Kyle Hollingsworth Wields His Sledge
It’s one of the advantages of modern technology. You can record across the country, or at least across state lines. In terms of some other new songs, it has been two years since you guys resumed actively touring. Can you talk about some of the other new originals that have worked their way into the band’s setlists? “Colorado Bluebird Sky” “Rosie” and “BollyMunster” all have very different styles but have all been well received.
Well, “[Colorado] Bluebird Sky” I love. Bill wrote that song and brought it to us but I think what I like about that song is that we ‘cheeseified’ it. It’s so funny, everybody cheeses each others’ songs. It was pretty much a straight-ahead, well-written bluegrass tune but then in the last six months or so, we added this really nice extended jam in the middle. So for me, that makes for anything to happen in the middle, which I think is good for String Cheese. I think it plays on our strengths.
“BollyMunster” came about while we were rehearsing up at Billy’s. Kang really wanted to bring that kind of [Indian/Bollywood] style in and Jason was into that sort of music as well. I was actually listening to it too, believe it or not. We kind of took a fiddle tune called “Star of Munster,” which is where the title comes from, and then we kind of “Bolly-ized” it and brought in that Bollywood feel. We added a lot of electronics in there. It’s intriguing where we’re going with electronics. More and more of it is creeping in. Not necessarily purposefully. That’s another reason why I like “Can’t Wait Another Day” or “Bluebird Sky”—they’re kind of harping back to more traditional, less electronic based stuff. But it’s so much fun [the electronic music]. “Rosie” is so fun to play because it’s so thumping.
You mentioned that the electronic influences are creeping into the band. Have you personally been listening to that style of music recently?
No, I honestly have been getting more into world beat music. I would say that I’ve been getting into it more now, but I’ve been listening to it for a long time. A few years ago, I was listening to Gigi, an Ethiopian singer. I have a large enough iPod now that can actually put songs on here. Tinariwen, Debo Band and then, if you go down, I have Hot Chip in here. And then Kraftwerk. I went back and listened to the old Kraftwek. There’s Radiohead of course, The Crusaders, Beck…
*We are currently a few days into Jam Cruise. Of the bands on Jam Cruise, what have been your highlights so far? *
One of my highlights was Brokedown in Bakersfield. It’s the steel guitar—it makes you cry every time you hear it. It doesn’t matter what it is. It’s one of those instruments, and it’s so legit for me. I just hear it and I get.
I don’t listen to a lot of [modern] Americana but when I do I always [think it] feels like country, and it seems totally legit to me. I’m like, “Wow! It’s this eight-bar thing it isn’t this huge expansive moment.” Everybody says their statement and gets out.
You are an artist-at-large this year. Can you talk about some of the bands from the jamband scene you have been listening to that you’ve been able to sit in with?
On this boat I’ve been playing a lot, actually. I sat in with Hot Buttered Rum. I enjoyed playing with them. They’re definitely in the jam scene.
Also, Railroad Earth I really enjoy listening to. I had a blast playing with last New Year’s. I learned a lot of their songs and played with them in Colorado.
It has been a few years since you released a solo studio album and even longer since String Cheese has released a full-length album. Are you writing toward any project in particular project at this time? Can we expect String Cheese to release a new album this year?
I’m very anxious. I’ve been doing a lot of writing. Some of it’s gone to String Cheese, [while] some of it has not—just because mainly I’d love to play as much of my music with String Cheese as I can. Everything’s better when you bring it into a larger group like String Cheese. When it’s my personal band—who are awesome— they’re like, “Ok, how do you want to play it?” I really miss the feedback, like “Oh, this really sucks, move that there.” I want Billy to kick my ass sometimes, you know? He makes me a better songwriter. So anyway, I’m excited to do a new solo album, but String Cheese has been working on a new studio album.
In fact I have a few songs we recorded on the boat—we just recorded around the Christmas Jam about a month ago. We went into the studio for ten days and recorded a lot of the newer stuff like “Bluebird,” and we’re going to go back and record some brand new stuff. So I think we’ll have an album coming out—it’s been kind of hard to meet and focus on putting an album out when some of our material is already being used for String Cheese. I’m editing it right now on the boat and then we’ll go do overdubs within the next month or two. I am not sure when it will come out though but hopefully later this year.
Are you self-producing it?
There are rumors of [Talking Heads’] Jerry Harrison, or [Los Lobos’] Steve Berlin, so definitely I think we need help. I’ve been listening to it more than anybody, probably, and it actually sounds pretty good. But it’s nice to have, like I said, another ear on it. As for my solo band, we have a couple of shows in March, so I’m tempted to go into the studio with them. Once you do a couple of shows, it’s best to jump right in the studio because everything is fresh. So I’m tempted to book at least four days, get a picture of my moment in time with that band because we started getting pretty tight, you know? So I want to grab all these new tunes I’ve been writing with them and get them down and maybe release it.
Have you found that releasing stuff that has digital singles to be helpful, or make it more of a cohesive statement?
Right, I know. But does String Cheese ever make a cohesive statement? That’s the question. All of our albums are a little eclectic. [We range] from Latin to bluegrass, funk, rock. I don’t really know what the answer is. I wish you could tell us. We’re kind of just now in the creative aspect of it, so I’m not sure exactly what we’re going to do.
It is interesting. Ever since the mp3 came along people have started to think more about singles, which was the most popular way to release music since The Beatles reinvented the wheel in the ‘60s.
Right. So maybe there is a better way? Obviously this is not a new conversation to me, but we haven’t released any new media recently, so I don’t really know which is the best way to release it.
Speaking of social media, I saw a twitter picture of String Cheese rehearsing with Paul Simon a couple of years ago. When was that from?
I want to say it was around 2003 or 2004. Right before he won the Lifetime Achievement Award—and right after he reunited with [Art] Garfunkel again. So before all that, he was willing to experiment with different bands. He was looking for a kind of a new thing and we were looking for a new thing, so [SCI manager Mike] Luba put us in touch with each another, so he said “Great! Let’s do some shows together.” He flew us out there we learned all the material and, next thing I knew, I was playing “Bridge Over Troubled Water” with Paul Simon.
Paul Simon sang “Way Back Home” with us. So we did two days of rehearsals and nothing ever happened. We did two days and said “Let’s figure out a song for the summer” and then I think like a month or two later, he won his Lifetime Achievement Award. I actually have the recordings of that. I have a minidisc, so I kind of want to release it at some point.
You played with moe. on Jam Cruise this year. String Cheese and moe. have also lived somewhat parallel lives. Do you remember the first time you played with them in the ‘90s?
Well, I think the first time we had done a lot of major touring was the very first Summer Sessions tour. It was us, moe. and Strangefolk playing in Nantucket. We were all a lot younger back then. Yes, and I had always been blown away. I wrote them and I said “Hey. I’d love to sit in because your band rocks so hard.” I love their songwriting style and electric flavor. They have such a wealth of fantastic music.
I think it is important to play music outside your comfort zone. One time I went out with The Fiery Furnaces, and that was so much fun and so far out of my element that I kind of yearned for that little bit more.
It must be cool to see how your style could mix with a different approach to the music. The ‘stoic hipster’ approach.
[I’ve been] talking to Anders [Osborne] a little bit, maybe doing some shows with him. That’s definitely in the jam scene. I’m trying to be around as many songwriters as I can.
Had you played with him before Christmas Jam?
String Cheese has for sure. I did a couple of short tours with him. Just me, Anders and his tuba player once, and then me, Anders and George did a few shows. So yeah, I have a history. He’s doing much better now. I’m excited to do some shows in that realm.