joint. Ludacris’ “Saturday”- That is my joint. Oh, that Eve track “Satisfaction.” It’s real cuz with the bass player and the guitar…

EK: The ‘Dre one with the bass, it’s hot. I didn’t like the Alicia Keys one with Eve (sings to the tune of “I Just Wanna Rock you ) “I –just- wanna- break- my –radio”

[But] one of the negative things that I see is that format people feel that they have to do a beat a certain way. I feel like the more that you talk about the social conditions, things that really matter–I love party music I’m not saying music has to have that– but the more you talk about things that really make a difference, the more you won’t get played.

NE: Which didn’t used to be like that. Things have changed, really. It’s so funny when you look back at what hip-hop culture was before it was even hip-hop. When it was just rap, you know? Just seeing cats with their shell-toes and tight jeans. It wasn’t about bling. There was no b####### like that–they rocked their gear. Now it’s just like “This is how much money I have” and it’s like who cares? You’re not saying s###. I still think there’s good hip-hop that sells. But b####### sells, it always has.

For Soulive performance dates go to