Mark Lettieri, a guitarist, producer, instructor and member of Snarky Puppy and The Fearless Flyers, chats with Kevin Cooper about performing at The Royal Albert Hall, being a member of Snarky Puppy, his nomination for a Grammy Award for his solo album Deep: The Baritone Vol 2 and his 2022 tour dates in the UK.

Mark Lettieri is a guitarist, composer, producer, and instructor based in Fort Worth, Texas. Proficient in a multitude of styles, he records and performs in virtually every genre of popular music with both independent and major-label artists. He also composes and produces original instrumental music under his own name.

Lettieri also works with Snarky Puppy, an American instrumental ensemble which was founded in 2004 by bassist Michael League. The band combines a variety of jazz idioms, rock, world music and funk. They have won four Grammys. Although they have previously worked with vocalists, they are predominantly an instrumental band. The band was originally formed as a ten piece group but has grown into an international super band, and since it was founded, about forty players have performed on guitar, bass, keyboards, woodwinds, brass, strings, drums and percussion.

In 2018 Lettieri joined the Fearless Flyers as their guitarist. They are a quartet who each brings stellar performances to their original compositions, creating short, layered and approachable funk songs.

As a solo artist he has released six albums, the latest being Deep: The Baritone Sessions, Vol 2 which was released in 2021 and which earned him a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album, for the 64th Grammy Awards, giving him his first nomination as a solo artist.

Due in part to Lettieri’s vibrant social media presence, these recordings have created a sizable buzz amongst fans of instrumental music worldwide enabling him to tour internationally with his quartet, The Mark Lettieri Group.

Whilst at home relaxing with his wife and daughter, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Mark, good morning how are you today?

Hi Kevin, I’m very well thanks. How are you today?

All is good thanks for asking and before we move on, let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

It’s not a problem; in fact it is absolutely my pleasure, so thank you.

And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

(Hysterical laughter) I have to be totally honest with you and say that things are good. I am at home for a week, hanging out with the family, and I am actually doing some work around the house (laughter). But all is good, and I am looking forward to my next tour.

How did you manage to stay sane during lockdown?

Oh man, the simple answer to your question is that for a while I wasn’t (laughter). Lockdown encouraged me to choose a different pattern in life, I think. I learnt to let go of a lot of things which really are not that important. I finally learnt just how to take my time with stuff, to not worry about the success or failures of others, just to focus on what I needed to do to keep going, and what I needed to do to ensure that my family was taken care of. Having said all of that, like everybody else out there I seriously did struggle; the first couple of months really were hard to get to grips with. I think what was a big help was when I started writing music again and forcing myself to be creative.

After that, it was during lockdown that I wrote Deep: The Baritone Sessions Vol. 2. In fact all of that record was written during lockdown which really was a very big help and a big cathartic experience for me. That really did help me to refocus things, and in a strange way maybe it was even helpful (laughter). I totally believe that it was time for me to reset and start again.

Before we move onto talk about your forthcoming tour and latest album, would it be okay with you if we spoke firstly about Snarky Puppy?

Absolutely, go for it.

Well let me just say that I love what you do. I think that it is absolutely fantastic.

Thanks man, we like it too. It is most definitely its own animal that’s for sure. I don’t know of too many things that are totally like it. Obviously, we all have our own influences and the artists that paved the way for what we do but I think that as it is now it is a pretty unique entity, I think, within the music industry.

I have to say that the Ground Up album is in the car, in the house, in fact it’s everywhere (laughter).

(Laughter) cool, that’s great man.

Forgive me for saying this but I personally feel that Young Stuff and Binky would be right at home on a 1970’s Blaxploitation movie soundtrack. Would you agree?

(Hysterical laughter) if only. I can see just where you are coming from with that analogy, and I have to say that I am so pleased that you have mentioned those particular tracks as I feel that they are so cool. We haven’t played them in a long time, but we used to play them every night for a good many years. They have recently been retired a little bit but believe me; they will return (laughter).

Taking you back to 14th November 2019 you recorded the double album Live At The Royal Albert Hall. How were the nerves when you thought of all of the greats that had performed on that stage before you?

