They say that with age comes wisdom, but what if the wisest thing you could do was to accept your own limitations? That is the type of question The String Cheese Incident grapples with on its new album, Lend Me A Hand, which arrives on the precipice of the band’s 30th anniversary.
“It’s acknowledgment of [the fact] that, coming out of the pandemic, we all could use help,” The String Cheese Incident keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth told Live For Live Music, “and it’s [reaching] out to your brother, to your group, and asking… I don’t know if help is the right word, but asking for understanding about where we are right now. I think everybody’s kind of swirling around, so I can just envision a hand coming through the fog and lend me a hand.”
“That was a very personal tune,” added bassist Keith Moseley, who wrote the album’s title track, “and I think that’s a good message to have out there. It’s becoming more of a prevalent message for sure, and I think it’s just sort of healthy to express that, hey, we’re all vulnerable. We all struggle from time to time, and there’s certainly no shame in looking for some help from friends or professionals and to get you back into a good place. … Anything that you can do to help people with their struggles, I think is a great thing.”
On a more literal plane, SCI reached out for help from a well-known producer, Brad Cook, on the band’s first full-length album in six years. With a slew of high-profile roots and Americana production credits to his name including Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Waxahatchee, Bon Iver, Hiss Golden Messenger, and many others, Cook helped guide the band in a new direction: Rather than the scintillating, jam-friendly compositions Cheese has delivered for decades, this album took on a stripped-down, folk-oriented style that put the band members in a wistful state of reflection as they looked back over the last 30 years.
“One of the things Brad said was, ‘Everybody knows you guys can solo and can jam and can stretch a song, but what I want to create with this album is a real intimate experience for the listener, as if they’re in the living room with you and you’re kind of sharing these songs acoustically,'” Keith recalled. “So, that was kind of the vibe we were going for on this record, that intimate feel … stripping the songs down to their bare essence.”
“We’re kind of a six-headed monster at times, but my vision was to make an album that was kind of like our version or our American Beauty or Reckoning,” Kyle explained. “I was thinking something very acoustic, back to the roots, something song-related.”
Luckily, producer Brad Cook was on board with that idea as well, and when it came time for the band to (digitally) meet Brad, his laid-back persona put the band at ease. However, as Kyle explained, there was one concern.
“He was super casual, big beard, and we’re like, ‘This is definitely the guy.’ And the only thing that made me nervous [was] … is he too casual to actually wrangle the six of us? The six of us, we’ve been in a band for 30 years at this point, and can you get us all to agree on something? Can you be the producer? Can you bring the whip out? We were afraid he’s going to go like, ‘Well, maybe, maybe, maybe.’ And day one, ‘No. No. Yes. Yes,’ [laughs] and we were all like, we’re probably not twice his age, but we were definitely older than him, but he held the reins tight.”
Continuing that theme of asking for a hand, Kyle Hollingsworth readily admitted that he is “a terrible lyricist.” In the past, he has collaborated with gifted wordsmiths including Robert Hunter, and for this lyric-oriented album, he sought out Sam Beam, better known by his stage name, Iron & Wine. Luckily, he didn’t have to venture too far to find Beam as it turned out that the singer-songwriter lives down the street from Brad Cook.
“So, I flew back to our producer’s house and we sat in the backyard while he was burning leaves and making things, we had the great, very East Coast smell. And so, Sam and I got together, and I had some lyrical direction for one of the tunes called ‘One More Time’. And then, ‘I Will Follow You’ was the other one we worked on together. It was great to work with someone outside of my comfort zone once again.”
“One More Time“, one of the more emotionally weighty pieces on the album, was written for Cheese’s late manager and Madison House partner Jesse Aratow, who died of a sudden illness at age 48 back in 2021. Even though Sam had never met Jesse, he helped guide Kyle into the sentimental space that produced one of the more lyrically potent moments on the album. But this reflection on grief and the passage of time certainly wasn’t limited to just Kyle.
