An Interview with Ryan Zoidis of Lettuce

Lettuce - Crush (2015, CD) | Discogs

One of the amazing things about Vinyl Addicts as a group, and I think it’s what has allowed it to not only endure, but grow, is the constant sharing of music between likeminded people. But not just any music, because you can find music anywhere. No, I’m talking about new music. I’m talking about real, interesting, new music. The type of music that you don’t see other places, unless you’re tuned in to those specific channels. When I first created Vinyl Addicts, one of the albums that I kept seeing circulate throughout the group was an album called Crush, by a band named Lettuce. Now, I know a lot of music, but nobody knows everything, and I certainly had never heard of Lettuce. The album has what looked like elephants, who were sort of hanging around in a desert setting. Pretty typical elephant behavior, right? Wrong. These elephants had what looked to tuba’s or saxophone’s in place of their head and trunks. It was interesting. More importantly, it was the first time I knew I needed something by only seeing the cover. I hadn’t heard it, but I needed it.

Today, I am “sitting down” with Ryan Zoidis of the truly monstrous Funk outfit, Lettuce. Ryan is an awesome saxophonist and a really down to earth guy, with some amazing taste in music. Definitely look into his picks below if you’re not familiar with them. Also, if you’re interesting in learning more about Lettuce, you can head to their website here. Talking with Ryan was a treat, as well as an education. I’m happy to share it with you. I hope you dig it.

Andrew:
Ryan, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us! Tell us about your back story. How did you start playing music? What was your musical gateway so to speak?

Ryan:
My parents exposed me to some good music growing up. I was always digging through the records and took an interest in Herbie Hancock Headhunters, The Police Syncronicity, The Beatles White Album and Michael Jackson’s Thriller. My Mom got me involved in music early. I played violin first in 4th grade which was offered in the public school music program. Then I started piano and sax. I had incredible music teachers starting out and we were improvising and playing Jazz and Funk in 6th grade. Then I met the Lettuce crew in 1992.

Andrew:
With Lettuce, you play alto sax, baritone sax and tenor sax. How did you get started with the saxophone? Who are some of your biggest influences personally?

Ryan:
My biggest influences on sax are Charlie Parker, Maceo Parker, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Gene Ammons, King Curtis, Red Prysock, Gary Bartz, Lenny Picket, Stephen Doc Kupka.

Andrew:
You’ve been with Lettuce since its inception in 1992. How did the band itself get started? How did the band get its name?

Ryan:
We met at the Berklee College of Music 5 week summer program in 1992. Our friend named us Lettuce because we would ask the bands who were playing the parties if they’d let us use their gear so we could sit in.

Ryan Zoidis | SF Sonic

Andrew:
While Lettuce has been around since 1992, you guys didn’t release a proper album until 2002. Was it a slow build toward a first official release?

Ryan:
Yes, it was a slow build. After we all left Berklee, we all went on to do different things. We all had touring gigs, or studio gigs and Lettuce was a side project that we’d be able to do rarely for a good 5-7 years. Then we started selling some tickets, and all decided to fully commit to what we really wanted to be doing.

Andrew:
Lettuce has had an incredible run over the last several years! I first became aware of you guys with the release of Crush. What a killer album! If my memory serves, I believe Crush reached number one on the U.S. Jazz Albums chart! What can you tell us about the recording of that album?

Ryan:
Crush was our 2nd album with Joel Hamilton. He had just opened his new facility Studio G 2.0. A super cool 70’s style build out ala Avatar. We cut live on an SSL to tape and did overdubs in pro tools. Joel has a very unique and free approach to recording and mixing, and has some of the coolest analog gear available. The album is heavy sounding, very dense and loud. This was the fist record I used my synth on. The Korg x911. This album is also with Neal Evans on keys and Eric Krasno on guitar.

Andrew:
Elevate, released in 2019, was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album. How gratifying was that for you, and the rest of the band?