I have to be totally honest with you and say that was incredible. It was probably one of the most nerve-wracking evenings, or at least leading up to it. I definitely got into my zone; I locked myself away in a little green room for most of the day and didn’t really come out much. I was just locked away practising and focusing on what was about to come. Having said all of that, once we got out there on stage, I was able to just let go and enjoy it. That really was incredible, to play there, to make a record there, to receive a Grammy for the record, to stand where Jimi Hendrix once stood; it really was pretty insane (laughter). It was most definitely a bucket list kind of thing and something that I will look back on forever.

Whenever I speak to artists who have or who are about to perform at The Royal Albert Hall, they all say the same thing, “how can you perform badly on the stage where The Beatles and Frank Sinatra once performed”.

(Laughter) well I guess that if you put pressure on yourself to try to be as good as them then maybe you will perform badly. We just put pressure on ourselves to be as good as ourselves.

How did you come to join the band?

I met them by simply playing through the music scene here in the Dallas area of Texas. Michael (League) became a friend early on just through the Gospel music scene. Michael and I did a lot of sessions together and cover band gigs. We both did the general music stuff that you do in and around the music scene in the city. In the early days I would just go along to see the band performing as I was a fan of the band. After a while, Michael and I started exploring the idea of getting another couple of players in the rotation because he was trying to book as many gigs as he could. What you have to remember is that back in that day and age sometimes the guys were like, ‘hey, I would rather play this wedding that is going to pay me three hundred bucks than playing with a jazz fusion band that is going to pay me three bucks (laughter).

There was a weekend of shows that Michael had booked in the South-East of the USA which Bob Lanzetti and Chris McQueen couldn’t do for whatever reason, and so Michael called me to step in and play the shows, and I have been playing with them ever since. That was back in the winter of 2009, and I am still there (laughter).

What do you think it is that makes what you do so popular?

Wow just where did that come from (laughter). This has probably been said to you time and time again, but I feel like there is something for everybody in what the band does. If you are a serious music head and you like complicated time signatures, harmonies, and flashy guitar solos, we have all of that (laughter). On the other hand, if you just like to hear a good melody and a nice groove, and a tune that you can hum in your head whilst washing dishes, then we have that too (laughter). It is a very broad sounding band because of all of the different people that are in it of course, and the songs just have a way of translating into the other kind of the band’s music, whether it be a very serious one or a more casual one. I don’t know if that was ever intentional or not, it just happened that way.

You recently played the West Holts stage at Glastonbury, how was that?

Well, what can I tell you, the UK for me, has always been a fun place to play. But playing at Glastonbury really is something very special. Looking out at the crowd from the stage makes you take a deep breath and say to yourself “hey this is it” (laughter). It was also another bucket list moment that I’ll treasure.

Do us Brits get what it is that you are trying to do?

(Laughter) yes, they do and it’s great. The Brits can be rowdy, but they can also be sensitive. They really do have a hell of a lot of energy. That is what I really like about the UK crowds. If I am leading the band, I can tell a few jokes and I don’t have to worry about a language barrier (laughter). You never know, I have tried some jokes in other countries, and they just didn’t go down well over there. Everyone would just stare at me as if I was crazy (laughter). However, I am still trying but I have to work on my German and Italian.

The band has won four Grammy Awards. How did that feel?

Well, I have to say that felt pretty amazing; we had absolutely no idea that was going to happen. We never set out to win Grammy’s or win awards; we just set out to make great music. However, it is always nice to have that recognition. I have to say that people look at the Grammy’s in a funny sort of way; some say “they give Grammy’s to everybody” but I can assure you that is not the case in the category that we are in. We are in a very serious category with some very serious artists all making some very creative genre bending forward thinking music. It is cool to be a part of that and to be recognised amongst all of those other artists. And yes, it is a very nice thing to put on your bio (laughter).

With there being so many band members, who has possession of the actual Grammy’s?

I think that Michael has them at his studio in Spain. Michael lives in Spain, and he has built himself a home studio over there and I think that he has them. One of them was at my house for a couple of months because there were some shipping issues with getting it to Spain (laughter). That was cool as I had it on the mantle for a while, but I now have my Grammy nomination medal on the mantle where the Grammy was for a while. I’m good with that.

