Q&A with Jason Hann of EOTO
It's been almost two years since jam juggernaut String Cheese Incident called it quits in 2007. Since then, things have slowed for some of the former members, while others have picked up the pace with new projects. The latter holds true for the String Cheese rhythm section of Jason Hann and Michael Travis with their current undertaking, EOTO (End Of Time Observatory). While EOTO began as a side project, with the pair indulging their looping and appreciation of DJ music in between SCI gigs, it has evolved way beyond that. While this has been a great way to reach the massive String Cheese fanbase already in existence, the two have also begun to gain momentum with new fans. Hann was kind enough to take a few minutes from his hectic travel and tour schedule to tackle a few of our questions.
Jason Hann: Both being night owls, we were looking for something to do after SCI practices. At the time I was staying at Travis's a lot, and we wanted to play different instruments and sounds than our regular pieces of the band. Travis also played guitar, bass and had one Boss looping pedal making things a little more fun, eventually using an echoplex looping pedal and just expanding from there with software and more. We really just discovered that looping worked best with electronic beats. After listening back to some recording they had down they decided that it was pretty good and people might like to hear it.
WW: There is a fine line between building up the themes and jams, layering for too long. In a genre where many bands struggle with this line consistently, giving live electronica and looping a bad rap, how does EOTO gauge the tension point of the crowd?
JH: We listen to a lot of DJs and work off it by using more movement of the music with a magic, three-minute window, getting in and moving and moving on with three minutes of each part, if the audience isn't feeling it, move on. Ultimately, we're trying to get the crowd all riled up so we use what's working that night.
WW: I imagine a lot of trial and error went into this. I'm sure you didn't start at as polished as what audiences are seeing now. What helped to craft it to where it is now and finding this three-minute window of perfection?
JH: Lots of shows, trial and error. A lot like stand up guys like Chris Rock, they will book several shows leading up to a big one and try material out and finding the best stuff. We're no different.
WW: You recently did a very unique workshop at an Apple Store in Boulder that was packed with 150 plus people. This seemed a bit odd because of the location of the performance, but also the fact it was a workshop. I've not seen much instruction or technique exploration with this style of music, how did this all come about?
JH: Yeah, this was really setup by Travis talking with the Apple guy while he was getting some phone stuff, and they said, "Let's do it!" We had done a workshop before at High Sierra last year, and it was really fun. It really gives people better appreciation of what we do, how we use hand signals and certain notes being reached for can mean things too.
WW: According to your website, I see that EOTO really takes pride in not using any pre-recorded tracks and that everything is produced live. For those new to this artistic form, can you elaborate on this?
JH: Right. It's important that people understand that this is live remixing happening, not a Wizard of Oz thing with the man behind the curtain. Many folks not familiar with this genre really see this as nothing more than pre-recorded music with a drummer playing along with a laptop. People really can struggle with this as an artistic form. I think the Apple Store demo really helps this and the people loved it.
WW: I hear you have a new album coming out. When can fans expect it? Also, I'm curious, how do you develop your musical ideas in studio versus on stage.
JH: The new album should be ready for fall tour -- eighteen tracks, played basically like a live show, but in studio. We take more time between the songs, setting each one up and play for ten minutes or more, but try to take the best five minutes. We don't really try to produce a studio version.
WW: A more technical question here: I've seen several EOTO shows in the past and immediately noticed both of you wearing headphones instead of using monitors. I'm sure that's nice for travel not lugging monitors around and easy sound checks, but why this stage setup?
JH: Yep, the only noise on stage is the drum set. A lot of times, we point the stage wedges at the crowd to give the front rows more stage noise to listen too. DJs listen mostly through headphones as well and we're just really doing the same.
WW: You have a Mishawaka show coming soon. This is a pretty special venue, and most bands really look forward to their summer tours landing there. What are your personal thoughts on "the Mish"?
JH: Our last show there was very rainy, so we're looking forward to better weather. Mish is one of the more beautiful venues you can play, so we're excited. Really, we're looking to get an annual event started up there.
WW: I wanted to stay focused on EOTO, but had to ask at least one question for the SCI faithful. When guests like Kang and Hollingsworth sit in, how do you prep and decide when, if at all, you'll dip back into the SCI reptoire? Or is it strictly EOTO material?
JH: We try to talk a little in advance on the phone and make the effort for two to three SCI songs for the fans, but ultimately, we try to stick to EOTO stuff, no set lists. We like to start with a blank slate and see what they'll do with EOTO material.
WW: And one personal question about an old project of yours...what ever happened to Zoo People?
JH: Wow! That group was together in the early '90s and ending in '97. It was kind of a mix between Steely Dan and the Allman Brothers. We signed to Atlantic records and the management was demanding that the band move to larger booking and dropping the people who helped them start out. We made a high dollar studio record but kept getting leap frogged on the release by other bands and projects. Funds were eventually frozen, Atlantic restructured and the project was dropped, probably written off. Really just a casualty of the big music business, and we all eventually had to move on.
EOTO performs at the Mishwaka Amphitheatre tomorrow evening, Friday, August 14, with Vibe Squad and Big Gigantic. Tickets are $17-$20.