Thursday night, 4/26/2012, EOTO brought their latest tour to Buffalo’s Town Ballroom. This was the first time Buffalo has gotten to see the brand new “Lotus Flower” stage set up. The lighting and projections onto, and behind the flowers were awesome, and great to photograph. The band was on fire most all of the night, and the crowd seemed to love every minute of it, I know I did. Earlier in the day I got the chance to sit down for a short while and interview drummer of EOTO and also, Percussionist for the String Cheese Incident, Jason Hann.
CC: I’ve read that you started playing drums professionally at around 12 years old. How old were you when you first started playing drums?
JH: I was 11.
CC: So you started playing professionally a year in?
JH: Yeah, A year in. I think it was a thing where, I was going to see my dad’s band play all the time. And I mean, it was almost 5 nights a week. He would go from like 7 to 11, so I would always catch like the first couple of hours, and that was almost on a daily basis. So I think I just absorbed it. You know, I’d played music before and I did choir, and took piano lessons, but I never necessarily felt like “Oh, I’m gonna do music,” by any means. And I think just doing my homework there, and where I was sitting in the bar, I could only really see the drummer and I think I just kept picking that stuff up. And you know, you hear a lot of the same songs over and over again, at least you memorize the songs, but then beyond that, I started remembering the parts. The different drum fills that the guy would always do, and stuff like that.
CC: When you were in your teens, What bands were your influences and shaped your playing?
JH: Oh Wow, Yeah. Well when I was in junior high school, the very first music that I got way into was a combination of Elvis, Paul Simon, The Beatles and The Jacksons, as early as I can remember. And then when I was actually playing drums, the kids I was playing music with, everyone was playing more like metal. But it was kinda pop-metal too but we would play Rush, and the bands of that time like Dio, Sabbath and Ozzy. But at the same time, the music I’d be playing with my dad would be like Jimmy Buffet, Bob Marley, The Police, Crosby Stills and Nash, and James Taylor. But then when I was more in rock mode, I was a lot more into like Yes, and King Crimson and you know, a lot of the progressive rock stuff. When I got into high school, then I started getting a lot more into more like punk music. Butthole Surfers, and Black Flag. My favorite label was SST, which had like Minutemen, Black Flag, Meat Puppets and Sonic Youth. And that was when R.E.M. was first coming out so, in some ways I was looking at Athens like, Oh my god, what an amazing little city. I grew up in Florida, so I was like, “I hope I can go there one day.” But at the same time, I was looking at San Pedro, where the SST label was out of. And I’m like “I gotta get to California” you know? And I think the Chili Peppers were pretty fresh too, and then also Bad Brains, I was a big Bad Brains fan. You know, so it was kind of funny, all of these different things were happening at once. Oh yeah, and a giant Peter Gabriel fan too in high school. Which led into all of these other things like Laurie Anderson, Kate Bush, Talking Heads, all these little subcultures of artsy stuff, and rock stuff. And I was a big jazz fan too, and world music fan, because my dad was playing a lot of, and had a lot of musicians from like Trinidad, and Jamaica. So yeah, at a really early age, I was playing Raggae at the same time I was playing any Rock and Roll, or even before that. Oh yeah, and Bauhaus!
CC: When I first started seeing you guys (EOTO) in like 2007, you guys sort of had a different sound. You guys incorporate a lot of the same stuff, but you have gotten a lot more into dubstep. Do you think you will ever venture back to the old sound, or do you see any new sounds coming in the future?
JH: Yeah well, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. I mean, depending on what you like. Ever since the beginning of this year, we’ve really changed up our profile, where its kind of like, we go through the whole gamut of slower R&B, kind of sexier and quieter stuff, and house music, and hang out in those zones for quite a bit longer. And we’ll drop the Dubstep when its time to you know, peak it up. But really maybe only play it 25% of the show overall so, It’s more about like going through different moods, and we’re both getting better at different things that we’re doing. And for ourselves, to keep it interesting, it’s nice to take it to a different place.
