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EOTO Onward

EOTO was formed in 2006 by Michael Travis and Jason Hann of the String Cheese Incident. While SCI’s sound is firmly rooted in the world of traditional jambands, EOTO’s music comes from a different place entirely. The String Cheese Incident may have been “Born on the Wrong Planet,” but EOTO has somehow found themselves in the wrong universe. The duo’s brand of in-your-face, totally improvised livetronica has gained a solid following as they continue to fill up venues across the country. These guys never play the same song— let alone the same set— twice.

EOTO is nothing if not prolific. The duo recently released their 500th live recording—which means a few thousand songs worth of original material. With every show the group builds upon its fanbase, and there’s no reason to believe they’ll be stopping anytime soon. Their latest “Bass Invaders” tour might be their most ambitious to date, as the band has added their new Lotus Flower stage set up to the mix. The Lotus Flower brings a visual stimulus to the sensory overload and adds another layer to the psychedlic onslaught that is EOTO.

We recently spoke with EOTO’s Jason Hann about the latest tour, the groups hardware set up, the Lotus Flower, the state of electronic music, the String Cheese Incident’s recent forays into the world of electronica and more. You can check out the interview below.

It seems like you guys are always on the road. Where are you now, and where are you heading next?

Yes we are always on the road. We’ve done about 800 shows so that takes up a big chunk of the calendar. Right now we’re at home but coming up we have Anaheim, CA and Flagstaff, AZ. Then the following week we do five different cities in Florida, then up to Connecticut and Portland, ME. So all over the place. This is the first tour we’re doing where we’re spending about three days at home, then heading out to the region where we’re doing shows to do the shows for that weekend, and then flying back home after the weekend.

EOTO has been together for a few years now. What kind of hardware adjustments have you guys made, and is the process now simpler than it was when you first began?

So the hardware adjustments that we’ve made, we’ve had a really long evolution. Travis used to start off with just one Microkorg keyboard, a guitar and bass, run those through a computer and use a Behringer midi controller. But now he’s gotten rid of the Microkorg and he uses a Nord Lead and Korg MS 2000 keyboard, and a Roland Gaia keyboard. He also has an iPad that runs a program called Animoog, and a Kaossilator Pro which he’s done a lot of swooshes with. In my world, I have basically the same small drum set but I got it custom made, or custom remade, with LED lights so they can blink and make colors and do some cool things. Then I use my djembe, and for the past two and a half years I’ve been singing a lot and rapping, and making lots of different sound effects with my voice. I also use three touchpads, three iPads. One runs the program Lemur, for controlling mine and Travis’s computers at the same time. Another one runs a program, OSCulator, which allows me to control separate things on my computer. The third iPad runs a program called OnSong. And then we have one more separate computer that records all of our live shows, so at this point we’ve recorded over 500 live shows that people can download.

What are the conversations between you and Travis before an EOTO show like? Do you guys talk about what you’re going to do or do you just wing it?

Well we don’t talk about anything musically, just maybe something that happened during the day or just joke around. We really don’t say anything about the music until we’re actually on stage and we have our ear monitors in. And then it’s kind of like “Oh well what tempo do you want to start out with?” “I don’t know, what tempo do you want to start off with?” and then at this point I just let him do something wherever he wants to start and then we go from there. We have an audible sound of a click in both of our ears that the audience doesn’t hear, and that’s what lets us both know what tempo we’re locked into, so that all of our delays and all of our effects match up to that tempo. If we’re creating loops or recording parts on top of each other then that click keeps us aware of where the beat is. The process though, I don’t know if it’s necessarily gotten harder but its gotten more complicated — very complicated if you’re trying to jump into it for the first time. We’ve had such an evolution over so many shows. You get used to one thing and then you’re adding another thing and then you get used to that and you add another thing. Pretty soon it gets pretty overwhelming to accurately explain all of the things we’re actually doing in the moment. But for us, I have my big instrument that includes vocals, drums, and touchscreens to do live remixes and perhaps control over our entire sound. And Travis has his world of touchscreens and keyboards and midi controllers and that’s all just one big instrument for him as well.

How big of a factor is the crowd’s energy in determining how or what you guys are going to play?

