Over the last several years, Colorado-based jamband String Cheese Incident have intentionally slowed things down, trading long touring stretches for days at home and musical side-projects, only coming together for festival gigs and one-off runs. Studio work, too, took a backseat.
But next week (April 29), the band releases "Song in My Head," their sixth studio album and first in nine years. The 10-song set features polished-off versions of recent live staples, where they continue to blend bluegrass, rock, funk and afro-pop with help this time from Talking Heads' keyboardist Jerry Harrison taking on production duties.
Stream "Song in My Head" below and read what mandolin/vocalist Michael Kang and percussionist Jason Hann reveal about how the new album came together and the band's future.
It's been nine years since your last album. What was the impetus for the band to get in the studio again?
Michael Kang: We had been playing and working on a bunch of new songs towards the end of 2012. We were rehearsing for our New Years shows in Colorado in a local Boulder studio. At the end of the rehearsals, we thought the songs were all pretty far along and decided to lay down the basic tracks while we were already in the studio. We spent a few days doing that and then we thought we could really raise the bar so we reached out to our friend Jerry Harrison. Jerry then came out and we worked on some of the songs and re-tracked others. We are all really proud of this record. We are proud of our other records too, but this one just feels the most like us. It just sort of jumps out at you, it feels alive.
Jason Hann: Initially, we were thinking about taking four songs and doing an EP with one producer and taking another four songs and doing an EP with another producer. These were songs that we've been playing for the last five years and we finally felt an urgency to record and make them all part of the studio experience.
The band has been a bit on-again, off-again over the last few years. Is that downtime necessary for your creative flow?
MK: For us, it is. We toured incessantly for so many years and were fried when we took a break in 2007 and 2008. We needed it. For us now, we enjoy playing fewer shows but making every show count in a unique way. We still are doing a bunch of shows this year and plan on playing even more next year. Everyone is super excited with the band right now. There is new creative energy. We just rehearsed for several weeks and have a bunch of new songs that we are excited to play.
JH: It's definitely something to get used to as far as playing more sporadic shows. But we went into that not with the intention that we were starting, stopping and stalling. People in the band have families now and everyone wants to make sure that they're getting that "grow-up time." If they're happy, that's going to be inspiring to play music.
Obviously, String Cheese Incident has been very successful as a live act. At this point, what does making a studio record do for you?
MK: That's a great question. Record sales are down and a lot of bands are shying away from making records. We really love it. For us, it gets us in a real creative zone. We get the opportunity to get together, rehearse, write new songs, and try new things out. I think "Song in My Head" played a key role in motivating us all to keep writing and pushing what we are doing.
JH: There's still a vision of a song that we play live to really see it through. Everyone of us, at this point, are songwriters and are really interested in the production aspect of being in the studio.
What are some of your favorite moments on the new album?
MK: I'd say I really love the reworked versions "Betray the Dark," "Struggling Angel" and "So Far From Home." Kyle [Hollingsworth, keyboardist] has a bunch of really cool tunes on this album including "Rosie" and "Colliding" which both are super epic.
What's the String Cheese Incident future look like?
MK: We are about to start a short tour in Oakland and then we are doing a bunch of festivals over the next few months: Jazzfest in New Orleans, Memphis in May, Wakarusa, Electric Forest, and Lockn'. We are talking about working on another album possibly as well.
JH: Now it's time with the new recording to stretch out and play markets we haven't been to in awhile. Have that feeling of all being together for a run. There's this second creative surge we've had in practices in the last few weeks.