Feature | String Cheese Incident - Song In My Head

Written By: Stu Kelly

:: Feature | Kyle Hollingsworth On The New String Cheese Incident Album::

The String Cheese Incident have cemented another chapter in their extensive career as they celebrate their twentieth anniversary together as a band and the release of their first studio album in nine years - Song In My Head.

The new album, which will be officially released on April 29, was recorded in Boulder and produced by Jerry Harrison, renowned producer and Talking Heads keyboardist and guitarist. Like many bands who began in the early '90s, the String Cheese Incident were deeply inspired by the Talking Heads's explosive American New Wave sound. Much like the Talking Heads, the String Cheese Incident find themselves bending genres both in the studio and on stage. Song In My Head came to fruition after plenty of new material surfaced in the band’s repertoire.

“These songs have been piling up. We were really excited to get back in the studio,” said SCI keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth. “In the past nine years so many songs were written. What you hear right now is sort of a combination of all of those years of writing - especially leading up towards the last couple of years. A lot of these songs were written in the last 24 months, so we were definitely excited to put out another album. It’s been a long time coming.”

Song In My Head boasts a collection of ten innovative songs that have been road tested over several years. These songs have seen the deepest corners of exploration, broken through musical boundaries and reached monumental peaks of improvisation in a live atmosphere. The album was recorded around the same time String Cheese Incident was practicing for their 2012/13 New Year’s run. Free from distractions, the band capitalized on this opportunity and took a very aggressive approach when it came time to capture the live energy in the studio.

“One of my favorite albums is Outside Inside and that’s sort of going back to the template I was coming from. Going in the studio and playing the songs to their fullest, I wanted to first play them live with extended jams and let them rip,” explained Hollingsworth. “The approach was to treat it like a live performance and get the energy on ‘tape.’ Then, from there we took it to Jerry [Harrison] and we could all work together and edit. In my opinion our last couple albums don’t have the energy this one does. The songs really jump out at you, you can just feel it.”

The band’s recordings of the new songs around the New Year were originally laid down as demos with long extended improvisation. Hollingsworth was actually the first one to take the hard drives home and work through the initial phases of editing. It wasn’t until the group went back into the studio with Harrison in February of 2013 that the songs started to evolve and develop their own character. Harrison was a producer that the band trusted to effectively shape the diversely influenced songs the band was creating. “Jerry had so many creative liberties that he brought to the table. I think he really helped us the most with our vocals. Nobody really made us sing with so much intention. He would quite literally change the keys to some of our songs. For example, on the title track, 'Song In My Head,' Jerry moved it up a minor because he wanted to get the best performance from Billy and he did. Right when we thought we were done we had to go back and change everything except the drums,” Kyle recalled.

The end result is an album that is quite possibly the band’s most musically tight and adeptly tied together studio effort to date. These songs ignite a sense of freshness and new inspiration but at times feels stripped down to the core sound of the band’s early years. The album opens up with Bill Nershi’s “Colorado Bluebird Sky,” a toe-tappin’ upbeat bluegrass number inspired by the mountain state that SCI has called home since their early years. “Colorado Bluebird Sky” shares a remarkable similarity to some of the band’s songs off their debut album, Born On The Wrong Planet. The song is anchored by Nershi’s vocals and finds a smooth groove as Michael Kang drops a piercing electric solo onto the song’s bluegrass foundation.

The inspiration for the beat on “Betray The Dark” comes from Kang and percussionist Jason Hann spending extensive time in Africa back in 2006, when they performed at a festival in the deserts of Mali. They hung out in Bamako for a couple of weeks exploring all sorts of local Malian music. “Betray The Dark” fully embraces the African M’balax drumming style, which is a new influence for the group on this album. Jerry Harrison was especially impressed with not only the band’s exploration of African music, but also their ability to play it as an ensemble.

“Let’s Go Outside” is a song that was originally written by Kyle Hollingsworth with Speech (Arrested Development) in one of his side-projects, 3 Foot Icon, and has become a launching pad for some of the group’s most interesting and unique styles of improvisation. The studio version crashes down with authority and absolutely captures the full range and power of the tune.

String Cheese Incident has so many extensive side projects between all six members that have a crucial part of building the band’s driving force. The umbrella of the musical genres these side projects have been involved in hit the full spectrum from bluegrass to EDM to funk to jazz and rock and roll. All of these elements come together so naturally when the band is reunited. “Side projects help the full String Cheese Incident sound come together. Everyone brings a different flavor. Everything from the electronic stuff, to the bluegrass stuff helps build a big picture. We all respect each other so much and we’re open-minded. Side projects bring a lot of great influences and that’s what the band is all about,” said Hollingsworth.

The album’s title track is another brainchild from Bill Nershi that represents the band in a lot of ways. This acoustic number has a faint bluegrass twist with some precise soloing and a strong rocking sensibility. “Struggling Angel” is a ballad dedicated to preserving the loving memory of a friend close to the band who unexpectedly passed away in March of 2012. Keith Moseley leads the song vocally and Moseley performed an early version of this song at their friend’s funeral. This song born out of the grieving process but sweetly tells a story of celebrating life. “Can’t Wait Another Day” is another song led by Hollingsworth and tells the tale of the time he spent waiting for his child to be born. “My wife was over-due and every day was like a fire drill: getting the car gassed up and the bags packed by the door. I remember wanting to write a chorus that was really hook-y but also very simple for people to sing. Something that could be sung by everyone after a first listen,” said Hollingsworth.

“So Far From Home” is a catchy, upbeat number driven by Nershi and backed by a steady rhythmic pulse. This song features a nice breakdown on the keys and Hollingsworth flexes his funky musical chops. Nearly breaking the four-minute mark, "So Far From Home" is the shortest track on the album, but it’s packed full of energy and liveliness. “Rosie” has been another interesting jam vehicle for the band in recent years and the studio cut showcases the rhythmic meticulousness of Michael Travis and Hann locked in together. “Stay Through” is led by Kang and possesses a laid-back and mellow vibe. The album closes with “Colliding,” a song that really stretches to include as many different styles of music inside one individual number. Clocking in at just over seven minutes, this song showcases the band’s diverse musical background as well as the depth of their sound.

The String Cheese Incident have spent the past twenty years building a signature sound that’s always been centered around their inspiration related to life in the ski towns of Colorado like Crested Butte and Telluride. The founding members are still in the lineup and have worked extremely hard to become the mature artists they are today.

Currently, SCI has some exciting plans that will surely make 2014 a very memorable year in their career. The band is expected to continue their Hulaween tradition, the location of which has yet to be announced, and the group will continue to host the Electric Forest Festival - where the band is set to play three shows including one collaborative effort with Lauryn Hill. Kyle Hollingsworth has also partnered up with Keri Kelly, the guitar player from Alice Cooper’s band, and The Stone Brewing Company to release a Double IPA called Collective Distortion (9.2%), which will be released nationally on May 19 on draft and in bottles.

Hollingsworth has been an avid home brewer since the age of 18. “Kerri and I flew out to the brewery and started working on the recipe together,” explained Hollingsworth “We made this beer that essentially goes to 11. We used elderberries and coriander. It was actually the first time a recipe for the Stone used elderberries so it was really cool.”

The wheels are turning on what appears to be a very finely tuned machine with so much gas left in the tank. The future is so bright for String Cheese Incident as they continue to grow musically and push the envelope in the live setting.

[Published on: 4/18/14]

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