Grown from the roots of jam band culture and forged from a love of electronic music, EOTO is a true powerhouse of electronic looping wizardry, creating a sound that journeys across musical genres and the spectrum of bass frequencies. The band, consisting of Michael Travis and Jason Hann of String Cheese Incident fame, pride themselves on creating entirely live and improvised sets that bridge the gap between DJ performance and live musicianship. To do this, the dynamic duo employs an arsenal of instruments, live looping technology, and enough outboard gear to strike fear into the hearts of your average serato-toting, button-pushing electronic DJ. Recently, AYNiB recently sat down with EOTO in Missoula, MT to discuss the band, bass culture, technology and what the future holds for one of the most unique groups involved in bass music today.
While researching past interviews with EOTO, I noticed that Michael Travis hasn’t done a lot of press. Can you comment on that?
Jason Hann: He really doesn’t. You know it’s one of those things where if you approached him right now and you were like, “can I ask you just a couple of questions?” he’d be like, “sure!”. But, like pre-thinking about it, he doesn’t want anything do with interviews or meet and greets or anything like that. Sometimes if he’s caught in the moment and it looks like a meet and greet, and there are people there excited about doin’ it, then he’ll do it. But as for a pre-thought formal interview, not so much.
Can you talk about your musical background prior to The String Cheese Incident?
JH: Before String Cheese I was, let’s see, in the early 90s I was into a lot of world music, and I studied a lot of percussion from different countries like Cuba, Brazil, and Haiti, and I traveled a lot, to Korea, Ghana, and Africa. So, I really got down on studying a lot of indigenous music. I was in a bunch of different groups where I played African, jazz-world fusion and that branched off into playing a ton of jazz and rock. I was part of a band called Zoo People signed to Atlantic Records when people like Dave Matthews were first getting singed around 94. We were supposed to be right in that whole echelon of bands that sounded like Steely Dan and Allman Brothers. I learned a lot of lessons during that time about the music business and major labels. After that I did mostly studio stuff. I moved to L.A and did work for movies, trailers, commercials and different CD projects. Mostly working with jazz musicians, but there was always world music mixed in there.
AYNiB: Your knowledge of world music really shows up in EOTO’s current sound.
JH: Yeah for sure!
How did you then link up with The String Cheese Incident?
JH: Back when I was in this rock band in 95 or 96 we played the High Sierra Music Festival. String Cheese was the buzz that was floating around. We played an early set during the day and (Michael) Travis had seen our set and introduced himself to me. We started talking and he invited me over to ‘Bussy’, which was the String Cheese bus. We played all afternoon together, but then didn’t see him again until ’99, but we did about two phone calls a year. In ’99 I hung out with String Cheese in L.A and San Diego, but none of the other band members remember me because there were so many guest musicians. Then we lost touch with each other until around 2004 I got a random phone call from (Michael) Travis out of the blue saying that he was playing a random show in L.A and if I wanted to come sit in with the band. At this time I had toured with Isaac Hayes and Rickie Lee Jones, and some more high-profile rhythm and blues and pop acts.
I asked him what I should bring down, and he’s like “bring everything, as there is a chance we may be looking to audition to add someone to the group”. They weren’t looking for another melodic soloist, because they already had Kang, Billy, and Kyle. They had plenty of solo players going on. I think it was Billy who was pushing for a percussionist to thicken up the sound and to be an auxiliary on some songs. I think Travis was the one who said, “If it’s going to be a percussionist, I want to be the one to pick him out, because I have to be totally down with him.” And so, I did that gig, and they asked me to come back for a fall tour and it was on from there!
Can you talk about the growing sound of EOTO, from your early performance at Shambhala’s Labyrinth Stage, to last year’s set at The Village?
Jason Hann: Oh Yeah, oh wow, you went to that Labyrinth show huh? There were two years where Shambhala was totally transformational for us. The first time where we did play at the Labyrinth, we walked around a lot and were checking out a ton of music. A lot of music was influencing us around that time. We knew, Lorin (Bassnectar), all the guys from the Glitch Mob, and we were checking out all of their side projects and just taking in a lot of music.