Have you now left the band or is this purely a sabbatical for you to concentrate on your solo work?

Oh no, I haven’t left the band. One of the benefits of having so many people in the band is that the guys can kind of come and go as they please which enables them to pursue other things. So, you could say that what I am doing is pretty common amongst a lot of the members of the band. They will do a couple of weeks with Snarky then they will go off and do a couple of weeks with their own band and then maybe they will do a couple of more weeks with their side projects. Some of the members of the band still have serious sideman gigs, for example our drummer Jamison Ross plays with Boz Scaggs, our trumpet player Jay Jennings was with Toby Keith for a million years (laughter). I, of course, have The Fearless Flyers together with my own band The Mark Lettieri Group which is where my focus is for the next couple of weeks.

That seems to be the ideal point at which to move on so let me ask you, was it always going to be a career in music?

I don’t know, I don’t think so (laughter). I didn’t go to university to study music; I went there to study marketing because that is what my parents did, so as a kid I thought that was what I wanted to do as a job. I did think that it was interesting, and at one point I did actually think that I would enjoy doing it, had I not been musically inclined. However, it just worked out to where I just found a way to make a living doing what I loved to do, so there really was no looking back once that plan was set in motion.

You have mentioned Snarky Puppy, The Fearless Flyers, and your solo work. Putting you on the spot, which comes first?

(Laughter) you know I kind of juggle all three semi-equally. I think that the only difference maybe is that firstly The Fearless Flyers don’t actually play that much so that is not that much of a firm commitment, but it is a band where we don’t have substitutes so if one man can’t do the gig then the band doesn’t play. So, in that sense we all do try to prioritise our time and if it is something we can all make work then we will all try to arrange our schedules so we can all do the gig together. It is a fun project, and we are all great friends. Snarky is a little different whereas I don’t have to do all of the gigs if I don’t want to. Having said that, I love playing with them so I really do want to do a lot of stuff with them.

Then the solo stuff is kind of where the real nitty gritty part of my heart is; it really does take the most work in order to make it happen because it is all on my shoulders, as I am still very much an independent unknown artist who is trying to make it happen (laughter). It really is still a passion project. At this moment in time, I like where it is going, and I think that everything is working out in the way that it is supposed to.

You have worked with some really big names; Erykah Badu, David Crosby, and Kirk Franklin, to name but a few. Who have you enjoyed working with the most over the years?

Well, two of the artists who you will no doubt have heard of; David Crosby was really fun to work with. Snarky played on two of the tracks on his album Sky Trails and I have to say that was great. David is just so cool, fun, and crazy (laughter). He really is such a musical guy, and a legendary character. Kirk Franklin is always fun to work with; I have worked on a lot of stuff with Kirk, both on his music and also on the production side of things. He is very inspiring and really good at getting the most out of the people who he is producing. I have to say that Kirk’s music can often be challenging too, which is great. Having said all of that I have to be totally honest with you and say that some of the people named on my bio I didn’t even meet (laughter).

I will work for a producer; they will like what I have done, and the track will finish up being a song for so and so, which I have to say is the way that a lot of session work happens these days especially with people doing stuff remotely from their home studios, with files going back and forth.

I recently spoke to Earl Slick who told me that he loves being a gun for hire. Is that still how you see yourself?

Yes, sometimes I do but a lot less than I used to. I think that I have really grown into the artist role a little bit more. That took me about a minute to get there (laughter). Looking back to when I was in my twenties, music for me was definitely all about me being the hired gun. I think that was what my focus was on at that time, even though it’s not so much now. But I think that when you are that age it really is the fun thing to do especially as I got to play a whole range of different music with a lot of different kind of people. I obviously grew as a player and a professional human being but now I think that perhaps if the right gig came around then sure, I would be more than happy to do it (laughter). However, I think that I am in a good place now; I am creatively fulfilled and am able to make it, more or less, financially fulfilling (laughter).

You have briefly mentioned Deep: The Baritone Sessions Vol. 2 and I have to say that I love it. I think that it is a great piece of work. Were you happy with the reaction it received?

