April 1, 2009 - Boston, MA
I sat down with Jason Hann of EOTO (Jason Hann & Michael Travis) before their show and talked with him about his first encounter with The String Cheese Incident, his musical influences, his current project: EOTO, and wrapped it up with some questions about the upcoming String Cheese performance at Rothbury. Read it here or listen to the audio.
Michael Travis and Jason Hann of EOTO jamming at Bill's Bar in Boston
How did you first get in contact with The String Cheese Incident and what was your first show like?
Well, I was in High Sierra back in '96 with a band I was in called, Zoo People. We had an early slot during one of the days and Travis had come over and had seen our set. That band was like a Steely Dan/Allman Brothers type group; and I guess he was into it. Afterwards when we were rapping for a while he invited me to go over and play some hand drums - I hadn't heard of String Cheese at that time - So I did that and there was a another percussionist there named Jared Kaplan plus another guy who was recording our percussion jam and it just kinda clicked: us playing and stuff. So that was my first contact with anyone from String Cheese. And, uh, they were playing at the tent later that night and I had gone to that. But I hadn't met anyone else in cheese until that moment with Travis.
What's your favorite SCI Song to play?
Wow, that's a tough one. I like Climb a lot. Yea, definitely Climb as far as originals go. That's the one that sorta jumps out of my head immediately.
Who are some of your musical influences and have you ever had a chance to play with them?
A musical influence of mine is the singer/percussionist named Vinx. Back in the late 80s I used to listen to his cds which were mostly just percussion and vocals. He ended up being discovered by Sting and used to open up for him and his band doing all kinds of shows with him. And when I moved out to LA, I was working with someone who produced Vinx's records and I hooked up with Vinx. I ended up recording on a bunch of his stuff and touring with him a lot out in Europe, Eastern Europe and going to Africa, we went all over the world. And there was another guy, who I met through Vinx: Herbie Hancock! Herbie Hancock of course is a legendary jazz piano player and I was doing a private show with Vinx for a friend of Herbie Hancock's. They had a piano there incase he would come by and sit in and sure enough he showed up and sat in with us. We played like 3 songs together and that was just an incredible thrill to do that. So I've definitely had quite a few moments.
Regarding EOTO, what's your setup like, what drums are you using?
In EOTO I use a really small compact different sized drum kit. My kick drum is called a Pearl Rhythm traveler. It's 20x8in. It's really small. I also use a small picolo snare drum while stacking some small splash cymbals on top of each other. It's all with the purpose of giving the drum set a little bit different sound than a rock drum set. EOTO plays a different style of music so I'm trying to treat it like that. And even though I don't necessarily want to use an electronic drum kit, I want to use a drum set that expresses itself in electronic music a little better.
When you begin a jam, how do you decide on the genre?
The only time we really talk about that is at the beginning of a set. We're like, "What does it seem like the mood wants to be in here right now?" Do we start straight off with dubstep? Or do we start straight off with house? Seems to me like we lean towards house just to get people moving and not play something that's too far out. Most people as a collective "get" house. "Ok, we're here to dance" to this beat. Whereas if we go straight to dubstep, the music might seem a little weird at first to some people. Sometimes we'll even do something that's sort of hip-hop. But that's a slow starter for us because it doesn't get us revved up as quickly as some of the other styles.
Jason Hann plays his drum kit in EOTO
I know you are big fans of dubstep. Does coming to a city like Boston or the West Coast, where dubstep is more prominent, make you play it more or do you take advantage of that?
Oh yea, if we see the crowd gets it, they've heard of dubstep as a collective crowd, then we'll lay into it for a while. Out in Portland, and Richmond VA, there's just these certain pockets...out in Bellingham and Seattle WA; Vancouver BC, there are these pockets where we'll try it out and see what the immediate reaction is and we'll use that to decide whether to stay there for a while. But it's tricky. We like to play it at least every night at some point and then we just see how it goes from there. The other thing is that to play dubstep you really want to be sure you're on a system that can handle all the bass and stuff because if you're not, dubstep sounds a little bit wimpy. That's really where the power, the sort of majestic feeling, comes from.
Do you ever feel limited by your two man setup?
We got it worked out where sometimes when other people join us, it can really change our pacing. When it's just the two of us we're pretty rapid fire at a good pace because playing dance music or playing club music is so much about getting to the next song, or after about three minutes changing the theme, changing all the sounds that are running to the next thing. Also, sometimes when you have someone sit in, who's not used to going after that same goal, it turns into a little bit more of a jam session. Like we find our thing, we stack all our parts, and then we hang out there for quite a while, while the guest solos over it. So that's the biggest difference between having people join us or not. It definitely doesn't feel limiting except that we're both putting parts in one at a time and sometimes we wish we could do that a little bit faster. It's all about getting better at everything that we're doing.
How do you feel about traditional electronic music with fully digital percussion versus what you're doing with the live element? What does the human element add?
I love all digital and the amazing production qualities which is the way dance music is usually played. I think for both of us, myself in particular, when I've heard dance music done really well with live instruments it feels really powerful and has that extra edge to it, just the way live music should. So I feel really confident about saying that when it's done well, that it can be more powerful or galvanize the community of people in a way that someone playing that same track but all digitally would not be able to reproduce. That being said, it's the same way with DJ's. There's a lot of not that great electronic music out there. But the stuff that's really good is really good and inspirational/influential. It's the same with electronica or jamtronica bands, there's starting to be quite a few of them but there's very few that are sounding really really good. But it's at such a young stage right now, and also a lot more people are doing it.
