Set long jams and massive song sandwiches. Space-themed extravaganzas and historic collaborations with legends both of old and in the making. With live accomplishments like these occurring across many shows at revered home bases such as New Orleans, Electric Forest, and Red Rocks this past weekend, it’s safe to say The String Cheese Incident are having a prolific season of touring. 2019, of course, marks the leading jamgrass group’s twenty-fifth year as a performing band, and in addition to their lauded recent sets, over the last several months they have utilized their state of the art recording space, The Sound Lab, to release several new, genre-crossing songs which also seemed to have pleased old and new fans greatly.
In the middle of all this busy progress, The Poke Around talked last week to one half of the group’s dynamic drumming team, Jason Hann, picking his brain about the run, their growing fan base, and a bit more.
Jason Hann, thanks so much for spending a few minutes today. So you’re jumping right from the Dillon shows to the Red Rocks run, starting tonight. How do you usually feel before a big three-nighter like this?
Sure, pretty good! It’s been quite a week, like last night a close friend of the band got married, so it was a full day and nights worth of hanging out. And we have been practicing pretty hard lately, as for instance today we’ll be getting into the studio for around one, which is earlier than we’ve usually done. And you know usually, for Red Rocks runs I’ll do after-parties, but this time we said, let’s not do any of that, haha. Let’s just try and get some sleep. That’s really the key to whole thing, sleep.
You’ve got some pretty cool guests lined up for each night, Cory Wong, Keller, Del. Any of them you’re most excited for? I have to imagine playing a Breathe set must be pretty fun percussively speaking.
Ooh, well Cory Wong, that’s the one that’s a little bit of an X-factor, being that he was added last minute because of Greyboy Allstars having to readjust their schedule. He is awesome for sure, but none of the band have ever even met him, so it should be interesting. But yeah, I’ve been spinning Breathe again all week long, and it’s real cool. Travis will actually be playing quite a bit of other percussion stuff with the drum set, for some different grooves than he normally does. It’ll be all about finding what things to work around in and seeing what parts to take out and what to leave in. But yeah Keller, I mean he’s so much fun, even to just be around, let alone play a whole set of music with. And then there’s Del, who’s just a really special person. So we know it’s all gonna go off.
How many times have you graced the stage at Red Rocks now? What does it feel like to return to it these days?
Oh man, I’d have to do some math but…I’m gonna say it’s in the forties zone, from my shows there with String Cheese, and then EOTO’s played there a few times. I’ve also played there with The Motet, and there’s been a few other bands as well. But it never gets old, I never get used to it, because it’s so amazing. You look at that crowd, it’s just such a unique where from the stage you’re looking at this wall of people, and you feel all of that energy the whole entire time.
So, twenty-five years for String Cheese, fifteen years for you with them. I’ll say that, after two and a half decades, it would amazing on it’s own if the band were just out still playing shows, regardless of how they went. But 2019 seems to have you guys playing some of your most invigorated, creative shows in a long time. What do you think has been helping the band maintain that?
I think, by far, it’s been seeing things in the Lab get realized over this past year. As I’m sure you know, we had bought this studio three years ago, and worked on getting it remodeled and being a really proper place for us to rehearse and record whenever we want. When we first got it, we immediately started rehearsing quite a bit more, and we knew we wanted to work on new songs. And that this was going to be a new freedom for us, producing our own songs and releasing them whenever we wanted, instead of waiting for a whole big album release plan, the way we had done in the past.
So when we started getting in our groove with it, everyone had their creative ideas, it was being passed around. Most of the time, one of the other songwriters had something different, we wanted to address everyone and make the songs as close to the vision of the songwriter as possible. So I think it’s been really exciting because everyone really feels represented, in that and as well getting their production skills up. And then we started releasing stuff, around Electric Forest a year ago, and almost all of the songs have become a part of our regular repertoire, and received really well. They all feel like they can be an active part of our repertoire. So all of a sudden, releasing all these songs, it was almost like…at least one and a half sets of extra music that we could put in there, and that made us want to feel creative with the setlists.
One of the things we did early on was that palindrome setlist, and that came together on the fly and people freaked out about it, haha. Being in that kind of creative mindset, we were like, “Well, what else can we do?” So, I think when you’re in that mode when you’re being creative all the time, and not just for a chunk of time, then you’re just always thinking about stuff to do.
