Grammy-winning guitarist and New Canaan native Eric Krasno co-founded two influential bands (Soulive and Lettuce). His producer credits alone (Norah Jones, Aaron Neville, Talib Kweli, 50 Cent) place him among the most sought-after hired guns of the last two decades. And for putting together star-studded, one-off, festival-sized super jams — at Bonnaroo, Okeechobee, Brooklyn Comes Alive and elsewhere — Krasno's the guy to call.
Along the way, however, Krasno's own voice got lost. "Blood From a Stone," a soulful, rocking solo album released earlier this year, fixes that: Krasno sings on most tracks; on the road, he fronts his own group, which includes Connecticut vocalist Mary Corso, guitarist Danny Mayer and drummer Eric Kalb.
Krasno and company play Arch Street Tavern in Hartford on Nov. 5. CTNow spoke to him about reclaiming his music and voice.
Q: You're a connector, the hub at the center of a lot of musical activity. But "Blood From a Stone" seems like an effort to put the focus back on yourself. Was that the goal?
A: Yes. What started happening is that I started to feel discombobulated in the past few years. I'm not complaining, because the opportunities have been unbelievable. But people started calling me to put together super jams with all these people. I love doing that, but then you rehearse these shows for however long, you put all these people together, and then you perform it once. … My biggest crowds, the most people were seeing me do a performance once, one time, the first time it ever happened, over and over. I couldn't wait to have something really tight, not just us going out there and seeing if we could pull it off.
Producing other people's albums, which I love and will continue to do: I was running around the country, getting involved in a lot of different things, spreading myself kind of thin. I'd get home and record a couple of my songs, and it was really gratifying. I'm just doing it for me now. I can control when we tour. I've been very involved in the business side of things for years, so doing this now: if I only knew then what I know now. I get that chance.
The other thing is that this is hard. We've got seven people in a van. I haven't done a van tour since 2002. I'm carrying the gear (we have one guy who helps us). I have to go out and prove that we can sell tickets. ... We're getting good festival offers and I'm calling in some favors, but we're out here like any other band. It's not Tedeschi Trucks Tour [Krasno played bass for TTB in 2013], it's not Lettuce tour. It's different. We're not on a tour bus with guitar techs and all those things. But in a weird way, I've been enjoying loading the van and driving. I don't know how long that will last [laughs]. I'm in the honeymoon phase right now.
Q: You sang on most of the tracks on "Blood From a Stone."
A: That's right. I wrote a lot of songs, and I'd always record demos and sing them to people when I was working with other artists. I was kind of behind the scenes, writing songs and singing background. Friends and other artists always used to say, "Hey, you should just put this out yourself." Eventually I was like, "You know what? Maybe I should."
Q: After being in bands and having singers come and go, that must have been liberating.
A: You're absolutely right. I always enjoyed working with singers, and I'm not necessarily the guy to go out and do the James Brown thing and dance. It has to be the right music. I couldn't front Lettuce, but I can go out and sing these songs. What's been really fun for me in the last year is sitting down and practicing my songs with an acoustic guitar. When I'm writing or producing a song, I'm a little more focused on the melody and the chords working in an acoustic setting, whereas in the past, I'd make an instrumental track and work the song from there. At gigs, I've been getting more confident onstage, just finding my thing.
When I made the record, I wasn't thinking: "I should do it in this key or that key." Now, on the road, I've been moving keys around and writing new stuff that fits my range. It's great not to have to rely on someone else leading the band. At the same time, with this band, it's cool to step back and let Mary [Corso] sing lead and let Danny [Mayer] take a solo. It's evolving into a band thing, where everyone is stepping out and showing their strengths. It's dynamic. It's definitely a band, you know, and it has been really fun to watch it evolve.
Q: Did you write the songs thinking they were going to be for you to sing?
A: I knew I wanted to make an album, so we went in to write songs, me and Dave Gutter [of Rustic Overtones], who I write a lot with. Originally I thought: I'll sing a bit, but we'll get some guests. I'd already reached out to Susan [Tedeschi] and Dave Matthews and other guys I've worked with. When we started cutting the songs, Dave Gutter and others were like, "Dude, you gotta sing these. It sounds great. It already has a vibe. These tracks are done!"
We were recording on a little tape machine, but that relaxed vibe created something that was really cool. Most of the record is from those sessions. We didn't have any songs either. We were writing them right there: "Jezebel," "Unconditional Love," "Torture." It was all on an 8-track tape machine. Once I discovered I was making a record, I put it in ProTools [recording software] and polished it up and mixed it. But the energy was really cool. We got very experimental. I did the vocals right there. Everyone said, "These records are done," and I was like, "Maybe you're right."
This all happened over a few years, even though the sessions were all done in a few days. I was originally going to put it out through Blue Note, and then that fell through, and I started at a new label. Some of the songs from the sessions ended up on other records. A song called "Calling Out to You" ended up on a Tedeschi Trucks Band album. Another song ended up on Aaron Neville's album. [Krasno and Gutter co-wrote 10 out of 11 songs on Neville's 2016 album "Apache," with Krasno producing.] But yes, the intention was not for me to sing lead on the whole album.
Q: I'm sure super jam opportunities will pop up again, and you probably won't be able to turn them down.
A: That's already happening. I said I was taking December off, but now there are all these other things. But they're all cool things: I'm playing with Phil [Lesh] and Friends and with Bob Weir. I'll never pass those up. That's a childhood dream come true. But I look forward to growing even more as a band. It feels like it has been growing.
ERIC KRASNO BAND performs at Arch Street Tavern in Hartford on Nov. 5 at 10 p.m., with After Funk opening. Tickets are $15-$20. archstreettavern.com