the jams east
Bill Nershi of the String Cheese Incident tells Metropolis
what the term jam band really means.
|Left to right: Bill Nershi,
Kyle Hollingsworth, Michael Kang, Keith Moseley and Michael
The first day, we hiked to the top of Mt Naebathat
was a great way to break into Japan, recalls guitarist
Bill Nershi of jam band the String Cheese Incident. Its
probably safe to say that not too many bands appearing at
last years Fuji Rock Festival followed them to the top
of the precipitous mountain, but for a bunch of Colorado guys
whose band grew out of an aprËs ski act, it seemed appropriate.
As the String Cheese Incident gear up for their first solo
tour of Japan, Ive located them at The Plant studio
in Sausalito near San Francisco, where Nershi is putting the
finishing touches on a guitar solo for a new album due out
this summer. Its been great going into the redwoods
and going to the beach when we have time, Nershi says,
explaining why they chose the studio, which was also where
Fleetwood Mac recorded Rumors and Santana Supernatural. With
their decidedly countrified sound and laid-back airs, String
Cheese Incident are the antithesis of the urban rock, hip-hop
and electronica acts that make up the bulk of the foreign
talent touring Japan. But in the countrys budding jam-band
scene, they have found a welcoming audience.
String Cheese got their start on the western slopes of the
Rocky Mountains in Colorado, where they played for the aprËs
ski crowd at bars in resorts like Telluride. It was
the kind of thing where we were playing to support ourselves
and avoid getting a real job, recalls Nershi in a statement
that might resonate with Japans generation of rootless
furita. It really was kind of organic in the way it
We started playing more and more, and the response took us
by surprise to the point where we started saying, Man,
this is fun, people are digging us, maybe we should practice!
The band, which consists of mandolinist/violinist Michael
Kang, bassist Keith Moseley, pianist Kyle Hollingsworth and
percussionist Michael Travis in addition to Nershi, decided
to relocate to Boulder, Colorado, where they felt the band
would be better positioned. Their self-described sacrilegious
mix of bluegrass, calypso, salsa, Afro-pop, funk, rock and
jazz quickly built a following, and they were soon doing
upwards of 170 live dates a year.
The quintet debuted with the competent Born on the Wrong Planet
in 1997, but like any good jam band, the essence of the String
Cheese Incident experience is in their live shows. To impart
the atmosphere of their gigs out to a wider audience, the
band established their own record label, Sci Fidelity, and
began to release a series of CDs documenting each concert.
Among them is a recording of last years Fuji Rock performance,
which nicely captures the fluid improvisation and unprepackaged
vibe of a String Cheese Incident show.
Weve been recording all our shows for a long time
on multi-track, and when we mix those down we have a better-quality
sounding selection, says Nershi, comparing the discs
to the recordings produced by tapers whose forest
of microphones is a fixture of concerts by jam bands.
Theres a lot of people who dont hang out
in tape-trading circles, and I think that this gives them
a chance to say, Oh I really like these shows, I want
to pick up these CDs so I can remember the show, whether it
was my birthday, the night I lost my virginity, or whatever
the case may be.
Despite the revenue lost in CD sales, and perhaps because
like most jam bands, the String Cheese Incident probably make
the bulk of their money from live shows, the band still strongly
encourage tape-trading. Its an online thing now,
explains Nershi, and its good. Those are the people
that originally helped to spread the word about the band,
and they were the ones who first got the music out there.
Having been to a few Grateful Dead concerts myself back in
the day, I ask Nershi to define this amorphous term, jam
band, used to describe acts that follow in the footsteps
of those legendary San Francisco psychedelic warriors led
by the late Jerry Garcia. Rather than sounding like the Grateful
Dead (which String Cheese Incident nonetheless often do),
he says its more about bands that cater to fans that
want to see multiple shows, and offer a different show every
I dont think its necessarily the style of
music, because a lot of bands that have different styles of
music are clumped into the jam-band category. Its more
about bands that are willing to improvise a lot onstage, and
offer different song selections each night, so people can
go to different shows and not feel like theyre getting
the same shows spewed out each night.
But doesnt it really boil down to an excuse to take
acid? Oh nooo, never! responds Nershi with more
than a slight hint of sarcasm. No, he gets serious.
We have people who trip, we have people who dont;
we have people who drink; we have people who dont.
You know, a lot of times the shows are vacation time
for people, and since Im the one providing the entertainment,
I find that people who come to the shows like to party. Its
similar to an old Dead show, except maybe they were partying
a little harder.
The success of events like last years improvisational
True Peoples Celebration has demonstrated that Japan
now has a real market for jam bands, which seem to appeal
to ravers looking to move beyond waving their hands around
in front of a DJ, as much as to old-school hippies. With shaggy,
tie-dyed folk of all types in abundance around Tokyo, the
String Cheese Incident should be in for a warm welcome.
String Cheese Incident play Shibuya
AX on April 12-13. See listings for details.