String Cheese Incident and dubstep don't go together. You can't expect a progressive bluegrass band to experiment with electronic dance music without upsetting its main fanbase. Sure, there's common ground in how the keyboards and drums playfully dance with each other, but comparisons end as soon as the bass drops.
Enter Eoto. The side-project of multi-instrumentalist Michael Travis and percussionist Jason Hann ventures into a different territory than String Cheese fans might expect. The improv EDM duo formed when String Cheese Incident announced its pending breakup in 2006. At that time, most band members began to find solid footing through various solo projects, such as The Emmitt-Nershi Band.
However, many String Cheese fans haven't followed Hann and Travis over to Eoto — or if they did, it was short-lived. Just the same, Hann doesn't expect that many EDM fans would show up at a String Cheese Incident concert either. Eoto will showcase its electronic side when the duo performs at the Neighborhood Theatre on April 9.
"The first time we went out, we billed ourselves as being from String Cheese, and most of the older fans hated it," Hann says. "It didn't start off well, but we've always had a good time. There are EDM fans who don't even know what String Cheese is. They just want to go see a live electronic band. We didn't want to do anything close to String Cheese because fans would always compare us to that. Now, we can do something completely different and they can just hate us."
Eoto, which is short for End of Time Observatory, differs from just about every other band or artist in that there are no "songs." During a concert, Hann and Travis start from scratch, playing off of each other's creations using drums, keyboards, bass, guitars and a couple of computers.
"We don't have songs, a setlist or pre-recorded tracks. We start every night with a blank slate," Hann says. "It can change pretty drastically from night to night. It also can depend on the crowd as far as where we want to take the music next. We make it all up on the spot as it goes. Our story is more the journey of the entire set and seeing how it turns out."
Over the years, Hann did studio work with DJs, while Travis played with another improv SCI offshoot, Zilla. After String Cheese concerts, Hann and Travis found common ground during off-stage jam sessions, leading to the formation of Eoto in 2006. "We always found ourselves gravitating toward music with an electronic feel," Hann says.
Eoto creates instrumental music through computer software which enables looping and the layering of sounds. Hann's live drumming and Travis' instrumental flurries add a more organic element to the music which helps separate them from the majority of DJs scattered around the EDM landscape.
Though Eoto initially started with dubstep, their electronic music expands beyond that genre's borders. The duo used to jam on an idea for 20 minutes at a time over the course of six hours, but learned to make it more interesting for fans by paring it down. The themes now last for three or four minutes before Hann or Travis will move the sound into a new area.
Hann and Travis have a system of nonverbal communication, so they can signal to each other whether to slow down or speed up, though it's more a matter of listening to what each other is creating to find out where its headed.
Aside from the music, Eoto's current tour will have unique visual elements every night courtesy of a massive 3D lotus flower created by video artist Zebbler. Colors, photos and movies will be projected on to giant flower petals surrounding Hann and Travis. The images will be created in real time to go along with the tone of the music.
"We felt like we needed to step up our production," Hann says. "We're no longer the band that just uses the house lighting for our show. Everyone in the electronic scene has stepped up productions with LED screens. You can do a lot with 3-D mapping. It's as improvised as we are."
Hann and Travis are currently focused on touring with Eoto, but have a String Cheese tour scheduled for the summer. "String Cheese prioritizes — that determines when we can practice or do anything else with Eoto," Hann says. "People love the organic nature of String Cheese. While we love what we're doing with Eoto and it's fresh, fans will always gravitate back to the original. With Eoto, people should just come out for a dance party."
With Kraddy. $15. April 7. 9 p.m. Neighborhood Theatre. www.neighborhoodhteatre.com