Musical Risk – An Interview with Jason Hann of EOTO
Contributing Writer – Garret K. Woodward [TheRFW.com/blog/Garret]
VIDEO FROM THE CAMP EUFORIA 2010 ARTICLE HERE [http://therfw.com/2010/08/camp-euforia-2010/]
Thanks to Danny Lithin for the photograph! Your work is amazing stuff!
Crisscrossing the country like an out-of-control game of cat’s cradle, EOTO, fronted by String Cheese Incident dynamic-duo Michael Travis (bass/guitar/keyboards) and Jason Hann (drums/percussion), is a live all-improvisational electronica project in pursuit of making obstacles into opportunities within a genre vastly diluted and often over-saturated.
Coming to fruition during late-night experimental jam sessions at Travis’ humble abode, the idea soon snowballed amid a youthful curiosity each had with the latest technology and pioneering acts emerging from the depths of the underground scene.
With over 600 start-from-scratch performances under their belt during the last four years, Travis and Hann still found enough time to release three studio albums (Elephants Only Talk Occasionally (2006), Razed (2008), Fire the Lazers!!! (2009)) and two compilations (K-Turns & U-Turns Vol. 1: Fall Tour Complilation 2008 (2009), K-Turns & U-Turns Vol. 2: Best of 2009 (2010)).
Baring witness to them recently at the Nateva Music Festival, I was awestruck: “The calming, yet claustrophobic electronica presence of EOTO pulls eyes wide open, in awe of a glimpse of not only possibility and grandeur, but also the evolution of mankind. Their futuristic beats, paying homage to our ancestors, echo off sacred land with a howl to creation and its greatest assets- humanity, rhythm, and dance.”
Garret K. Woodward: What is EOTO?
Jason Hann: An all-live and all-improvised electronica band made up of [myself] and Michael Travis. We play electronic club music, going through styles such as dubstep, electro, and house.
GKW: What does improvisational music mean to you?
JH: The musical equivalent of jumping off a cliff and seeing where you end up. Musical risk.
GKW: What was your first encounter with improvisational music? When was the first time you yourself played improvisational music?
JH: I’ve seen my dad play improvised music since I was able to comprehend stuff. I was around 11 when I remember trying to make anything up in the context of a performance.
GKW: What influence did electonica have on the String Cheese Incident?
JH: Seems like it’s been around since Kang and Travis have been going to Burning Man. That was some of the inspiration for introducing acts like STS9 and Bassnectar to a larger jam-band audience. There are definitely some SCI songs like “Rivertrance”, “Valley of the Jig”, and “Bump and Reel” that are electronic inspired. Many jams from songs like “Big Shoes” and “Desert Dawn” lean towards an electronica vibe.
GKW: What influence does the String Cheese Incident have on EOTO?
JH: Creating an atmosphere where people from all different backgrounds can gather to rage it together.
GKW: What lured you towards an electronica project? What do you love about electronica?
JH: When we would do late-night jams at Travis’ house, we set up all sorts of different things to play as a duo and just have fun. Eventually Travis started using some looping pedals that he had and it felt better to play electronic grooves against them. I suggested this program called Ableton Live, which gives you so much control over each looped track. Once we started diving into that, it gave us inspiration to try and play as a live project.
GKW: How does the dynamic of only two members affect the band’s approach? Will it always be two members?
JH: It will always be two members. It works so good having Travis be in charge of the harmonic information and me being in charge of the rhythmic information. We don’t have to signal each other for key changes or groove changes, only tempo changes. This lets us listen to each other while diving into our own worlds of gear and moving on to new themes at a good pace. It’s all about the pace.
GKW: EOTO started as a side project, but now has taken on a life of its own. Did you intent for it to get as big and as hectic of a never-ending tour as its become?
JH: We were hurting when we first played out. We weren’t very good and we didn’t have a distinct sound. We tried to imitate acts like STS9, Tipper, and Bassnectar as we liked their music and that was the scene we wanted to reach out to. When we first played, there weren’t that many people that showed up to check us out. Of those people, lots of them were curious SCI fans that were turned off by seeing a laptop on stage, and, again, we weren’t very good. We didn’t have our publicity together so we weren’t getting the word out very well eithter. We knew that the only way for us to get better and create our own crowd was to just keep touring and play every night. 600 plus shows later, in four years, we feel like we found our sound and our audience and still have a hunger to get better and keep evolving.
GKW: It seems you will play anywhere, anytime. I look at the tour itinerary and it’s literally every venue from coast to coast. Why do you prefer a tour schedule like that? What do you like about playing these little known or off-the-beaten-path venues?
JH: We realize we evolve faster the more we play. After two weeks of playing every night, we’re going to sound different. Many people comment after seeing us at the beginning of a tour and at the end of a tour and notice all of the new things we’ve incorporated into our sound. Playing the off-the-beaten-path venues are great because it becomes an x-factor for us. Usually those places don’t have bands come through all of the time, so the people that know about it are more excited to spread the word so that some kind of scene can come from the opportunity. That usually creates an explosive vibe from note one. Playing places like Aberdeen, South Dakota and Fargo, North Dakota and Oklahoma City and Key West have been some of our most frenzied shows.
GKW: What do you like about playing a small venue? What about playing a late-night set at a festival?
JH: Small venues with a decent sound system is more the category we like. When the sound is good, it doesn’t matter where we’re playing, we’re usually able to get off on that. Late-night festival action is just such a party waiting to happen. People have been raging but the late-night is where they get everything else out. That’s usually where they empty the tank before sleeping. If you do a good show, it comes back to you tenfold.
GKW: What’s on the horizon for you guys?
JH: New recordings and hopefully expanding our regular tour scenario oversees to Japan, Europe, and South America.
GKW: What affect does EOTO have on the future of the String Cheese Incident?
JH: Not as much from the touring standpoint. From a musical standpoint, some of the jams may want to go into some of the styles that we cover in EOTO. Not like we’re trying to do more of it in the course of a a night, but when we do, it may take on a different flavor.
GKW: How do you stay relevant in the electronica industry, an industry which is often overrun and sometimes a very diluted genre?
JH: That’s the best part about improvising live. Electronic music is pretty disposable. There are very few songs that retain a life of more than a few years or even a few months. When we’re improvising, we’re putting out music in a rapid fire way that is inspired by what we’re listening to at the time. When we first heard dubstep, we tried it the next show we played. As long as we keep our ears open and keep developing our own sound, we stay more relevant than a producer who may not feel comfortable producing anything out of his or her style at the time.
GKW: What’s going through your head when your onstage, in that sweaty, chaotically climatic musical moment?
JH: I’m thinking, “What’s the next thing we can do to make the people dance harder?”, “What’s the next transition that’s going make people lose their minds?”, “What’s the next groove that’s gonna keep the people going?”.
GKW: What’s you state of mind right now?