Chris Carter: Hi, everybody. This is Chris Carter, executive director at The Bankhead Theater. And I’m here today with Mark Lettieri. Mark Lettieri is going to be performing at The Bankhead on Thursday, January 19th. You can get your tickets online at Very excited to have Mark here; I’m going to–Mark, I’m going to say a few quick things about you.


I pulled your bio from your website. It’s very impressive, and if people don’t know Mark, Mark is a Grammy-winning guitarist, composer, producer, and instructor. He creates acclaimed guitar, bass, and instrumental music. And as a member of the leading instrumental bands Snarky Puppy and The Fearless Flyers, as a session musician proficient and multitude a multitude of styles, he has recorded and performed in virtually every genre of popular music with both independent and major label artists.


Lettieri has released seven albums, with the most recent one “Deep, The Baritone Sessions Volume 2”, earning a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album. He joined Snarky Puppy in 2008, and his work with the group has resulted in four Grammy Awards. And in 2018, Lettieri helped form The Fearless Flyers as a sideman. Lettieri has performed and or recorded with a myriad of artists, including Erykah Badu, Erykah Badu. Excuse me, it’s early. David Crosby and The Jacksons. He resides with his wife and daughter and three cats, and a hamster. And are you in Texas? Is that right?


Mark Lettieri: Yep. I’m in Fort Worth. That’s correct. Yeah.


Chris Carter: Did you–But you grew up in the Bay Area, right?


Mark Lettieri: Yes.


Chris Carter: Okay. Where in the Bay Area are you from?


Mark Lettieri: Menlo Park.


Chris Carter: Okay.


Mark Lettieri: Yeah.


Chris Carter: All right. You know, I used to–


Mark Lettieri: Not a very exciting place.


Chris Carter: Yeah, it’s pretty cool. You know, I lived in–I grew up in Texas and I moved to California, to the Bay Area. So I did the opposite.


Mark Lettieri: Right on. There you go.


Chris Carter: Yeah, I was in Austin and then Colleyville and then.

Mark Lettieri: Okay.


Chris Carter: Then came out this way. So familiar with your area. And also, just as a fan of guitars and a guitarist myself, I really love your room. I just want to say that right now. I think it’s awesome.


Mark Lettieri: Thanks.


Chris Carter: I know you said it’s a little messy. That’s okay.


Mark Lettieri: It is. Yeah.


Chris Carter: Means you’re busy.


Mark Lettieri: Well, it’s something like that.


Chris Carter: When did you first start…


Mark Lettieri: It means I’m not home a lot.


Chris Carter: What was that?


Mark Lettieri: It means I haven’t been home in a while.


Chris Carter: Oh, that’s okay. You’re on the road, I guess. When did you first start playing the guitar? Well, how did you get into it?


Mark Lettieri: I was 12, I think. Yeah, 12. Started taking lessons from a friend’s mom, actually, who’s– who was a guitar player. And it was kind of funny, she was giving me guitar lessons in exchange for my mom giving her son art lessons.


Chris Carter: Oh.


Mark Lettieri: So it was kind of this mom-swap lesson trade system.


Chris Carter: So is–so is her son now a professional artist, too?


Mark Lettieri: Well, he’s a musician also.


Chris Carter: Oh! Okay.


Mark Lettieri: Yeah, we both–we both ended up more in the music side of things, but my mom is still a professional artist.


Chris Carter: You stayed in the arts, though. He stayed in the arts. Do you remember your first guitar? What kind of guitar was it?


Mark Lettieri: Yeah, it was… Well, the first I played–I learned on my, on my mom’s old nylon string Yamaha guitar. But then, my parents bought me a Fender Squier Stratocaster.


Chris Carter: Oh, cool.


Mark Lettieri: First electric guitar. Yeah.


Chris Carter: And how soon after that were you in a band and performing?


Mark Lettieri: Pretty immediately. Well, I was in a–I mean, I started a band with my friend, who was also he was taking art, but also was taking guitar, you know, his mom. And so, so we started a band with a friend of ours who played drums and then added a bass player, a friend of ours in high school. So it was pretty, pretty much the standard suburban kids form band in garage and then play at school functions and teen centers and church events.


Chris Carter: Yeah.


