Interview: EOTO’s Jason Hann on Improvisation, Inspiration, and Coming to the Rescue
In anticipation of their upcoming national tour, Sensible Reason had the chance to speak with EOTO‘s drummer and vocalist Jason Hann. EOTO crisscrosses the country blowing out basement dives, packed theaters, and stages under the stars. Check your festival schedules: this 100% improvised dubstep/breakbeat/house/drum & bass/trip-hop duo is the premier late-night party in the country.
Throbbing bass and thudding beats are the signatures of this project from drummers Michael Travis and Jason Hann. Born out of their shared love of electronic dance music, EOTO’s M.O. is to take the free-wheeling party vibe of a DJ set to the next level by using organic instruments, innovative performance technology, and uncharted musical exploration. Live drums, guitars, keys, and vocals are mixed, remixed, and sampled on the fly using cutting-edge programs. This is all done without a script, and without a net.
Everyone here at Sensible Reason is excited for upcoming summer tours, and the influx of festival lineups that are pouring out; we are always stoked to see EOTO on the bill! Naturally, we had plenty of questions for the String Cheese Incident percussionist and EOTO drummer.
So we’ll start off basic here. For anyone who doesn’t know, how would you describe EOTO?
It is a journey of improvised music, making up music right on the spot and doing it from the perspective of bass music which encompasses all of electro, dubstep, and glitch hop, and even some downtempo type of music and funky soul music. We have no songs or setlist, so we go on this journey and bring the crowd along with us.
Who are your early musical influences and do you find yourself incorporating those sounds into EOTO?
My early influences are all over the place. Some individual artists would be Peter Gabriel, Stevie Wonder, The Police, Led Zeppelin; there is a whole cross section of that music. I’m also influenced by music from different parts of the world, like salsa music and different types of music from Africa and Spain. It kind of depends of what I’m listening to in the moment, and all of those influences come out in EOTO world and in String Cheese world. I really enjoy absorbing all of those influences and making something of my own, and creating my own voice by being inspired by them.
One of my favorite parts of seeing you guys is your vocals. Are they planned out or improvised? To what degree?
Half the show I am singing songs from something else, whether it’s an old school rap song, or something modern, or just a song that pops into my head in the moment. I have an iPad which is full of lyrics because I sort of know a couple of lyrics inside my head to a ton of different songs, but there are some songs that just pop into my head and I’m like “God, I wish I really knew all the words to that song.” With lyrics onhand, if something does come along I can go for it.
With the other half I just put syllables with melodies and rhythms together, and just make up a kind of new language of what I am feeling in that moment. I get a lot of that influence from musicians all over the world; even if I don’t understand what they are saying when I am playing with them, hearing the syllables in a certain way evokes something which gives me an idea of what the singer is saying.
Electric Avenue was the first song that I downloaded when I started using the internet, so I was excited to see you play “Electric Forest Avenue” last year in Rothbury. Was that planned out?
That was completely on the fly, I don’t even know what was in my head. I might have done “Electric Avenue” one other time at some random club but just being on stage and seeing the forest, I think it just popped into my head that “this is Electric Forest, this would be the PERFECT place.” I forgot what the music sounds like but I think we were just at the right tempo and I was like, you know what? Let’s do this. People remember that particular moment, “Electric Avenue” at Electric Forest.
A few of my friends refused to listen to anything instrumental until after they caught your set at this year’s Electric Zoo. Is introducing electronic fans to the live music scene (and vice versa) something you have experienced a lot with your music?
It works both ways. When we first started EOTO, the only way people knew us was that we were from SCI, and a lot of our fans sort of hated what we were doing. It was like, “Hey there’s a laptop on stage, and the guy who plays percussion is playing drums, and the guy who plays drums is playing keyboard!” There was a certain kind of rejection since two guys from String Cheese were playing straight up electronic music. There’s a resistance from that perspective, and from people that were used to seeing DJs and were going on about Bassnectar, Glitch Mob, and Excision, thinking that seeing live instruments on stage isn’t going to be as good as everything else going on. Usually when we get people out to our shows and they see what’s going on we can turn them around. With festivals like Electric Zoo, the only way to reach new fans and get onto the scene is to show up live and play there.
How does your set differ between festivals? For example, half of the people at Electric Forest are there just for String Cheese, so your music is well known and well loved. What happens when you play at festivals where people might not know about you yet?
We go with the vibe of the crowd; at a place like Electric Forest we will fully go and do our thing from start to finish, and a place like Electric Zoo there is all kinds of fist pumping techno and dubstep-mania going on there, so we leaned towards that a little bit more. We can get as gnarly as anything going on there, but then we have this moment of “this is why we are doing this live in front of you” and we’ll play some funky, soulful stuff. That’s our thing, is that we go on a kind of unexpected journey, where people think we are going to go one way and we go another way.
This last one’s a little more for my personal satisfaction: My friend Gavin told me about how he once was in a car accident in Denver, and you “saved his life” by picking him up on the side of the snowy highway after no one, not even the cops, would help them. He just wanted me to tell you thanks again times a million. How did you end up picking up a couple of stranded hippies and do you do that kind of thing often?
They ran into a guard rail, or something weird happened. It was around New Year’s and I didn’t have anything going on, so I’m gonna help my friends out for sure. A similar thing happened In St. Louis; a friend of mine’s car died, and I had a vehicle so I went out and got them. I like to put my superhero cape on between playing on stage to go rescue kids on the side of the highway.
Well, rockstars are real people too, I guess! Thank you SO much and see you at the TLA on Friday!
Tickets for EOTO’s upcoming tour can be purchased through LiveNation. It kicks off Wednesday 2/6 at Brooklyn Bowl, and you can catch EOTO in nearly every major US city. If you haven’t been lucky enough to experience this live show, this is your chance to get down in a truly unique way!