Interviews: Jason Hann of EOTO

Jeff Pearson, October 16, 2010
Originally published by Life’s Sweet Breath

Got the chance to ask Jason Hann of EOTO and String Cheese Incident about how he and Michael Travis manage to bring three hours worth of improvisational expression night in and night out. EOTO is currently on the road, burying towns under piles of bass and high energy electronica. We find out about where the music scene is headed, in his eyes, and how he’s playing his part in getting it there.

Tactile Tracks: As a veteran of the live music scene, how have you seen the musical landscape change over the years?

Jason Hann: There’s been a really big push in the festival/jam scene towards DJs and electronic music. Seems like all of the late nights are geared towards it and it’s bringing in the next generation of festival and concertgoers adding another genre to the scene. All the groups that are growing at really rapid rates seem to come from this zone.

Tactile Tracks: When creating on stage, what role does the crowd play in the direction the music turns?

JH: It’s huge for EOTO. There’s a certain amount of moods we like to establish and we balance that between the feel of the crowd. If the crowd is digging a particular style of music that we’re doing, we’ll hang out there a little longer than usual. Then we’ll get away from that but note to ourselves to come back to it. We don’t talk about it, but we both feel it.

Tactile Tracks: Is there a specific show you can recall where you felt the music reach another level of creativity, or one in which you felt was an obvious stand-out?

JH: That’s a tough one. Our show in Lincoln, NE last week at the Bourbon Theater was one of our favorite shows for how we played and how much it felt like we were both one with the audience and guiding their journey.

“There’s a certain amount of moods we like to establish and we balance that between the feel of the crowd. If the crowd is digging a particular style of music that we’re doing, we’ll hang out there a little longer than usual.”

Tactile Tracks: Has there ever been a time where you’ve felt creatively stifled?

JH: It’s been a long time since we’ve felt that. It seems like the more we play, the more we realize how many different places there are to go throughout the course of a performance.

Tactile Tracks: When it did happen, how would you deal with that, being in such a true live setting?

JH: It was really hard when we first started. Our direction was based more on, what are the kids checking out and let’s tap into that more. When we started making up our own rules, musically, the ability to explore and consciously avoid what we would previously do came a lot easier.

Tactile Tracks: Where does the inspiration come from, night in and night out?

JH: Having the confidence of being able to put on a raging show and then constantly trying to top it the next night is a powerful motivator. Also, knowing that the more we play the better we get is a great motivator. It’s also easy to look at the crowd and feel that energy and transfer that into music. Every city is different and it feels like our music reflects that.

Tactile Tracks: Do you approach a show with any ideas on where to start, or any specific sounds you want to touch on throughout?

JH: We know we’ll hit some dubstep, electro, house, psy-trance, and hip hop throughout the course of an evening. Other than that, it’s completely random.

Tactile Tracks: Can you cite any extra-musical inspirations, such as visual artists or film directors whose work influences the way you create a live musical experience?

JH: For me, Brian Eno’s “77 Million Paintings” comes to mind. It’s a collection of all of his paintings that has some computer-generated process that randomly morphs one of his paintings into another. Along the way, all sorts of art is created as the morphing process continues. That same combination of the super organic and the computer-based project that also helps us create the way that we do onstage.

Tactile Tracks: You have adapted to the changing climate of the way fans can acquire music, by making most of your performances available online. In a way this has created an entirely new market over the past few years. What sort of reaction have you seen towards this method of releasing music and making more music available to the fans?

JH: Nothing but good things has come from this. It takes us awhile before we can get together with the idea of setting up in a studio, and record a studio CD. In the meantime, the performance we did last night is the freshest and most up to date version of us. Our fans love to hear our latest performance to see if we’ve added different things to our sound.

Tactile Tracks: One thing I’m sure fans would love is a live DVD release of a show. This way they can get a true sense of what goes into creating an EOTO show, from all standpoints. Are there any plans for such a release in the future?

JH: We did a video recording of our show at the Fox Theater (Boulder) earlier this year. We’re hoping to get that done before Fall Tour gets underway. We’ll see…

Tactile Tracks: Shifting gears, with huge runs at Red Rocks and Hornings Hideout behind you, and Hulaween in Hampton to look forward to, how are things going on the String Cheese Incident front?

JH: All is good there. We’re rehearsing SCI during the week and doing EOTO shows on the weekend. We’re super psyched about Halloween weekend and have a special Halloween set planned.

Tactile Tracks: Can you clue us in on any plans for 2011?

JH: It’s looking good for SCI Winter Carnival. EOTO will start a tour the following week. We’d love to do an international run at some point. We’ll see what happens.

“Most pure improvisational music, like avant guard jazz, assumes that to improvise all night, you have to sound “out” and that is not too accessible, let alone, danceable.”

Tactile Tracks: What is the difference in how it feels to create live music in a larger band setting with the String Cheese Incident, as opposed to when it’s just the two of you in EOTO?

JH: Very different. In SCI there’s many more people involved and you want to be sure you’re addressing everyone’s creative, musical, and personal needs. If that’s taken care of in practice then it makes the live shows flow better for us, and hopefully that translates to the crowd.

In EOTO world, Travis is taking care of most of the harmonic content and I’m taking care of most of the rhythmic content, so we can both explore our respective areas at will. We don’t have to rehearse, so there’s no pressure to remember things so it’s hard to “mess up”. We just turn mistakes into another creative flow usually before the crowd realizes what happened.

Tactile Tracks: Is one more rewarding of a feeling than the other?

JH: It’s different, not better, for me. With SCI, when we feel like all of our hard work has paid off, it’s a great team/brotherly victory. We work hard to keep things interesting for all of us, and the fans. Rocking an audience the size of Red Rocks (10,000 people) is a pretty amazing feeling, especially with the unique fans that SCI has.

With EOTO, it’s kind of a monumental thing to think that we can just make up stuff for 3 hours a night and have people dancing their butts off to it. Most pure improvisational music, like avant guard jazz, assumes that to improvise all night, you have to sound “out” and that is not too accessible, let alone, danceable. Other types of improvised music (jazz, rock, funk) rely on some kind of form, song, or series of chord changes to allow a player to improvise from. In EOTO we jump off that cliff every night without a net, so it’s very rewarding to see the reaction of the crowd to stuff that we didn’t plan out at all.

Tactile Tracks: On that note, you’ve played so many styles throughout your many projects over the years. From world and jazz to hip-hop and electronica, with everything in between. Is there a particular style you feel most comfortable with or have the most fun with playing?

JH: I love the intricacies of any style of music. There’s a way to pick things up in casual way where you “get” the music and can sort of play the notes in order and “get through” a gig. When you take that further down the road, there’s another level of intimacy, with any musical style, that you get from digging in to the point where you can faithfully represent the essence of the style of music that you’re playing. Whether it’s the “swing” of a New Orleans shuffle, the movement of a Cuban bata ensemble, the precision of electronica programmed music, the rawness of punk, or the sway of the Dununba rhythms of Guinea, West Africa. There’s a swagger in all of these styles of music that come from the same source whether it’s steeped in tradition or the latest created sound. I love it all, because it all offers incredible insight into the expression of vibration through sound. When you go in deep, you’ll always be rewarded with a nugget of brilliance somewhere on the journey.


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