EOTO: Building Beauty From Scratch

The best part about [EOTO's improv model] 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?"

-Jason Hann

On the opposite side of that, just since it seems natural when dealing with something like this, do you feel there are any downsides of going in and not having anything to fall back on when you're not feeling particularly creative on a certain night?

Michael Travis - EOTO by Norman Sands
Yeah, we definitely do have some of those. There'll be some themes or some sounds that come up, or a certain beat where it'll be like, "Let's go there just to reach it." That happens almost every night, but the minute you start stacking up parts behind the theme or under the theme, as we're doing that, then the unlocking process [starts] and new ideas really start to come out. Ultimately, the biggest disadvantage of not having pre-made songs that we're playing to is trying to accomplish the depth of production that's made from lots of time in the studio. It's a little bit of a deeper thing when you realize in that moment, those two people did that on the spot without planning it out before, and there's a certain depth to that concept that just makes it cooler to a lot of other people than something that's super-produced.

Definitely, and I think when you do hit some of those fantastic peaks or really nasty grooves, the fact that it's all organic makes it so much more amazing. So, sticking with that element, on a normal day do you guys put any preparation whatsoever into what you're gonna play that night? Or is it completely, "Let's figure it out as we go?"

Pretty much no game plan. There's about maybe thirty seconds before we hit the first note where we decide if we wanna start off faster or slower or four-on-the-floor or something else. But other than that, we'll kind of just look at the crowd and make that determination based on the vibe we're getting off of them. Whether it's a crowd that seems really excited and knows us well or a relatively new one, we'll try to get things started based on that.

Switching over to the technical end of the equation, what do each of your set-ups consist of on stage? I've noticed Travis uses at least a synth, a bass, bongos and a MacBook Pro, and you've clearly got your kit, a djembe and some other gear. What other main pieces have I missed?

Travis' world consists of two computers, one of which he runs Reason on as a standalone, and the other has Ableton Live running, which all of our microphones go through so we can effect everything. Then, in my world, as far as electronics, I've got a Roland SPD-S Sampling Pad decked out with all sort of custom sounds, then under that I've got a multi-touch screen called a JazzMutant Lemur, which has a bunch of great audio features but also helps me set up a visual thing for myself so I don't have to keep looking up at the main computer that's running Ableton.

JamBase logged you in with 189 shows in 2008, which averages out to more than a show every other day. How do you guys keep up with that insane pace and not burn out?

EOTO by Dave Vann
I think that goes back to the whole improvising part, because we don't really get sick of the same songs, and it's actually easier to play night after night as opposed to taking a night off and not knowing what to do with ourselves. We also feel that the non-stop touring has been one of the main reasons we've improved so much, and we'd probably be nowhere near where are now if we only played 20 or 30 shows a year.

You guys have become pretty much a lockdown for late night time slots at festivals, and you'll be hitting up another sizable load this summer [Summer Camp, Starscape, Wakarusa, Sonic Bloom and Rothbury already, with Camp Bisco to come]. At times it seems some people are getting more psyched for these than for headliners. What do you think the major draw is of the late night?

Most late nights definitely become a bit more intimate than the main stage, and the way they have the Tripolee Domes set up at Rothbury, for example, makes it really conducive for electronic music and what we're putting out there. Plus, I think there are so many times when people are just starting to party at midnight or one, and it gives people a chance to let loose and get out whatever they haven't gotten out already during the daytime.

Let's talk about String Cheese a bit. Everyone is clearly excited for the one-stop reunion at Rothbury. What was the process that led to you guys deciding to come back and make this happen?

It made it really easy that all our crew and management and so many other people were already involved in the festival. Just about any other scenario would've required a real lot of work and would've been less inspiring than Rothbury. Roth just seemed to make it an easy process for us to get together.

And generally, what's the vibe been like around Cheese lately? I assume you guys are pretty stoked.

EOTO by Dave Vann
Oh yeah, it feels really good. The scary part is we have to really, really deliver, because a lot of people are counting on it, and Phish came back so strong after taking a few years off. We want to just be super sharp and go out there and play the songs really well. The nerve-racking part is that there are all these factors you think about since it's just one night out there.

Is there anything you can say on whether this is going to be just a one-time thing with Cheese or if you guys see anything more coming out of this down the line?

I think we'll see how Rothbury goes for now and what comes off of that. For now, we're just having fun in practice and it feels good playing these songs again. So, maybe we'll play Rothbury and not even talk about it for a while since we all have so much else going on. So, it's really Rothbury first and then we'll talk about all the other stuff afterwards.

And just bringing it back to EOTO, while it's tough to predict the future, are there any particular ways you see you guys evolving in the near or distant future?

We just got a new computer and it's gonna be able to handle a lot more of the ideas we have going on. Right now the computer we have is completely maxed out as far as what we can do, and we can't add any more effects or anything without bad things happening. With the new computer we should definitely be able to have more items in our arsenal, which will in turn inspire us to find all these other little paths.

For us, it's really about having all these sorts of pieces to choose from, because you don't want to bore anyone with the same sound or the same trick every time. So, if you have enough variety in there then there's always something new and different coming out. And that's a big thing, to keep people going with the groove, but also to keep their attention or involvement with the music.

Download a free EOTO show here. EOTO is on tour now, dates available here.

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[Published on: 7/14/09]

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