Photo by Tammy Wetzel
Jason Hann knows improvisation quite well, or so he thought. But the String Cheese percussionist finds the term is being reinvented, ironically, by his own latest project, EOTO. With improvisation the sole means of musical creation, the experimental playground Hann shares with fellow SCI alum, Michael Travis, is unlimited, but full of pitfalls. As they learn to traverse the craggy surface of an alien arena whose only law is never play the same song twice, ever, EOTO finds itself becoming a defining element of the burgeoning, fast-evolving live electronica scene. And as Jason shares, their latest album, Fire The Lazers!!, is just another step in their unrehearsed world.
What was the thought process in choosing to make EOTO 100% improvised all the time, as opposed to more traditional song writing?
Well, when we started we weren’t even thinking about putting together a project, necessarily. We would just get together after String Cheese practice. Since I was flying out to Colorado and staying at Travis’ place, there’d be sort of nothing to do after practice. We’d practice at six, or seven o’clock, and we’re both night owls, so we just ended up jamming on different instruments that he had at his house, and little by little, we started using different things, like different effects pedals. We were playing mostly fusion music, but not really any songs, just making stuff up and jamming. As we kept doing that, we just found that we could entertain ourselves (laughs) at least, until sunrise, or four in the morning, or something like that, and that was a lot of fun. When it started angling towards using looping pedals, and then using the computer, just for fun’s sake, it sort of lent itself to electronic music. We were still having fun just making stuff up. We didn’t have any pressures of playing for an audience or anything like that; just endless entertainment just making our own stuff up.
How do you feel the audience reacts to the newness of each song and show, with it being completely improvised?
Well I think that’s one of the more fun aspects of electronic music. If I were to go to sort of randomly see a DJ play, one of the things is being turned on to music that you haven’t heard before. I think that sort of sensibility carries through to people thinking they’re going to have a night out dancing, as opposed to a night out hearing their favorite songs. That’s a little bit part of what people have gotten used to when they see us: At first they know that no two nights will be the same musically, and then they know they’re going to dance all night. When it kicks in that we’re making up all the stuff off the top of our head, on the spot, then that’s another thing that people have responded to, like “Wow, it already sounds good, and they’re doing this completely improvised.” I think that’s another appreciation aspect that people have had with the band.
Do you find people crave the ability to request a song, like some band’s that have their “classics?”
Oh yeah, we’ve had – I can’t say a lot – of people come up and say, “Hey, can you play this song?” off our CD, or that song. Both of us usually respond, “We don’t really have any songs. We create it.” The conversation ensues:
“How come you can’t do that song?”
“Well we’re making everything up, every night.”
That usually comes off as being sort of a cooler impression, even if they still want to hear that song. It’s kind of neat to know that in the aftermath of the conversation, they’re surprised to find out that “Wow, you’re making everything up every night!”
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