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Published: 2008/02/24
by Mike Greenhaus

Kyle Hollingsworth Leaps Towards 40

It’s been six months since the String Cheese Incident went on indefinite hiatus following a series of sold out shows at Morrison, CO’s Red Rocks. In that time, keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth, who over the past five years has remained one of the group’s most outspoken and active members, has kept a relatively low profile—at least performance-wise. But, behind the scenes, the 39-year-old keyboardist has kept busy, caring for his baby daughter, building his new band with Arrested Development frontman Speech and working on his first batch of post-String Cheese Incident songs. At the end of the month, Hollingsworth will hit the road for a string of solo performances, which will coincide with both Leap Day weekend and his 40th birthday. Below, Hollingsworth discusses the evolution of his solo band, his affinity for Beck and David Byrne and, of course, the status of String Cheese.

MG- Let’s start by talking about your upcoming run of Colorado shows. In addition to being Leap Day weekend, these shows also coincide with your 40th birthday, correct?

Well, it is a Leap Year event, as it said in my little flier. So it is Leap Year and my 40th birthday that same weekend. So, I started thinking about what I could do to make that special. I’ve looked at the different players I’ve played with over the years, specifically four years ago, which was also a Leap Year. So I’m kind of gathering some of my favorite musicians Ross Martin, Matt Spencer and Dave Watts. They were all members of my band when I put out Never Odd or Even.

Actually, it was funny. I was driving down the road listening to that CD again. I hadn’t listened to it in a very long time, and I said, “Man, these players are great. I need a reason to pull them back to Colorado,” because they all live far awayNew York, L.A. and such. Last time I played with them was one of the first Jam Cruises and I miss playing with them. So I thought of this concept for bringing them back for Leap Year, so they’re coming into town. I’m also bringing in Jans Inger, who sings with the Motet, and Liza Oxnard’s band is opening, so she will play with us. So I have Jans and Liza singing backup and I have a local DJ and also an African koura player, which is an African string instrument. So I’m kind of combining the many influences in my life over the last three years. Some from soleside, which Speech and myself and then some from String Cheese. I’ll be doing some of the world music I wrote for String Cheese and also more of the funky hip-hop stuff I’ve written with Speech. I’m kind of bringing all the songs together and the band is actually gigantic. It’s like a nine-piece band! We’re not all playing at once, but it’s going to be a bit of a juggle to kind of get em all back and up and down all at the same time. But it’s really exciting and I actually just got together with the DJ today. So I’m mixing all these different things, like the koura with the DJ. It’s going to be interesting, so we’ll see.

MG- Do you envision this ensemble as more of a revue than an actual band?

The core band is Dave, Ross, Matt and myself. I miss their energy on stage and their creativity and their ability to make everything that I bring to the table ten times better with their talent. It’s more like a show in the sense that, at certain moments, we’ll break down and it’ll be me and the koura player. I could do like “Way Back Home” with just me and the koura player, then the DJ will come up and then the full band will get behind me. So yeah, it should be an engineering feat.

MG- You’ve only played a few shows in the six months since String Cheese Incident’s last show. Besides “family tour,” how have you used most of your time?

I’ve been doing a lot of writing since String Cheese. Right towards the end of String Cheese, last summer time, I was doing a lot of writing and I brought up some songs with String Cheese and also with the other projects I was working on. So, when we took time off, it just somehow gave me plenty of time to explore every idea. So I’ve been doing a lot of writing, actually. I think my writing is getting more mature, so I’m actually more psyched to be playing these songs out. At first I was a little nervous about it, playing without String Cheese, but now I’m like, “wow, this stuff is pretty good.” And then I’ve gotten together with Jans and Liza, and they’re really into it as well, so that gave me confidence.

MG- How would you describe your new material? Would you say these songs are more in-line with String Cheese Incident’s sound, your work with Speech or something altogether different?

