After years of manning the percussions section of the String Cheese Incident, Michael Travis and Jason Hann have been spreading a new sound, full of wobbles and womps, performing completely improvised sets of dubstep inspired music at stages all across the country. Through an extensive touring schedule, the duo have made a new for themselves as EOTO, and are in the midst of a massive tour that will see them play two shows at Brooklyn Bowl with support form Crizzly and Alpha Data. Our own Courtney Stapleford got a chance to talk to Jason Hann, as he took phone interviews from a ball pit (see above), prior to the Brooklyn Bowl shows, allowing him to tell us a little about their plans past, future, and how they create their unique sound.
Is there any sort of backstory about how EOTO came to be? The two drummer setup is somewhat unique, was there a certain influence?
Well, it started off not being a project or anything – me and Travis were just playing music at his place and we just went on this roll there. When I would be out in Colorado at his place, we just took random instruments and he would end up playing bass mostly, and I would play drums and we would just jam from like ten in the evening to like four or five in the morning, and we’d take breaks and just hangout, and then after a while Travis would use a looping pedal so he could play bass and guitar and then we started recording our songs back. We kind of listened to the jams that we were really having fun with and those were the ones where we were imitating more electronic things like drum and bass stuff – like Thievery Corporation type groups, you know? Or techno or house groups and it just ended up being more fun for us to play that as opposed to playing jazz stuff. And then we listened to ourselves back, and we were like “wow this is sounding good how can we get more elaborate?” And that’s when I suggested using the computer and the software program Ableton, which is really the only software program you can record live into and be able to manipulate it immediately after without wrecking it, and that’s what it was. We could play all night and just make up stuff, not trying to play any songs, and so we just figured let’s do it live. Now we’re at a point where we try to change up our themes every three minutes or so, its a lot to go through all these different themes throughout the course of an hour and a half or two hours, but we’re loving it, we feel like we get better every night that we do it.
EOTO’s sound has evolved deeply from its roots in pure livetronica to a more bass-influenced sound due in part to shows and festivals like Shambhala and Burning Man. Is there anything else that has kind of paved the way for this new sound?
When we started, we started in 2006, there was a little more of a live jamtronica thing going on between Sound Tribe and Lotus and I feel like at that time there were more bands not even dabbling, just putting out really good stuff, and at that time even Bassnectar was doing more breakbeat stuff. So our producer heroes are Tipper with the glitch hop thing and I think we, well maybe not all of us, but definitely Bassnectar got heavier so when you go to a place like Shambhala and all of a sudden there’s this gnarlier bass sound which is coming from the dubstep world and hadn’t hit the states yet and we were just exposed to it really early on you know? And we’re probably still the only band doing it live without any prerecorded music and that became our thing, and we’re trying to be so legit and gnarly with it that it’s getting to be more like the centerpiece of our show and lots of people thought we were a dubstep band following the trend, so from that whole era of diving into dubstep, when we heard it at Shambhala in 2008, and it hit us back then like everyone else like – WOW what an amazing, cathartic, powerful thing that’s going on – and we definitely dove into it and definitely changed the landscape of what our crowd looked like. Then we just really decided at the beginning of 2012, let’s get some of our funkier stuff back in there so we’ve done that with some 70′s type groove and some downtempo stuff just to make it more of a journey overall through different styles. We really want to emphasize the fact that we’re doing it live.
You’ve brought Crizzly along for this tour, was that to in someways appeal to the edm/dubstep crowd that seems to be gravitating to the band?
It’s kind of like what we were talking about before, a lot of people in that crowd might not be up for seeing anyone play live music they might just want to see a DJ, and Crizzly’s really good at what he does and it’s definitely a part of exposing yourself to more people, and he was definitely available and he wanted to do it and that’s part of it too – who’s available and who wants to go out on the road – we’re on the same bus chilling and stuff and he’s great. One of the things that’s funny, it actually allows us to do other stuff when he’s doing the dubstep and trap stuff when we start we’re like ok everyone’s heard that a lot so now let’s run our own thing which we’ll start usually with some more funkier glitch hop or slower electro kind of thing so we really get to play a lot of a different vibe and hit gnarlier points and hangout there for like 10 minutes, but we don’t feel the pressure of having to be completely gonezo for our whole set, they’ve had more than enough of that for the evening. It’s a little intimidating to go on after someone like that who’s been going through the moves and everything but, from the feedback we get there’s a sense of relief that there’s different music being played and get all the warm fuzzes going and we go to those spots every now and then and people are like oh wow there’s still that energy there that can go down.
The lotus flower stage set up you guys use is so unique. Tell us about where that came from and how you feel it influences the way your music is played and the crowd’s reaction to it.
It started right around the time when we got a new manager and we were figuring out planning out shows and things and he was saying, he was Shpongle’s manager as well, and they had a lot of success with Shpongle before when he was just DJing without any production and he was kind of well known – but not necessarily doing the most amazing numbers in the States. And then they did the Shpongletron thing which took it to another level like – “wow you gotta see this” – and so that was sort of one of the ideas he had with us because we didn’t use any production, we just used the house sound and the house lights so we were like “we want to do it”. After it was decided that we were going to go bigger, then I really wanted to implement having projection mapping as opposed to LED lights because everyone’s running with LED lights. It’s definitely a thing but it seems like with projection type of animation, that you can shape shift a normal looking thing and have a little more of an artistic journey.