[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]The moment that changed everything for us was at The Village stage during DJ Skream’s set…[/quote]But, the moment that changed everything for us was at The Village stage during DJ Skream’s set, from the UK. This was 2008. He did this drop in The Village. I had always known dubstep to be the most mellow music at a rave. If there was a dubstep place at a rave, it was usually a tent with couches in it. It was that really soothing wobble like, “Wuvvvvv, wuvvvvv, wuvvvvvvv” The kind of stuff that makes you go, “Oh my god, where do I put my head down and just rest?”. But, Skream’s set was the first time I had heard it in its aggressive form. He did this one drop, and me and Travis were in different sections of the Village. The drop hit, and it was like a scene from a fucking movie. Everyone there went, “Oh my gawwwwwd!”.
Afterwards, Travis and I were talking and we were both like, “Let’s do that!”. We both agreed that this was some new shit that we hadn’t heard before. Around the same time I got this two-hour mixtape from a guy named SPL from Portland. We listened to that all the way to our next gig in Whitefish, MT. It was this amazing mix of dubstep, and at that point we both decided to try playing it. The first time we tried it in Whitefish, we didn’t really know how the sounds were made and stuff, we were just trying to do whatever the fuck we could. When we dropped it in front of a crowd we could feel that it had some impact, even though it wasn’t totally authentic dubstep. After that point we wanted to be totally legit (with the sound). Admittedly, we went a little overboard diving into that style, but what can you do? The following year we saw Excision, and he did the same thing, only stepped it up a notch with his production quality and how hard he came with it. It was just more confirmation that this feels like the right path.
How long did it take to become comfortable with your current gear setup?
JH: It’s always evolving. We are at this point where either of us adds something to the setup there can be some growing pains. For instance, we just figured out a way to do trap music… You’re a gear head, so here we go. In Ableton Live Travis has an Operator synth, but there is a side-chain gate. That side-chain gate is getting it’s information from my kick drum. So, Travis will hold a note down for that operator synth, but it only makes a sound when my kick drum hits. He sets the hold and release, so that it becomes like a long 808 note, but he still has control of what notes are going to be heard. He sets that up and records that as midi data. I just keep playing my kick drum so it sounds like… [Beatboxes a kick drum melody], but it’s always off whatever my kick drum is doing. So, we have only been doing that for the last three weeks. It’s still new for us. Travis still has to work out the transitions between getting that sound up and making it go. So, we’re always evolving. Someone else was asking me earlier about why I don’t have my Jazzmutant Lemur setup anymore. This past spring tour it fell in Washington DC and it broke.
JH: I know! But luckily I knew that Lemur had come out with an iPad app. So I went for that, and everything’s been working great, plus it’s more compact. There are always little things going on that we have to adjust to, but adjustments are a lot easier now. I remember when we first started putting any kind of delay, or any kind of effect, it was such a big deal for us to introduce anything into our setup. Now it feels like it just flows and we know how to introduce things properly.
How do you guys keep your tempo synced on stage?
JH: We use two computers and they are attached through Ethernet and WiFi.
AYNiB: When I tried to log on to the WiFi here at the Top Hat Lounge I saw the EOTO MIDInet network.
JH: Hahaha, that’s funny. Yeah, figure out the password and you could have some serious fun with us on stage. Haha, you’d fuck with us a lot. That’s so messed up to even think about!
AYNiB: You just know a hacker is going to crack the password at a gig one of these days.
JH: Oh god, we would be on stage losing our minds! Travis’ computer is the master one, that keeps the tempo. Also, there is a metronome click-track that we both hear in our headsets, which the audience doesn’t hear. So we could leave a ton of open silence, then it looks like magic when we do these incredibly synchronized drops like, [pause] BAM! Which is so hard to do with a regular band.
I have read in some other interviews that you see rhythm patterns in waves of grids when you perform. How far ahead are you thinking when you are drumming?
JH: That`s funny! It’s so in the moment. We know when we hit a style, we like to hang there for around ten minutes or so before we switch to something else. That’s the only pre-thinking that is going on, on stage. Chances are there is a type of flow we’ll start off around 90 BPM and then gradually work our way through house and dubstep tempos, or crank it up to drum and bass speeds if want something more drastic. It’s not something we talk about, we just settle into our routine when playing. Occasionally we’ll call stuff out to each other on stage, like “let’s not do that, let’s go … weird” or something like that (laughs). So, it’s very in the moment.
