Aggressive and Funky: an espresso with Mark Lettieri

Image Credits: Mark Lettieri © Bob Coscolluela

April 9, 2019

Aggressive and Funky

We interviewed Mark Lettieri, guitarist of the Snarky Puppy, The Fearless Flyers and Mark Lettieri Trio. 

> Emanuele Campiglia

Define your new album “Deep: The Baritone Sessions” with three adjectives.

Aggressive, funky, and…deep!
Why did you choose to base your new album on baritone guitar?
I started playing the baritone guitar a few years ago – but the context was much more textural – not really groove-based. However, leading up to recording the Snarky Puppy album “Culcha Vulcha“, I was working on writing a song for the band on baritone guitar. We’d used baritones in the past, but this was going to be something different. The piece, called “Jefe,” turned out to be a real party song – very upbeat and funky. You could say that was the first “Baritone Funk” song! A few months after the recording, I started posting videos to Facebook and YouTube of myself playing these short little funky tunes on the baritone guitar, posting one almost every week on Thursdays for a series I titled “Baritone Funk Thursday.” The response was overwhelming, almost viral. People kept ask for an album of these kinds of songs, so I figured I do one. I’m glad I did! 
How do you work on compositions and arrangements?
It depends on the project for which I’m composing. With most of my solo material, it’s generally a rather slow process. My inspiration comes at strange times. Sometimes it lasts for a while, sometimes just a few moments. So I have to try and squeeze out whatever my heart/brain is telling me at that time, and see if there’s any material in there that needs to come to light. Certain ideas stick out more than others, and I’ll keep revisiting them until I’ve built them in to songs. However, with a project like “Deep,” the songs came very quickly. They’re more centered around riffs and rhythms rather than melodies and chord progressions – and the songs are generally shorter on purpose. Writing grooves seems to be easier for me than writing melody and harmony, I guess?
Mark Lettieri Jazzespresso Emanuele Campiglia interview
When did you develop your interest in jazz, funk and fusion music?
I was in my late teens, about to finish high school. I’d been very into to rock, metal, blues, etc. (which I still am), but my ears were starting to be open to other sounds. Some of the first jazz, funk, and fusion artists I really gravitated towards were Steely Dan, Parliament Funkadelic, Stevie Wonder, and John Scofield. 
Which artists of the past have influenced you the most and which musicians of today are particularly interesting to you?
There are so many! I’ve digested and studied everything from Megadeth to Michael McDonald, Van Halen to Van Hunt, Toto to Tony! Toni! Toné!. Seriously – my influences are all over the map. Certainly Prince has been a huge influence of mine. Jeff Beck is one of my all-time favorite guitarists, of course. Today, I’ve been digging this progressive metal band Animals as Leaders, as well as this pop/soul singer-songwriter friend of mine, Theo Katzman.
When did you decide to pursue a career as a musician?
Around the middle of my time at university was when I decided I wanted to really pursue it. It had always been a dream, but took sometime to develop into something I could see being practical. At the time, I was working towards a Bachelor’s Degree in Advertising and Public Relations – essentially media marketing and branding. I liked it, but I didn’t love it, and the more professional experience I had with it, the less I wanted to do it. I earned my degree, but as soon as school was over, I started working as a guitarist. 
How do you choose the musicians to work with?
I think I look for the same things that most professionals look for when putting together musicians for a show or session. They’ve got to be great players with the right sounds for the job of course – but sometimes even more important than that is they’ve got to be great people with the right attitudes, and the ability to be flexible. Thankfully, I get to play with my close friends on a regular basis – who happen to be some of the best players in the world! 
What are the best and the worst thing about playing in a numerous band like Snarky Puppy?
Well the “best” things are obvious – amazing music with amazing players who also happen to be my brothers. It’s a very solid, positive family atmosphere. Sure, we’ve had plenty of trials, but it wouldn’t have lasted this long if it wasn’t the right group of people doing this music together. The “worst” thing? Haha, I don’t know if there’s a “worst” thing…but the tour bus can get pretty smelly sometimes. 
What is more important to you between improving your playing and improving your music? In your opinion, is there a link between the two?
Right now, I’m really focused on improving my music. I’m always trying to write better songs. Whatever that means. I don’t practice the guitar as much anymore as I used to – just due to time limitations, etc. that go along with the music “business” aspect of my career. Of course there are several things about my playing that I’d like to improve, but I’m more focused on perfecting my “voice” on the guitar, rather than just my chops or skills, if that makes sense. And I think a big part of developing that voice comes for composing music. 
What is the dream you would like to come true?
To use my career to give my family the best possible life. To keep making great music with people I care about. It’s pretty simple, really! Maybe this is the dream!

Aggressive and Funky: an espresso with Mark Lettieri Trio copyright Jazzespresso 2019.
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