An Interview with Kyle Hollingsworth
September 12th, 2014
Phases of the Moon Music and Arts Festival
I arrived slightly late to the press trailer and so, I would be the last to get an interview. It was going on five o’clock, and the first set of the String Cheese Incident was only a few short hours away. It was a long, chilly night for everyone, and it was going to get even colder for the debut of the Lunar Landing Conspiracy. I was supposed to interview Kyle Hollingsworth the day before at 2:45 PM, but due to great difficulties with the entrance to the festival, he had to reschedule. I was relieved, thinking that I was going to be the one to switch up on him having been stuck in a gridlock for several hours. The line was pretty rough that first day. Eventually, though, we worked out a time.
The interview was conducted in a small room of a thirty-foot (approximately) trailer with two windows lighting the room. As we entered the room he said, “I’ve been listening to Anders Osborne killing it out there.” He really was, covering the Grateful Dead’s “Going down the Road Feelin’ Bad” at the time. It had been a long night and not late enough of a morning for myself; therefore, I became acutely conscious of my own teetering coherence and slightly unnerved by the fact. That didn’t last long, though, and he held the dialogue to a very relaxed, humorous tone, despite his incredibly busy schedule. I was surprised that he even had the time to do the interview, but it seems he’s a man of his word – much respect. Here it is (minus the chatter):
How did you get into playing the keys and who are your biggest influences?
One of my biggest influences is here tonight – Bill Payne who played with Little Feat, and he’ll be part of the Lunar Landing Conspiracy as well. I think I got into keys…well, everybody had to take piano lessons, at least in my family – I’m one of seven (the youngest) – and we had to take piano lessons. So I did that and then after a while I thought, ‘this is really boring, I hate practicing’ and then I walked away from it and said I wouldn’t take any more lessons. Then my brothers started listening to the Grateful Dead and Little Feat and I thought, ‘you know what, this is actually pretty cool, that keyboard player is pretty raging – so I said I’d go back to piano lessons if I didn’t have to study Mozart all the time and the teacher was cool with that, so I kept studying. From there I went to college and once I got there I was super dedicated – got me in it pretty hard.
The motivation for sure came from us, but the idea came from our management team – we have been slightly doing that for the last 10 years or so, kind of under the radar; like, ‘we’re going to do a show with Little Feat’ – it wasn’t an official collaboration. In fact, we did get together with Paul Simon – we flew out to New York City and hung at his place (his rehearsal studio) for 3 days and learned a bunch of his songs and the idea was to do a Paul Simon Incident (and that’s still possibly in the works), but that’s where it all kind of hatched. So from there, in the last couple of years the festivals have been asking us to kind of mix it up; it’s been a lot of fun and a lot of work. Last night we were so excited just to play our own set; because, we have been studying for Kool & the Gang’s thing and then we did the Lauryn Hill Incident and it was like, ‘come on, we just want to play String Cheese songs.’
Well I was actually going to ask, do you feel like these inhibit your ability to really excel in a jam when you have to stick to their tunes?
Yeah, for sure. You know, we have to kind of understand where that musician is coming from and what they’re trying to achieve and where they want to be creatively. Like with Kool & the Gang, he was all about improv, but there’s a difference between a 3-minute improv and where String Cheese takes It, and he wasn’t quite ready for that. So I think we’ve had to feel out the different people, you know – Zac Brown was a lot more open to us going our own way and he kind of does that already.
Did you have any difficulty making these connections?
Yeah, Lauryn was more difficult for sure; Zac Brown was in from day one so he loved it, and JT was awesome too, so it varies.
How about the Lunar Landing Conspiracy set, will that be mainly an SCI show?
Yes, it’s going to be our set plus special guests, so we’ll do what we want to do. In fact, that’s where I’m going right after is to figure out what the heck we’re going to do – we don’t know what’s going to happen.
So your new album “Speed of Life” came out – could you explain the recording process a bit and how does it differ from recording with Cheese?