CC: I’ve read a handful of reviews on the recent String Cheese Fall Tour, and and all accounts have the band playing tighter, taking more chances, and seeing better communication on stage, and the shows sounded great on the recordings. Did you guys notice the chemistry tightening up, and How did you and the band feel about tour overall?
JH: It seemed like everyone was really loving it and there was some shows, like in Philadelphia, where, at least within the band, felt that they were like some of either both, the funnest and best playing that the band has almost ever done. Especially in the more recent musical profile that we’ve had going. You know, from that perspective, yeah, there was a lot of breakthroughs for us. Like on the bus also, doing it, making it go, a lot of that was there. You know, I think the whole thing with touring, is just really everyone getting used to each other because now everyone has been spending a lot of time with their families and developing their own like, independent lives and profiles. So to come back and share it with a bunch of other people on a bus, you know, It can be really tricky. But on this tour, I think knowing it was a short tour, and that we haven’t done anything like that in a while, it felt really good to just be in that all for one mode, you know, one for all, and go out and go up against it. And let people know that, if anything, that we’re stronger than ever. And I think that’s reflected a lot by, you know, some of the older fans get disillusioned by the direction of the music, or their impression of what was going on within the band, but this past tour, I saw a ton of new faces, and young faces, that have never seen a String Cheese show before. And they were all about it, they don’t necessarily have the preconceived notions of even what other shows were like. They just know, that they were having the best times of their lives, you know, in the moment. And I think that goes a long way.
CC: Is there a new String Cheese Incident album on the horizon? And if so, what are some of the songs you guys are working on for it and is the sound going to change at all from the last album?
JH: Well, what we’re doing right now is we’re taking some of the live recordings that we did from tour, and it looks like we’re trying to keep a lot of the live performance, but we’re gonna go in and overdub a bunch on top of it, to try and turn them into studio recordings. But we’re sorta taking it upon ourselves, as opposed to getting an outside producer. And we’re just passing the tracks around to whoever wants to contribute more to a particular song. And right now, were concentrated a little more on songs like BollyMunster, and Bumpin’ Reel, and Rivertrance possibly, I don’t think we’ve ever like formally recorded that song. But we’ll see how it goes, it’s an experiment for us. And Kyle’s been writing some new songs and hopefully before we start tour we’ll have a couple of songs that we can put out there. But as far as a whole record, I don’t even know if we’re gonna get into that mode necessarily. We might be in the mode of just releasing songs throughout the year, but you know, no definites on any of it. Right now it’s really hard to find the type of schedule where we can all lock ourselves away for 2 months to record at the same time. So, that part seems pretty unfathomable of happening any time soon. But, we’re loving the new songs that we’ve got going, and I think Billy was wanting to put out an EP of some of the jams from this last tour, but just clean it up really nice so it sounds really good quality, remix it and remaster it. So, there is definitely plans, we’re psyched to get new things out there.
CC: What’s your favorite place in the world to play in?
JH: Oh my god, wow, that’s crazy! Well, one of my most amazing experiences was playing in the Sahara Desert for “Festival in the Desert,” it takes places about 2 hours outside of Timbuktu, out in the country of Mali. It’s funny, it’s a super eclectic festival, anyone that just makes it out there, there’s like 2,000 people out there total, but just to get out there, you have to take such a butt whoopin’ that everyone has great stories out there. And most of the people out there, as far as from outside of Africa, are people that are involved in some pretty big projects like some worldwide AIDS awareness things, and the head of the organization in the UK in charge of helping fight malaria. But also, people like Robert Plant have played there, Jimmy Buffet, and I believe Bono have played there. It’s just this festival out there for the nomad tribes of the area, but it’s just caught on as like a pretty amazing festival. Way different from like, Lollapalooza or anything here at all. You’re out in the desert in makeshift tents, and you better bring warm stuff for night, stuff for the day, because the heat is gonna kick your ass. The fine dust in the air is gonna kick your ass. But, I mean the experience, you get to see Camel Races and Camel Dancing, and at night, all this music from all over Africa is shared there. To see some of the bigger stars in such a low-key setting, where like, none of the African audience knows who a Robert Plant is, to them it’s just an old guy with long blonde hair. So, it’s great, under that guise, all the amazing things that can happen. That stands out, that might be my favorite festival of all time. (laughs.) If you talk to the Toubab Krewe guys, who go to like Mali a bunch, they were taking a plane from Bamako to I think Timbuktu, or somewhere near there, and they’re taking off in their plane, seeing like plane parts fall off while they’re in the air. And it took us 2 days driving through the desert in rough terrain, and your car shaking for two days, so just getting out there is a giant story, and when you get to the fest, you’re putting up with the environment and stuff. But the music is so incredible, it’s such the reward, it’s like “YES! This is why I’m here!”
