THE NERSHIS SPEAK

By Michael Kaiz


Bill Nershi by Keith Berson
After thirteen years of leading The String Cheese Incident, guitarist/vocalist Bill Nershi recently announced his plans to leave the band.

For fans, the news was shocking. JamBase caught up with Nershi and his Honkytonk Homeslice cohorts to get some answers.

"If Honkytonk has anything to do with it" says Nershi, "it would be that I got that fresh spark about music that I wasn't getting, as much, in the past couple of years for whatever reasons with the String Cheese."

So the obvious question is of course, is Nershi finding that fire with Honkytonk?


Bill & Jillian (Honkytonk Homeslice)
"Honkytonk is old-school and it's simple" smiles Nershi. "A lot of it is that we get to drive around in a pickup truck; everything fits in a pickup truck. There is something very appealing about that to me right now. But at the same time, it's not one or the other, Honkytonk or String Cheese. I happen to be doing Honkytonk Homeslice now, but I was doing that when I was playing with String Cheese also. I could continue to do both of them, but it doesn't feel right to keep playing, for right now, with String Cheese."

It is interesting to note that Nershi is referring to playing with Cheese in the past tense, even with the Sea of Dreams New Year's shows and presumably one or two final tours on the way.


Bill Nershi by Sewell Hatcher
Listening to Nershi speak about his decision, it's clear he is trusting his gut. As Jillian, Nershi's wife, interjects, "I feel like you've had a little voice telling you for a while that you need to listen to your heart and follow what you're feeling musically. You haven't felt musically satisfied for a while."

"The music was changing" says Nershi. "There was less for me to grab onto the last couple of years."

And as many seasoned Cheese fans know, the music was changing. It was moving toward a more psychedelic vein and away from the Americana folk roots. Many old-school fans identify with the bluegrassy sound of old tunes such as "Restless Wind" or "Ten Miles To Tulsa." Those fans will enjoy what Billy is doing with his wife, Jillian, and multi-genre guitarist Scott Law in Honkytonk Homeslice. Fans will also delight in finding several Cheese songs that Nershi penned making appearances in Honkytonk's catalog.

"Playing with Scott, Billy really gets to expand," Jillian remarks. "There is a similarity; there is a good chemistry." That chemistry results in a very unified sound from Honkytonk Homeslice; at times it is difficult to discern whether Scott or Billy is playing a given sequence.

 
The music was changing. There was less for me to grab onto the last couple of years.

-Bill Nershi on leaving SCI

 
Photo of Bill Nershi at Vegoose 2006 Late Nite by Casey Flanigan

The creative juice that allows Honkytonk Homeslice to blend so well is essentially due to trust. "There is a definite trust" says Jillian.


Law, Jillian & Nershi (Honkytonk Homeslice)
By Lisa Brown
Law nods and elaborates, "Definite trust, nobody's holding back. So we can take our own tunes in and know that we're going to come up with something that we all can agree on. But then, along with that, we've started to open up the channel of also just writing together. We know we can throw ideas out, we can look at them, and we can say 'no,' and nobody's going to freak out."

Jillian continues, "There are always ideas coming out of our heads. All three of us are always saying things, making comments, the little things. Luckily, Scott has finally gotten into the habit of writing things down. So many ideas slip through the cracks, but we've really started to focus on the fact that there are always little ideas coming through and we can take them to another level. We have similar ideas about songs."

The dynamic sound of Honkytonk Homeslice is rooted in bluegrass, but with Law's jazz inflections it's impossible to clearly label exactly what this band plays.


Bill Nershi by Sewell Hatcher
"We have our own sound" says Jillian. Honkytonk has been known to cover The Grateful Dead's "Friend of the Devil" and a Beatles song that Jerry fancied, "Dear Prudence." "We have a varied musical taste" elaborates Jillian. "If we like a song, we'll try to figure it out or we'll change it or make it our own. We're definitely known for taking a song and completely turning it around and giving it its own sound."

Nershi attempts to define the sound of Honkytonk Homeslice, "We all play guitar. We can say, 'Well I think you should play that part like this, let me show you.' But we don't do that; we just play." The sound of the band is indeed a synthesis of the musicians working together, not apart.

Nershi continues, "We have the trust that the other person is going to come up with a part that works, and we go over it until we hear the right parts and say, 'Yeah, that's it; that's where it blends, let's work it like that.' Whatever that is, that's our sound - each of us doing what we do and it works together."

Law is quick to add, "Instead of being a conductor, trying to tell everyone how to play, it's working with everybody."

"I just said that," Nershi shoots back, and the whole room bursts out in laughter. This is a perfect example of what makes the band work - Law's ability to rephrase Nershi's thoughts, musically and linguistically. "Nobody likes being told what to do," Jillian adds.


Bill Nershi by Sewell Hatcher
Expanding further on Honkytonk's approach, Law shares, "It's a reactive process. When we are writing, it's reactive. We can say, 'That's not working, let's do this.'"

Looking at what Scott has just said, Jillian infers that, "We are all willing to step back, listen, and refigure things. None of us hang on to anything; we all give in and are willing to work with each other. The more we go down the road, the more we find strength as a single unit, a single brain, all three of us."

Nershi has a revelation spurred by Law's words, "Between all of us, all three of us in the band, we have one mind."

"Just one mind between the three of us. That's great when we're playing, but when we get off stage and each of us only has a third of a brain, it sucks" laughs Jillian.

But it's also nice to not have to use your whole brain. It's a luxury to be able to go back to a simpler time. Fame and notoriety can spoil and disfigure what a musician truly enjoys. It's playing for smaller, attentive audiences and tracing his way across the country in a pickup truck that makes life fun for Bill Nershi. It's playing the music that feels right to him, in his heart.

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