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.