On Friday, November 8th, 2013 two voyagers and a horde of equipment known collectively as EOTO landed in East Tennessee to perform at Knoxville’s NV Nightclub. Before the show, cosmic co-pilots Jason Hann and Michael Travis were kind enough to sit down and share their thoughts on the directions of EOTO, the human species, and everything in between. Of course, their performance was as diverse as the topics covered during our conversation, ranging from down-tempo electronica merged seamlessly with roaring bass grooves, to full-scale tribal drumming at the end. Check out the recording or scroll down for the full-text version of our 30-minute rap.
Matt: So, continuous evolution seems to be a theme that you guys live by. It sort of seems to be the mantra both for Cheese and EOTO. Is that – or was that – ever a conscious decision? To do that, and sort of say hey let’s continue to propel this thing. Or, are you responding to fan feedback, or is it more of a mirroring of your own personal journeys as human beings?
Michael Travis: All of the above, yeah. I mean like, with Cheese we were always progressing, you know, from the minute we started. We were never settling with where we were at, and always randomly followed whatever we decided was the thing to be doing at the time. And EOTO — same way. EOTO is so easy to modulate because we have no songs or anything to get hung up on or to make it more difficult to reinvent ourselves.
Matt: Sure, absolutely. So along the same lines, in the spirit of the Pranksters and the early days of the 60s, where you had folks like Ken Kesey and those guys always sort of ‘poking’ people, and ‘pranking’ people out of their, you know, sort of robotic states of consciousness. It seems like this is what the scene started out to do, to get people to see things in a different sort of way. And to me, it seems like you guys do that better than anyone. Is that sort of a conscious decision, or if not, how do you feel about being a part of this music scene that arguably plays such a big role in the evolution of consciousness?
Jason Hann: That’s pretty good, hmmm. It’s kind of funny, because I guess in some ways, it’s pretty… if you haven’t seen us as EOTO, and are coming from a String Cheese perspective, it could seem like a really big prank. Like ‘what are they doing,’ and taken in a lot of different ways. But I think even for the kids that come see us as EOTO, we’re gonna do something that will be really different than what they’ve seen on the scene, whether we go down into our drum thing — there’s no electronic acts that break into some of the real tribal stuff — or if Travis starts doing a tapping thing on his bass. Or even vocally, there’s not a lot of groups that necessarily will throw harmonies on top of their thing… I don’t know, there’s just gonna be something in the set where’s it’s gonna be like, ‘oh wow, I haven’t seen that.’ Let alone playing the whole thing live. So I think in that way it’s a nice push for people, where we try to do some live effects, where it’s like ‘wow shit, I didn’t know a band could do that.’ And I think we hit quite a few of those moments throughout the night.
Matt: I would certainly agree.
Travis: Yeah, but as far as the evolution of consciousness thing, I feel like — I don’t know, I tend to think — I know it’s my intention to be a part of that pool and modulating it. With EOTO, similar, we gravitated towards things, that, trying to add a feeling or create suspended states of reality and voluntarily participating in counter-culture.
Matt: You guys are sort of the engine of that, which is a pretty cool role to be in. I’m sure you’re fully aware of it, but it’s a neat thing. So earlier in the spring, you released a 20-minute long video. Was that this year, where you went through your equipment..
Jason: When was that?
Matt: I feel like it was earlier in the spring, something like that. Anyways, you went through everything, and both of you showed the complexities of what it is you’re doing, and then you sort of went into a jam, with the cameras rolling. I mean, there’s so much you’re doing up there, it’s like operating your own spaceships. I’m not a musician, but it seems like a very complex process. Do you feel like it’s too difficult to control all of that and respond in a seamless manner to the vibes of the crowd, and the energies, or do you feel like you can let the energy play you, so to speak? Seems like a super intense thing that you’re up their doing.
Travis: It’s both. We set, and then it returns, and then we volley, and then it returns.
