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Published: 2012/09/25
by Dean Budnick

Kyle Hollingsworth: SCI Takes it OTR (Ten Years On)

With tickets to the String Cheese Incident year-end run set to go on sale this Thursday, September 27, we look back 10 years to our interview with SCI keyboard player Kyle Hollingsworth, which originally ran in September 2002.

On October 11, the String Cheese Incident opens its fall tour at the Breedan Fieldhouse in Bozeman, MT. The tour includes a Halloween gig at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, the former home of the Academy Awards show (The band’s “Acadamummy Awards” gig will feature costume contests, a red carpet and more- check out the details on the band’s site). In addition, the group has confirmed its New Year’s Eve run with three shows at the Bill Graham Civic Center in San Francisco on December 28, 29 and 31. Meanwhile, in the days prior to tour, the quintet is in Colorado working on its forthcoming studio release. Of course, fans who are hankering for some Cheese, can sate themselves through the group’s On The Road series, which offers live discs from the entire spring tour.

The following interview with String Cheese Incident keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth touches on these topics (alas, no Hulaween tidbits, he indicated the band was just starting to work out its plans) with a bit on Bonnaroo, guest musicians and Effortless Mastery as well.

DB- I heard recently that when you first saw String Cheese, your reaction was, “Wow, who’s that eighteen guitar player?”

KH- It was actually 16 [Laughs]. This was close to eight years ago and Billy was super young looking with no beard and really short hair. If you see one of our early press shots Billy looks like he’s about 12. I had no idea who the guy was but it really blew me away how well he was able to mic and pre-amp that acoustic guitar. I came from a rock band where the guitar was a jangly thing for rhythm really but here it was clear he had taken the time to get such a good sound out of it.

DB- For me one of the hallmarks of the band is that you guys put so much thought and effort into production. When you were playing in the smaller clubs you’d travel with your own sound.

KH- We’ve been doing that since the first days. We bought a Mayer rig which is one the Grateful Dead used. We used that when we were playing 250 person rooms. We carried that in, set it up ourselves and Kang would run the board from the front where he was playing, then run out and listen. We also had the best PA we could because the clubs we went into sometimes could make you sound really bad. It was scary sometimes, and it was all about making us sound clear.

DB- I think that’s real significant. Listeners can tell the difference even if they can’t always articulate it.

KH- Sure. Jono [Jon o’Leary] of course is fantastic with our front of house sound, so he makes it happen that way too.

DB- Kang first invited you to see String Cheese after you had played a gig with him. What were the circumstances there?

KH- It’s funny, we were just talking about this the other day. Dave Watts and I had played some local gigs and he put together a small band that included Michael Kang, who I didn’t know, on violin. Tye North was on bass. This is when I first came to town about 8 or 9 years ago. We played a gig at a coffeehouse and after that Mike said, “Why don’t you come over and sit in with us?” I didn’t have any time at that moment because I was on the road with my band Durt. But it turned out we opened for them and that’s when I was able to sit in because my gear was already there.

DB- You’re from the east, what led you to Boulder?

KH- I grew up in Baltimore and got a jazz piano degree out there. I moved out here because I had been working on the Colorado trail for a while and I thought it would be fun to move out here for the summer. I did come out for the summer but I never left.

DB- In the “Bon or Oo” section of the Bonnaroo Beacon I had asked you what you might have done if you weren’t a musician and you answered that you’d be a forest ranger. I didn’t realize that was something you had actively considered.

KH- There’s a good graduate jazz studies program at University of Northern Colorado. I was either going to go to school and continue my jazz studies or I was going to be a forest ranger and neither happened.

DB- Since you come from a jazz background, I would imagine that one of the challenges when you first joined the band was the bluegrass tunes.

KH- One of the styles I was not versed in was bluegrass. That was and still is a great challenge for me. It’s moving so quickly, it’s a bit like bop. It’s challenging. I find it entertaining though to be challenged, to sit down and figure out what I can do over this blazing change.

DB- That’s an interesting analogy with bop. I hadn’t heard that before but it makes sense.

KH- The chop to it is very much like a fast swing. That’s how I’ve been approaching it. This piano player from Alison Krauss’s band was just talking about that with me.

DB- Since we’re talking about other keyboardists, can you talk about the experience of playing with Steve Winwood at Bonnaroo?

KH- It was great. The whole Bonnaroo experience was wonderful. The traffic jam getting in was pretty hellish but no one seemed to be out of control. Everyone was really aware of each other and being careful with what they were doing as far as treating people kindly and picking up after themselves. Of course the band line-up was incredible, I couldn’t see enough music. You’d sleep in and wake up and miss like ten bands.

Playing with Steve Winwood was kind of a last minute thing because our management potentially will be working with him, so he invited us to come over to his house outside of Nashville. He brought us over and there was tons of great food, a swimming pool and all the instruments were lined up, the B-3 and piano back-to-back. I met all his kids and hung out, it was a really neat experience. When we were at his house we were playing songs, trying to figure out what song he was going to play on. He really wanted to play on “Latinissmo,” but we also wanted one that he could sing. He started singing all these different tunes but “I’m A Man” is what he went for at the last moment. It was incredible and not just as a keyboard person but the fact that his personality was so wonderful. He and Bill Payne from Little Feat have really great personalities, they’re really nice guys. It’s such a big difference when you finally get to meet them and they’re nice you’re like, “Ahhhgreat.”

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