The Core: Michael Travis (Relix Revisited)

Mike Greenhaus on October 19, 2011

Today we take a look back at our conversation with Michael Travis from July 2009…

The drummer opens up on EOTO, The String Cheese Incident and his new favorite instrument

All Improv, All the Time

EOTO is my main focus – it is so boundless. There are no songs and we can see a new DJ and try to implement that style the next night. With String Cheese, I was always the one who spearheaded keeping [the shows] as improv-heavy as possible. I remember hearing kids at Dead shows say, “I was so high, Jerry felt me and I was totally playing his guitar,” and I totally believe that is possible. When everyone is improvising, the audience becomes part of the band – and the band kind of puts up its sensors and recives whatever is in the air. So, after String Cheese, that is something I have really tried to push.

Life on the Road

EOTO demands being on the road so much because we sucked at first – and practice makes perfect [laughs]. We really enjoy playing so many gigs, and it’s amazing to think about where we have gone since our first show at Sonic Bloom in 2006. Michael Kang and I hit the curve of loving electronic music around the same time. These days, I still mostly listen to electronic music, but there are a few other cats that make it through – like Bill Frisell. I have also taken a liking to some of the more indie, song-oriented stuff like The Flaming Lips and Jeff Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah.”

Instrument Switcheroo

I ran out of steam for drumming – it had been so many years, and I really wanted to get my melodies out there and play other instruments. I picked up my first guitar and my first hand drum in the same week, when I was 20, and had a parallel journey on both instruments. Once you know how to play guitar, bass is pretty easy, so I have been playing a lot of bass with EOTO recently.

Seaweed Psychedelia

I remember Simon Posford saw String Cheese at Glastonbury with Youth, and he looked at us and said, “What’s so psychedelic about that?” There are two different types of psychedelia: the whole Grateful Dead “seaweed psychedelia” and the electronic “fractal matrix psychedelia.” I have really moved away from the wondering seaweed style of jam. It just doesn’t capture my ear anymore. The other day, we played in Chicago with Kang and Kyle Hollingsworth and came up with some really great stuff. It was almost all improvisation and we would just touch down for a minute on a few String Cheese songs. My favorite thing is when a band can do that and be so in-tune that they are actually creating songs out of nowhere. Those were my favorite moments with String Cheese.

String Cheese’s New, Old Sound

I feel like I’m getting my [electronic] ya-yas out with EOTO, so that I can let it roll back into the middle with String Cheese. String Cheese contains such a wide range of musical tastes that when we took a break, Billy Nershi formed [the bluegrass band] Honkytonk Homeslice and Jason Hann formed EOTO. That is a lot of breadth contained in a single band trying to eek out a set together. We have some great modalities, and the great merging point that we will dig into more are songs like “Rivertrance,” “Valley of the Jig” and “Bumpin’ Reel,” which are all electronically-oriented, beat-based fiddle tunes. That’s a mark where we can all come together and create music with elements of bluegrass, African and electronic music.