Jason: At this point, I think in both our zones, I feel like for the past year and a half, it’s felt like one instrument; getting good at one instrument. So I know, even though in my world, I’ve got drums going at the same time that I’ve got these pads and other things that I’m touching. It used to be sort of a coordination to work out. But now it just seems like it takes over, and it’s like, ‘okay it’d be great if it sounded like this.’ Then limbs just start doing something. And I feel like I’m listening more throughout the night then really trying to do anything. It doesn’t feel like a coordinated effort anymore, things just kind of go.
Matt: And it’s incredibly fascinating how, and you pointed this out, most DJs and producers, are sort of manipulating pre-recorded tracks. Which can be fun, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but the video sort of showed innately that you guys are a lot different than those types of artists. Have you seen any sort of feedback about being open about what you’re doing? How has that been received amongst your fanbase?
Travis: Good, yeah, people have been psyched on it. Yeah there was a big period for most of our career where people just had no idea what we were doing.
Matt: I was in that boat.
Travis: ‘Oh, I love what you’re doing with the DJ and drummer project thing,’ and it’s like, that’s not what we’re doing. So it feels like because of that video, and because we keep hammering it over everyone’s heads every night, that most people seem to know that it’s live now who are showing up. But still I don’t think people understand what exactly that means; we were thinking about doing a follow-up to that video and narrating the second half.
Matt: It was incredibly enlightening, especially for me, who as a non-musician isn’t familiar with a lot of that stuff.
Travis: And we felt like we were purposely trying to be this bridge, where we were from a live band background, but both love electronic music, and wanted to re-represent it, except with — our big rule — it has to be extremely validated and live and real, and happening in the moment, and all of the above. So, that being the only rule, we just kept delving and delving, and delving and delving, and made it come to life.
Matt: To that end, do you have any venues or favorite settings like outdoor festivals versus more of an intimate indoor setting like this, where you feel like that can be facilitated — like the flow of that energy can be manipulated?
Jason: Sometimes it feels like how good the system is; there’s so many factors. Like last night playing in Atlanta the system sounded so good, but it felt good onstage too, so there’s that combination where it feels like the same thing we’re hearing and feeling onstage is the same thing the audience if feeling. And you feel like you can really reach another level of empath. Like where you can really feel like you know what the audience is going through as a collective. And you can adjust or lead or follow or encourage or switch up, and I think it’s the same for… Well, it’s different for a really big crowd, like if there’s 20,000 people at Electric Forest, you know, it makes us a play a little bit different. Or if we’re at a really small club. Can you think of a really small venue we’ve played lately? But that all makes it different, and sometimes it feels like…
Travis: Market Street in Roanoke?
Jason: (laughs) That would be the one.
Travis: Moving salad bars and tables out of the way (laughs) at Martin’s…
Jason: In Mississippi? (laughs).. Classic. But it’s funny because when we used to tour Monday through Sunday, some of those shows on a Monday or Tuesday where it was really intimate, and not so much pressure to keep it revved up and play the best show of all time… Some of those shows would be more experimental, and we’d find some new thing, like ‘oh yeah let’s do that a lot more.’
Matt: Yeah, I saw you guys at the Valarium back in like 2008 or 2009 when there were maybe 30-40 people there. It was awesome. So, one thing that I think is really interesting is that it seems like the taxonomy of electronic music has diverged widely over the last decade. And you have these sub-genres and sub-pockets of so many different types of electronic music. Does that factor in to what you’re trying to do, or are you just sort of going all out with whatever you feel, or are you trying to target any of those types of specific genres?
Travis: We were, for a while. We’ve had different areas. At first we were really down-tempo. That’s the stuff that I really loved; the really lounge-y and mellow…
Matt: Yeah, I first heard you guys as Praang.
Jason: Oh wow, that’s even loungier.