Still mainly funk-oriented, with some flavorings of world beat and bluegrass in there as wella lot of the styles that I’ve learned from String Cheese. I think, honestly, I’ve been kind of digging on Odelay, which is a Beck album. And I’m loving it so much that a lot of my material is kind of running in that vein and that’s where I got together with Speech. Actually, we’re hoping to do some recording soon with soleside as well. So the music is in that vein and that’s why I brought in the DJto bring in some of the loops and that sort of thing. So how would you describe Beck? I don’t really know. But, I’m kind of leaning in that direction these days. A lot of my home studio stuff is leaning that way as well and I’m trying to bring some of that over into my show. But, at the same time, I did some writing with String Cheese [before the hiatus], so I’m going to be doing some of the older String Cheese stuff as well.

MG- Can you point to any specific String Cheese Incidentsongs you hope to play?

“Way Back Home” I’ve worked up differently and, um, “Eye No Why” is a tune of mine we’ll probably play. I think when I get together with the band we can find some new arrangements. I’m not totally interested in regurgitating what String Cheese did. I want to make it new and fresh for me as well.

MG- Dave Watts is actually an important part of the String Cheese Incident story. Can you talk about your relationship with Dave specifically? How did you two first connect?

I moved to Boulder twelve or thirteen years ago and I met Dave at a music jam at one point. He said, “Would you like to do a gig?” I said, “Sure” and he hired someone named Michael Kanghe was some random guy. And he was playing fiddle and I was like, “Well, I don’t know who this guy is, but I know Dave,” so I did the gig with Dave. And then Kang kind of connected with me through Dave and I was able to fit in with String Cheese. I feel that Dave has been in a lot of ways the musical leader in Boulder. I think he brought a lot of different musicians together. I think he’s in the center of the music scene in a lot of ways. So it’s always a pleasure to play with him and it’s been quite a while.

MG- At this point, do you feel like you are ready to get back on the road for a more extended tour?

Yeah, I’m totally ready and I was thinking about it the other day and wondering if I should take the same band I’m playing with right now out on the road. Really, you know, I play with a lot of different players. I find myself being more of a musical director and less of a creative force. I play with George Porter here in town a lot and with soleside and some other projects. But I’m usually the one who is kind of like, “OK, I’ll take care of putting the CD together and I’ll make the charts for everybody else.” This time I feel like, “Man it’s time for me to go and do something that’s fully Kyle.” I’m at a point now where I have the songs to make a CD and enough songs to make a show happen. And now I don’t necessarily need to be the physical director, I can be creative director as well. I’m still excited to do work with Speech and hopefully DJ Logic again as well. That’ll be something we all put together, but this is kind of more representing where I am as an artist.

MG- With that in mind, do you envision this project as a band with a capital B?

That’s going to be the tricky part when, you know, take it to Dave and the band and say, “This is kind of how I envision it being, but, Ross and all you guys, I want you to go off on it.” But it’s still kind of “this is what I want,” but I don’t want it to be like too limiting to them.

MG- Have you noticed any particular lyrical themes in your new songs?

I actually have been doing a lot of writing based on my new girl’s life. Like I said, Odelay is my influence, so a lot of tunes utilize either different samples or different sounds. As far as themes for lyrics, they kind of come and go depending on where I am at that moment. I’ll see how I’m struck by what seems to fit the song a lot of times. Like, “that seems too happy for this dark melody.” I just finished a tune that I’m hoping to get outit’s kind of a hooky tune and I was struggling with the chorus for so long, but ultimately, I realized there were just too many words. So, although there was this stated message, I kind of wanted to have a theme.

Sometimes, all it takes is two words to say something instead of saying the same ten words. In a chorus you can cut it down to two and, all of a sudden, the whole song is just tightened up and the hook comes out. So I’ve got a good sense of what it takes. I think I could be a good producer, in terms of what it takes to get what you want out of a song.

MG- How have you spent most of your time since String Cheese? I’d imagine your new family has taken up a lot of time.

For me there’s been a lot of fatherhood, which is a brand new challenge and lack of sleep. And the majority of my time has actually been spent writing. I haven’t rehearsed as much and I’m kind of a chronic procrastinator [laughter]. But, well, starting like tomorrow I’m going to have to get on the ball because I have some shows coming up. But I’m kind of giving my hands and my wrists a break and letting my mind and creativity flow more as opposed to saying, “OK, let’s practice this scale for ten hours.” But I’m getting antsy to get out and do some playing, so I’m looking forward to it.

MG- Besides Beck, have any other bands been in your constant rotation?

