Kyle Hollingsworth Wields His Sledge
It has been over two years since The String Cheese Incident returned from their three-year hiatus. During that time the Colorado-bred band has favored a “less is more” mentality, touring in short spurts and focusing on big, festival-style events filled with theatrical spectacles. Over New Year’s Eve, the veteran jamband returned to Broomfield, CO’s 1st Bank Center for a three-night run that featured a new, interactive light show and unique covers that ranged from Adele to Peter Gabriel. The sextet also recently entered the studio to begin work on their first proper studio album since 2005’s One Step Closer.
While aboard Jam Cruise, keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth filled us in on the band’s recent recording sessions, their recent New Year’s stunt and the time they taught Paul Simon “Way Back Home.”
Let’s start off by looking back at The String Cheese Incident’s New Year’s shows at Colorado’s 1st Bank Center. Do you have any personal highlights from the run?
The whole run was awesome. We haven’t played a New Year’s in Colorado, really, officially in ten years. I think we did one down in Telluride many years ago, so it was nice to be in our hometown. It’s especially cool when you can play a gig and drive right home. So it was three nights of music and, as always, all different nights of music, so there are always nights that I prefer over others. I think the second night for me was the most musical of them all. We were able to get into some spaces that were community-led and less about one solo happening. Everyone was really listening.
It was a cool night for me. The first night we were just getting our feet wet and then, the third night is all about the ‘shabang’—all the ‘hoopla.’ Not the beer ‘The Hoopla.’ [Laughter.], although that would have been nice too. The third night we did three sets of music and we got there at 4 [pm], so we had been playing from 4 PM to 3 AM
A full day at the job, so to speak…
Right. Not all of it was onstage, but we were there working for 12 hours.
How involved is the band with the non-musical spectacles String Cheese often employs for big shows?
This year was over the top. Thanks to Madison House and [band co-manager] Jeremy Stein and [SCI lighting director] Andy Carroll for putting this great concept together. They came to us, and we all discussed it together, but they kind of came to the table with cool, inventive suggestions. Then we went, “We like this, we don’t like this. What if we added this to this?’ We all kind of worked together. Essentially, those seeds came from them.
We did have this cool thing—I’m not sure where it came from, it wasn’t our idea—to have these LED wristbands, which were controlled by our light guy, and everybody got one when they walked into the door. So then it became this big, at least from where I was watching it, giant community. There was like this [feeling], when everybody was all glowing together. Everybody is already kind of connected when you’re between band and music, but that kind of sealed the deal in a way. It was really cool. Mainly just a visual trick, but for me, in the position where I was sitting, you just saw this space with all these colors. It was the ultimate light show. Every human became part of the light show.
Given how elaborate String Cheese Incident’s productions often are, do you feel that the production makes it harder for you to concentrate on the actual music?
Well, that’s the thing. Sometimes you forget your job and go, “Oh right, I’m supposed to be playing music now!” because you’re staring at this angel that’s flying across the stage. [Laughter.] A lot of time we’ll give ourselves songs [that] we’re really comfortable with, that ‘shabang’ moment, so we’re not tripping over forms. We’re kind of having an open jam so we can just watch. Oh yeah, and play some music too.
One new song you played this run was that surprised many fans was Adele’s “Waiting for You.” How did you end up covering that number?
It was Keith [Moseley], of course. Keith’s daughter, Emma [loves] that tune and she was playing it a lot. I don’t know if she was learning it for school or just listening to it, maybe for a choir piece. The funny thing is that Billy [Nershi]’s daughter, without knowing it, used [the song] for her senior recital. But anyway, he brought it to us and we said, “This is a frickin’ great idea!” It’s so out of left field, and we had to change the key a bit to make it work for his voice, but I thought that was really cool. I brought in Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer”—everyone brought in different songs, but that was the most unique.
What inspired the Pete Gabriel cover? He is known to mix elements of world music and rock, though in a very different way than String Cheese mixes those styles.
I saw him at Red Rocks this summer—that was definitely one of my favorite songs this year. That was the third time I had seen him. I saw him during his Secret Garden tour in ’99 and a few years later. I missed him last year so I had to see him this year, especially when he did his album So in its entirety. He did the whole thing—backwards!
In terms of other new songs, one song I believe you wrote that String Cheese has started to play is “Can’t Wait Another Day.” Can you talk a bit about that song—when it was written and how it’s entered the String Cheese family?
It’s funny, it was written about a year ago because I was unable to go on Jam Cruise because I was in the middle of having a baby with my wife. [Laughter.] And we kind of poorly timed that! Jam Cruise [or] a baby? We ran into some complications, so we had to stay home and cancel Jam Cruise. During that few weeks [while] everyone was partying on the boat, I was waiting. I had, literally, bags packed and sitting by the door and everything was accounted for. So I started putting all of the lyrics together and I had been singing this bass line [hums the bass line]. And I had been singing it when I had been hiking and one day I came back from my hike and just sat down and started playing that bass line on the piano. It was one of the songs that came out really quickly. Every verse is about waiting for the “big call.” What that could be depends on where you are in life. The call from God? I’m not sure.
Or a new family member…
Yeah, personally I was waiting for Isabelle. But I’m most proud of the fact that I was able to incorporate and rhyme the word ‘discombobulated.’ [Laughter.] How many musicians can say that. ‘Discombobulated doesn’t have to be so complicated.’ It kind of rhymes. It’s like five syllables or something.
It’s one of those things where it works perfectly in the song.
So I did that demo at my house and I brought it to [String] Cheese. We wanted to release it last year. We were all into it, but we didn’t have time to go to the studio. So when we weren’t on tour in the spring, I grabbed Billy and he came into my home studio, which is like anybody’s basement. He played guitar, went home, and then Keith came over two weeks later and put his bass part down. Then I sent it via email to Jason [Hann] and then he added percussion, [and] had [Michael] Kang sing on it. Then it all kind of came together, and we just put it out as a fun single for the summer.