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Published: 2013/02/14
by Mike Greenhaus

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.

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There are 9 comments associated with this post

Josh February 14, 2013, 12:42:58

I liked SCI’s last tour a lot, and I liked this interview a lot as well. Regarding the increasing theatrical performances, I’ll just say: Bigger Isn’t Better. I think those extravagant productions are awesome once in a while, but I really would love to see these guys abandon the big productions in favor of doing a full tour and focusing entirely on the music with very little eye candy. To a one, the best shows I’ve ever seen these guys play (and I’ve been to many) were when they didn’t have any giant production going on. Some of the last tour was like that, with only the glowing cubes and the typical lights. Anyway, I love SCI and I love the theatrical productions too, just wish they’d be fewer and farther between so they won’t lose the specialness.

CircleLimit February 14, 2013, 16:47:44

Josh, I understand your sentiment and usually I agree that less is more. SCI needs to be careful so the theatrics don’t overshadow their music. That being said, this past NYE run was incredible (I caught nights 2 and 3). The LED wristband thing was hands down one of the coolest visual “gimmicks” I have ever witnessed at a show and that includes Pink Floyd, U2, etc.
Regarding their music, I am a Phish fan through and through but my wife and close friends love SCI. I thought the 30th and 31st shows were musically impressive, fun, and well executed. I was glad I went to those shows and won’t soon forget them. This was a good interview. Thank you, Mike G.

Josh February 14, 2013, 16:55:06

Man I totally get it. I’ve been to several of their spectacles and have had a great time always. I just don’t want to see it turn into something that’s always about the shabang more than the music. I think their music stands so well on its own that they don’t need to have giant productions to go along with it all the time. But I sure won’t be bitching about it at a show :)

Brosehp February 15, 2013, 13:53:00

The LED wristband thing was done (way better) by Coldplay in 2009:

Shane February 15, 2013, 14:01:22

I agree with what you both say about minimizing the frequency of the large productions, but I would by no means say that they have been concentrating any less on music because of it. Quite the opposite, I think the fact that they have been doing these isolated incidents/ shorter runs gives even MORE time to concentrate on diversifying their music. After an isolated incident they can go back to rehearsals, switch things around, experiment with new jams, keep things fresh. As opposed to to cranking out night after night of music where they get in the same routine, get the same style and sound stuck in their head after playing nights on end, Not to mention the separation of shows brings the “special” feeling back to me. It’s not like on a long run where its just another night of cheese, just another “Bluebird” , just another “Joyful..”

Striesand Incident February 15, 2013, 16:01:52

Kyle and SCI are what happens when a person and a band believe their own hype. I feel really sorry for Kyle that he had to put in 12 hours of work in preparation for his New Year’s concert, and then had the luxery of driving 15 minutes to his house. These guys were a semi decent bar band back in the late 90s. They never grew past that and have been coasting ever since. I won’t even mention the “production” they use since it is a basic rock and roll 101 gimmick to divert attention away from the poor music.

Iamed February 15, 2013, 17:34:31

I really miss the String Cheese Incident tours. I love the shabang and all the eye candy but I need more shows. I was able to catch a few shows 2011 east coast and the Chicago shows were great! and not a lot of fluff.. The travel to across the country is very pricey but I go as much as possible because I really enjoy me some cheese.

Dave Gray February 15, 2013, 23:37:30

Kyle, Such a nice interview. Hey I’ll take a production show or a full on tour any day of the week. The element for me are the epic jams and moments like the fall tour 2012: Colorado BluebirdSky in Nashville just to name one. Hope to see you all again soon: Summer or Fall tour 2013??!!!

Sean February 26, 2013, 09:06:10

How bout some str8 up incidents? enuff of fluff!

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