The crowd is a huge factor when it comes to how we approach it. Sometimes we play a festival like Electric Zoo where people don’t know who we are and its more of dance, techno or straight up DJ type of event, and we’re on a slot that introduces us to that crowd. We gotta play it by ear depending on what it feels like. We’ll jump into it and we’ll search around and eventually we’re going to grab the crowd and take them on a journey. And then there will be the occasional people there who alert the other people that they need to get down to this right now. If we’re playing our own show, we really just do whatever we want but when we look out in the crowd we see how they’re dancing to a thing or if we’ve stayed in one genre for too long. If we’re doing dubstep and its loud and aggressive for twenty minutes then our fans are going to want a little bit of a break from that and we’ll switch to glitch hop then rev it up to drum and bass and then bring it down to some downtempo chill type of thing. When we feel like we’ve got the crowd and we’re taking them on a little journey, then we do that and when we feel like they don’t really know us yet then we gotta do a little bit of searching to draw them into what we’re doing. But its all about feeding off the energy of the crowd. It helps us push to the next place that we need to go to.

The new Lotus stage setup is pretty incredible. How would you describe what its added to the EOTO live experience?

Finally we have a visual accompaniment to what we’re doing live. Zebbler [who directs the visual elements], he’s doing all the video on the fly like we are with the music, reacting to where we’re taking things musically, and accompanying that with a visual that enhances the audience’s experience. Something that we’re working out is, we’ll find that a lot of people that know that we’re playing the instruments live and that know we’re making the stuff up on the spot, they want to see us play our instruments. And sometimes with the visuals, with the Lotus projection, sometimes when that’s going on we get sort of silhouetted and its a bit tricky to see what we’re doing. But it’s kind of like the music, every night it gets better, you need to make little adjustments here and there and its a really good team, the way we work together and react. The visuals and the projection mapping on to the lotus sculpture has really grown with us musically as well.

How long do you guys plan on touring with that setup? Do you have any ideas for future lighting rigs?

We toured with it in the spring and had a lot of fun with it but there were a lot of venues that we went to that were like “Oh we can’t really fit it as well as we thought we could.” There were some times where we really wanted to show it off in certain areas but we didn’t get to because of how much we were touring. We did a whole summer of bringing it to most of the places that we played and introducing a bunch of people to it, we’re hoping that carries over into the fall as we go back to other cities. We’ll see how it goes in the fall, as far as if people are catching on and telling their friends “Listen you gotta see this again” and depending on that we’ll see how we adjust things from there. We already have a bunch of ideas, probably projection mapping based. I really love that format, it seems so flexible and you can do so many things artistically with it. But we’ll see how this goes for the fall, we’ve got a lot of shows coming up.

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There are 11 comments associated with this post

Josh October 12, 2012, 15:56:06

Best sign I saw on Cheese tour this summer: “Don’t womp my Cheese!!” Amen to that. Dubsteb is a pretty divisive type of music, I don’t get why Hann would be stoked about irritating half of the fanbase by throwing it into songs. Maybe half of them do love it, but for the half that hate it, why go there? There are about a million dubstep acts these days, we can go see them whenever we want, and many of us don’t want to hear it when we’re going to a Cheese show. They busted it out during “Joyful Sound” at Hornings this year. Well, guess what? Dubstep isn’t a Joyful Sound. I love the fact that they’re experimenting, but I’d be just as turned off if they were experimenting with death metal as well. I just hope they get bored with it soon and keep it in EOTO.

peachhead October 13, 2012, 20:20:08

Like you said, dubstep is divisive- meaning some people really like it, and furthermore many DO want to hear it during a cheese show and probably think there are about a million bluegrass acts these days, and we can see them whenever we want and don’t want to hear it when we’re going to see a Cheese show. For all I know, the half that love it hate the old school bluegrass and rootsy music I’m actually more of a bluegrass/jazz/ rock guy myself, but I’m playing devils advocate simply because this is an argument that is extremely old and reminiscent of when Cheese started to get more of a rock sound around 2001 and the old school fans were complaining. Point being, the rock and whomp are here to stay, it is what it is. One of the most defining things about cheese’s fanbase, in my opinion, is how divisive the fans are about the sound and direction of the band. Some of my best friends swear by the grass, some of my other friends think nershi is the weakest link in the band.

Harry October 13, 2012, 21:14:22

This year at Red Rocks Cheese opened with a great version of Rosie. They then jammed into Party Rock Anthem, which is fine, except for the fact that I looked at the stage and noticed that Hann and Travis were the only ones playing, while Nershi and Moseley were just sort of standing there disappointed. That was the first moment when I wanted to slap Hann in the face.