Mark Lettieri: It’s pretty–not exactly like, you know, glamorous rock and roll, but very typical of suburban youth, I think.


Chris Carter: It kind of got you going, though. I mean, did you think at what point where you’re like, I want to make a career out of this? Were you serious about it even back then?


Mark Lettieri: Um, well, I was definitely serious about the music part of it. I didn’t really have a concept of how to make a career of it until I was into my late teens, early twenties because I started sort of understanding the business and understanding the different avenues that I could take as a musician. And so it wasn’t really until the end of college that I really decided that I was going to make a go at playing for a living. It was really, up until that point, it was just a very serious passion.


Chris Carter: Yeah. And what was like–so when you started out, what was kind of your style of play and then, you know, you’re pretty versatile. I mean, it seems like you can do pretty much anything, but what’s your primary style, and kind of how did that evolve?


Mark Lettieri: Well, I grew up playing classic rock. I guess it’s what you would call it. You know, we were all into Jimi Hendrix and Santana and, you know, really anything with great guitar work from the sixties onward, you know and so those were our early influences. And then as I got a little older, I started getting into a little bit of jazz and R&B and funk and, and soul music and gospel music and just kind of develop my style based on what I liked, but also based on what I thought could get me gigs.


Chris Carter: Yeah.


Mark Lettieri: Because as I started performing and working in the Dallas–Fort Worth area, there was certain skill sets that you needed to get work and a lot of that was kind of your typical ability to play pop music because there’s a lot of cover bands that you could get work with, but then there was a big R&B and groove music scene here as well.


So thankfully, I was interested in all those kinds of styles, so I kept my palette pretty diverse and studied a lot of styles to maintain a practical working environment as a musician. And then it all sort of informed my own individual style now that I use when I write my own music and perform stuff so.


Chris Carter: Well, how would you describe your style? Like, what would you call it?


Mark Lettieri: Sure. The music I make is guitar-based instrumental music, which is probably the most broad stroke. But iTunes calls it jazz. But it’s really it’s–it’s rock energy. There’s jazz harmony. And there’s kind of like a funk groove element to it. Some of my biggest instrumentalist heroes would be like Jeff Beck or Herbie Hancock or somebody like that.


So, so I sort of straddle that kind of world. People like to use the word fusion, but I don’t really think of it as fusion in the traditional sense, even though it is sort of a mixture of different styles. It’s good music, it’s good. You don’t have to you don’t have to be a guitar player to like it.


Chris Carter: Yeah, well, do you play any other instruments besides the guitar?


Mark Lettieri: I play bass fairly well, but that’s about it. But I have a concept of how to–how to compose for different instruments like drums and keyboards and…


Chris Carter: Yeah.


Mark Lettieri: a little bit of horns and stuff like that. So.


Chris Carter: And you play baritone guitar, right, too?


Mark Lettieri: Correct. Yeah. Yeah. That’s a big part of my style too. Yeah.


Chris Carter: How is that different? Can you explain a little bit how that might be different from a regular guitar?


Mark Lettieri: Sure. Yeah. Well, it’s tuned lower than a regular guitar, but not as low as a bass. So it sounds in the baritone range, generally somewhere between C or down to A, maybe. And I use it in a sort of groove context for funk rhythms and kind of heavy, heavy groove, kind of stuff. Whereas the baritone, traditionally, maybe was not used for that so much. It’s sort of more of a country western instrument or sort of a more textural thing, not necessarily something that you bring out front in a mix to like lead a big funk groove.


Chris Carter: Yeah. Right.


Mark Lettieri: Yeah.


Chris Carter: That’s pretty unique.


Mark Lettieri: I thought it would be. Yeah, it sort of became a thing that I sort of stumbled upon, sort of taking an instrument that isn’t used for funk and then using it for funk.


Chris Carter: Yeah.


Mark Lettieri: That’s how I ended up here, I think.


Chris Carter: That’s cool. And so you write a lot of– you write most of your own music, and what’s your process? Do you…are you like notating stuff? Are you recording it, or are you, are you kind of just kind of–it just comes out of you and you, you try and memorize it, or what’s your process for creatively kind of putting this stuff down?