Travis: Yeah that’s like, I don’t even know what the hell that is (laughs). And then we just kind of kept hearing things and getting excited, and the big one was hearing dubstep in 2008, and being like ‘oh my god.’ We’d never heard it before, but he (Jason) probably was more indoctrinated than me.
Jason: Very new to me too.
Travis: And then it hit us and we got obsessed with it… We pissed some people off and made other people happy. Then we kind of got a handle on it and enjoyed just being the full odyssey of a journey, through every style we could possibly try and incorporate, really. Broad mood swings, or just getting as whimsical and as weird as possible. I tend to– my favorite moments are when I put up a sound and don’t even know what it is, and then I hit it, and let the sound tell me what part to make and then I record it as soon as possible, and just keep moving like that, creating stuff that doesn’t sound like anything that we’ve ever heard or made before… that’s some of my favorite stuff.
Jason: I would agree. You get used to the way we might approach the texture of like a certain thing that’s really hard-hitting or a build-up to something, so it’s pretty enjoyable when something comes out of the blue, and it’s like ‘woah;’ that neither of us have heard before and we look at each other like ‘woah that was new and different.’
Matt: So, this is sort of a broad, social question, but also sort of a musical question as well. How do you feel about the concept of evolution as a human species, as well as the evolution of music (laughs)… Do you feel like we’re being pulled? Like folks like Terrence McKenna have said we’re getting pulled into a vortex, and there’s like something guiding this evolution, or do you think we’re triggering…
Travis: (McKenna impression) Concrescing and progressing… (laughs)
Matt: I wish I could do that voice.
Travis: (continues Mckenna impression) Yaass, the little voice… (laughs). What is your question, I’m sorry (laughs)…
Matt: Do you feel like we’re getting pulled towards it by like a greater force, and if so do you think that plays into your music? Or do you think that it’s sort of us doing the propelling?
Jason: Niice (laughs)… nice.
Travis: Well, I tend to believe that we’re getting pulled. By ourselves. A broader version of ourselves — which merges with angelic and the divine, and at some point there’s no separation. I think we set our own alarm clock to go off about now.
Jason: Wake up (laughs)…
Travis: But like, it’s so apparent. It’s like a dystopian sci-fi disaster around us, at all times right now. It’s so crazy…
Matt: It is crazy.
Travis: And just the elevated ascension state that I tend to try and identify with feels like… the solution, like, being terrified by it all… what good is that doing anybody?
Matt: Very true.
Travis: And it’s also the pulling. The pulling to just be full of joy in inexplicable amounts and as much as possible.
Jason: Yeah, I think so too. As like, humans with this thing of, it seems like there’s this instinct that…
Travis: Hey we’re interviewing here.
Jason: It seems like humans with like this thing to want to control things… It seems like there was already a time when there was a lot more magic allowed to happen and allowed to be public. And I think with the knowledge of how people started to try and control other people, that a lot of that was lost in the name of controlling things. You know, ‘you have to believe what I believe.’ You can’t have your own culture because you don’t deserve to be around if you don’t believe what I believe.
Jason: And in the course of that, the people with the bigger guns or the bigger weapons won. So I feel like there’s a possible, like, a lot more allowance to let those things happen publicly. Hopefully that’ll be the gateway to allowing a lot more things to take a more magical, supernatural course.
Matt: I hope we get to see that.
Jason: Right? And the thing is, I feel like there was a time when it was all seen. And then people seeking to get power and then grab more power were like ‘I don’t see it, so there’s no way you can see it.’
Jason: ‘So, you better not see it, because you’re now allowed to see it.’
Travis: ‘That’s impossible, so you’re the devil.’ (laughs)
Jason: That’s right… ‘And now you have to die.’ (laughs)
Matt: So Jason, this one’s for you. If I’ve read correctly, you’ve studied in places like Mali, Ghana, Korea… You’ve studied formally. What role do global indigenous cultures and their traditions play in your all’s music?
