With a new album, a new member, and a BIG summer tour on tap, The String Cheese Incident is a band both on top of its game and atop the improvisational music industry. Utilizing a clear artistic vision and a "never compromise" attitude, the Boulder, CO based band has built a legion of loyal followers as well as a rock-solid business organization. Hand in hand with SCI's independent, grassroots success is a strong sense of community that swirls around the organization, permeates the traveling hordes of hula-hoop toting Cheeseheads, and serves as the fuel that both propels and separates "The Cheese" from every other band playing music today.
BORN ON THE WRONG PLANET
Of course selling out Red Rocks and Radio City didn't happen overnight for the band. Back in 1993 when Michael Kang, Billy Nershi, Keith Moseley, and Michael Travis were carving turns on the slopes of the Colorado Rockies, creating their own niche and leaving fresh tracks in an adulterated music industry was just a dream. However, even as the foursome began gigging regularly under The String Cheese Incident moniker, "maintaining artistic control of our careers," was and continues to be priority number one, according to guitarist turned bassist, Moseley.
SCI (L to R) Top: Hollingsworth, Kang, Nershi
(L to R) Bottom: Travis, Moseley
The cyclical, symbiotic energy that immediately existed between the band and its fans served as the inspiration and the impetus for growth both musically and from a business perspective as well. In 1995, SCI left the comfy confines of Colorado for the first time debuting in both California and Utah. SCI even sold tickets for its own shows through Moseley's brother, who took orders over the phone from the back room of his Durango, Colorado candle shop. The band grew in number as well when keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth accepted an invitation to join the Cheese full time in 1996. That year, SCI embarked on a national tour playing an astounding 167 shows including its first visit to the East Coast.
Growing in all aspects and on its own terms, SCI acknowledges the pioneering work of a few bands that operated very successfully outside the mainstream music industry structure around the same time. "Look at the [Grateful] Dead... long before the Internet they were doing mail order ticketing - and everyone loved it. It was a way for the fans to connect directly with the band and to make sure they were gonna get tickets. We took a cue from them and of course their whole philosophy of kinda being independent and building the fan base via touring and not big radio," Moseley reflects.
Moseley continues; "[The Dead] were a great model, as was Phish - an obvious band that really did things on their own terms and built a fan base via hard touring and really trying to relate to the fans on a lot of levels. Yeah, both were big inspirations to us both musically and business-wise. And we tried to learn what we could from them and to incorporate that into our own way of doing things. You learn from the ones who have gone before you and try to adapt it for what works for you."
Keith Moseley :: 12.31.04 by John Smrtic
Indeed, SCI has found a winning recipe for independent music industry success as evidenced by its jellyfish-like conglomerate of thriving "in-house" businesses. Far reaching, constantly evolving, and stinging to predatory mainstream norms, SCI's corporate off-shoots have succeeded where its predecessors' forays into the white collar side of the music biz have been less successful. It all sprouted, Moseley recalls, from necessity and a deep rooted sense of integrity: "When we started out touring, we spent a lot of time playing festivals and tried to talk to a lot of other bands about what was working and what wasn't working for them. We decided early on that we were going to try and start our own record label. So that was the first step. Naturally, it grew into... we'll do a merch company, and well, maybe we can do a ticketing company? It was a natural growth based on trying to do things as best we could."
As it turns out, SCI's "best" efforts have reaped unimaginable dividends. String Cheese released its first record, Born on the Wrong Planet, on the newly minted SCI Fidelity in 1996 (pronounced "Sigh Fidelity" - a clever takeoff on the phrase "high fidelity"). Released before Hollingsworth joined the band, the CD cover appropriately displays Nershi, Kang, Moseley, and Travis as infants in diapers but with their adult heads. Oh how symbolic and ironic that portrayal would turn out. First, the image manifested itself into the birth of a new sound exploration. Second, the album cover has come to represent the growth of the band, musically and as a business organization, from the baby stage to being "one step closer," to maturity and the idealization and realization of a dream – all while maintaining its sometimes mischievous and always fun-loving nature.
As that dream grew, so too did venue sizes, the fan base, and even the record label. Madison House, the band's management and booking company, originally teamed with Nashville entertainment lawyer Kevin Morris to form SCI Fidelity. But it wasn't until a few years down the line that the venture turned into another full-time business. "When it got more serious and needed more attention, I decided to move to Boulder and we started the SCI/Fidelity office. That was June of '99. Then the label grew, we started working with Keller [Williams], and we put out Breathe," says label President Morris.