Uh, a band called the Tribalistas. I think they’re from Argentina and are more organic, music, but with a little electronica on the side. There’s a lot of acoustic instruments and they are more homegrown. Also Gigi. I got their CD a couple years ago with Herbie Hancock on it and a couple of other people. I’d say I’ve definitely been checking out some of the world beat stuff. I don’t know why I’m leaning that way, there’s just something about the purity of the instruments that comes from there and the purity of the voices verses the pop-music I’m hearing a lot now. Like, they’ll go into a room and just record their instruments straight up verses trying to process them. And then, of course, on the other side you have Beck. The great thing about Beck for me, though, is that he’s processing it and messing with it in a really intriguing way. It’s like kind of sharpit has edge and it isn’t a sample for the sake of having a sample. It’s more of a weird way to make it sound cool or taking sounds and ripping them apart and that’s kind of intriguing to me to have this organic side on one side and then this sort of really far out right stuff. Another artist that’s always been an influence is Peter Gabriel and I’ve been doing a little writing like that too. I find myself writing very dense music. I always find that I have to get down to the essence of the song. So it’s not just how you’re writing, but how you present it as well.

MG- When String Cheese parted ways, there was a lot of talk about the group’s bluegrass roots. Do you find yourself listening to bluegrass much at this point?

No. There was definitely a stage, a hardcore stage, for me early onobviously more so with String Cheese, but not recently. But Tribalistas, especially, is like folk music from that area, so I think I’m still in touch with the acoustic-folk side of stuff. It definitely intrigues me, but not bluegrass.

MG- What led you to first explore world music?

You know, I really think Talking Heads’ Remain in Light way back in the day. That was the first CD I ever boughteither that or David Byrne/Brian Eno’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. I would get high and listen to that album forever and it was so great, but I think through the Talking Heads, and the percussion they were doing, I discovered Latin and Salsa music, and from there it kind of bridged its way into world beat.

MG- My Life in the Bush of Ghosts is actually one of my favorite albums. There are so many really cool beats on that album.

One of my tunes called “The Preacher,” which is off Never Odd or Even, is based on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. I actually brought that album into the band, the same band I’m playing with now, and I went into the studio and I had them jam with it. The basic idea is the same: we built the jam and, as it gets more and more frantic, I had them play and they got faster and faster. Then I took it home and cut it up into little pieces.

MG- Have you ever had an opportunity to work with David Byrne, even behind the scenes?

No. I would love that and I’ve met David Byrne briefly and said, “Hello” and sort of said, Oh my god! You’re so cool! Goodbye, I’ll see you later!’ and Brian Eno. Robert Fripp was actually a contender to produce the last String Cheese album. We talked to him at Bonnaroo, I think, a couple years ago and that was so cool.

But playing with David Byrne has always been a dream. I’ve been trying to say, Hey, you know Dave, if you ever need a keyboard player keep me in mind!”

MG- Though you seem busy with your solo work, do you see yourself playing with the other members of String Cheese anytime soon?

Um, I’m hoping so. I think right now we’re so psyched to be taking some time apart from each other, but I recently did a show with Kang and Keith Mosley and it was so much fun to be on stage with them again. I’m sure it’s going to happen again, but, I think, at this point it’s going to be randomly at different festivals when we hook up. We have no real plans to get together. I have been trying to get the boys to do a kids CD. I actually know a lot of kids songs, so I’m trying to get the boys to put out a kids album with me, so it’s a matter of just getting everybody motivated. But good songsI’m not going to walk in and start singing songs about changing diapersI don’t know how much that flies with String Cheese. I think that’s something I’m interested in doing and I think Keith and Billy would be into it as well.

MG- Finally, do you plan to bring your solo band out on the road later this year?

Well, I’m actually talking to my manager about that now and trying to figure out how I would do that. I am definitely tempted to do a Kyle Hollingsworth Band somewhere outside of Boulder, but the lineup is so gigantic. I would have to sort of slim it down a little bit, since it might be hard to kind of bring the Polyphonic Spree out on the road [laughs]. But I hope to bring some incarnation of my band out this summer.

Mike Greenhaus blogs at www.greenhauseffect.com, podcasts at www.relix.com/radio and sleeps somewhere in downtown New York.

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