“When COVID hit, I was like, ‘OK, it’s finally time to make the record where it’s just me,’” Eric Krasno explains, while detailing the origins of his new studio record, Always. “A lot of times, when I work with other people in the studio, I’ll multi-track all these different instruments. One of my production styles has been to layer, but I had never really done that much on my own records.”
“The other idea I originally had was that maybe I’d go back and find all the songs that I’ve written for other people and make my versions of those,” he continues. “When I would do stuff for Aaron Neville, Tedeschi Trucks Band and Nigel [Hall]— or even some older Soulive things—I would always demo those songs as the vocalist. But, I never made them into my own songs or put them out. So I sidestepped that and it became a back-burner project after meeting Otis McDonald, aka Joe Bagale.”
Always is the product of a transitional period in Krasno’s life. The East Coast native and longtime Brooklyn resident, who co-founded Lettuce and later Soulive in the 1990s, relocated to Southern California in 2019. By the following spring, as he began thinking about his next studio project, the recently married guitarist was preparing to welcome his first child into the world. This is when Lettuce drummer Adam Deitch introduced him to Bagale after Wil Blades had made a similar recommendation.
“When we first got on FaceTime, we talked for like two hours,” Krasno recalls. “It was an incredible thing because we are both producers and we both love hip-hop but we’re also both into The Beatles and the Dead. Also, he’s toured with Mickey Hart, and I’ve toured with Phil Lesh. On top of that, the craziest thing was he had a one-year-old child and my wife was pregnant with our son. So we’d go from conversations about preamp channels and compression to baby wipes and diapers. We just connected on so many levels.
“He was also one of the founders of an organization called SongAid, and they were trying to raise money during COVID, so he asked me if I wanted to do a cover song to help. I had just learned Dylan’s ‘The Man in Me’ so I sent him an acoustic version of me playing piano, guitar, vocals and percussion. Then, he sent me back the same track, but he added drums, bass and background vocals—he basically produced it for me. I was completely floored. I was like, ‘This is the sound of my next record.’”
The two of them began working remotely, sending tracks back and forth, with Krasno at home in Southern California and Bagale based out of Hyde Street Studios in San Francisco— the space formerly known as Wally Heider Recording.
“He holds the key to Room D,” Krasno notes, “which is the same room where the Dead made American Beauty and Garcia did his solo record. David Crosby recorded there, and that whole era of music was made in that room. But subsequently, it was also where Herbie Hancock recorded Thrust and Head Hunters. Those are my two holy-grail eras. Eventually, when we were 80% done with the record, I went up there to be in that room and cut a few more things because the mojo is just insane.”
I wrote this song a long time ago. It’s about getting the silent treatment and how not getting a response is worse than any type of argument. Initially, it was written about an ex-girlfriend. It also relates to texts, where, if you don’t get a response, that feels like the worst possible result. Just tell me no; tell me it sucks or whatever. [Laughs.]
“Silence” also was the first original song that Joe and I created together. I sent him a little groove of me playing drums with acoustic guitar, piano and vocals, and then we kind of built it from there. A lot of the album sequence does follow the order in which we worked, other than “The Man in Me.” We kind of went down the line because it felt like a good sequence.
“So Cold” is a song that I wrote a while ago with Dave Gutter, shortly after Blood From a Stone. I never loved the way any of the production happened with it, and then Marcus King recorded it. It didn’t come out on his record, but he performed it for a while before he phased it out. So I called him and I was like, “Hey, do you mind if I cut that?” He was fine with it.
I put down a drum loop, some bass guitar and my vocals, then sent it to Joe, who just nailed it. I told him that I wanted a “Tomorrow Never Knows” kind of dark Beatles vibe. I wanted it to feel cold. Lyrically, it’s about someone that has had something really horrible happen to them and then they take it out on you, even though it didn’t come from you.
Joe and I are both total Beatles fanatics, so we’re always referencing that type of stuff. I’ll say to him: “What if Dilla sampled ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’?” And he gets it right away. [Laughs.]
It’s fun to work with someone who gets those references. We’re such music nerds. I really get into the history of things. Watching the Beatles’ Get Back documentary was an incredible day for me.
I feel like every musician is a music nerd. That’s how we got into this. It’s just like people who are super into sports or super into whatever. I don’t know if that’s always a blessing, though. Sometimes the curse pops in. [Laughs.] My wife and I will be at a café in the middle of a conversation and something will come on, like Zeppelin III, and I’ll be like, “Oh my God, the mandolin’s panned all the way left.” And she’ll look at me like, “Where are you right now?” [Laughs.]
So Joe and I spent 90% of the time talking about things and 10% recording because he and I were so into sounds and vibes. That was really cool and he ended up mixing it, mastering it and really adding all the finishing touches. So it never left our hands ever, which is the first time that’s ever happened.
I wanted to make a funk track with this one. I think my solo stuff is always a little funky, but it is not always down-themiddle funk music.
There’s a riff in there that I had in my head for a long time, but never made it into a full song. I remember trying to get the London Souls to record it, and I worked on it with Tash [Neal] but it never quite became a rock song. I had heard it like early Lenny Kravitz and I finally used it here.