CC: I read you worked on Dr. Dre’s album, Chronic 2001?
JH: Yep, I did. I was in there for the sessions. I didn’t get credit on the record, I think only one percussionist got credited, but there was a few of
us that went in there, and I think tracks just spread on there and on other projects.
CC: Do you know any of the songs you actually contributed to?
JH: I don’t, when we were doing it, Dre would basically just have stuff going, and I remember hearing Snoop and Eminem’s Voices, but I mean, nothing was super hooky there. I was in the studio at the same time with Scott Storch, and another keyboard player, I think it was the keyboard player for The Roots, they were in the control room with Dr. Dre, and I was in the main recording room with all my percussion set up. I wish I would have taken pictures back then, I just was nervous myself. I had all my stuff set up, all nice and mic’d up, and then that was about like a 12 hour day, where he would just hit play and we’d be doing our thing and we’d hear different rappers over it, and when he found some kind of hook coming from the 3 of us, he’d just stop tape and play it back for us, and say everyone go off of what he’s playing. That would happen to all of us, all the way around. You know, the way hip-hop is, you just never know what is gonna get cut up and kept. I’ll listen back to that record and feel like I hear something that I would do, but you never really know how it comes out.
CC: Your style is different depending on which band you’re playing with, be it EOTO or String Cheese. Which style do you enjoy playing more, Percussion or actually sitting on a kit like with EOTO?
JH: I like that it’s both, you know. By the time we finish EOTO touring, and get back into the String Cheese world, I’m so happy to be playing with all my String Cheese toys and stuff, like Congas, Djembe, Talking Drum, and Washboard and Timbales, I really enjoy those. But then you know, after practicing a bunch of months, and doing a full summer of String Cheese stuff, I really enjoy getting back on the drum kit, and doing the touch pads and everything with EOTO, it’s just, they’re both always expanding and trying to get better at both, so the end result is just to keep growing and learning. So, it’s never one more than the other, it’s just always a nice change up from the other.
CC: What are some of the bands you listen to most on your iPod these days?
JH: Well, I don’t even have an iPod right now, it’s so funny. On my iPhone I have “Wonder Radio” so, so many times I’ll stream stations from different parts of the world, it’s such a great app. What do I have on here? (Jason looks through his app) I’ve got 2 radio stations from Dakar, Senegal. I’ve got some radio stations from Jamaica in there, some stations from Algeria, Soukous radio from the Congo. I love listening to local radio stations from different countries. Even if I can’t understand what they’re saying in between, its like still stuff that they’re playing right now that affecting the culture, because so many times, you may not hear of an artist from a region til they’re kind of a legend in their zone. That’s the only way they will come here. Even when I travel to different countries, I always try to get local, usually black marketed music, just because that’s what happens with the music industries there. But I’ll always come home with cassettes of stuff because they’re still used a lot, or bootleg CD’s. So, I love tuning into radio stations from around the world. And Cuba too, like listening to Salsa music that is out right now in Cuba is so much fun to listen to. There is a station out of Los Angeles, Loyola Radio, on weekends they have Latin music, Salsa music all day. When I’m driving around L.A., I always put it on, on the weekends driving down the beach listening to a lot of salsa music. And since I do the DJ thing too, I’m always just kinda up on whats going on with the Dubstep world, and Drumstep and Electro, but I can’t say that I actively, unless I’m really trying to find tracks that I want to play, that I’m casually listening to it all the time.