Where can people buy your music?
Go to livedownloads.com and do a search for EOTO and all our shows will pop up.
Who separates the songs on the download site?
After a we finish playing the set then I'll take the sets and put them into two long sound files, one per set, and then I'll usually put them on a dvd and ship it to two kids: Brian Cohn and Heath Byington who live out in Lawrence, Kansas. They love taking the files and listening to them and determining what are songs and just making up a name for them. Just syllables or if we told them something in particular happened that night, they'll find some theme as a way of naming them and its really good because it's actually a lot of work to sit there and go through every single show. We play a show and that's long enough. But to go back and really find the split points to determine this is a song, that's a song and then to name it, it's quite a chore so we're super thankful that they're psyched and they're on top of it.
Razed: EOTO's latest album
Do you have any plans for another album?
Yes! We'll probably get something together when we start String Cheese practice for Rothbury. We'll be practicing probably the whole month of June and that's how we've done our other two albums: When I'm out in Colorado for String Cheese practice I stay at Travis' place for the most part and we just set up and start recording. I think our last album, Razed, took 3 days of recording but then it was a long time for mixing and mastering and turning it into a completed project. So it will probably be a similar thing this time.
Can you give any details about the Cheese or EOTO show at the upcoming Rothbury festival?
No, not really. We haven't really discussed any specifics other than that we're playing and really happy to be getting back together. Doing it at Rothbury is such the right thing the way it feels to everyone. Most of the side projects were at Rothbury last year and we all had an amazing time and you could see how into it everyone was that it's just this huge intimate festival. It still has the feeling of a smaller festival even though it's so large and it's just run really well. Our management company runs most of it and the guy that does our Red Rocks shows is doing most of the booking for it. Most of our crew people are working on the stages out there so it just makes it so easy for us to get together. There's a lot of stress in getting the whole monster operation running again and Rothbury just made it pretty easy to be able to go in there and not stress on the details of what it takes to make the whole operation run.
Is The String Cheese Incident as a band trying to pick off from where you left off in 2007 or are you trying to start in a new direction?
No, I think at this point its more to just get back together and see how all that's feeling to everyone and to really go out and play the best show we've ever played. That's what you're always aiming for every night and that's why we're really psyched that we're getting some rehearsal time. And you see these other groups like the way Phish came back and it seems like from most reports that they were just so "on" musically and that's the way you gotta do it if you're gonna do something like that. You can't mess around. Especially since performing is so much about doing it for the fans. And always play the best show you've ever played night after night. Hopefully we just do all the preparation we need to be able to pull that off.
Are there plans for String Cheese to play 1 night or 2?
I'm sure we'll end up talking about all that when we get together.
EOTO at Rothbury 2008
Why is this the only incident of 2009?
Well there wasn't even supposed to be one in 2009. For quite a while, pretty much no one was up for playing in 2009. Everyone was enjoying either being home or working on recordings. Kyle's even going to have a new cd coming out. Everyone's been working on their different things and enjoying it for the most part. Also saying that you're gonna stop playing music as a band, there's all these variables of like: you don't want to play too soon, because there's reasons why you stop playing as a band. But like I said, the way Rothbury is set up, there are so many intangibles about it that made it feel good when it was offered for us to play it. It just made sense. We've also gotten a bunch of offers from all types of things, some pretty lucrative. But you really want to do things on your own terms at this point. Especially getting back together after not playing for a while.
Are there any bands that you're looking forward to seeing at Rothbury?
I'm definitively down for seeing The Dead and I think Femi Kuti is out there, from Nigeria. I heard Bela Fleck and the African project he's been doing will be out there. I'm really excited to check that out. But honestly I haven't looked at the lineup too closely. If it doesn't interfere with our schedule of getting together, because we might have to do interviews or pre-practice or some kind of preproduction stuff, I'll be out and about checking out as much as possible, for sure.
Have you ever pulled any good April Fool's jokes on Travis or do you have any good April Fools stories from tour?
Uh, not necessarily on Travis. Nothing's coming to my head at the moment, you surprised me with that question. But there's definitely been some pretty freaky April firsts.
Do you have anything you want to add?
We've been having a blast doing the whole EOTO thing. It feels like it keeps growing and evolving and we don't get tired of it on the road night after night as far as the ability to make a completely new set of music. It's very inspiring. We're just feeling like we're at a point where it's still all about working with really good promoters who are super excited. Like the guys tonight: they're completely amped on getting the word out to everyone and packing the place. They've been so good about that, and those are the people we want to find. Usually it tends to be kids that are just really happy with the scene, and no one else is bringing anything to the area, so hell why don't they tell all their friends and then get in touch with us and make it happen. And that's exactly who we want to play for: the people who are totally psyched, as opposed to playing in a club that has bands seven days a week and you're just another thing on their calendar. That very rarely works out. But you run into people who are really excited to have us in their area. And promoting really is just telling a really large group of friends about a show and then they all show up for it. We're having a really good time out here and it feels like it's staying very fresh musically.Listen to The String Cheese Incident, EOTO, Railroad Earth, and more streaming 24/7 on stringcheeseradio.com