Last Friday at the House of Blues Anaheim, EOTO reminded me why they are truly one of the most unique and musically talented groups around. Through their shows that are completely improvisational, they take you on a journey that mimics the contours of everyday life where they must take risks and face an unknown future, while the crowd bears witness to the magic before them. That night, much like the previous times I have seen them, they played an amazing set that was as eclectic as it was well-executed. The only thing different about it was that I had more of a personal insight into the group as I had a chance to sit down with Jason Hann, the drummer/vocalist, before the show. Read on after the jump to hear about the highlights of their seemingly non-stop tour, an outer-space disco, how Jason keeps a balanced lifestyle on tour (or not), where he thinks electronic music is heading, and what’s next for EOTO.
GDD: In keeping with our first interview question tradition, what do you like to drink?
Jason: Oh what do I like to drink? I love me a nice tall glass of lemonade, straight up.
GDD: Can’t go wrong with that! How has the tour been thus far? Any particularly memorable shows?
Jason: The tour’s been non-stop, it doesn’t even feel like we’ve separated into a tour. We’ve done a lot of shows, a lot of festivals, and something that stands out: Electric Forest and Shambhala Festival up in Canada definitely. For different reasons, Electric Forest was just an incredible weekend, and we played a great slot opening the festival. Playing out at Shambhala, we got to be the first band to play on the stage called the Village, which has the best bass PA system, and it was just great to play our music through that sound system. And all kinds of little special things at the rest of the festivals that we played at, but those two definitely stand out.
GDD: How did the concept of EOTO come about and why did you guys decide to pursue it in addition to the String Cheese Incident?
Jason: Well it didn’t set out to be a project, but when I first joined String Cheese in 2004, I went out to Colorado from California to practice with everyone out there. I’d usually stay at Travis’s house, and every night we would just get different instruments set up in one of his rooms and we’d jam from 10 at night till 4 in the morning, and just for the fun of it, not trying to do anything. But as we kept doing it, we kept having more fun and Travis began using a looper so he could stack parts and make it more interesting. We were listening to ourselves back, and it was like “Oh wow we might be onto something.” I suggested that we start using computers and Ableton which I had been using since it first came out. That sort of started the journey, and in 2006 we played our first show for the very first Sonic Bloom Festival out in Colorado.
GDD: Was it always just you and Travis?
Jason: It’s always just been me and Travis. When we even thought about another person, it was more like well maybe that other person might be a little bit weird for the chemistry because we could already play for hours and hours at a time and find it interesting for ourselves. We’ve had a lot of people sit in, a pretty impressive lineup of people, and it definitely makes us play differently, but I think we always feel like we’re really on our game when it’s just the two of us.
GDD: Yeah, it seems like you two are pretty cohesive already. What electronic music artists have you been influenced by and do you feel that your sound incorporates all of those influences?
Jason: Early on, we were definitely influenced by both producers and electronic bands. Producers such as Tipper, SOTEG, and Bassnectar. We were trying to do more breakbeat stuff. Then Derrick Carter and Carl Cox, which is more house, Detroit, Chicago stuff. We just like most downtempo stuff too. As far as bands, we listen to the New Deal, Sound Tribe Sector 9, and there’s a group called Siamese, out of Seattle, who had K.J. Sawka playing drums, it was like a trio. Really great, incredible trio and I just have one live recording of them, but it was so influential. Then Lotus as well. You know just finding ways to incorporate guitar into what we’re doing, and it was still important to us that we’re a band and we’re not trying to imitate DJs and producers. So we drew from that. Then 2008, Skream was a big influence because he was one of those guys that took dubstep from being the loungiest, sit on a couch at a rave type music, to being a lot more aggressive. That was 2008 when we saw him drop that at Shambhala, and we were like “Let’s do that,” and then next year Excision did a set at Shambhala again, which took it to a whole ‘nother level. We both got a chance to see his sets and that definitely took us to a more aggressive sound for the last few years. We’ve been trying to get that down, figure out what it is, and get all of it. Now this year, we’ve gone back to just really wanting to play a lot more variety of genres over the course of the evening. So we’ll go glitch-hop to drum and bass to dubstep, and you know to like downtempo to soulful like 70’s funk to electro. It’s all over the place now, we really like where we’re at.
GDD: Definitely. How would you describe your sound to someone who has never heard electronic music?
Jason: Who hasn’t heard electronic music? That’s a tough one… Wow… Just a futuristic dance sound with an alien kind of vibe [laughs]. If you’re going to a disco in outer-space, we’ll be playing the music for you guys.
GDD: [laughs] That sounds about right. Please describe how your live setup works and how you and Travis communicate on-stage.
Jason: Oh… That’s complicated.
GDD: Yeah, I know you guys have a lot of stuff going on.