How influential was Sound Tribe Sector 9 and DJ Tipper in sculpting the early sound that is EOTO?
[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]Tipper’s downtempo set from Shambhala was legendary and made us want to capture that sound.[/quote] JH: Oh wow. At the beginning stages of EOTO there were so few live groups doing electronic music, Sound Tribe Sector 9 being one of them. We knew that they could draw a crowd, and a lot of people got what they were doing (on stage). We liked them and their sound, especially when Zach (Velmer) played more drum n bass stuff; I listened to them quite a bit. Tipper was a huge influence in the beginning, as was Bassnectar when he was doing a lot of breakbeat stuff. Tipper’s downtempo set from the Shambhala festival was legendary and made us want to capture that sound. Additionally, the band Siamese, KJ Sawka’s band, was a big influence with their style of live drum n bass. It’s cool because KJ has become a legit EOTO fan in the last little while. Whenever we run into one another we are always asking each other how the fuck we do what we do! (laughs)
Can you elaborate on what bass music culture is to EOTO?
[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]So much of electronic music in the mainstream seems like DJ Tiesto, Paul Oakenfold and Carl Cox, which is such a fist-pumping douchey scene in my opinion.[/quote] JH: Oh wow, yeah. Well as far as bass music goes, I prefer to call it bass music because it encompasses everything. So many people thought that we became this dubstep band, but dubstep seems to be this label that is as general as the ‘techno’ label used to be. If someone didn’t know what style of electronic music you were doing, it used to get labeled as ‘techno’. It seems like today people are quick to call types of music dubstep when it clearly might be something else. I guess people work with what they know. I think that underground bass music separates itself from what is going on in the rest of the world. So much of electronic music in the mainstream seems like DJ Tiesto, Paul Oakenfold and Carl Cox, which is such a fist-pumping douchey scene in my opinion. It feels like underground bass music is coming from someplace else. It has its own style within the States too. It’s funny how in the UK styles of music seem more like an underground thing, where as here in the States it has been elevated to a thousand person room status. I think that’s how we approach all of our shows, as bass music.
We get so bummed when the PA doesn’t register the bass properly and the club has it EQ’d for a rock band. It’s so important for us because that`s what throws it over the top for the crowd. The whole night people feel it when they are swimming in bass music, whatever the genre, drum n bass, downtempo, glitch hop, or dubstep. The important thing is that the bass is always present. It creates this euphoric feeling that you just don’t get from other types of music.
[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]At the Village? Oh man! That might be the best sounding PA in the world! PK! You almost get a religious experience because it’s so loud…[/quote]
What are your favorite festivals to play?
JH: Ummm, Shambhala! Number 1! Every year! [laughs]. That’s the only festival I’ve been to every year where I come away so fucking inspired. Inspired from hearing shit that I’ve never heard before. Everyone brings their A-game and their new material. There are other festivals too, but whatever [laughs].
AYNiB: Speaking of Shambhala, I was at your Village performance earlier this year. What an outstanding show you guys put on!
JH: At the Village? Oh man! That might be the best sounding PA in the world! PK! (PK Sound) You almost get a religious experience because it’s so loud, but not painfully loud. If you’re standing 10 feet from those speakers your whole body vibrates. It’s like Scotty’s beaming you up [laughs].
The gear you have on stage is nothing short of elaborate. Have you ever had some major glitches while performing?
JH: Ohhhh yeah. On one of our tours when we got a new computer… We always have to get the latest computer out because we load it up with so much content that the CPU will overload, cut out on us, or make really weird sounds for no reason. So every time a faster computer comes out we usually invest in it so we can do even more with it. So, this one tour, we got a new computer and it didn’t jive with our version of Ableton. Every night of that tour, which was like 50 shows, our computer would crash 3 times a night. So I was left drumming while the computer rebooted. So many people thought it was just some new thing we were doing and sometimes the crowd would get super amped up when everything but the drums cut out. I would have to try so hard with my small kit to keep something going. It would happen so regularly that we would have to make it part of the show.