Early on, while we were making this one, we decided to take the James Brown “Cold Sweat” beat but do it backward. Then, I started putting guitar stuff on it that felt like Stevie Ray Vaughan meets James Brown. That was the vibe.
I also was going to get Maceo Parker on it. He’s on the same label as I am. I spoke with my A&R guy about it, and I was going to reach out. Then, I took the placeholder solo and I put a Neutron Filter pedal on it to make it sound like Maceo. I basically tried to mimic Maceo in the solo and I sent it to Joe, who called me right away and convinced me to leave it. Then we had his guys from the Jazz Mafia do the horn parts. So no Maceo, but we got a fake Maceo guitar solo on it. [Laughs.]
The Man in Me
This was one of those weird things where you’ve heard a song a bunch, but you’ve never really understood what it was about. That happens to me sometimes, especially with the Grateful Dead and Dylan. I’ll have grown up listening to a song and then, one day, I’ll read the lyrics or hear the song another way and be like, “Holy shit, this is something else.” Part of it was my wife being pregnant and being locked in a house together and feeling, “OK, this is it. This is the time to be a man and really be there for the family, unconditionally.” So the song just resonated.
I had heard this guy, Kevin Garrett, do an acoustic version on Instagram. He only did like one verse, but hearing him sing it and hearing the lyrics, I was like, “Oh, damn!” Then I heard the song in a grocery store and I later heard it when I was getting coffee somewhere. So I started learning it and then, when I recorded it, I said to Joe: “What if it was like Motown, but also like The Band?” That’s how it came together.
I actually changed the arrangement too because the line “Oh, a wonderful feeling” feels like a chorus, but it’s only played once in the original; it’s like a bridge. I was like, “What if we bring that back? Is that blasphemous?” Joe told me it was cool, so we did it and that ended up being the first song we did on the record.
I did a guitar solo that was simple and melodic, then I decided to harmonize it. That’s something that became kind of a theme on the album—we called it guitar-mony. Most people know it from the Allman Brothers, with two guitar melodies colliding and harmonizing together. I started doing that because I liked that sound and I thought we were kind of doing it in a unique way. So I first did it on that song and you can hear that on almost every song throughout the album.
The other thing is that, even though I’ve watched The Big Lebowski a bunch of times, it didn’t occur to me that the song was in the movie. Then, when I did a little video of it and eventually put the song out, everybody was mentioning Lebowski. My version is pretty different and some of my friends were asking me why I’d changed it so much. About two weeks later, they came around and told me that they loved the changes but it was a little shocking to them at first.
“Alone Together” was the first song I wrote in lockdown. It’s funny because, initially, I was trying to make it sound like Yes or Rush. But I was also digging into Crosby, Stills & Nash at the time, too, so I wanted the whole song to be harmonized the way that they would do it. I sent Joe the guitar and the vocal, and then he just nailed it.
Lyrically, it was about realizing that, even though I never would have wished for COVID, and, despite everything that was happening, there was a silver lining for me. I almost felt guilty about that for a while. I’d never been able to take more than a couple weeks off the road, but here I was in a beautiful relationship and in a new home with a studio. So for the first few months, besides being scared as hell about everything going on, I also could appreciate that my day-to-day life was pretty good, which was apparent when I wrote that song.
Leave Me Alone
“Leave Me Alone” is another older one. I used to play it with Dr. Klaw [Adam Deitch, Nick Daniels, Nigel Hall, Ian Neville and Krasno] and also with Nigel. Kofi [Burbridge] had played on the original demo way back in the day.
I was watching some stupid show one day while I was waiting for someone to come over. It was about somebody like Britney Spears, who was getting hassled so much by these paparazzi that she decided to sue them. Then, I began thinking, “Man, imagine living like that where you can’t go to the store, can’t go to a restaurant, can’t live a normal life.”
I haven’t been around a lot of that, but I have some friends who are famous enough that doing certain things can be a pain. I was like, “Man, I don’t care if it comes with all the wealth in the world; I would never want that.” So the song is jokingly about what being a celebrity would be like.
I should also mention that, when we were about halfway through the record, Joe was like, “I want to be in the band.” So now he’s kind of my co-pilot in the live thing, and we had that in mind as we were doing the record. I also brought in a guitarist named James VIII, who I’ve been working with and Joe brought in this drummer Curtis Kelley, and they have become best friends. [Keyboardist] Wil Blades, who’s kind of the link between all of us, is also in the band and I’ve given it the moniker, The Assembly. Joe, Curtis and James are all really great singers and players, so this has created a whole new chapter.
Where I Belong
“Where I Belong” is about moving to California, which was a big deal for me. I wrote it with Birocratic, who’s a really talented EDM producer. He’d heard the stuff I’d done with Gramatik, GRiZ and Pretty Lights back in the day and he thought we could create this EDM/rock-and-roll/soul track. He came over and we tried doing that and, when we were done, it was like, “Yeah, that’s OK.” Then, we made this tender, beautiful song— although Joe and I ended up adding a little more funk. But, originally, it was just piano, guitar and vocals because he’s also a great piano player.