Mark Lettieri: It’s primarily done just by playing it. I’ll sit at a guitar or a keyboard or bass or whatever and come up with something based on something I’m hearing or an attitude or a concept. You know, a thing that happened to me on that day, whatever. I draw inspiration from everywhere, but bringing it into a song, it’s all done, just playing it out.


I record everything into my computer and make pretty elaborate demos, and then when it’s time to make a record, send those demos to the players that are going to be recording it and kind of produce it that way. I don’t really write sheet music. I sometimes do after the fact if people need to learn it on the fly for a gig if they’re filling in for somebody that normally plays with me or something.


Mark Lettieri: But I generally find with sheet music sometimes it puts musicians in the headspace of reading the sheet music and not actually learning the song and not really memorizing and internalizing the material. And, you know, a band like Snarky Puppy, we don’t use charts, The Fearless Flyers doesn’t use charts. We learn everything by ear.


Chris Carter: Yeah.


Mark Lettieri: And that’s kind of been a big part of my career. I haven’t–I mean, I see charts every now and then on certain gigs, but a majority of it is, you know, the band leader sends you a bunch of MP3s.


Chris Carter: Yeah, right. And you just… You know, figure it out.


Mark Lettieri: You just sit with them. Yeah.


Chris Carter: Yeah. Well, I remember, that’s how I learned guitar. You know, I started playing in the early nineties, and I took some instruction. And I would, I had my instructor, I was like, I want to learn the song, and he’d say, well, bring a tape. And he would just figure it out and this was before the Internet, where you could just look something up.


Chris Carter: And so that was kind of the process was you would–and sometimes you’d figure it out wrong, but it still sounded good, and you kind of developed something new, which was kind of cool about it.


Mark Lettieri: Right? Yeah. Yeah. I, I subscribe to that aesthetic myself.


Chris Carter: Yeah. Oh, cool. Well, tell me about Snarky Puppy because I saw Snarky Puppy at SF Jazz, probably in early 2019, and I was so impressed. How did you get involved with that group?


Mark Lettieri: They were a band already that they had, they’d started it, and Michael, the bass player bandleader, had started it when he was in school at the University of North Texas. And they were just kind of like the hot band around town, you know, these jazz school kids that were playing this really high-level instrumental music, and I was involved in the, in the same scene with them as a, as a sideman, just a working guitar player, taking gigs with whoever. So I started out as just being a fan of the band, but ended up doing different gigs with some of the guys in the group and just ended up getting called for a string of dates because the other two guitar players weren’t available. And that was, that was sort of at the time when the band was just playing as much as possible with whoever could do it, you know, whoever could make the gig, and that’s kind of why the band ended up so big.


Chris Carter: I was going to say, isn’t that still kind of how it is? It’s a big ensemble, right?


Mark Lettieri: Yeah, it’s not far off. But yeah, the reason is, is that there would be gigs that someone, for whatever reason, couldn’t do. Michael’s always kind of had an open door policy in that regard, and so he would hire someone, they would learn the book of material, they would play great, they would offer something unique to the sound, and all of a sudden, they’re in the band.


Chris Carter: It’s almost like a, it’s like a different lineup almost, pretty regularly, isn’t it? Or is there like a core group that’s pretty steady?


Mark Lettieri: There’s like maybe 4 guys that do every single gig, but out of 19, I mean, what is that? Not even 20% or something. So maybe it is 20%. I’m not very good at math, but yeah. So in that respect, yeah, it’s the audience–you know, and I think some people really like it, some people get a little frustrated by it, but you know that you can come see a band like for example, that show you saw I wasn’t that gig but I’m sure the band was amazing and that was a particular sound, you know.


Mark Lettieri: So the fans get to kind of experience that, which is neat because they keep coming back because they never really know who’s going to be there.


Chris Carter: Yeah. Right. Well, that’s what I was going to ask you about that because I know it seems like Snarky Puppy probably has like a pretty dedicated fan base that follows them. You know, like the Grateful Dead has their Deadheads, do the Snarky Puppy fans have like a name, Snarksers, or something like that?


Mark Lettieri: Maybe, I don’t know. There’s a couple of Facebook fan groups that, but I don’t think there’s a–we don’t have like a Deadheads or, you know, whatever that the other bands have.


Chris Carter: Maybe you could come up with something.