Jason: It feels like absolutely linked at all times like that. There’s a thing about electronic music that sometimes depending on where it’s at or where you take it to, it feels a lot more – or a lot closer to – that style of indigenous music. Very repetitive, and you bring people in and then you manipulate and maneuver to get jolts out of people. Because it’s like, rhythmically, you attune everyone’s body in the same frequency. And the power of rhythm and sound design — you know, a lot of the times the sounds of the drums themselves, like which one is the lead drum, or how a system might be organized — might jolt the body to either allow a deity to come in and possess that body, and exchange places. And then you keep playing the music so it switches places again. And that feels it happens — or it can happen — more with electronic music. At least that thing. Where it’s like when you’re introducing, necessarily, chord changes in the formula of a song — like with words — then it becomes a story that people tune in to in a different way.
Matt: Yeah, yeah, different wavelengths.
Jason: It can be even more joyous and even more elated. But as far as that version of, now you’re involving, say, the invisible word, to interact and trade things with the body. That’s the closest as I’ve felt, like when I’ve played ceremonies before. Like I can’t say I’ve ever been in a position where I’ve conducted ceremonies, but having played in a bunch of ceremonies and the feelings that I go through, seeing all the stuff happen in front of me…
Matt: So you’ve actually played in ceremonies? That’s incredible.
Jason: Oh yeah, ton of ceremonies. But you know, it would be just more about learning the part or whatever I was studying, but I had enough skills to keep it going and stay with it, and enough to be accepted in that role. And sometimes I’ll have those same feelings. But it’s a different thing because we spend a lot of time in like party and rocking out mode, um, as opposed to ‘we’re going to be in this one vibe and hit this frequency state’ and manipulate just inside of that.
Matt: So, you guys have been on the road for a long time as we mentioned outside. You’ve played how may shows, over 500?
Travis: Over 900.
Matt: Oh wow, I’m way behind, so over 900. So you’re probably exposed to much more cultural diversity than most people. Do you feel like any particular place in this country, or from a global perspective, is you know, ‘doing it right?’ Like as far as support of the arts and music and harmonious relationship with the natural world around us, whether that be towns, cities…
Travis: Well, I don’t know that we see that end of it so much in world, you know? We just see the kids that like dance music (laughs)…
Jason: …and like festivals (laughs)… I think from reading about certain places, that Iceland might be set up to be that unique to allow so much openness with… that they’re still willing to clamp down on banks or something like that, to try and not let that power overtake them, as far as that. But man, I don’t know if I know of any that have it fully together like that. Because the ones that have it fully together are trying to get run over by a more powerful one, you know, there are different things. The only thing I can say I can say is like if I travel to some of the poorer countries, that it seems like the commodity there is like the people and how you get along with each other, as opposed to how much money you have. So I think they come up in a system where they really depend on their neighbor to be with them. But, you get all the politics of different families and clans and all that kind of stuff. And that’s a big reason for ‘whoever has the biggest family wins’ kind of thing. So it’s hard, ehh, politics (laughs) — we could be here a minute. But Iceland is the one country that I always read an article about them and it’s like ‘No they didn’t do that, how did they pull that off?!’ And musically the stuff that comes out of there is amazing. And artistically, I’ve seen a lot of art that just has me, like ‘What?!’ These people just seem different than any other place.
Travis: Did you mean places that we’ve interacted with as musicians, like playing our shows?
Matt: Yeah, yeah, like towns you’ve gone through.
Travis: Well we played Iceland and it was pretty cool.
Jason: Iceland was pretty good, yeah. We played that cave one time.
Travis: I think one of the stand-out events for me is this festival in British Columbia called Shambhala that…
Matt: I’ve heard of that one.
Travis: They’ve got it going on… they know some stuff. As far as festival environments that are a cut above. Envision is pretty awesome too.
Matt: Envision does sound incredible. And it seems like there’s cool stuff going on in Canada, up ‘thattaway.’