We wrote this right when I was about to leave. I had a studio share in Brooklyn, and I’d lived in the same place for 15 years, but I had been talking about moving for a while. I would come back from tour, and I’d be in this little apartment. I loved my neighborhood, but it had changed from when I first moved there. Back then, it was all musicians and artists and a few cool coffee shops. Now, there were all these new condos, and it was just overdone and so crowded. There was also a major exodus out of there around 2016-17 and all my friends had left. The Lettuce guys moved to Denver and my other friends moved to New Orleans, Austin and a couple of other places. So the lyrics to “Where I Belong” are about why I need more nature in my life. It was about why I felt the need to make a change.
“Good Thing” is a little bit more recent. It’s about bad addictions—about finding something that you love and overdoing it. It’s another one where I had the lyrics for a while, also written with Dave Gutter. We based it on some different friends of ours who were addicts, but then we felt like it didn’t have to be about drugs. It can be love. It can be food. It can be binge-watching TV. Too much of a good thing is always bad, no matter what it is. So that’s the theme of it.
Then, for the music, I said to Joe: “You’re working in the studio where that Herbie Hancock funk music was created. Let’s make the track kind of like that.” I’m a huge fan of Paul Jackson, who passed away last year. He was the bass player for Herbie in that era and I kind of went for that Paul Jackson feel.
I also played my first recorded keyboard solo ever on an album. I’ve played keys on a lot of tracks but, here, I finally took a keyboard solo. The song also has a fake ending and then comes back. I’ve always loved it when people do that on their record. So the song is a combination of different things but, sonically, we were trying to implement some of that Herbie funk.
“Hold Tight” and “Always With You” kind of go together. “Hold Tight” was definitely the ballad moment of the album. I wrote that one in the middle of the pandemic. I went to Montana when my wife was seven months pregnant. A friend of mine told me that we had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go on a river trip for six days. I was really worried about going but my wife was like, “You have to go, this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. You’ll get to see this beautiful nature.”
I went with my good friend Kevin and his dad and his mom, along with a few other friends. It ended up being this amazing trip, even though I was worried about my wife. Thankfully, they also had a satellite phone so I could check in with her.
I wrote the song all about that trip, being with my good friend Kevin and having this moment with his parents. I spent a lot of time talking with his dad about being a dad. A lot of the lines in it are things his dad said.
Also, we were in Montana, which has this amazing clear view of the stars for this comet, which comes every 6,000 years. Every night we’d look up and see this big streak. One night, Kevin’s mom goes, “That’s baby Lewis on the comet. He’s coming.” [Laughs.] She was joking, but I wrote that into the first line, and then the rest of it kind of came together. It’s about being a dad.
Sadly, my friend’s dad passed away a couple of months ago, so it’s hard for me to listen to that song. It’s kind of the deep moment on the record, though. I dedicate it to Jeff Vilkin, the guy who helped me write it.
I should also mention that “Hold Tight” was very D’Angelo inspired in terms of the vocals and Joe added a lot of those layers. Also, Wil Blades plays organ, and there’s a moment I really like at the end where he and I are trading back and forth. So we made room for that.
Always With You
“Always With You” is about becoming a dad, and you can hear my baby in the beginning when he was like a week old. He had a little rattle while I was playing the track and I had a mic on to see if I could get him to make a noise. So while I was recording, he went boom, right on the down beat of the first beat. I was like, “Oh, my God!” Of course, everyone else around me was like, “Yeah, he was just hitting the rattle, dude.” [Laughs.] But I kept that and then, at the end, you can hear him again.
That song was one of the first things I wrote after finding out that I was going to be a dad, but I didn’t finish it until after he was alive. So it was this full-circle thing. Victoria Canal, who’s an artist I’ve worked with for the last few years, sings a lot of the harmonies and then sings the last verse, which is actually just a reprise of the first verse. Alex Koford, who played with Phil and who’s a good friend of mine, came over one day and added a harmony.
So “Always With You” was the one that took the longest to finish—even though it’s kind of the simplest song—because we added so many layers. Then, when we were mixing it, I was like, “This is way too much.” It was like adding a million different vegetables and meats to the pizza and you’re like, “You know what? It only needs the pepperoni.” [Laughs.]
That one had a lot of layers and it was cool because we ended up taking tiny little pieces of all these layers that we had initially put on, and it evolves throughout the track. If you listen to it on headphones, you can start to understand where all the little things come in and all the things that we added. [Ryan] Zoidis plays a synth saxophone and, initially, he blew through the whole song. However, I ended up just taking two or three little pieces and adding them in at the right moments. So that song was the most detailed in terms of mixing.
I always knew that was going to be the last song and it also became the title of the album— although I ended up just making it Always—because I thought it represented this time period for me.
The cover is a photo of my pregnant wife. It was a bold choice but, if she let me do it, I was going to do it. A friend of ours is a photographer and we decided to take some pictures while she had this huge belly. Who knows if this will happen again? I also appreciate that my son can see that forever, whether he likes it or not. [Laughs.]
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