CC: Legendary drummer Levon Helm recently passed away, so extremely sad, he was a legend. Were you influenced at all by his playing, and what are some of your thoughts on his influence on modern rock music.
JH: So Sad. The way he had such this perfect marriage of groove and melody and vibe and feel and stuff like that. Easily one of my all-time favorite drummers, and singers. In my dad’s band, he had these two brothers, the Kirkpatrick brothers, they both sang, and one was a drummer, so I was just used to seeing a drummer sing all the time. But then when I would listen to all my favorite bands, there weren’t many drummer/singers. Right away listening to The Band when I was younger, I was like “Woah! That’s like the best groove of all time,” and then seeing The Waltz at a pretty early age and seeing the drummer singing. He’s absolutely been the favorite. And then I felt bad reading the story of The Band, how it all went down with the royalties, and how he had nothing for a bunch of years, and having to battle throat cancer. I was so excited when he was making that comeback and starting to hear him be more active, and then he wins that Grammy Award, then he’s doing the Midnight Ramble sessions. That was actually one of the things that String Cheese was saying at our last meeting, was we wanted to do one of those Midnight Rambles, we wanted to do a show in New York, but on the way to somewhere else, Do one of those Midnight Rambles and try and be a guest of his. You know, Just a phenomenal talent, and I’m so glad he lived a pretty full and very humble life. And I think his impact is going to be even stronger now that he passed away. Already I think he’s pretty universally accepted as there’s no question to him having played at such a high level.
CC: You play a lot of festivals and other shows with other bands, What has been your favorite sit in you’ve done?
JH: Well we did that whole Big Summer Classic Tour in 2005 and we were always sitting in with the other bands then. And also early on in the Jam Cruise’s I sat in a bunch with a lot of other bands. I was kinda regularly doing stuff with Michael Franti, and he was always just really welcoming and was like, you know “Please play the whole set,” and sometimes during Big Summer Classic we would do these drum marches from the stage out into the field, and he was always really fun to do that with. Its mixed, sometimes you can sit in with a group and its not necessarily a feature thing
and the song just kinda goes by, but it’s always fun to sit in with other people. I had fun sitting in with Hot Buttered Rum a few times also, one time we were both in Pittsburgh and we went to their show and sat in with them, they had a drum set. Then they all came over and sat in with EOTO, which was a great sit in. All those guys bringing all their organic instruments and sitting in with us, it was a really good time. I’m pretty sure I have it recorded.
CC: When you’re not touring, which doesn’t seem to be often, you always seem to be on the road doing something or other. What do you like to do in your free time, non-musically?
JH: Well, I started getting a lot more active recently. I’m just at this point where I want to feel like I can run and be active and stuff. It’s kind of weird, doing all the road stuff, I’ll walk a bunch or do something like that, but there’s very few times that I’m just out like there pushing myself physically. So this past year, I’ve gotten into quite a few different sports. I’ll try to swim when I can, and I just started playing Tennis again, which I haven’t done since I was like 15, and that’s really good, I love doing that. Then go to the gym and work out a lot, there is a guy at the gym who was a professional boxer a long time ago, and so every once in a while he’ll like show me stuff. Boxing is this incredible workout, 3 minutes in a ring just destroys people. Even for marathoners, and people who are in top shape, I see it all the time. They’ll go into the gym and do a session with this guy and they’re like “What the …,” because that anxiety part kicks in and it just drains you. So, to be in that kind of shape is a different kind of shape. But for the most part, music is still my hobby too, so when I’m not doing sports stuff or something, I’m writing music or finding different things to practice percussion wise, that’s so fun. That’s pretty much it, I’m really enjoying my time at home too. I mean, I rarely go out when I’m home unless there is a really good friend of mine playing around town, or a group of musicians getting together. I enjoy being home a lot, and fully want to submerse myself into it, and me and my wife catching up with each other, and putting everything aside to spend that time.
CC: It’s been awesome, Thank you!
JH: Right On!