“My age is definitely something that I’m grappling with,” Keith admitted. “I’m 58 at this point and still in good health and work hard on staying in good health and good shape. But the reality is that I’m probably getting into the last third of my life, more or less, and it’s kind of like, we have a lot to be proud of, a lot to be thankful for, but what do I want to do? What do we want to accomplish in these later chapters?
“And so there’s a lot of reflection there on what’s important, family, friends,” he continued. “What do I prioritize—time in nature, time with friends, travel? It’s kind of a time to reflect a little bit and try to set some priorities and make sure that you can tick all the boxes.”
While there are undoubtedly heavy hearts found throughout Lend Me A Hand, what also permeates the album is an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Tracks like “Love And Friends”, “Enjoy The Ride”, and “Thank You” express sincere appreciation for the group’s longevity and fervent fans. Especially at this juncture, SCI is regularly confronted with its impact on the live music culture, and those reflections form an emotional bedrock of Lend Me A Hand.
“Someone told me recently, gratitude is the grease that keeps the wheels of life turning,” Keith said, “and I keep coming back to that as kind of a mantra because I think it’s really true. I think that the gratitude keeps you in check and keeps you in a good place mentally and emotionally, and it’s just a good reality check.”
That reality check came for Kyle when the band recently staged its first-ever John Fogerty Incident with the legendary Creedence Clearwater Revival singer/guitarist. In the midst of all Cheese’s 30th-anniversary hullabaloo, Hollingsworth found himself in a precarious situation of wanting to be celebratory of the band and its achievements, but to avoid being self-aggrandizing and stay humble. It turned out that coming face-to-face with a true rock star was the grounding experience he needed.
“We just played with John Fogerty at Red Rocks and we’re like, ‘Oh, yeah. We have a little legacy.’ …We didn’t say that, but I’m just thinking in my brain, he’s probably like, ‘You have a legacy, but I was at freaking Woodstock.’ [laughs] We were at Woodstock ’99. Not that we want to talk about that, really. [laughs]”
As The String Cheese Incident looks over the next horizon, questions about the wisdom of age still linger. As a person who hasn’t even made it to 30 years of age, I felt compelled to ask what advice they had on making it that far—whether you’re in a band or trying to make it just one more day as a person on this Earth. Kyle offered his advice on how to maintain a healthy group environment, which involved not discounting the camaraderie and commitment to those brothers playing beside you onstage. Just like your instruments, those relationships take practice.
“We used to do these crazy therapy [sessions]… It was therapy, but there’s no observer,” Hollingsworth recalled. “There’s no one there actually trying to help us through it. We would just sit down in a circle and say, ‘Hey, blah, blah, blah. I think you’re sounding great, but when you leave your socks on your bunk and you blah, blah, blah, blah, that irritates me.’ And the next person would go around, you’d go all around the circle, it would be like an hour and a half. And it was helpful and scary, but I think it made us stronger as a band… We still can bond from those years on the road.”
It all comes back to the album title, Lend Me A Hand. We’re all doing this thing together, and sometimes we need to help each other out, whether it’s by cleaning up your socks or just being there for one another.
Keith’s advice for longevity circles back to that grease that keeps the wheels of life turning.
“It all seems to go so fast,” Keith mused on the passage of time. “I think it goes back to that gratitude thing, just a lot of reflecting on where you are, what you’ve got, what’s gotten you to where you are now, and keeping an eye on the goals that you want to achieve and being thankful along the way and just enjoying the ride.
“There’s going to be so many curve balls and unexpected things that come at you, and it’s how you deal and adapt,” he continued. “And it’s because things never go according to plan. I guess there’s one lyric in ‘Lend Me A Hand‘ where I say, ‘Accepting that all things change is a lot to learn,’ and it definitely rings true for me. And just that being at peace with whatever comes and learning how to deal with it is a big part of getting through.”
Lend Me A Hand, the new album from The String Cheese Incident, is available on your preferred streaming platform or via the player below.
The String Cheese Incident – Lend Me A Hand