Travis: Canadians are cool. They’re happy… They’re happy, smart, and relaxed. And funny.
Jason: It’s wild how that festival in that part of that country attracts so much crazy talent, or some desire from DJs they invite to go there to put out their latest stuff that you might not here in the states for 2 years. I think now it’s a little closer, but I remember the stuff that we heard, we came back to the states and it’s like ‘where’s all that music?’
Travis: It’s an epicenter.
Matt: So, as far as being on the road all the time, do you guys have any tricks that you do on a day-in day-out basis, you know, to keep it fresh? How do you do it?
Travis: Jason’s always sleeping and awake at the same time (laughs)…
Matt: That’s convenient…
Jason: And Trav’s like a wheatgrass machine… It’s like ‘oxygenate the body, oxygenate the blood,’ you know, you seem like you take care of yourself.
Travis: I try and take care of myself. And you take of yourself by sleeping and being awake at the same time (laughs). He’s the quickest nap in the West (laughs).
Matt: So, what’s you all’s vision for EOTO, as well as String Cheese over the next 5-10 years?
Travis: Well, we want to play to more people and have more fun (laughs)… I’m
excited for EOTO to get embraced as a… less by the dance music community, and more of with musically sharp-minded people. And people that show up are very smart, and dig what we’re doing because it’s us doing these… they feel the uniqueness. Just getting recognized for what it is would be exciting. And traveling to other countries would be huge.
Jason: Well it seems like the ratio is maybe 25-30% of whatever crowd we’re at knows exactly what we’re doing, and all about it. And the rest of them kind of know what we’re doing, or a big chunk kind of knows what we’re doing, and then maybe another 10% are just out of their mind. Like they don’t care necessarily what’s going on, they just want to close their eyes and get as far out as possible.
Travis: Which, I think that if you put our music up against… if you just kept a blindfold test on recordings against really crafty DJ or producer, we’ll fall short in some dimensions of acuity, and like this overwhelming barrage that’s available to somebody who’s hand-manicuring it. So we need to be appreciated on the terms that it’s this experience that’s a one-of-kind creation, and that it’s very real, and very live. It’s very much live-music making. But with these new idioms that haven’t been observed… And the higher percentage the crowd that knows that thing, is the better crowd for us.
Jason: Yeah. You can feel it.
Travis: Cause even if they’re dancing their ass off, they’re just allowing themselves to know this is a one of a kind experience. Like ‘did you hear that? That’s the only time that’s gonna happen!’
Matt: So, I just have one more question, and this one doesn’t really have anything to do with music at all, or you could make it about music. Apparently, we’ve got like 8.8 billion potentially habitable planets in the Milky Way alone, according to some of the new images coming in. If you guys could step out of a spaceship onto one of these things, given the assumption that there are sentient beings there, what would be the first thing you would say, and what do you think they’d look like?
Jason: Wow (laughs)…
Travis: I think they’d look a lot like us probably. I mean, my intel says that the really angelic ones would look something similar to us. And I think they’d say, ‘we’ve been expecting you. What took you so long?’
EOTO On Tour
Nov 13 2013 – The Canopy Club – Urbana, IL
Nov 14 2013 – The Crofoot – Pontiac, MI
Nov 15 & 16 2013 – Concord Music Hall – Chicago, IL
Nov 20 2013 – Yost Theater – Santa Ana, CA
Nov 22 2013 – The Fonda Theatre – Los Angeles, CA
Nov 23 2013 – House of Blues – San Diego, CA
Nov 27 2013 – Regency Ballroom – San Francisco, CA
Dec 03 2013 – three20south – Beckenridge, CO
Dec 04 2013 – Agave – Avon, CO
Dec 05 2013 – Aggie Theatre – Fort Collins, CO
Dec 06 2013 – Belly Up – Aspen, CO
Dec 07 2013 – The Fillmore – Denver, CO