Bringing Back the Funk: An Interview with Jesus Coomes of Lettuce

Similar to Restless Leg Syndrome and sharing the acronym, a Raging Lettuce Show will cause an irresistible and uncontrollable urge to move your body.  Funk might typically be an exercise in rhythmic synchronicity, but the way Lettuce does it conjures up words like relentless, entrancing, potent, and completely intoxicating.  Their sound is composed of seven members whose sole purpose is to contribute to this runaway funk train that’s been taking down anyone in their way.  The band is currently wrapping up their winter tour, but not before a stop in Buffalo, NY at The Tralf on Friday, February 21st.  Their most recent album Fly has only built upon what’s made them so good: commanding beats, catchy melody lines, and stripped of anything that doesn’t add to the overall groove.

Writer Jeremiah Shea got the chance to talk with Lettuce bassist Jesus Coomes about the band, a new album, and funk’s recent rise in popularity.

Jeremiah Shea: How did you get your nickname?
Jesus Coomes: I got that nickname from working in L.A. with DJ Quik. I was really devout with my lifestyle, my beard was long, my hair was long, and he just started calling me Jesus. After that, it caught on and everyone started calling me that.

JS: How did the band name come about?
JC: The name just kind of dawned on us. We were playing out at a lot of places and when we went to parties, we’d say to the band: “Let us play.”

JS: Explain the importance of the overall sound and feel of the band versus highlighting one particular member.
JC: Rather than having one person being the guy that’s standing out, we like to keep the perspective where the sound of all of us together is much more important than the sound of any us separately. We play our part in the band and when everyone plays their part and we’re vibin’ off each other, that’s what creates really good feel. It’s really just keeping the overall sound of the band being paramount to any individual.

JS: Lettuce came on the scene in the early 90’s, but didn’t record Outta Here until 2002.  Why is that and what developed during that time period?
JC: Because recording an album is expensive! That’s one way of looking at it. Also, we formed in 1992, but didn’t really start playing a lot until 1994-1995. I think it’s good for a band to play the material live first before you go record it. By the time we went to record, we had played it so many times that we were able to record quickly. Instead of going into the studio and figuring out what you want to do, we could play as a band basically and get it almost all done live. We had to play out a lot of shows first before we could have something really great to record. I think that’s why it took from 1992 until 2000 to get that going; we were basically playing for a while.

JS: How does the band balance the band’s responsibilities alongside all of the side projects that everyone is involved in?
JC: It’s all about priorities. When you give your life to music, you always have a couple of things that are really important to you. We all have those things that we’re involved in, but we keep Lettuce high-up on that priority list. I think the amount of fun that we get to have when we play in Lettuce makes it easy. We’re also all good friends and keep in contact all the time. When all you do is music, you SHOULD have a couple of things that you’re working on I think. It’s not as hard as it might sound; when I’m not touring with Lettuce, I just go super hard in L.A. and write. You want to stay busy. We like to play music, so if there’s a day when we’re not playing music, we’re freaking out! It also keeps us fresh – when I haven’t played a Lettuce show in a while, it makes me really excited to play one.

JS: There’s a lot of overlapping members within Royal Family Record’s various bands; is it possible we get to see a full Royal Family Tour in the future?
JC: Oh yeah – you never know what we’re going to do; that’s for sure.

JS: You can hear funk’s influences in a lot of genres these days, but it seems like there has been a rise of bands lately that just play a pure form of funk – bands like Lettuce, Kung Fu, Orgone, Dumpstaphunk, etc.  Why do you think that is?
JC: I want to be completely egotistical and say it’s because we’ve been playing funk! Lettuce has been going around playing funk at all of these festivals for so long that somebody must have heard us. You know, I really don’t know why though, but I’m happy about it. I think it’s just a lot easier these days to just get your ear on some dope shit! You used to have to search out that music, but now it’s a lot more accessible and easy to find.

JS: How does Lettuce continue to evolve while still staying true to funk’s original roots?
JC: I mean, for me personally, the key is to not be bound by a genre. When you think of a genre, they’re all creations of some dude who probably didn’t play music. It’s just a way to try to say this band sounds like that band, and that’s bullshit! We keep that genre stuff out of our minds and just worry about playing good music.

JS: Can we look forward to another Lettuce album in the near future? It’s been two years since Fly came out.
JC: We’re going to be working on it. We did two songs in the studio and we’re going to release those, but I can’t speak on that. We have stuff that’s already recorded and the album is in the works.

JS: What’s the best part about playing in Lettuce?
JC: It’s such a blessing to get to play music and be in a band that people enjoy; it’s honestly a dream come true. There’s nothing better in my life than having people appreciate what we do. It’s so dope!