Jason: Yeah, there’s a ton going on. As far as in our own individual world, I will say that Travis, the instruments that he plays are guitar, bass, keyboard, and he’s on his iPad. He’s got a program called Animoog, which he gets some funky sounds out of, and he uses a Korg Kaossilator Pro, so he can do a lot of swooshes and effect type things. Then in my world, I play live drums, electronic drums, djembe, and I sing quite a bit. I put a lot of different effects on my voice, effects on the drums, and I do a lot of live remixing of our overall sound, so I have access to putting effects on the overall sound to do certain stutter changes on the music. So we’re not only playing live and making everything up, but we’re also remixing it on the spot as well.
GDD: Do you do any live looping at all?
Jason: I used to do more live looping, but if anything, with my acoustic kit I’ll play that straight and every once in a while I’ll loop my electronic drums, but at least right now, I’m enjoying doing everything without looping. Once in a while, I’ll think about looping my voice, but I have a harmonizer within my whole setup that allows me to stack my voice in real time, so that’s kind of fun. There’s just a couple of songs that I’ll run into where I’m having to answer myself and it makes a lot more sense to loop a part, so I can answer it back with a different effect impart on my voice. And there are more ideas with looping, we haven’t done it yet, but I’ve thought about setting it up so I can actually loop my kit, so I can go play other different electronic percussion and free my hands, so I don’t have to think about playing drums at the same time.
GDD: Wow, that’d be really cool.
Jason: We’re working on it, always working on it!
GDD: As a strictly improvisational group, what does that musical risk mean to you? Why do you feel that it’s important?
Jason: It’s kind of the whole ball game for us – that we’re making it all up and we take the audience on the ride and they don’t know what we’re going to do, we don’t know how they’re going to react. So that’s our whole thing that makes us unique, and sets us apart from bands that do electronic music and use backing tracks, and they may have a big song repertoire. I don’t know, for us, it just feels great to not necessarily practice and just walk on-stage and be like “here we go, and this is what we got tonight.” Everyone’s a part of it and leave it like that. We feel like that’s where we fit in to the whole thing, and we break a lot of rules of what’s possible to do live. That’s the idea.
GDD: What do you guys do to prepare yourselves for a live performance, if anything?
Jason: That is the tricky part, but after doing so many shows, we’re almost 800 shows into it. When we first started, if you heard a lot of our older recordings, you probably heard night after night a lot of our things sounding pretty similar, but by the time lots of parts get looped and layered down, it doesn’t really sound like anything [you’ve heard]. Travis might play something with a sitar sound, playing like a middle-eastern vibe, and there might be a song the next night or the next few nights in a row that sound sort of like that as far as a lead instrument, but all the other parts that get thrown down behind, it really changes it into something different. So I don’t think we could, but I guess if we really really tried we could imitate ourselves, but since we’re not trying to practice anything, then it becomes impossible for us to do.
GDD: Right. My next question is what do you guys do to keep songs/styles fresh night after night?
Jason: We just both listen to music on our own and we use two computers on-stage. Travis has his computer that he can constantly program with. I have my computer that I can constantly program with, as far as coming up with different sounds and effects that we can put on our instruments. Then when we can get together. We have each done a little more homework where we can add more variety to the show.
GDD: How do you guys go about naming your live tracks?
Jason: That’s something we don’t do, actually.
GDD: Oh really?
Jason: We have two archivists living out in Colorado. They approached us about doing live recordings, and said “You guys should really record live if you’re improvising every night.” They made it easy for us to say yes, and when we started getting into it, we just got into the mode of naming our songs on our actual studio recordings, giving them Dr. Seuss names and stuff, so we told those guys, “You know what, you guys are listening to this the whole thing, you guys name it whatever the hell you want.” They find clever ways to come up with things to work in something that might have happened that night, or the city that we’re in, or the festival that we’re at, or just all kinds of just made up words. At this point, we might have 4000+ songs in our recorded catalog.
GDD: That’s pretty incredible.What musical desires does EOTO fill that the String Cheese Incident doesn’t and vice versa?
Jason: Well there’s definitely the exploration into the underground bass music, just diving all the way in. That’s something that’s just taken a hold in the younger generation in the states and it’s fun to dive all the way into it and see how far we can get. In String Cheese world, with all the genres that String Cheese plays, it’s typical to dive all the way into any of them whether it’s Calypso, African, or Salsa, and we’ll take an influence and immediately make it ours kind of thing. So whatever style it’s in, it’ll still sound like it’s String Cheese or some other flavor going on. String Cheese is only playing 20 shows a year, so EOTO is filling out the rest of the year, as far as what are we doing on a nightly basis.
GDD: If the world actually did come to an end this year, what are the things you would want to accomplish before then?