Josh October 14, 2012, 16:54:57

I’ve never really been critical of their musical direction before. I’ve never seen them as a bluegrass band, and I’ve enjoyed their transition into electronic music. I have NOT enjoyed their transition into dubstep. Yeah, maybe there are a lot that like it, but until SCI decided to toss it into the mix, not a single person went to an SCI show to hear dubstep. Not one person. Nobody was out there wishing and hoping they’d play it. So I think your devil’s advocate bit falls flat, really, because the dubstep kiddies will go see them whether they play it or not, whereas those who hate it will simply stop going to Cheese shows if they keep it up. Also, to be clear, I don’t actually hate dubstep, but I definitely have to be in the mood for it, and the time I am least likely to be in the mood for it is when I’m listening to SCI. It sounds like ass in their music and I frankly think it is beneath their level of talent.

honeynoats October 15, 2012, 18:42:47

I agree with a lot of what’s been said here. I truly love them pushing the envelope and taking risks that they know might be a surprise to some people, and I don’t ever want them to stop that. One thing that I love the most about Cheese is that there’s no way you can categorize them. They’re not bluegrass, they’re not rock, they’re not electronic, or jazz, or afro cuban, or calypso, and on and on; they’re all of those and then some. It’s amazing, and I love them trying new things. But that said, Desert Dawn, for me, is one of the most happy cheesiest songs there is, and when they brought that darkness it was a very unpleasant surprise. Bollymunster, for example, is a song that’s very unique, and strange, and the first time I heard it I was surprised, but then thought, “well damn, I can really get down to this,” and I like it. The thing that I didn’t like about the dub in Desert Dawn was not only did it totally pull me out of happy cheeseland, but it sounded the same as it did at the forest. That’s why we listen to jam bands, to get different tastes of songs every show, and it just sounded bland and lame. I get them wanting to just throw a huge curveball, I’m into it, but I want it to be a unique curveball, not just “okay, here it comes, hit play….now.” That’s why I also disliked party rock anthem a lot, it was just like, okay, and go. It wasn’t like, let’s take this a new direction and cover something that’s totally uncharacteristic, it was hitting play. If they had actually played the song I would’ve found it hilarious and danced hard, instead I just stopped dancing and was really sad for a couple minutes. That’s really my main point. As Josh said, it’s below their level of talent. If you wanna throw dubby stuff in there, do it, I’m open to it, but play it, get weird and funky and PLAY the music, I don’t go to a Cheese show to have them just hit play and go to a recorded track, I want to hear them improvise and jam and explore.

Alex October 15, 2012, 17:15:09

Have to agree with Josh’s post. Don’t alienate the folks that go see the boys because they love THEIR sound. I understand the band has always been about pushing their boundaries forward and constant evolution, but a direction that infuriates easily around half of the crowd doesn’t seem like the way to go. Such a downer, IMO, when they dropped off into desert womp at red rocks….. couldn’t wrap my head around the why behind that one Just my two cents.

Cheesestep October 15, 2012, 17:33:54

I wasn’t at Red Rocks but I really enjoyed the womped out Desert Dawn at Electric Forest. Sure it would be lame as hell if they did that kind of thing all the time but once a festival or once a 3-night run is totally fine with me. Catches everyone off guard and blows the lid off the party for 5 minutes, so I’m down. How many other bands can go from playing bluegrass to latin jazz to rock to dubstep in a couple of song? None but the Cheese my friend. Like he said, these guys are always evolving and songs like Bollymunster and Bumpin Reel and are the next step. I could really do without the Jason raps though, that has no redeeming value.

Chris October 15, 2012, 18:06:01

I’m all for musical exploration. I went to my first rave about 5 years before my first Telluride Bluegrass, and have a special place in my heart for both electronica and bluegrass. What attracted me to the Cheese in the late 90s was the freshness of their sound, which I still often hear in their music (in fact more so this year than from 05-07). However, there have been occasions where I’ve felt like Cheese was trying too hard to emulate somebody else and ended up falling flat. The best example is the 2002-03 timeframe where I first started hearing STS9-style electronica creep into sets. I’d heard Travis talk about his great respect for that band, and around that time Cheese started taking more and more jams the electronic route. At first i didn’t mind, because experimentation may not always be pretty at first, but when I felt like every 3rd jam went electronic I was turned off. The problem is Cheese is not an electronic band, they don’t have the roots or the chops to lay down the same level of electronic music as other players in the scene. For example, Billy is totally lost on stage during an electronic jam. So, instead of seeing a band creating incredible music unlike anything else I’d heard, I saw a band creating mediocre music much trying to sound like a lot else I’d heard. The electronic stuff they play today is quite a bit better, and I fully agree with Cheesestep that if it happens every once in a while it can really blow the doors off. (I was OK with the electronic section of Joyful Sound at HH). But, I also appreciated the version of the sticker I saw at HH which said “more grass less womp”.

