Although the New York trio Soulive formed a dozen years ago, they've got a renewed focus, spawned by their 2009 decision to form their own label, Royal Family Records. Comprised of Alan Evans on drums, brother Neal Evans on keys and organ, and guitarist Eric Krasno, the decision wasn't due to lack of major-label clout.
After signing with the legendary Blue Note Records in 2000, they quickly gained attention, especially in Japan, where Evans says their popularity reached cardboard-cutout-in-the-record-store levels. But despite those successes, they wanted to break free from the typical CD process of "record, then master, then wait, then release."
"Since we started our own record label, we have a lot of freedom," Evans says. "Not that we didn't have a lot of freedom before, but it's a different feeling. Now it feels like it's very tied together, under one roof."
Evans envisions doing away with the CD format altogether, getting music to fans digitally and in the highest-possible-quality format. The band plans to release a recently wrapped-up album with woodwind player Karl Denson only on vinyl and online.
"It was recorded with vinyl in mind," he explains. "We're just skipping CDs."
The approach allows them to eliminate the delay between recording and mastering an album and releasing it. If they feel inspired, they can record songs in their home studio and release them with little hassle.
"It started when we were in the studio, recording an album, and putting up photos of us in the studio on Facebook," says Evans. "This was happening in real time. Everyone knew we were in the studio, and everyone knew when we were done recording, but then it was like, 'Now you have to wait.' It's ridiculous. Now you can record a tune, and it's just as easy to upload a song as it is to upload a photo from your iPhone. To me there's just no excuse not to be able to do that, because people know what we're doing. We don't keep secrets. The technology is there, so why not?"
During Soulive's major-label days, the band members sought out other creative outlets that have found their way onto Royal Family as well. Krasno came to Soulive from Lettuce, the funk powerhouse that now includes Neal Evans, as well as drummer Adam Deitch (Average White Band, Pretty Lights) and saxophonist (and former touring Soulive member) Sam Kininger. The guitarist also leads his own project, Chapter 2, while both Evans brothers have solo projects.
Neal Evans, in particular, gets frequently noted among the best keyboardists in the business. It's commonplace for new fans to watch the trio play and confusedly search around for the bass player, only for their jaws to drop when they realize Evans is simultaneously holding a funky bass line with one hand and soloing a melody with his right.
"What he can do with his left hand is just mind-boggling," says his brother Alan, who started playing drums when he was 9 months old. Neal took up the piano at seven, and the duo has been inseparable ever since.
Soulive returns to Charleston after a 10-night residency at the Brooklyn Bowl last month, where they brought out friends like Kofi Burbridge, Ivan Neville, and Matisyahu for extended jams. With new songs and recently learned covers, Evans says they're excited to get back to jamming as a trio.
"Chances are, we'll pull out some of the different tunes we learned for the Brooklyn Bowl, and do some Beatles tunes. We're jonesing on playing some other stuff," says Evans. "We don't really rehearse before we go out, so the first few days on tour, we just look forward to going out and having some fun."