Jason Hann: percussion
Kyle Hollingsworth: keyboards and vocals
Michael Kang: mandolin, guitar and vocals
Billy Nershi: acoustic and electric guitars and vocals
Keith Moseley: bass and vocals
Michael Travis: drums
“Stop looking around for all that you need/Cause you see that it’s all here waiting for you” “Believe”
December 23, 2017, will represent 24 years since a group of ski fanatics enjoying a powder-packed El Nino winter in Crested Butte, CO, decided to get together and play for their fellow snow worshipers. That was the birth of String Cheese Incident, or simply SCI as they’re known to their legions of loyal fans who flock to their shows and curated festivals.
To last as long as they have as a world-class rock band, SCI has to continue to have trust in one another, to, as the title of their seventh studio album puts it, Believe. The release on their own SCI Fidelity Records is the first to come out of their just-opened Sound Lab Studio, the follow-up to 2014’s A Song in My Head, which was their first new album in close to a decade. Like that release, Believe was produced by Talking Heads’ keyboardist Jerry Harrison, and includes nine, brand-new, original tunes, most of which were the product of a fruitful week-long songwriting retreat in Sedona, AZ back in 2015.
Reversing the process, SCI created and recorded the songs before introducing them in concert, a contrast to how they’d done things in the past. The band’s eclectic palette of styles has never been more apparent – from the funky wah-wah guitar laced with tribal percussion of the title track and the “catchy little number” that is the sing-song single, “Sweet Spot,” to the country/hip-hop hybrid of “Get Tight,” the Eagles homage of “Down a River,” with its Appalachian a cappella chanting, the Beatles/Pink Floyd psychedelia of “Flying” and the Afro-Caribbean reggae riddims of “Beautiful.”
Each of the individual members’ musical influences come shining through – Bill Nershi’s love of roots Americana, southern rock and British music; Michael Kang’s affinity for primal soul; Keith Moseley’s country, classic rock and bluegrass; Kyle Hollingsworth’s funk and singer/songwriter folk, and Jason Hann and Michael Travis’ African beats and electronic collaborations (as in their band EOTO).
The common denominator, as multi-instrumentalist Kang points out is “making you move… That’s always been our ethic, to create great dance music.”
With its album cover image of the band huddled together before going onstage and the title track’s spiritual plea to be happy with the things you have rather than pining for what you don’t, Believe shows a group of creative individuals pushing themselves to continue being relevant to the tight-knit community which has grown up alongside the music.
“It’s about believing in ourselves and the music we make together,” says Moseley. “The desire to do something collectively that’s greater than the sum of our parts. As well as the connection we bring to the stage and our fans.”
“Keeping a group of six individuals together as a band through all our life changes is no easy task,” echoes Kang. “You have to live life fearlessly to stay on the edge. You have to be present for the process.”
The past few years have found SCI moving the focus from their always-hectic touring schedule – which includes curated annual festivals like Electric Forest in the summer and Hulaween in the fall, interspersed by assorted Incident collaborations with the likes of Lauryn Hill, the Doobie Brothers, Big Gigantic and Zac Brown Band – to a more regular schedule of releasing studio albums. Independent from the very start, SCI now boasts not only their own record label (SCI Fidelity Records), but a recording studio as well, which has unleashed their creative juices.
“The idea of just turning the key, walking in and recording has given us a new perspective,” says Keith. “We can now lay down a new song and put it out without waiting to complete the full album. It also shortens the time between conception and realization to release and ultimately, playing it live.”
“What’s liberating for us is having the freedom to be creative without worrying about wasting time and watching the clock,” adds Kang. “Being a democracy can be exhausting sometimes because of the amount of negotiation. Having our own place to record and rehearse enabled us to relax a bit and do things on our own terms. Even if the pressure to create great music is still there. After 25 years, it’s about time we put as much energy into the recording as we do live performances.”
SCI has been on the cutting-edge of the DIY philosophy since their very start, and Believe offers the fruits of the band’s spirit of self-sufficiency. You could even say they’ve hit that “Sweet Spot,” though don’t expect String Cheese to remain in any one place for too long.
“We’re all music fans and we continue to find inspiration in the different bands and artists we listen to,” explains Moseley. “Our drive is to further our craft, the musicianship and the songwriting. We’ve created the soundtrack to the lives of our fans, and we feel a responsibility to this amazing community that’s inspired listening to our music. I’m as proud of that as anything, and want to keep it alive as long as we can.”
“The fans are our life’s blood,” says Kang. “Without them, there’s no spectacle. We need people to continue connecting emotionally to what we’re doing. And to do that we need to continue making new music, and challenging ourselves to dig deeper.”
Kang turns to that wizened philosopher Woody Allen’s observation that relationships are like sharks… and bands. “They have to constantly move forward or they die.”
On Believe, SCI prove there’s still blood in the water… and all over these new tracks.