"Can’t Wait Another Day": Back on Tour with the String Cheese Incident
Again coming out of that conversation with Kyle, he suggested that one of the goals was rather than just bringing demos or song ideas to the band was that all of you would work on developing new material from some of the improv that took place during the fall tour. Is that still the goal?
We multi-tracked the entire last tour, looking for little nuggets of stuff we haven’t released and things like that. We haven’t necessarily been working on taking songs and jams that we have and creating them into songs as much as we’ve been working on other songs. This practice period, Kyle brought in a couple of tunes and we’ve been cleaning up a lot of our stuff, but in the future there’s a lot of stuff that we want to get into in terms of taking whatever creative, improvisational space we have and actually continue it and turn it into something that’s more lasting.
I think in this day and age, there’s a fair amount of just trying to keep everything fresh for our fans. We’ve been adding a fair amount of programming to other stuff. Obviously, Jason and Travis have a lot to do with it, and bringing that influence into it just from their work with EOTO. But I’ve been listening to electronic music for a long, long time now and I love a lot of the stuff that’s out there. Some of it doesn’t totally float my boat but it’s nice to feel like we’re evolving and the sound of our band is evolving. If you look back at when we started out, we were playing mostly bluegrass. It’s nice to have a progression and I really hope that doesn’t change.
In talking to you right around the time that you guys decided to take a break, it seemed like some of the issues then had been how to move forward given that your interests were increasingly disparate. It seemed that things were a bit frayed. For instance the band seemed be heading in more in electronic direction than Billy might have preferred. Is that an ongoing dialogue?
I think the issue before, as individual artists and as a band for an ongoing 15, 16 years, is that we didn’t have any time to really do any other side projects, especially those of us who had a family. So with Billy and other people who had stuff going on at home, String Cheese was more or less the entire musical experience. Back then we used to exert more of our personal desires on the direction of the music creatively, and so when you didn’t get your way, you’d get more frustrated because that was your only outlet. Probably the best thing to come out of the break was for all of us to get an opportunity to do whatever we wanted to do without having to answer to anyone else’s creative desires. So Billy, for instance, got to go play more bluegrass with Drew [Emmitt] and those guys, and he still probably plays more shows with those guys than he does with String Cheese. And so the effect that had on us when we got together was we were able to recognize SCI as its own beast and as having its own special thing that’s the combination of all of these different interests coming together.
I don’t know if we’ll ever go back to the point where we’re all just making it our sole mission in life, because we’re comfortable with it now as the culmination of all of our different interests. So when we get back together and work on new stuff it’s always about desire, but I think it’s healthy for us to have other interests where we don’t have to compromise our own creative desires and it’s made it a lot smoother for us when we get together for shows now. There’s isn’t that tension of whether we play a ton of bluegrass one night or whatever because we figure it all washes out in the end. So it’s been a lot easier and a lot more fun.
Going back to your comments on Lorin and electronic music, the prevailing business model for EDM is built around sharing—just giving away music to build a fan base and then have people come out to the shows. Do you think some of that approach will impact the way that you deliver studio recordings to your fans?
There’s no doubt that the current model of the record industry of putting out records, for a band like us who has never sold a lot of albums, especially since we own our own label, there arguably isn’t that much of a point in putting a bunch of money in marketing and into making an album when you know it isn’t going to sell. So for us, it’s now more about just putting new music out and just getting it out there and making that be the impetus of it, kind of like an old model. We’re not necessarily looking to do big releases with a ton of albums, we just sort of want to continue to make music and just put it out even if it’s just giving it away for free. That’s been the focus. We’re going to be coming out sporadically just to keep the wheel in motion, so to speak. We don’t have any plans for going to the studio and making a 12-song album. The idea now is to put out more EPs and just get it out so people can listen to it.
You busted out a new original song at Electric Forest [“Can’t Wait Another Day”]. Will there be more to come over the course of the tour?
We’ve got a handful of new tunes that we’re working on getting on the repertoire more so than others. I think it’s always going to be like that. That’s something that we’ve always done. Every year we have a half dozen or so tunes to filter out.
At Electric Forest, the third night, you brought out a series of guests, like Keller [Williams] and the McCourys. How far in advance had you planned that out? Did you rehearse with them or just let it go on the fly?
The thing about the McCourys and Keller is that we don’t necessarily have to go back into rehearsal, it’s pretty easy to get together with them and bang out a couple of songs and that’s that. We didn’t have to go up to them and say, “Hey let’s play these songs.” We didn’t have to practice, we just walked out there.
Beyond the music, String Cheese often adds other elements to the shows in terms of spectacle and eye candy. To what extent do you know exactly what’s going on and how much do you like to play off of it?
We don’t get the vantage point that the crowd does so it’s kind of hard for us to know how it looks from that perspective, so oftentimes we don’t get the benefit of seeing how it looks exactly. But I think over the years after having done a bunch of theatrical things, I think we’re getting better at knowing what works and how to use it, and we’ve had ones that didn’t work out so great for various production reasons. It’s fun to do big shows, it’s just another layer of making the show unique and capturing the intention of the audience at the time. At a place like Electric Forest, there’s a lot of kids out there that have never seen us before at all. It’s a new experience for them and we’re definitely looking to get new ears onto the music and see how it stands against the test of time, so to speak.
So you don’t necessarily play off of it. Can you never see?
There’s a certain level where if you have certain props coming out there’s a timing to it. We know what generally needs to happen when for it to be most effective. But generally there’s someone calling out the cues, so it’s a two-way street.
Looking back at those orange tracksuits at Bonnaroo a year later, I’m curious to hear your thoughts.
[Laughs] We will oftentimes come up with a new idea off the cuff, on a whim. I don’t know how that idea came about but we were laughing at ourselves during that.
When String Cheese isn’t gigging it’s really easy to see what a lot of the other guys are doing but as far as I can tell, you’re relatively quiet in terms of outside gigs. Maybe you’re doing stuff out West that I don’t even hear about. Outside of String Cheese what else do you have going on?
Most people don’t realize that I bought a piece of property in 2008 and I built a house pretty much from scratch with the help of my friends. Then I had a kid. We’re about to start building our second house on the property. That’s pretty much my side project. I’m stoked to be at home and I’m not necessarily that interested in being out on the road that much right now. I’m working on the home front right now.
I did notice you’re doing a couple gigs with the Particle guys in a few weeks…
Yeah, with Steve and Eric I’ll go out and play some gigs with friends, but nothing that I’d have to commit a lot of time to just because I’m enjoying being at home. All through my 20s and 30s, I never spent time at home. So now that I have a place I want to hang out in, and Santa Cruz is pretty amazing, I want to spend as much time at home as possible.
Last question: in terms of String Cheese can you talk about tour plans for the fall or early winter?
We have nothing confirmed yet. I’m sure you guys will know as soon as we know. [Laughs]