Like that “Rosie.”
Exactly. Like, in some ways that really wasn’t that big of a deal, for us. But it had never been done before, and that set had been set aside to do something cool and different from a normal set. So, once we got into that mindset, ideas came and we felt more comfortable jumping off the cliff.
Can I get your general impression of how this year’s Electric Forest went?
Right, well it was of course condensed down to one weekend, instead of two, and in that it definitely takes on a whole new personality for us. Because, getting into two weekends, it feels like you’re part of an even bigger thing. But then, going back down to one weekend, and playing three nights, with String Cheese at least, it feels more like actively trying to make a statement. You know, hosting it but also trying to do something special to make it a real representation on our part. And we still had to do a ton of work out there, haha. Getting ready for the big shebang set. You know, there’s different personalities from the band, depending on what festival we’re at, and how things are going down. We almost always know what the situation is, but we still always try to reel it in to a point of, “Okay, we know we can do this one thing, but then maybe show another thing for people who haven’t seen us a lot, and this is something else that we want to bring you into as well.”
I think I might be a little closer to it, because in EOTO world, but you wouldn’t believe how many fans of that even are still like, “Oh man, you’re in String Cheese? I’ll have to check that out.” Sometimes, there’s an age that people get to…you hit twenty-four or twenty-five, say, and it’s like “Okay, I think I need to check out something else.” And at Electric Forest, you’re finding String Cheese right there, and people are like, oh, why haven’t done this before? And they see how good the vibe feels, being in the crowd and all. I can’t tell you how many people I run into that are like, “Oh man, Electric Forest two years ago!” It’s just funny how that works, but you see it more often than not, so it’s pretty cool.
From what I’ve been hearing and reading online from regular touring fans, it seems like there’s more electronic music fans coming into the String Cheese fanbase than ever before, which is kind of a cool thing to see.
Oh yeah, man. Even the whole shebang set at Forest that we do, it’s funny that it seems to bring so many random people there, just thinking, like, what the hell is gonna happen this time? Haha. But yeah, people coming into it that way is wayyy different than how people might have come into it traditionally, like through the jam scene. Like, either their parents were deadheads or kids at schools were going to crazy festivals every weekend, or whatever. So for someone who is head banging to Bassnectar or Excision or Odesza, it’s quite the leap to do it that way.
There’s definitely that mix of how people come into it, and sometimes people have different feelings on how that mix goes. But we’ve always been….well like, Kang and Travis, they’ve been doing Burning Man since the nineties, and they recognized early on that there’s this whole subculture of people just wanting to get together and wanting something different than what’s laid out to you in the mainstream. So, however you find it, it can be an amazing, positive thing. When you see people gather just to be more friendly and support each other, rather than just, “Oh, we’re gonna get so ripped and destroyed,” and from hearing bangers all night.
On the opposite side of that, did you get to catch anything at Electric Forest that you were hyped about?
Actually, not really at all this year. If I had the festival lineup in front of me right now, I could pick out names of artists and bands that I did want to try and go see during the weekend. I did take moments to walk through the grounds, and see and all the stages and everything. But, just like today, we were pretty much in practice room most of the day, and there just wasn’t time.
The one thing I will say is, just being out in the camping, with the number of renegade stages they have now, these buses that are all rigged to be able to fit like fifty people on top (haha). It’s just an unbelievable scene out there, where you’re not gonna get any sleep. It’s one of those things where, you get over to one area, you get over to one of the renegade buses, and you hear three others going on, nearby. Whereas, I remember, when I was first doing renegade stages, there was one guy, Otter from Kansas City, he had a hard time setting up near the vendors, or he was always being threatened to get shut down. It was just this one guy trying to bring a really nice PA out to general camping. And now it’s just like, oh Lordy.
Well Jason, good luck with the rest of the dates, some big ones coming up! I’ll be catching you guys at FloydFest, which is a return for you, personally, right?
Yeah! EOTO has played that one, but I don’t think String Cheese has, at least not since I’ve been in the band, so that’s something. I’m actually super excited about getting back there, just because I hear that place has been growing every year. I see the lineups every year, and it’s just seems to becoming one of those enduring festivals that has killer music consistently.