EOTO: Building Beauty From Scratch

By: Greg Gargiulo

For the countless individuals who create it, music is, fundamentally, all about composition. And though there are a great many ways of interpreting the concept due to the massive variation of styles and genres, it is at music's very core that elements be sequenced in such a manner that's appealing to the ear. So, for the great majority, accomplishing that feat means spending hours in the studio or with a pen to paper, tweaking, altering, refining and rearranging to eventually come up with the absolute best possible product, which may or may not assume a new life on stage. Others, still working laboriously in the studio or elsewhere, strive only to form a vague outline to build upon. The foundation is then taken to a live show and compositions are either replicated or expanded upon, with additions, extensions, effects and all sorts of improvisational techniques making it blossom into something much greater and giving new identity to what started out only as a concept. This summation, more or less, is the system by which almost all live acts come to deliver their sound to the masses. Then, of course, there's EOTO.

When it comes to composition - or planning sets or any other preparations usually met prior to a show - EOTO saves it all for the moment they set foot on stage. While a number of bands can claim the setlist-free approach to the live setting, few others, if any, take it to EOTO's extent. Entering each show devoid of even a rough sketch of a game plan, Jason Hann and Michael Travis choose instead to rely on their inner and outer environments - mood and energy level, location, vibe of the crowd, what they were listening to earlier in the day, etc. - plus maybe some guidance from the cosmos, to pave their path of brain-tingling musical madness. The product is as diverse and far-reaching as they want it to be, and on any given night that usually means an infinitely broad sonic playing field. From heavy, thick, body-drenching dubstep to rich, textural psychedelia, throbbing drum-and-bass and dirty, computerized glitch-pop, plus healthy dabs of trance and house, their ever-transitioning electronic mishmash is a pure, unstoppable dance-provoking machine. It's a machine that melts and flows seamlessly from one groove to the next, unexpectedly and without warning, compelling all those present to ditch any questions and just... get... moving. It's a strange, at times perplexing beast, this EOTO. And it's never – ever - exactly the same twice.

To say the response to EOTO - originally an acronym for End Of Time Observatory that went through a few transitional phases, but is now pronounced "E-Oh-Toe," the Japanese word for "good sound" - has been positive is clearly an understatement. If further evidence is needed, look no further than their next late night appearance at an upcoming festival, which will likely be jam-packed and moving in unison like one giant amoeba. Swooping across the country with relentless momentum, word of their improvisational mysticism is out and spreading fast.

Coming off three or four rehearsals a week for the recent one-night reunion of The String Cheese Incident at Rothbury (read our review here) on top of regular EOTO practices, live shows and work on a forthcoming studio album set to drop before EOTO's fall tour, Jason Hann is a rather busy man at the moment. But, he was still able to squeeze in some quality time to discuss the being that he and Travis have built and offer some insight on how they plan to keep it growing:

JamBase: Take us back to some of the formative days. How exactly did you and Travis initially come to found what is now EOTO?

Jason Hann: It was really in the summer of 2006, at which time I'd been in String Cheese for a little while, and most times after practice ended around seven or so, me and Travis would just set up different instruments and get things going until about four or five in the morning. We started off basic, then after a while it got a bit more fusion-y, and eventually Travis got a looper pedal and I had been working regularly with Ableton Live, so we decided to utilize those programs to add more textures to what we were making. This sort of guided the process of us realizing that these programs leant themselves really well to electronic music, and that we could do a lot more than just the fun we were having with it. Then, the very first Sonic Bloom happened to be coming up at that time and we were asked to be a part of it. So, we pretty much said, "That's reason enough to get our shit together and take this thing seriously." And so the first ever EOTO show was at Sonic Bloom in late May of '06.

JamBase: So around this time, as EOTO was in its earlier stages, did you guys know that you wanted to pretty much stick to a strictly improv model, with something different every night and no "songs" in the traditional sense?

Jason Hann: Yeah, I think so, pretty much right from the start. Before we started getting fancy and adding the computers and everything, we'd basically just try not to play any songs, just start playing whatever with total freedom. Then, we started getting some of the looping elements involved and that sort of thing, but we were really frightened to transition from one thing to a completely different thing, which required a lot of changes. So, when we did that for the first time, we were high-fiving and pretty psyched about it because it was like the biggest cliff that we were jumping over at the time. Now we do whole sets without even thinking about it, and the challenge has become to just keep getting better and better each night.

From a personal standpoint, I caught you guys twice in the span of about five months at Sullivan Hall in New York City. The first show brought in a relatively thin crowd, but the second one had to be filled to capacity or close. Clearly, people are catching on quickly to EOTO. What do you feel it is that kids are responding so well to?

Jason Hann - EOTO by Chad Smith
Well, first off, we feel we're definitely getting better at what we're doing, so that's part of it. Plus, we're starting to focus on some new styles of music that a lot of people are getting into. Dubstep, for instance, has really just begun to catch on in the past year, and there are some kids that are definitely looking for that type of stuff particularly. Also, if you look at the crowds that are coming to our shows, they're mostly between, say, 18-24, so I think we're touching the nerve of that age group, and it seems like a lot of them are willing to come out and give us a try because they heard good things. Or maybe we're just the only show happening that night. Either way, they're definitely coming.

Going back to the element of freedom in how you guys go about playing shows, what would you say the major advantages are of going in with no real pre-recorded plan?

Well, the best part about that is every night you have to have that creativity window completely open. There's no, "I already know what I'm gonna do before the night even starts," with us. When we're improvising every night, it's absolutely, "Where can we take it tonight that we haven't been able to take it before?" So, we sort of instinctively go into that mode, and if we've been listening to a lot of different types of music that day that we don't normally listen to sometimes you can even hear that in the recording.

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