Bill Nershi: Salmon & Cheese, Unplugged

By: Stratton Lawrence

Bill Nershi by Duffy
The String Cheese Incident did as much as any band out there to break fiddle and mandolin into the jam band scene, but as their following grew, the desire to break new musical ground led them toward an increasingly electrified sound. When the band dissolved last year, guitarist-singer Bill Nershi initiated the breakup, citing concerns about the move toward electronica that the music was taking. He's said that he often felt unsure about his role when a song moved toward trance-like build-ups. In the aftermath, Nershi solidified his friendship with Leftover Salmon singer and mandolinist Drew Emmitt. And between their Emmitt-Nershi Band and Honkytonk Homeslice, (Nershi's acoustic project with his wife Jilian and Scott Law), he appears to have regained his stride.

JamBase recently caught up with Nershi to hear his thoughts on returning to bluegrass, playing the small-club circuit and the possibility of any future Incidents.

JamBase: Just a few years ago, you were leading one of the biggest bands on the jam band circuit. Heading out on the road with the Emmitt-Nershi Band last fall, you played a lot of smaller, intimate venues. What's the transition been like for you?

Bill Nershi: It's nice just to take a little pressure off the situation sometimes. Some of those shows with String Cheese in the last couple years, there was a lot of expectation - a lot of pressure for a big performance. You know, it's still fun to play and everything, but right now, getting back into some of the smaller rooms, playing with Honkytonk Homeslice and the Emmitt-Nershi Band, you feel like you can let it fly a little bit more and you're not as tensed up about having to have a perfect performance.

JamBase: With Emmitt-Nershi, you're playing songs that String Cheese fans will be familiar with, like "Restless Wind" and "Black Clouds," in a traditional bluegrass style. How has it been reworking them without elements like drums, keys and electric mandolin?

Bill Nershi - SCI Press Shot
By C. Taylor Crothers
Nershi: Well, a song like "Black Clouds," when I was writing that I kind of heard in my head what it would sound like. The beauty of String Cheese is that it's like, "Oh! Wow," you take this song that I thought would sound like this and it becomes a whole different thing. And that's exciting, but now when I play it with the Emmitt-Nershi Band it's like, "Oh! That's the way it sounded in my head when I was writing it." For me, it's like resetting my musical buttons, getting back to bluegrass and checking back into that sound.

I was a String Cheese fan back in the '90s when bluegrass still seemed to be the band's focus, and I think some of my tastes evolving and turning to more appreciation for electronic music definitely coincided with String Cheese's transition. What's been the response from some of those old-school fans, maybe out in Colorado, to hearing these songs played the way you originally wrote them to sound?

I would say there are people that really went with that development of the sound of String Cheese and they really enjoyed that. There's a whole culture that is immersed in trance and electronica styles of music. It's a whole world like the Burning Man world, and you know those people really enjoyed the direction that String Cheese was going. At the same time, there were a lot of people who were like, "What is this? What happened to the String Cheese sound?" And a lot of people who were more acoustic music fans didn't go with String Cheese when we started changing our sound. Those people are, I think, excited to hear some of those songs in a different setting, with Drew and I getting together with all our original songs and playing them in basically a straight ahead bluegrass band.

I'd expect that at a lot of shows you probably get a mixed crowd of folks, bluegrass fans and Cheese fans.

It's starting to change because people are starting to hear what the Emmitt-Nershi Band sounds like. At first, there were people all over who were maybe fans of String Cheese and saw my name and expected it to be like a String Cheese show. And they were confused when it was more of like rocking bluegrass, but I think now people kind of know what to expect. It's going to be a bluegrass band, but we've got a lot of energy behind it.

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