Drummer Alan Evans and his bandmates (Eric Krasno on guitar and Alan's brother Neal Evans on keyboards) have led the funk/jazz trio Soulive through over 10 years of tours, albums and studio sessions. Their latest release, Up Here, is the first on their own Royal Family Records, and the first tracked and mixed at Alan's Playonbrother Studios in Hatfield, Massachusetts. But Playonbrother isn't simply a studio for Soulive. It's also a place where Alan records other releases for their label, as well as producing, recording and mixing for outside projects. Yup, the man is busy.
What's up with your studio, Playonbrother? Is that set up on your property?
Not anymore. [laughter] That's been a studio, but the location has changed a few times over the years. Now I've definitely found a really great spot. I finally have all my gear and everything in one place. For a while I had my studio at home, which is great for me because I play bass, drums, guitar and sing. What happened was a few friends of mine from Boston wanted me to record a couple of albums for them. "Cool, come by." I'm close with them — not a big deal. At the same time I was mixing a lot of albums and FTPing — that kind of deal. The word of mouth starts happening and people are contacting my wife, Kim, because she manages that whole side of things. Everybody who I ended up working with was really cool, but I just felt uncomfortable having people I didn't really know coming to my spot, you know? We have an eight-year- old and a five-year-old. It was hard to schedule things around regular life. I found a new spot and it's just amazing. I'm really psyched.
Is it a barn?
It was a barn. I live in western Massachusetts and I have a buddy who pretty much owns most of the area and he's really into music. My wife knows him really well and she was like, "I'm looking for a space." We meet him, he takes me into this building and oh man. We were walking in thinking, "Yo, this is gonna be incredible." He opens up the door, [makes whoosh noise], the door goes open and it looks like someone has been through with a jackhammer. [laughter] He was like, "So, when do you want to get started on construction?" I'm like, "Dude, that's not exactly what I was thinking of." It just would have been an insane amount of money. On Craigslist I found this one [listing] and the description was so odd. It was like, "Office building/storage area — 2500 square feet." So I emailed. I like to be up front with my intentions. I've done my share of sliding in the back door, then two days later the cops are banging down your door because you're making too much noise.
So I write this really long email, tell the person what I'm trying to do. She hits me right back. "I think the place would be perfect for you." We go down there and I walk in. As soon as I put my foot through the door, I'm like, "This is it. It's perfect. She was right." Very high ceilings. I just clapped my hands. It just felt so good — just a big, open area and it has these rooms off to the side. There are two bathrooms and four rooms so I can put guitar amps [in there]. I have my Leslie in one. I have one as a lounge. I have one that is empty now — using it to shoot photos in. In the back of it is the storage area she was talking about, so we have all of Soulive's touring gear back there. Sometimes I just use it as an echo chamber because it's this big, concrete space. You just throw a speaker in there and crank it up just a little bit, [add] some mics and it's just, "Whooo!"
It just adds that real room thing to something.
Exactly. The woman I'm leasing the spot from is just amazing. Back in the '70s people used to hang out in another barn on her property and play music all through the night. Everyone in the area's cool. It was perfect.
On the new record, I hear room sounds on the drums. Is that the natural sound of the room?
That is the room, man.
[laughter] Well, that's a good thing.
Yeah! When I was a kid, my brother and I grew up listening to [my father's] amazing jazz collection. You just have these moments where's it's like an epiphany. I remember listening to a Coltrane album when I was little, looked on the back...