Michael Kang, Bill Nershi and the Return of the String Cheese Incident
The November issue of Relix features the first major interview with String Cheese Incident since the band reformed earlier this summer. In the feature story, all five members of the band discuss their recent reunion shows, newest material and future plans. The following conversations with Michael Kang and Bill Nershi took place shortly after Horning’s Hideout that were not included in the Relix piece. Kang and Nershi will reunite with their String Cheese Incident bandmates this weekend for Hulaween shows in Hampton, VA on October 29 and 30.
Photo by Charlie Englar
It seemed like at Horning’s, as with Rothbury, you wore a lot of hats being not only a musician but also an artist embracing all the elements of artistic endeavors. How would you describe your role throughout the process of this whole event?
Seven or eight years ago I started going to Burning Man and I made a lot of connections not only on the musical end but also in the artistic realm. After that we started our non-profit called Our Future Now, and the goal of that is to create environmental messaging using artistic communities that specialize in using recycled materials. More than anything, it was to take a different level of artistic involvement and get messages across. Through that project we became friends with artists that were in our community and we started getting involved in the environmental messaging part of festivals, more or less trying to come up with a different way to engage people and spark an interest.
That made me become more interested in the larger scope of production and how events get pulled off because the music is one part, but then you have the production end. It’s not just about having a really good time—it’s to leave people with some tidbits that they can translate through to their day-to-day lives.
Are you still spending a lot of time working on your non-profit at this point?
The recession really slowed down a lot of the budget that companies had available for green messaging of any kind, and on the other side of that, it’s a really difficult time to raise money. We were trying to find a balance and a way to keep our boat afloat. Then I got involved in a project that became my introduction to green buildings when we bought a piece of property in Santa Cruz that my land partner developed from the ground up. We started with 7 acres, did everything ourselves, and mostly got it all built using recycled materials. It’s a full time project so we’ve been really deeply involved in that. That is one of the most amazing projects because it showed me how much you can actually go into the world using the power of Craigslist and things that people consider junk. We were able to build this really sweet 1800 square-foot house for about 60 grand. It was really eye opening to get involved and try to use as much recycled material as possible.
Shifting back to String Cheese, would you say looking back you ended up playing music more or less than you thought when the band first took this break in 2007?
I stayed involved in music although I had other stuff going on like the non-profit, which took a lot of energy to start. As a band we were involved with the first two years of Rothbury—organizing, getting the crew together, combining all the components together. That was a full time job, but at the same time I was crusing around, playing shows with a bunch of different artists, surfing in Hawaii, just kind of taking a break from it all. I was really glad to take a break from it because I’m not necessarily one of those people who want to be on the road all the time and I really enjoy connecting with the outdoors. I’ve always maintained an interest in different things but at the same time, musically with String Cheese, I’m excited that everybody’s open to a new direction.
When the band took a break, one of the reasons was that people’s musical interests were going in different directions. Were there any styles that you discovered during this time that you want to see String Cheese explore or incorporate?
String Cheese has always been an amalgamation of different people’s musical tastes. The break has been really refreshing because everyone got to do exactly what they wanted to do and now coming back, everyone enjoys the ability to delve into the mélange that String Cheese is musically. We never really wanted to define the direction we were going, we were just always open to whatever someone wanted to bring to the table, and in a lot of ways it’s almost more like that than ever.
From a fan’s perspective would it be accurate to say String Cheese takes a concert and morphs it into an experience making it into a full event?
I think it’s just different and the cool thing is being able to incorporate a larger community of people that are really passionate about what they do and it helps bring their creativity to the table. It makes it more theatre-like in some ways and I think we’ve always really had an open mind to wanting to create that kind of experience and make the music into a greater theatrical presentation—the sky’s kind of the limit. I think jambands are often put into this category of being instrumental bands so it’s nice to push the envelope and it makes it fun for us in a different way. We don’t really care about the money as much; we almost would rather create a big experience.
Musically speaking, do you have any personal highlights from the recent reunion shows, whether it was Red Rocks or Horning’s?
Yeah, something really sticks out with Jason [Hann]. There’s a couple moments when he did some vocals during Red Rocks and just a lot of things he brings to the table that have catapulted the band into a new direction. With his ability as a musician and producer, he’s able to create new stuff. It was also satisfying to see how it all got pulled off because a lot of energy went into this, all the theatrics that went into Hornings, having conference calls every week, so watching the final delivery was really rewarding.
Burning Man was something you and Travis were instrumental in bringing to String Cheese and it seems you are tapped into that world now just on the production artist side. How has that experience helped you translate things into the world of String Cheese?
I am totally in support of what Burning Man represents because I think more than anything it is an amalgamation of people really getting involved in their environment and not having it be just about what happens on the stage. I think the world needs more of that personally, where people are more involved and getting to be a part of all the recreation and production as opposed to rely on others to bring it forth. I like the idea of where it goes with entertainment and community—people like Liquid Fire Mantra. If you notice, over the years people started hula hooping at String Cheese shows and now have cliental and performance. It’s cool to witness how we’ve been a part of this growing culture with so many options going on.
Do you have any plans to go back to the studio once you have enough tunes ready, or do you want to kind of keep it live?
Right now, we have no plans, partially because I’m getting ready to have a kid and once we get done with Halloween I think we’re just going to re-calibrate what we want our schedule to be. Even this year when we started doing the schedule we couldn’t really say for sure. We just want to have fun with it, we haven’t really talked about too many plans beyond that just kind of taking it a day at a time.