EOTO's Jason Hann on the time Dr. Dre asked him to smoke a four-foot bong in the studio
EOTO (due this Saturday, December 7, at Fillmore Auditorium) started as a String Cheese Incident side project between Michael Travis and Jason Hann, a studio musician who also played with Dr. Dre and was a member of Isaac Hayes's band. Out of the practicality of the living situations of both musicians, EOTO began as more of an electronic project that initially made forays into downtempo-oriented music. But when the duo saw DJ Skream's set at Shambhala in Canada in 2008, they were so inspired by the sheer impact of that aggressive dubstep sound that they immediately changed the trajectory of their own songwriting.
See also: Jason Hann on the early days of EOTO
EOTO has also since maintained its roots in live improv with no backing tracks, and the band has never been content with playing just one style of music. Both Travis and Hann have diverse musical backgrounds, and as such, their sets tend to be cross-genre affairs rather than focusing on one style for a show. We recently spoke with Hann about playing drums on Dr. Dre's 2001, performing in Isaac Hayes's band for ten years, and how EOTO's crowd and String Cheese's fans are as eclectic as the music.
Westword: You've performed several different styles of music over the course of your career. What did you try to do with EOTO and what inspired that?
Jason Hann: Well, we didn't necessarily set out to do a project without rehearsing with String Cheese Incident. I live in Los Angeles, and I come out here to rehearse and stay at [Michael] Travis's place, mainly because he didn't have kids. Every night, we would go to his place and set up instruments and play around.
He's been playing guitar, bass and keyboards for a really long time, so he wanted to play some drums without an audience, so it was a reason to goof around. We'd play from ten at night until four or five in the morning and have little breaks where we'd listen just to downtempo, chill music.
Whenever we jumped back to playing, we tended to go toward electronic beats. That was easier to try and do as a duo rather than try to do jazz or rock and roll between the two of us. He started using a looping pedal to make it more fun, and as we kept having more sounds, I suggested we use a computer, and at that time, Ableton was available, and we kept making those sessions more fun for ourselves.
At some point Jamie Janover was putting the first Sonic Bloom together, and he asked us if we wanted to do it, so we agreed. It didn't start out as a thing, but it became a thing, and we had to step up our game to make it happen. It just gravitated toward the electronic stuff because we had set up loops and played over static type of things, and we felt it lent itself to what we were doing more than anything else.
There were some producers I was listening to and I liked taking their albums and putting live musicians to it, like some Euro DJs were doing at that time. I just love that energy of hearing something in the normally pristine production and in the live space putting grooves and feels to it.
Who did you like at that time?
There's a band, I'm not sure how to pronounce it, or spell it, exactly, but it's like Duzak and Canyon, but they were known as sort of like a Thievery Corporation, and I think a little more Middle Eastern-influenced in the beats. They did a great double live record where they had all live percussionists and a live string section and did their DJ-record. It sounded so good.
There was another band from the U.K. called the Bays. They were an all improv group, but all their credentials, in terms of who they played with, were, like, Massive Attack and other high end, electronic powerhouses. They would do all improv shows, and they wouldn't even record their shows. The only way you could hear it was if you went to see it live. I thought that was a cool, sort of mantle that they held. Even if they played big electronic festivals, they would headline their own stage, and it was a special thing to have these guys improvising electronic music.
I don't think they're together anymore, but one of the last things they did was that they somehow worked it to do an all improvised set with the London Philharmonic using touch screen tabs. I think they got some kind of big grant, and the London Philharmonic wanted to work with them, and they had that reputation, and why not since they were so good at it. So there's several things, and Travis was in the band Zilla, which was an all improv, mostly downtempo type of thing. We had lots of things around us for wanting to keep it all improvised and all live.
How did you come to play on Dr. Dre's 2001, and what was the
nature of that collaboration?
It was funny because I went down there because he's got a guy he uses on all his records, but he was out of town. And they were trying to get a hold of Sheila E., but she wasn't available. And a guy that's played on his records before, this guy Tommy Coster Jr -- who went on to head up Interscope Japan or something like that, but was just one of the keyboard players at the time -- and I had played in some circles together, mostly just jazz together.
I was fairly new in Los Angeles, and he was the one that recommended me for the session they were having in two days. I was definitely game for it, and it was one of my first big sessions in Los Angeles. It must have been '99, and it seemed like the record took a long time to come out after I did my parts. So they called me down to Larrabee Studios, and I put as much of my set into my SUV as I could.
It was one day of recording, ten hours in the studio with him, and Scott Storch, who became a pretty big producer, and one of the keyboard players from the Roots, was also in there. I sat up in the main tracking booth. It was all mic'd up, so I could go to anything at a moment's notice.
That was an amazing day of recording, with different rappers just stopping by. I distinctively remember hearing Snoop's voice, and Eminem was still new at the time, but I remember hearing his voice going by. I have quite a few good memories, and it felt like something pretty special was going on.