Oh my gosh, yes. I guess that the only thing that could have been better would be like winning a Grammy (laughter). However, getting nominated for the Grammy was insane and something that I didn’t expect. Awards aside, I really do feel that the album was really well received and think that a lot of people, especially within the guitar community, were a little bit surprised maybe by it because I don’t think that a lot of people had heard aggressive funk R&B rock music played on a baritone before, so I am really glad that happened. I am glad that it was a very different sounding instrumental guitar record.

I have to say that I love Pulsar and have been playing it to death.

Thank you, that’s so nice man; that’s a fun one. I think that we should play that one more often but it’s fast and takes a lot to play (laughter).

You are about to play three dates here in the UK, does it feel good to be back out on the road?

I think that it will once I get there. I have just finished three weeks with Snarky, now I’m home for a week, which means that I have to put on my home brain, but I still have to have my touring brain on standby and ready to go (laughter). I tend to stress out about travelling, logistics and things like that. That part of it is not fun but I think that once we get over there and get rolling, get playing, and fit into the groove, it should be okay. Having said that, it is a pretty strenuous as we are playing almost every night.

Are there any plans for a future longer UK tour?

Oh sure, I think that I will probably take a little bit of a break from coming over to the UK for several months, but I feel that I will be back over there in the fall of next year. There are a lot of cities which I have unfortunately had to miss this time around, but remember, you can’t always get to all of them (laughter). For example, it’s been a while since I have played Birmingham, it’s been a while since I have played Brighton, so there are a lot of places that I would love to play once again. I would love to go back over there for a week and a half and just play England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. I think that would be great.

In 2021, the PRS Guitar Company introduced the Mark Lettieri signature Fiore guitar which incorporates your design preferences. How did that feel when PRS approached you?

Well, I have to be honest and say that was pretty amazing and it was a little bit shocking too. I never expected it to be totally honest with you. I had a prior relationship with the company and they really were great. I loved them. They really were excellent people but they kind of dropped it on me with ‘hey, do you want to design something’ (laughter). The way that it worked was that they already had a model that they were going to release, so they sent it to me to see if I liked it or not, and to be honest I wasn’t totally into it. So, they said, “how about instead of us doing this, why don’t you design your own thing”. So, I said, “okay cool let’s try that” and that is what we did.

We set about creating a signature guitar in the way that we wanted to do it because that way you can be involved right from the very beginning and make it exactly the way that you want it. All of my heroes who have signature guitars were all there from the beginning while they were making those things (laughter). So, for me to be a part of that lineage, to really craft something that I think not only works for me, but I am learning that it works perfectly well for other guitar players around the world; it is really nice to see it becoming so successful.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

If I had to pick one, (laughter) that would probably be the Grammy nomination for Deep: The Baritone Sessions Vol. 2 that really was wild. I still find myself pinching myself over that.

What was the first record that you bought?

I think that it was the Stone Temple Pilots Purple album. I love that record; it’s another cool record although I bought it on a cassette (laughter).

Who did you first see performing live?

That’s an easy one for me; it was No Doubt in California.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

This is a very personal thing but when my daughter was two and a half, she picked up the stuffed unicorn that she had got for Christmas, and she started strumming it like a guitar and singing the song about When I Hold My Unicorn. Of course, as a proud dad I recorded it and then I turned into a blubbering wreck (laughter). Maybe she will record it one day, I don’t know.

Whenever you sit down writing songs, does there ever come a time when you think, ‘that would sound great with vocals on’?

Yes, it does and sometimes I keep going and push it into an instrumental thing or I catalogue it to be a vocal project sometime later on down the road. That is actually on my short list of things to do. I would like to make a record with either a number of different singers who I would collaborate with or find one that I really like and we could do a vocal project. So many of my favourite bands are like a power trio with a singer like Van Halen or somebody like that. So, I would like to see that happen, but it has got to feel right; I don’t really want to force it. Someday it will happen.

On that note Mark let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been delightful. You stay safe and enjoy your dates over here in the UK.

Sure Kevin, it’s been great talking to you man. You take care and bye for now.

Ticket’s for all Mark’s November 2022 UK shows are available now via