Mark Lettieri: Yeah, maybe let’s think about it.


Chris Carter: Where the name Snarky Puppy is kind of funny when I tell it to people any…do you know where that came from? Or what the genesis was?


Mark Lettieri: Yeah. It’s a pretty boring story. But I’ll tell you, Michael’s brother thought of it for a band that he never started. And so Michael was like, well, I’ll just borrow your name.


Chris Carter: That’s it.


Mark Lettieri: That was that was 20 years ago and it’s still going.


Chris Carter: Well, I got to ask you, you know, you’ve got this– so you mentioned Santana, I don’t know if he was your inspiration to get into Paul Reed Smith guitars, but you have a signature PRS model. It’s the Fiore, is that right?


Mark Lettieri: Right. That is correct.


Chris Carter: And what was that like? Did they approach you and say, we want to do a Mark Lettieri guitar? And did you help design it?


Mark Lettieri: They did. Yes, and yes. I had been–I started a relationship with the company a few years prior to that happening. And yeah, I mean, you know, growing up, the PRS was always sort of like the guitar brand that was on a pedestal. You know, literally, they were at the top of the shelf at Guitar Center, you know. You’d have to ask to have someone. So they were always a little bit out of reach for me, but I kind of came back to the brand when they reached out with some other guitars that they were building and just sort of to see if I wanted to try them. And initially, I wasn’t really into it because I just didn’t have a relationship with their guitars prior.


And so, but then they sent me this guitar and I loved it and I said, well, this is great, you know, I’m going to use it and I’ve been using it a lot. And then, so that sort of started our relationship, and then they called me, gosh, when was it? Sometime in 2019, saying like, Hey, we’re looking to develop a new line based on some designs that we started a little while ago. Would you be interested in doing something with us? And I said, Yeah, absolutely. What do you want to do? And they just said, well, we want to just design a new model guitar with you. It’ll be your signature guitar. You do whatever you want. So you don’t really say no to something like that.


Chris Carter: Yeah. And what, what was, what’s unique about it? Like, what makes it like your signature model?


Mark Lettieri: Well, it’s sort of an amalgamation of all–of a lot of my favorite guitars, and I wanted to kind of put them all into one instrument that I could take to any gig, to any session, and get my sound out of it, but also design a guitar that wasn’t so unique to me that other people wouldn’t want to use it.


Chris Carter: Yeah.


Mark Lettieri: I think that’s something with signature, you know, signature guitars; it’s sort of a funny thing, to begin with. I just wanted to design a really great guitar that would work for me and a lot of other people.


Chris Carter: Yeah.


Mark Lettieri: And it seems like that’s been the response, judging by who’s playing it and where it’s where I’m seeing it, you know? And so yeah, it was a really cool eye-opening process because I’ve never designed a guitar before, of course.


Chris Carter: Very cool. Due to they send you sales reports, they tell you how well it’s doing.


Mark Lettieri: Yes. Yes, they do.


Chris Carter: They do.


Mark Lettieri: That’s part of the contract.


Chris Carter: Oh, that’s cool. Well, I hope it’s doing well. I’ll give a good pitch out for it; where can we find one of those?


Mark Lettieri: Well, let’s see. You guys are in Livermore. How far is that from Danville? Pretty close. Yeah?


Chris Carter: Yeah, about 20 minutes away.


Mark Lettieri: Okay. There’s a big PRS dealer in Danville.


Chris Carter: Okay.


Mark Lettieri: I think it’s actually called Danville Music.


Chris Carter: Yeah, I’ve been there.


Mark Lettieri: Yeah. I mean, they’re all over. If you do the online thing, every big box, you know, Sweetwater musicians, friends, they all have it. But if you want to, you know, support a local store, PRS has a list of all the local dealers, which is great.


Chris Carter: Do you have one in the room there that you can show us?


Mark Lettieri: I have several.


Chris Carter: You do?


Mark Lettieri: Yes, I do. This is the blue one. This is Larkspur. Blue.


Chris Carter: Oh, cool.


Mark Lettieri: Yeah, that’s. That’s the newest color. This is Black Iris, which is sort of a dark, dark purple. And then we have Sugar Moon, which is sort of a muted white. And then we have this is the first color, and sort of the main color that I play is Amaryllis Red. So they’re all named after flower species because Fiore is flower in Italian. And so those are the four colors that you can get.