Almost every night we have something happen on stage, but there are degrees of fatality. There are things that we can handle if they pop up. That’s why I’m sober on stage, when technical shit comes up I have to be so on it. There have been times when I’ve been a little out of it and something technical will come up, and it’s just the worst feeling ever, so it’s not worth it.
AYNiB: It’s interesting when you listen to EOTO recordings. Any looping mistakes, or other hiccups can get worked into a routine until the arrangement creates a working song.
JH: Yeah, it`s something DJs can’t really do if their shit is skipping or crashing. We can transition into a new song or make stuff fit together on the fly.
What cities are the best to play in? And where is EOTO`s biggest fan base?
[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]We would have rows of younger kids that couldn’t get into the bar piling into the street.[/quote] JH: Probably Denver or Chicago, but there so many crazy areas that have another level of rage factor. For instance, we played in Key West Florida at the Green Parrot, a place that fits around roughly around 100 people. They had these huge wood windows that they would leave open during the show, which almost made it feel like an outdoor club. We would have rows of younger kids that couldn’t get into the bar piling into the street. It was such a unique atmosphere! Or Morgantown West Virginia, it’s just crazy the level of enthusiasm those kids have. Also, Arcata California. All these smaller towns man. There are so many unique places to play that I could make a list.
Any plans for some Canadian dates?
JH: It’s so fucking time man. We used to be like clockwork and play Vancouver and Whistler in the winter. We have played a couple other festivals outside of Shambhala in the past couple years in various places in Canada. We have to get up there though. I agree, it so needs to happen.
Uploading your material to Livedownloads.com after every performance is a pretty amazing feat. How did that come about?
JH: It started with these two guys Brian and Heath in Denver who approached us. They are kind of our secret weapon. They are fans of jam band music as well as being into the electronic stuff too. When they first approached us we didn’t have the budget to start a service like Livedownloads. We weren’t sure how well it would do, or who would actually get it. Anyway, they began to archive our shows online and we decided that we could workout the details later on if things really took off. Things have definitely taken off, and we just passed our 500 upload to the site!
AYNiB: You have the largest archive on the site if I’m not mistaken. EOTO could very well have broken some world records in term of the most live content available for any particular band.
JH: Yeah, we’re up there. We may have the most individual songs because every song is titled differently. We are probably over 4000 individual songs at this point. There could be some Guinness Record shit going on [laughs].
Can you talk about Zebbler for a moment? How did you guys hook up with him to do the visuals for your Lotus stage production?
JH: Yeah sure! Zebbler came about when we were switching to new management. Zebbler used to do visuals for a group called Shpongle. He was already dialed into this whole psychedelic approach, and Shpongle plays really psychedelic electronic music. So our management put us in touch with him and said that he was interested in doing some projection stuff for us. Shpongle`s tour ended as ours was about to begin, so Zebbler was able to jump off tour with them and come work with us. He made all this video content for us when we had a large projection screen behind us. It was great. I loved the projection stuff more than the LED stuff that we were using up to then. This year we wanted to step it up with our projection mapped lotus. For this particular tour, Zebbler had a whole animation team get together and design most of the visuals you’ll see during the show.
AYNiB: While Travis and yourself are playing, is Zebbler reacting to your performance live?
JH: Totally! He gets to improvise along with us. He knows when we are going to hit some kind of drop, and usually has an evil monster or some other fun visuals to throw up on the Lotus.
What does 2013 hold for EOTO?
JH: After the apocalypse, if we are still alive, we will be home based on the moon. We will be doing a gig there [laughs]. Also, we are going to do a gig at Alpha Centauri if you can make it. It`s kind of expensive to get there [laughs]. Travel is a bitch. But seriously, we really want to expand out into other countries.
AYNiB: Another studio album perhaps?
JH: I don’t know about a studio album. We need to do something to switch up our game plan. We’d really like to take what we record in the studio and give it to our favorite producers to do a remix album. Something DJs could play in their sets, which would be great. We have our own niche of live music, but sometimes our live recorded shows sound like a live recording, and its not something a DJ would necessarily drop in their set.
AYNIB: Thanks for your time Jason!
JH: No problem! Anytime!
To get a detailed breakdown of EOTO’s equipment setup, refer to their self-produced video below:
For more info on EOTO
|Download their past live shows at LIVEDOWNLOADS.COM|