Josh October 15, 2012, 20:28:10

I didn’t mind the earlier transition into electronic music (a la Sound Tribe, as someone else commented) at all. The reason is because they can jam in it. I kind of disagree that Billy doesn’t do much during the electronic jams. I’ve been front row at many SCI shows (not bragging, just trying to illustrate that I could see very clearly what he was doing on stage quite a few times; I spend plenty of time at the back of the crowd dancing as well), and I think he fits in just fine, at least at the shows I’ve been to. The EOTO style of dubstep is a harsh, disphonic, and frankly annoying sound that doesn’t fit in with the style or quality of the rest of their music. When they go into dubstep, the transitions sound forced because the style of music simply doesn’t fit. It’s not that I hate dubstep, it’s that it doesn’t work in their music. Thus, I like some dubstep, but not when it’s the EOTO womp womp womp womp mixed into SCI jams. Look, some things just don’t work. Who would be stoked if they played Howard and turned it into a death metal jam? Nobody, that’s who. If they had done the dubstep thing once at Electric Forest, I would’ve been OK with it as it sort of fit with that festival, but they’ve done it 3 times that I know of, and that looks disappointingly like the beginnings of a trend. Just knowing that at any time I may be subjected to that harsh, grating, disharmonious, EOTO style button-mashing makes me not want to go anymore. To a lesser degree I have problems with songs like Rosie. Although I like that song, I cannot comprehend why they need to lay down a pre-set drum track over the song when they have two fantastic drummers right there on stage. Maybe at the next show they can have Billy lay down some pre-recorded guitar tracks so he can try to crowd surf without having to stop the music. I’m kidding of course, but if you wouldn’t play a fake, recorded guitar piece live, why in the hell would you do it for the drums? I love this band, I really do, but it’s things like that and the dubstep nonsense that have me really wondering how much of a future this band has (well, that and the fact that they don’t do real tours anymore).

Jake October 15, 2012, 21:11:48

SCI is easily my favorite band to see and they can play just about whatever they want to for all I care. Bluegrass electronica bhangra bluegrassiness awesometastic. And I think its great Hann and Travis can have an awesome side project playing whatever the hell kind of music they want to. It would be totally boring if all the guys SCIde projects sounded just like SCI. I Like music. Pretty much all of it.

Jake October 15, 2012, 21:13:02

SCI is easily my favorite band to see and they can play just about whatever they want to for all I care. Bluegrass electronica bhangra bluegrassiness awesometastic. And I think its great Hann and Travis can have an awesome side project playing whatever the hell kind of music they want to. It would be totally boring if all the guys SCIde projects sounded just like SCI. I Like music. Pretty much all of it. October 15, 2012, 22:22:05

I enjoy reading these comments and tying not to offend anyone, but I must say that some of you are taking this too serious. Its just music, but you can view as a metaphor if you wish. For an example, I see bumper stickers that read, “Co-exist” all the time. Now, you know it’s meaning is for respecting different religions, believes, life styles, or just celebrating differences in people. I believe that most people would agree.
Let’s us try to apply this same philosophy to this particular topic. I am a big Cheese fan and have been for years. I would even go as far as to say that I’m one of the “Old Schoolers.” One of the reasons that I love this band is because I think they are bridging the gap of genres and generations. So many people get caught up in their genre of choice, and bash others. I’ve been at this for a very long time, and it’s the same conversation over and over. I try to approach life with an open and accepting mind.
I like everything this band creates. The dubstep doesn’t bother me, in fact, I like when they throw those curve balls. The problem that a lot of my friends have with it though is that the younger fans don’t get want its like to love and respect one another. They’re too concerned with getting blasted. So, I approach it as a teacher, and teach kindness through my actions. What I get out of Cheese’s music is that it’s OK to “Co-exist” in EVERYTHING. So, I say go to their show and relax, smile, love, dance, enjoy, and get cheese all over your face!

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