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Interview String Cheese Incident

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The String Cheese Incident
Interview with Bill Nershi

Boston Live (BL): How would you describe the band's eclectic mix of styles and how did you find or settle on this mix of music as your own?

Bill Nershi (BN): I think that the mix of different styles of music was born from the people in the band spending a lot of time at festivals across the country, especially in Colorado, and being exposed to a lot of different kinds of music. Also from everyone in the band having different musical backgrounds. [Michael] Travis [drums] started as a hand drummer, Michael [Kang, mandolin, violin] was in his orchestra at school and played symphony, classical music on the violin. I had my musical upbringing in bars in the country playing with different people in Colorado, learning bluegrass. Keith [Mosley, bass] is along those lines, a classic rock lover, and Kyle [Hollingsworth, keyboards] is trained in jazz piano.

(BL): What has percussionist Jason Haan added to the band as a new permanent member?

(BN): A lot of smiles [laugh], a huge spark, a new personality in the band after the rest of us had spent a lot of time together. His playing, too, has been spectacular. He's really knowledgeable in a lot of different styles of music and how to arrange parts. He's been very helpful.

(BL): Do you write songs to highlight different genres or do your influences just end up showing themselves?

(BN): When we find a style we like, we write towards it. I wrote "Smile" in the afro vein. I wrote it on the mandolin, but the band said 'hey, this would be a perfect song to play in an african style of music'. When we started from day one that happened, because one of the first songs we learned was "Little Hands". I wrote it as a waltz and Travis listened to it and suggested we try it as a 6/8 African thing. So there's a lot of taking a song that could be any one of a multitude of different ways it could be expressed and saying this is really ideal for Latin, for instance. "Texas" was turned into more of a Latin tune by the band. I'd write chord changes and bring it in and it would get transformed.

(BL): It's been six months since your last tour. What have you been up to?

(BN): I put an addition on my house that has a music studio in it and I recorded an album with the other band im working with, Honkytonk Homeslice. It's been a lot of fun. It's myself and my wife Jillian and our good friend Scott Law from Portland who's a great songwriter and great guitar player and it's build on a lot of harmony singing and driving bluegrass. The way it works is we've been playing our shows much like the Del McCoury Band. We have 2 large diapragm microphones that we get around and sing into and play into and no monitors.

(BL): With last year's Big Summer Classic and your current tour with Bob Weir & RatDog, what goes into planning a tour? To what extent do you try to make them all special?

(BN): We've done of a lot of playing with other bands and any time that's put into the mix, the tour will gain its own identity. Every tour takes on its own personality regardless of what we think its gonna be. There've been some great shows with RatDog, some great encores with both bands up there just wailing away on "Going Down the Road Feeling Bad" or "China Cat Rider." We've also had some great moments individually sitting in with the other bands. It's been good to get to know those guys.

(BL): What do you learn from jamming with different guests?

(BN): I think a lot of the things we learn are subtle, and its hard to describe, but things rub off on you. One of the things I've really picked up from RatDog is how well they can play a slow song. It's also been great watching how Bob Weir guides the band in different situations when a change is coming up. He has some signals and different things that he does so that the band knows exactly what is coming up and they can really hit it all together. That's been really cool to watch.

(BL): There seem to be a lot of new songs this tour. How are they turning out and what changes do they represent for the band?

(BN): I don't know if it's any different. We've always been writing new songs. I guess we have a large batch of new songs because we had 6 months off, everybody had a chance to create, and we did a long practice session before the tour. It's a good thing we still have new material going and everybody's still in a creative state. We have a... real lot of songs [laugh], right now, between our old old classic that we started playing in the mid '90s to the songs off of our last 2 albums, Untying The Knot and One Step Closer, and we have this new batch of songs also. It's a good thing we have a material to pull from.

(BL): There was quite a transition between Untying the Knot and One Step Closer. Is there a conscious effort to make each album different? Does your sound evolve by itself or are there conscious decisions that dictate what direction the band goes in?

(BN): Different people run with it on different projects. We make a decision, 'let's make an album like this, and then let's make an album like this'. I think really the best thing right now would be to make one that just sounds like us. They sound like us, the last two albums, but they're produced in a certain style, which is great but I want to make an album that just sounds like us for the next album.

(BL): How would you do that? By producing it yourselves?

(BN): By getting a producer who understands that that's the goal. It's us saying to the producers 'we wanna make an album like this. We wanna make an album like Pink Floyd or like The Band' and I'm learning we need to tell the producer we need to make an album that sounds like us. The best us we can be.

(BL): How much do the producers bring to the album and making it their own?

(BN): A lot. It is their own, but really it's them following directions. And direction is us saying 'we wanna make an album like Pink Floyd.' They're gonna listen to Pink Floyd and listen to how they do it and nudge us in that direction. Of course it's gonna end up inherently sounding like us because no one band can sound like another, really, but that's the way it works sometimes.

(BL): What bands or musicians are catching your interest today?

(BN): I like a lot of the bands that are up and coming like Railroad Earth. I toured with Honkytonk Homeslice and one band would play a set, the other would play, and then we would do a third together every night of the tour. That was great. They're a really great band with Todd Sheaffer who's one of the best songwriters I've heard in a long time. In my mind he's up there with Paul Simon for some of the stuff that he writes. Beautiful lyrics and melodies that are intertwined in a great way. Another band that I like is Hot Buttered Rum. Just a lot of spirit, bluegrass music with their own twist to it. So most of the stuff I listen to ends up being people that I'm playing music with. I play so much that sometimes I don't do tons of listening. I'm more of a doer than a listener.

(BL): What's next? What are your goals as a band?

(BN): Right now our goals are to figure out what our goals are. It's hard to say right now. It's a tenuous time right now with music not being number one on everyone's list of priorities these days as far as people in the country go. We've got a lot of thinking to do, I know that.

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