For my solo project I do a lot of writing at home and then bring it to the band and they interpret it through my eyes to some degree; so I’ll say, ‘I want this to sound like Supertramp, or I want this to sound like LCD Soundsystem, or I want this to be like a house thing’- and I play with the guys from The Motet usually so they say, “I got it, no problem.” With String Cheese, you bring a song in and all of a sudden it gets “Cheeseified,” or a “Cheese-over,” which in a lot of ways makes the song better than it ever could have been; because, it’s bigger than just one person. But I do like the process of being able to, at least every five years, release a solo disc where it’s just me, where I get to make the call. It’s limiting, but at the same time it’s gratifying to have my vision taken to its fullest; with Cheese, like I said, it gets better usually, and as a song-writer, I know Billy feels the same way, it can go in directions where you’re like, ‘Uhh, I wouldn’t have put that there, but sure.’ Colliding is a great example; it became this much bigger song than it ever would’ve been – I envisioned it being kind of a funk, afro tune and all of a sudden there’s the middle thing where Keith starts singing [Kyle hums the part] and I would never have thought about that – and that’s awesome.
So what made you choose the fall tour venues?
Good question; maybe you could tell me where I’m playing…
Oh, well ther…
I’m just being sarcastic – a lot of venues were chosen just for the day of the week and how big they are, and also we try to get as many tickets for our fans that we can sell directly. Ticketmaster is fine, they can do what they want to do, but we want the ability to sell tickets to our fans directly; because, your experience is a lot nicer and less expensive and you can be involved directly with us.
Great, I’ll be going to either the Capitol Theater or the State Theater and Foxwoods.
Nice, that’s awesome; I think I’ll be at all of those shows too, so…
Oh, alright, so maybe I’ll see you there.
Alright yeah, cool.
So when did you get to brewing beer and how has the process expanded since then?
I started brewing when I was pretty young, I think I was a little bit excited about drinking beer before 21, but that faded quickly —
*At this point a man cracked the door and Kyle looked up asking, “am I in trouble? What time is it? 5 of 5? Okay, I’m coming right now.” I motioned to wrap it up and he said in a slightly snobby tone –
Yeah, I have to go get ready for Lunar, so…
Oh yeah, that’s cool w-
No, no, I’m joking – so I started when I was very young and it’s been growing; I’ve been doing it for about 20 years and I think it’s only really gotten good in the last 5 years as I start getting together with other brewers.
How do you guys choose the covers you play and what makes certain ones stay in the repertoire?
We like to expand our horizons and try different covers that make sense to us as a style, like “Naive Melody” or something. Certain songs that we arrange to be more Cheese-like tend to stay in the repertoire.
Did you ever go to festivals or major events like this when you were younger?
Yeah I’d go see the Dead in certain areas at big parks or big parking lots…gosh I’m trying to think, I don’t really remember going to a lot of festivals like this. Fans these days are super lucky, like Electric Forest is a whole new level of festival and I wish I had found festivals and music this way when I was younger.
Do you still go see a lot of shows and would we ever catch you bopping around in a festival crowd?
Absolutely. I wouldn’t necessarily fly to go see a festival, but if it’s a festival near me, for sure – I love it.
I’m sure many Cheese fans would love to catch this humble master rocking in a crowd – so long as he’d get on stage and rip that keyboard, too. He went on to play an incredible night of music with both the String Cheese Incident and Lunar Landing Conspiracy, giving all the shivering heads a reason to get warm and get down. His keyboard brought the funk, filled the space, lit the fuse and rocked the falling mist and sharp wind – a special show for a battered crowd. Each time I witness a performance of his with SCI I invariably leave amazed, and after a very Cheesy summer, I will surely be back for more. Face: melted. I have never seen his solo project, but I have no doubt that they keep the groove and that they’re worth every cent. This November SCI will be touring the Northeast after playing three nights at Suwannee Hulaween in Live Oak, FL – catch a show, check out Kyle’s new album “Speed of Life” and keep it Cheesy, everybody.
Photos courtesy of Kyle Hollingsworth (Official Facebook Page)
Cover photo by Brian Spady
Special thanks to Kyle, Angela of MSO and Donica of All Eyes
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