Jason: I just want to be a good human being, you know?
GDD: That’s a good answer [laughs].
Jason: That’s my insurance policy for whatever happens after that, you know? I’m here, try as best as I can to be good to others, and try to be honest with myself on a day to day reflection type stuff. If I’m making someone else’s day a little bit better then I feel really good about that.
GDD: Agreed. What activities outside of music do you enjoy?
Jason: I’m really getting back into doing sports again, which there’s been so many years where I just stopped being active per se because for some reason I was always getting hurt or something was always going down, but I just made a commitment in the last couple of years to start being active again. Yeah, it’s weird. I started playing tennis, swimming, and getting down to the gym to do aerobics stuff. I do a little bit of boxing. I don’t do any of it super hardcore, but I keep it all around just to keep my body moving. It feels so good!
GDD: Yeah, Just to stay healthy, right?
Jason: Yeah, I mean last year, I was on the raod for 215 days, and I can’t really do anything. I mean I can, but then you have to deal with a whole extra set of clothes that are all sweaty and [think about] when’s laundry. It’s so miserable to deal with that, so it’s less inticing to want to be that active. But our schedule right now has been a lot more hometown during the week, and doing more shows on the weekend. I’ve really been able to get into some really fun routines. Oh so there’s that, just being active, and I really like politics a lot. I mean I hate politics [laughs], but I like to see the game and what’s going on.
GDD: Yeah, it’s there and we have to deal with it.
Jason: Yeah, it’s there you have to deal with it and it’s just amazing with what people get away with and how they approach spinning just everything. It’s such a power propoganda type of game, but I’m all about it and I really enjoy reading papers by people who are still investigative reports and are willing to get to the bottom of the story. That’s inspring to me because everything out there is against them succeeding, you know, theres so much money in the way for an investigative reporter to get to the bottom of a story.
GDD: Since you guys play so many shows on tour, how do you maintain a balanced lifestyle?
Jason: I guess in some ways I don’t [laughs], I kind of fail at that mission on the road a lot. I mean, I can take it on the road and play night after night. If you give me 300 shows a year, I’ll play every show with passion and be sure I have energy for it. I get all out of whack to a certain degree cause I never really end up sleeping. There’s usually an after party every night. I base myself really well, but I definitely partake at the same time. Then I know when I get home at the end of a tour, I know I’m going to sleep a ton that first day and probably get a little bit sick for another day. Then right when I get back into feeling good, then we’ll go back on tour again. So maintaining a [balanced] lifestyle is a little out of the question.
GDD: Where do you see electronic dance music going in the next 5 years?
Jason: I don’t know if I see the future to a degree of what’s the next style that’s going to come in. Trap music has been making a big play, at least the last six months, and that’s cool. I think, to a degree, that it’s a lot different from the “wobble” dubstep type stuff, but there are a lot of really young producers that got successful in dubstep world and they’re doing all other kinds of music. It’s kind of changing the face of all of the other kinds of music too, you know like electro world, techno world, and glitch-hop world. So that’s fun to see and I imagine in a couple of years, it’s just going to be a slow morph, but it definitely doesn’t feel like anything is just a fad, per se, right now. It has that feeling, for me, of what hip-hop was. Everyone said it was going to be out of style and it’s just stayed around, and now you take the top 20 songs on a week to week, probably 80% of it is R&B or hip-hop or something like that. So it feels the same way like underground bass music is here to stay and it’s just going to keep morphing a little bit, where some of it is going to sound more outdated than others as people become better producers.
GDD: What’s next for EOTO?
Jason: We’re going to do this tour and see how it goes. It’s going to determine a lot of what we do with our production, if we try to do a new stage setup for next or if we try to go super bare and bones next year, the opposite direction. We’re psyched that we might have more opportunities to go overseas and play Europe and Japan or South America. Hopefully, it’ll expand like that. We’d love to do more international stuff.
GDD: Yes, you guys definitely should, if you can.
Jason: It’s one of my reasons for playing music. Every year I’d be going to Europe, and going out to Africa once a year. I just love international travel and I think we do something that people can relate to anywhere we play. If anything, there’s a craving for live musicians playing electronic dance music.
GDD: Yes, I feel like that’s something that has been lost with the whole DJ culture and everything else that goes on within electronic music.
Jason: Well it’s a scary prospect when you’re playing a track, it’s been done. How you mix it into a set, which is a whole ‘nother art form, but the style of music is very hard to play without backing tracks.
GDD: The whole production and studio side of it.
Jason: Yeah, so we take a lot of pride that we’re able to pull it off in a really convincing way where people think we’re using backing tracks, and that we’re dropping acapellas in there, but no, it’s really us just doing everything you hear.
GDD: Definitely. Well that’s it, thank you very much for taking the time to meet with me!