photo by Dean Budnick
The life of a touring musician is one of perpetual motion, but with COVID-19 bringing the music industry to a halt, The String Cheese Incident’s Bill Nershi remarks that this may be the first time in a quarter century that he’s been able to sit still.
However, the guitarist remains busy, with constant Facetime and Zoom meetings with management as well as remote collaborations with bandmates and friends. Additionally, Nershi offers a unique, balanced perspective on these unprecedented times.
“Being home in quarantine, it’s really weird and I’d like to try to get people to understand that it’s okay, we’re going to be okay, but it is serious – everybody needs to stay home and keep this pandemic from getting out of control. Even now when people are starting to get out there, I think that the reentry into our new normal life should be done cautiously.”
Below, Nershi gives us a glimpse into his current, socially-distanced world.
How are you? How are you passing the time in quarantine?
Well, you know. It’s a whole different lifestyle, for sure. There’s a lot of adapting taking place – getting used to how we get food and how we communicate, how we play music together. But luckily, human beings are very good at adapting to situations. I’ve had periods of time where I felt like I was losing my mind a little bit. But, for the most part, things are going good. I’m here with my family in Denver, so I get to see my daughters regularly and spend time together.
You mentioned spending time with your daughters. Do you think this is the longest time you’ve been in one place for quite a while?
It’s really the first time in probably 25 years or so where I’m home for really long periods of time. There’re obviously some negative things going on with the COVID and everything, for sure: people dying, people getting sick, and the other negative aspects of this are real serious. On the other hand, there are some things that are kind of nice – it’s kind of nice to not have to run around the country all the time and go to Europe or fly here and there. I’m able to get back to just living in one place which is the way I grew up.
Are there any activities that you guys are doing to pass the time?
Well, my wife, Jill – she’s planting a garden out on her balcony at our apartment in Denver. We’ve got lettuce, spinach, and herbs in her garden. I’ve been doing a lot of ebay and that kind of stuff. I do some work with my photography on my computer, and we’ve also been doing a lot of music videos, so that’s been kind of a cool way to keep creating during a time here where we can’t get together and play.
Any songwriting going on?
We have some ideas for songs about different subjects. I’ve been playing guitar a lot and singing over here. I played a little chord progression the other day that might turn into something because I have ideas and then boom – they’ll start hatching.
Regarding some of SCI’s quarantine videos, is recording that stuff and layering it remotely a weird experience?
The John Prine video was the first time we recorded in that way where each person would add their part to the original thing when it went around. And, it’s challenging, you know? I’m starting to get used to the process, but adding the video element adds a whole other set of challenges to get something that you’re happy with. So, I’ve been getting used to that process. But, the end result with the help of Jason [Hann] producing that video was surprisingly good.
I suppose Jason is the most tech savvy of you guys. Who is the least tech savvy?
I’d say you’re probably talking to him now! [Laughs.] I don’t know, there are some things I’m good at with technical stuff, and there are some things that I have no clue about at all. The least tech savvy? Yeah, that’s me.
Tell me a little bit why you chose “Pretty Good” for SCI’s John Prine tribute.
The thing about the John Prine songs is he has a way of turning a phrase and making it just stick in your head. That one was one that stuck in my head, and I just felt like it had a little bit of that tongue and cheek aspect especially right now when everything is so different. I think there’s a funny way that it applies to these times, and maybe it’s a little reassuring to people that think that their world has been turned upside down. But, we’re still moving on.
Did The String Cheese Incident ever cross paths with Prine at festivals or anything like that?
We didn’t get the opportunity to meet him. But, especially when you look at songwriters and what they can do, John Prine is right up at the top of the list as far as how prolific he was. He’s written so many songs and so many classics, you know? “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You into Heaven Anymore” and the “Dear Abby” song I always think about – that song’s hilarious. There are so many great tunes that he’s written, and anybody who hasn’t gotten to check him out, listen to some of that older stuff. There are some songs that will just make you laugh, and some songs will make you cry.
Even at the very beginning, his first record had “Angel From Montgomery” and “Pretty Good” on it.
Right. “Angel From Montgomery” – that song has got more musicians through happy hour shows than probably anything else. “Angel From Montgomery,” “Brown Eyed Girl,” “Margaritaville.” When I was doing my happy hour scene, those were a regular part of the repertoire.
Since touring remains uncertain, tell me a little bit about how those conversations go down in the age of COVID-19?
We’ve been doing a lot of meetings. Zoom meetings with band and management. We meet once a week and talk about what’s going on, you know, Friday Night Cheese, and ideas we’re doing. We raised money for a crew with the first three or four Friday Night Cheeses, taking care of our crew, making sure everybody’s okay, making sure we’re okay and able to financially get through this and everything.
It’s just kind of out of our hands when we play again. So, when we’re able to play again, we’re going to be on it and go for it, and in the meantime, we’re figuring out, “What do we do to be able to get our music out to our fans?”
You mentioned Friday Night Cheese. SCI was one of the first ones to come out and embrace this weekly archival format. How did that idea come about?
That was a management idea that was brought forward. We tape so many of our shows, especially bigger onesm where we use these multi-camera shoots of the shows, so it seemed like a no-brainer.
The band is all we’re talking about, and trying to come up with ways of reaching our fans in a live way. So, once we get that figured out and we are able to get together, then we will even if we can’t have audiences. We’re working towards being able to do livestream shows so that we can connect with the audience in real time.
I hope a lot of bands come up with cool solutions to this very weird problem.
Right. And, the way we’re passing around these videos over-dubbing video, it’s very easy for String Cheese to say, “Let’s do a video with theStringdusters,” or, “Let’s do a video with Umphreys,” and do the same thing. So, you never know what could come out of this. It could be some cool stuff.