Chris Carter: Awesome, I got to ask, how many guitars do you have?


Mark Lettieri: These are the ones that I use primarily for most of the work that I do. Yeah.


Chris Carter: Well, do you have– I know you’ve done some instruction for it. Do you have like any advice for people learning to play the guitar or trying to get into it or how to get started?


Mark Lettieri: I mean, I would say the first thing is find a guitar that’s comfortable to play. I think a big thing, a big common misconception is like, well, I’m just starting out; I should get something cheap. And that’s understandable because, yeah, you might not like guitar, but the cheaper the guitar, the probably the worse it’s going to play because it’s not going to be very good quality, and then you’re just not going to feel like it’s fun.


Mark Lettieri: So, you know, spend as, you know, of course, everyone has a budget, but make sure whatever you’re playing, it feels comfortable and feels inspired because if you’re, if you’re physically not having a good time playing it, you’re not going to want to play anymore. Yeah. So I would just be mindful of that and then just play whatever you want, learn whatever you want, play whatever kind of music you want to learn. However, you know, learn theory, don’t learn theory, whatever. It’s music, you know what I mean, there’s so many ways you can do it.


Chris Carter: Yeah, that’s what makes it such a great instrument.


Mark Lettieri: Yeah.


Chris Carter: You can do pretty much anything with it, and it’s easy to pick up certain things and you can just play by yourself. You don’t need a full band. It’s a great instrument.


Mark Lettieri: So, you know, don’t necessarily and this isn’t, you know, you don’t need to get like the Keith Urban Target guitar model or something for $200. Just go get like a used Fender or something, $150 and it’s going to play better.


Chris Carter: There you go.


Mark Lettieri: So no shade to Keith Urban, but Keith’s not playing those on a gig.


Chris Carter: So you’re coming next month in January. What can we expect from this particular show? You’ve got a band. How many guys are in the band?


Mark Lettieri: It’s a four-piece, yeah, guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards. It’s high energy. It’s, you know, we have some volume.


Chris Carter: Okay.


Mark Lettieri: You know, it’s not we’re not KISS, we’re not that loud, but yeah, it’s, it’s going to be cool. You know, it’s high-level improvisation cool tunes. Yeah. I think people are really going to dig it if you like Snarky Puppy or if you’ve heard of The Fearless Flyers, there’s some similarities there, but it’s different.


Chris Carter: Okay, cool. Well, I’m really looking forward to it. One last question I like to ask people is, what are you listening to right now? What what’s kind of in your CD player or your…


Mark Lettieri: Oh, man.


Chris Carter: Apple Music or whatever you listen to?


Mark Lettieri: Right. Sure. What was the last thing I checked out. You know, it’s funny, I go back to the classic stuff a lot. I go listen to a lot of music that inspired me, you know, years ago. The latest thing, and actually the last thing I purchased, was a Prince vinyl, the “Musicology” album.


Chris Carter: Yeah.


Mark Lettieri

Which is one of my favorite Prince records, and I found it on vinyl in Bucharest, Romania.


Chris Carter



Mark Lettieri

It’s out of it’s out of print. So I had to buy it.


Chris Carter

Of course.


Mark Lettieri

That’s what’s on the, on the turntable right now.


Chris Carter

All right. You’re a vinyl guy, then.


Mark Lettieri

I’m getting into it. It’s–it takes up a lot of space, but…


Chris Carter: Yeah, right.


Mark Lettieri: it’s a fun little, you know, side hobby, I guess.


Chris Carter: Oh, cool. Well, I really appreciate your time, Mark, and we’re looking forward to having you on.


Mark Lettieri: Looking forward to being there.


Chris Carter: Yeah. Thursday, January 19th. You can get your tickets online at It’s going to be a great show. If you’re a fan of guitar, I think you’re really going to love it. Mark’s is a virtuoso in every sense of the word and very skilled and wonderfully stylish music. And it’s going to be great for The Bankhead Theater.


Chris Carter: So thanks, Mark. I hope you have a great day.


Mark Lettieri: Awesome. Thank you, Chris. Yeah, you too, Chris. Thank you.