I drew the initial stage which was me in my own lotus and Travis in his own lotus and mapping things out like that, but the way our set up is our wires have to be connected, my setup is connected to Travis’ setup, so that was just kind of a reality and then Travis drew the lotus flower with us both inside one lotus flower, we went with that and then we hired an animation team from Budapest, we saw some things that they did online with the Brooklyn Bridge and a bunch of sick projects and we got in touch with them and started working together. They did almost all the animations for the first half of last year and then Zebbler, who’s our projectionist who runs everything, and he also ran the Shpongletron, he got his animation team together and then put together another 45 minutes of new animation for this past fall show, so all the shows that we’re doing now you get to see all kinds of new stuff and we also brought this guy Hunter on board who’s kind of a crazy laser maniac guy, so we have a full laser projection show that’s with us now. It feels like a super solid new production that we’re showing people even if they’ve seen the lotus before, they have some new things to check out.
One of the most unique aspects of EOTO is that it’s billed as ‘all improv’. Can you explain a little bit what this entails? Is there any sort of game-plan leading into each show, do you prepare differently, or do you just wing it?
We never talk about music actually, we might mention to each other what we’re listening to and hear it out but for the most part we kind of go on our own little journeys and then bring those back to EOTO which is really cool now, because we both come from a little bit of a different perspective, but still do what we do. When we get onstage, we might decide on a beats per minute to start off but usually people have heard so much trap and dubstep we’ll do something like 110 bpm and just go funky sound, so we’ll start off there and then the rest of the night is however we’re feeling it.
It seems like EOTO has been releasing more live compilations than studio albums-is that kind of the game plan moving forward in terms of releasing music?
We definitely don’t have plans now, we’d probably need to put a whole week aside if we were going to do another studio album and right now we do so much touring, so even the next studio album we might do, we might record an album and then take the individual tracks and give them to a lot of our Dj friends to remix to do like a remix album. It seems like something that would be really different from us and get us more involved in the DJ community, that they either would play and come out and be played by other DJs, because really at this point what would come out with in a studio session would be really close to what we’re doing live, it would just be a little bit of a cleaner recording and that doesn’t inspire us as much to take a week off than it would to have all these tracks to go someplace like Ableton, and have some DJ remix contest and do all these things with stuff that we play that we just spit out every night.
I know there’s been some sort of hip hop influence into your music with the lyrics you rap over your beats. With the emergence of trap music and hip hop’s new emergence in the bass scene, could you see more hip hop influencing your sound in the future?
That’s something that’s kind of just at where it’s at for me. I’m doing all the raps and I’d prefer, at least my taste about it, is a little bit more old school rap, like Tupac or something like that. Or, I really like the way Busta Rhymes is so freaking rhythmic, and you know it feels like a drum line when he’s doing it, and I still enjoy like if I’m going to be rapping whatever the content I’m going to be rapping about, I enjoy singing about party mode and bootys hitting the floor and shit like that. I think that’s a fun variation of where we go to, but I’m not trying as hard as I can b,e you know if we’re talking about selling drugs or something like that, so for me it’s something really fun to do so its gotta be something that I’m having fun rapping. And with the addition of trap music at least some of the rap that i hear that goes on with trap music so far I haven’t necessarily been inspired by it – like Kanye and Jay Z. There’s some stuff the people ask me to do, and I just have to feel it and be honest with that and have fun with it because it has to be fun if I’m going to do it.
Any thoughts about ever collaborating with any other producers or vocalists on upcoming tracks?
Not necessarily unless its something that went down live, definitely collaborating with other producers. Like I said getting tracks and sending them out to producers and then maybe they might put a singer on it or something like that, but we just feel like when we’re running our own game and it’s just the two of us we feel the most comfortable. But we’ve had some really unique experiences with other bands sitting in with us and just playing instruments and collaborations like with the String Cheese guys, but as far as something we’re going to put out and release we feel like we run our game, and then give it to somebody else from a producing standpoint to put something on it, and have people come in to put something on our record.
You just got announced on the Electric Forest lineup. Any other news we’ll be hearing from you soon or any String Cheese announcements coming up?
Hell yeah all kinds of stuff coming up but I can’t tell you that! Tons more artists are going to be added to the Forest lineup and it’s going to be a crazy amazing time, it’s only getting better out there, and from a String Cheese perspective we’re so psyched, being the headliner of a festival you have to, at the end of it, feel like a lot of people were like yes that was awesome and we take that pressure on gladly and we just want to play the best that we can.
You can catch EOTO during a two nights’ stop a Brooklyn Bowl, 2/6 and 2/7. Tickets are available at Brooklyn Bowl’s official website. You can also catch the band at a variety of festivals this summer.