Jason Hann: Exploring Terrain with EOTO, String Cheese and A 17 Foot Lotus Flower
Of all the members of The String Cheese Incident, drummer Michael Travis and percussionist Jason Hann ventured the farthest from their seminal jamband’s roots during the band’s three-year hiatus. Regrouping as the all-improvisational electronic duo EOTO, the rhythm section not only changed styles but switched instruments with Hann moving to drums and Travis dividing his time between bass, keyboards and other computer samplers. Though their new direction was initially met with some resistance from String Cheese Incident purists, EOTO gradually built their own audience and can now pack marquee venues like New York’s Irving Plaza and San Francisco’s The Fillmore. As they have for the past two years, Hann and Travis will split their time between EOTO, String Cheese and a variety of side groups in 2012. While on Jam Cruise, Hann sat down with Jambands.com to discuss his two primary bands—and makes a strong case that String Cheese Incident’s Michael Kang is responsible for current electronica king Bassnectar’s long-term success.
Though it is only the beginning of the year, you already have plans with a number of different projects, including EOTO and String Cheese Incident. Can you start by giving us some info on what EOTO has on tap for the next few months?
Well, this year we have some cool stuff coming up, and it looks like [at some point] we’re going to Moscow and do a show there [ed not, as of press time the show has not been scheduled]. And that’s a big deal because we haven’t done that many international shows outside of Canada. So we are super excited about getting over there. We’re really working on a bigger EOTO production set-up. For our upcoming tour we’re going to have a 17-foot lotus flower. Travis and I are going to set up inside of it and have a 3D map of it outside so it feels a space-time traveler type of setup. We want to make it feel like you’re lifting off the planet and going through space and landing on another planet—exploring the terrain or going underwater and trying to map out the lotus flower so it sometimes seems like leaves are blowing. It has an alien skin on it or a titanium skin. We’re just trying to make it like a little shape-shifter.
How did the idea of a Moscow gig come about?
Well, our manager, Coast II Coast, also does Shpongle and Infected Mushroom. And both of those groups are quite big internationally. Especially if you look at Infected Mushroom’s schedule: one weekend night they are in Tel Aviv, then the next they are in Rio and then Berlin or something like that. It’s ridiculous. So [our manager] Ron Rivlin knows a lot of the overseas people. So when he was talking to them about Infected Mushroom he said, “I have this other group that would be great.” And, you know, it’s just whether people want to take a chance on having us go over there because it’s not like we have any hit songs or anything. So they have to buy into the “it’s all improvised but it’s just as badass as anything vibe.”
Electronic music is so huge in Europe, Tel Aviv and the Middle Eastern countries in general it pop music over there.
It really is and that’s one of the reasons why I think we’ll go over well because it has been their pop music for a long time. They kind of freak out when they see people playing it live. The DJ thing is one thing but they haven’t seen many bands play that type of music live out there.
When you guys started playing in EOTO the jam and electronic scenes had started to merge but were nowhere near as blended as they are today. Is there a point where you felt your String Cheese fans first accepted your new direction?
Oh, yeah. Well, that was an interesting evolution because when we first started EOTO, we were excited about the project and when we did our first couple of tours people thought of it as “Jason and Travis from String Cheese.” So we got String Cheese fans coming out and saying, “I’m curious, let’s see this project.” But I think almost 90 percent of those fans thought we were going to do something like a Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann’s The Rhythm Devils thing. And all of a sudden they get to the show, and I’m playing drums, Travis is playing basic keyboards and there are two computers onstage. We heard so many people tell us “this isn’t real music” but we were doing what we were doing and decided to go with it.
So in a sense those first couple of tours we got a lot of String Cheese fans who would be open to seeing us and then they kind of wouldn’t see us anymore. But a lot of the younger fans were like, “Oh wow, I get what’s going on and this is a neat thing.” So it’s very much rebuilding an audience which we’re proud of. And I would say most of it still is a jamband audience but when we’ll play in St. Louis or some specific regions where we play some raves, all of sudden those kids will come to our show when we come back through that area. So it has become a nice mix.
Though EOTO’s repertoire is comprised completely of improvisations, you did record a studio album a few years back. Do you plan to record another studio disc or document your sound in a different way?
We definitely need to get something out there. I think one of the things that we’re thinking right now is to multi-track ourselves but then give it out to Bassnectar or The Glitch Mob and have them remix our live performance. There’s something about that scene where—when everyone’s remixing each other’s stuff—there’s an association thing. And that permeates throughout that whole electronic community. So if they start seeing our name associated with those acts—not necessarily in an opening band sense but in a collaboration sense—then it really translates with that audience.
In a sense, kind of like a virtual sit-in.
Yeah, absolutely. And in that sense we still have our recorded super-improvised performance and they’re taking those tracks and doing whatever with them. So, that’s a goal. We’ll see how soon that can come together.
Last year you released a highlight album of live improvisations. Were you and Travis involved in the selection of the jams on that album?
No. Travis and I had nothing to do with it, actually. We have these two kids—I call them kids but they are kind of a little bit older now—Brian and Heath who have been archiving all our music since probably our second year of being together. And as many shows as we successfully record, they go through all of them and they figure out what sounds like a song and we just let them name the song. They will give it some Dr. Seuss-type of name and we let them have fun with it. So they hear everything that we’ve recorded and they’re really, sort of the best judges in terms of what we should release. Since they are not at the shows they have a good sense of what’s coming across in terms of the recording quality.