Ryan:
That was a major accomplishment for us. That album is a true representation of who we are/were at that time. We had been touring relentlessly with Nigel hall on keys and vocals and the band had a achieved a new level of tightness and chemistry. We also had the opportunity to record with Ryussle Elevado who is one of our all time favorite producers/engineers.

Grateful Web Interview with Ryan Zoidis | Grateful Web

Andrew:
In May of this year, you guys released a new album titled Resonate, and as expected, it’s killer. I know Lettuce was supposed to hit the road in support of the album, but COVID-19 has sort of derailed that. COVID-19 troubles aside, how has the response to Resonate been
?

Ryan:
The Response has been amazing! I think we’re being considered for another Grammy nom. I think people are more tuned in to music than ever, especially albums. People’s attention spans are more open to focusing on a full albums worth of music these days, so we plan to continue to release more music during this time off the road.

Andrew:
Lettuce is a truly beautiful and bombastic blend of old school Funk and Jazz. Often times, I get some serious CTI vibes from you guys. What are some of your biggest influences as a group?

Ryan:
We love those CTI records. We love all the Herbie electric records, all the 60’, and 70’s James Brown, the P-Funk records, the Sly, the golden era of Jazz; all of those influences are filtered through a 90’s Hip-Hop lens. I guess that’s where our vision comes from among a thousand other influences from Serge Gainsbourg to Pink Floyd to Teddy Pendergrass. It’s really never ending with this group because we’re all constantly searching for stuff we may have missed.

Andrew:
While Lettuce excels in the studio, I feel your live shows are where the true power of the band shines through. Would you agree? What do love most about playing live?

 Yes, I think we really shine live and I think we’re best when we’re composing grooves and moods on the spot. Improvising as a unit and really digging deep spiritually. We have magical moments in the studio too, but it’s a different feeling altogether.

Grateful Web Interview with Ryan Zoidis | Grateful Web

Andrew:
I’m sure it’s been rough having to cancel your tour in support of Resonate. What have you been doing to pass the time? Any new music on the horizon?

Ryan:
We have a couple records in the works and I think it’s some of our best stuff to date. I’m super excited for this next one. Look for it mid December.

Andrew:
Why types of gear do you use on the road? Which saxes, mics, pedals?

Ryan:
I use a Korg X911 guitar synth that was built in the late 70’s. I have an expression pedal for it that adds lfo and controls the filter. I plug a pick up that attaches to my reed into that, and it goes through a reverb and a delay. I also use a dry mic, and I can play both simultaneously and blend the two.

Andrew:
Do you collect vinyl? Tapes? CD’s? Or are you all digital now? Where do you like to shop for music?

Ryan:
I’m 99% analog. Yes! I collect vinyl and I am always looking for tapes too. It’s amazing how great tapes sound these days after listening to so much digitally compressed music all the time! I just had my old 1971 Marantz hifi power amp rebuilt, and I got some Klipsch KG4’s and a funky linear turntable. I’ve been listening to a ton. There’s some great record shops here in Maine. Enterprise Records and Deep Groove Records are my two go-to spots.

Andrew:
Last question. Are there any bands out there that you think are carrying the torch? What advice do you have for young musicians trying to get their start?

Ryan:
I really love what Khruangbin has been doing. I’m a sucker for old records, or at least some sort of organic/analog component to get the vibe. I dig Menahan Street Band and El Michaels Affair, too. My advice to younger musicians would be to find your voice and be ready for anything.

Grateful Web Interview with Ryan Zoidis | Grateful Web

Interested in crunching on some Lettuce? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full catalog of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews

Published by Andrew Daly

Since he was a young child growing up on Long Island, NY, Andrew has always loved writing and collecting physical music. Present-day, Andrew is proud to share his love of music with the world through his writing, and the result is nothing short of beautiful: articles and interviews written by a music addict for fellow music addicts. Andrew lives on Long Island and works as a Horticultural Operations Manager by day and runs the Vinyl Writer Music website by night.

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