Some musical acts just seem to have a knack for attracting thousands of people to follow them around the country, catching show after show and living off the sale of anything from grilled cheese sandwiches to…well anything else that fellow concert goers may be seeking from the lot scene. The String Cheese Incident is one of these acts, a group that favors letting that freak flag fly over the status quo, a band that has always pushed boundaries, not just lifestyle wise, but also in terms of genre, musicality and live shows.
For many avid fans, the extravaganza that encircles SCI’s NYE runs is the cream of the crop, and Rootfire is here to offer a pair of tickets to the opening night of the festivities, December 28 at the 1st Bank Center in the Denver suburb of Broomfield, CO. Enter below for your chance to win!
From jam, to bluegrass, to world and reggae, as an outfit SCI have never shied away from their creative expression. This diversity is reflected in their latest single “Illegal,” a reggae influenced track written by drummer Michael Travis. Rootfire had the chance to catch up with Travis and get the low down on this latest track, the impact of touring for 25 years with a band and the difference having your own recording studio makes.
Rootfire: First off, congrats on 25 years with the The String Cheese Incident! Touring as a musician can offer real perspective regarding different parts of the country and world. You get to experience first hand the vibe of different regions, get to know people from a variety of walks of life and have the opportunity to interact with them via your art. After a quarter of a century of touring and growing as an artist, how has the insight you’ve gained as a musician impacted your worldview?
Michael Travis: So much has changed for me. Perhaps the most profound is the ego death that has occurred by being in a collective with so many heavy-duty musicians. I’ve really learned how to be happy about being a cog in the wheel and honoring majority decisions. It’s also heightened my awareness of how blessed my life has been and increased my empathy for everyone who have to do menial unfulfilling jobs. I am humbled.
RF: The latest single from SCI is a song written by you, entitled “Illegal.” The refrain asks, “Will they make us illegal?” Talk to us about the inspiration and meaning behind this song. What are some of the social issues that you are looking at, and what can fans do to get behind them?
MT: It’s long seemed to me that many of the dehumanizing, oppressive laws have a coordinated center. (they) The fact that weed is still illegal, that the middle class is being erased by stagnating wages and trying to get everyone hooked on personality mod. antidepressants all seem to come from the same central desire to keep everyone dazed and producing for the state. And protesting in the streets continues to become marginalized and seems to make very little difference. Voting still seems like the most profound action that can be taken. There are still politicians that care about people and they are starting to rise in the ranks. Consumer choices also make a huge difference in a capitalist society. Buy an electric car if you can. Buy organic produce. Try to avoid daily pharm use, etc.
RF: The SCI Sound Lab has been around for a couple years now—is it more than just a recording studio? Now that you’ve settled into it a bit, how has having a musical hub changed the way the band creates?
MT: It’s night and day. So much creative latitude. Without the looming bill ticking away in the background at a proper studio we can take our time and try out all kinds of stuff. Also, having friends come in on a whim to record is now so effortless.
RF: Looking at “Illegal,” this is a song written by you, but there is so much more going on here than just chords and lyrics. How did the arrangement come into being for this song?
MT: We often all have a hand in arranging. I wrote the chords and parts for the most part and lyrics and then presented it in three chunks to the band (verse, chorus, bridge) then we all toss ideas about how to put it together. Many of our songs have that process.
RF: Do you guys strive for a different approach in the studio vs. live, or is it about bringing the vibe of the live show that you have built such a reputation for into the studio?
MT: We love the idea of changing it up in the studio and utilizing all the tricks available. We do seem to think like live musicians, so our studio tricks are more tame. Our album Untying The Not that was produced by Youth (Killing Joke, The Yerve) has a very heavy studio approach. He was a very heavy-handed producer that brought amazing results. We would have never allowed any member of our band to have so much authority to create something like that without a producer.
RF: “Illegal” has some distinctly reggae influences that come across. SCI has always been a band that successfully explores a wide range of genres—what inspired you to write a reggae song? Are there any particular artists that you turn to when it comes to this genre?
MT: As the chorus came to me I kept hearing the reggae chop. It felt natural. Protest songs and reggae go well together. I’m not really that deep into the reggae world to know a ton about different artists. Bob Marley of course is an eternal well spring of cool. I was a huge Police fan. I think that is always with me when addressing anything in that domain.
RF: For me, I grew up going to String Cheese shows from my mid-teens. I remember catching shows at the Sedona Cultural Park Amphitheatre before it shut down, and making the pilgrimage from Arizona up to Horning’s Hideout in Oregon to see the likes of Xavier Rudd make their US debut. The sense of community and family that accompanied these events has always stayed with me. I’m curious to hear from you: Looking back at the last 25 years what are some of the strongest memories you carry with you from your time with SCI?
MT: Oh so many. Tough to pull them out. Once in Sedona actually I got really Dosed up and had to actively restructure myself to be able to perform. Thirty minutes before the set I came in the dressing room and Kang melted into 1000 eyeballs. And I said “uh oh this is for real” but I managed to pull it all together and played really well. Dressing up as the Ape from 2001 space odyssey was wild at NYE one year in Portland. Doing “Jump” by Van Halen dressed as David Lee Roth and doing the splits on the last note and tearing my hamstring terribly. So so many amazing memories. What a profound and wonderful journey. Bring joy to people’s lives and all the times I’ve been told “you guys changed my life” is so amazing and humbling. Eternally grateful to be a part of this experience.