When it comes to experimenting with rhythm and sound, drummer Jason Hann keeps an impressively open mind. Now based in Los Angeles, the Miami native grew up playing rock, funk and Latin styles before landing a gig in the mid 2000s as the percussionist for Colorado jam band String Cheese Incident. He dabbled in turntablism and electronic music along the way, but eventually he committed fully to an electro-based approach with EOTO (pronounced â€œE-OH-toeâ€).
Fans familiar with the organic, worldly jams of String Cheese Incident were probably a bit shocked by the musical detour that Hann and bandmate Michael Travis took after the group put on the brakes in the late 2000s. Set up as a two-man percussion section with plenty of extra machinery, Hann and Travis formed EOTO and hit the road with a multimedia â€œdance/rock duoâ€ improv show: a mix of live-action breakbeat, house, drum â€™nâ€™ bass, trip-hop and vintage disco.
â€œIt was just the two of usâ€”a power duo,â€ Hann says. â€œWe were using quite a bit of technology, but we played everything live and in the moment. Still, every note that you hear is happening live. Thereâ€™s nothing pre-recorded. Itâ€™s sort of like what Keller Williams does with looping and stacking things up, although our thing is more like a live recording session where we have access to recording all of our instruments while we play.â€
Hann and Travis have control over each individual track and sound source, so they can drop something in, take something out, add multiple tracks and mix to fit a specific dynamic or rhythmic direction. Musically, itâ€™s very wide open, as demonstrated on their debut, Elephants Only Talk Occasionally, improvised live in the studio on Boulder, CO, in 2006.
â€œWe had no clue,â€ Hann laughs. â€œAll of the songs on Elephants Only Talk Occasionally were made up on the spot. We didnâ€™t know how to play them again. The sonic possibilities become pretty endless when youâ€™re in this mode where everything is open. It has to be a certain kind of texture to fit well, sonically, so we really have to listen to each other carefully.â€
Onstage, Travis handled all the harmonics and tonal instrumentsâ€”keyboards, bass, guitar and percussionâ€”and Hann manned the drum kit and an electronic pad on the side. Technically proficient, with wildly creative minds, the pair often crack each other up with odd musical mash-ups. But after the release of Elephants…, the project developed into something a little more serious. EOTO started performing hundreds of shows per yearâ€”from intimate in-store gigs and club shows to massive festivals. They also incorporated more elements of dubstep and heavier backbeats into the music over the course of their next two studio albums, 2008â€™s Razed and 2010â€™s Fire the Lazers.
â€œOur early recordings were more on the chill side,â€ Hann says. â€œBut we have an aggressive side onstage. Itâ€™s hard to capture that in the studio. Onstage, we might stay on one theme for 12 or 15 minutes, but in the studio we might do something like that and use only five or six minutes of it in the final mix. Weâ€™re really a live, in-the-moment act.â€
Earlier this year, EOTO unveiled a new â€œ3D-mapped lotus stage designâ€ at a concert at the House of Blues in Boston. Hann and Travis drew the original design ideas and collaborated with their DJ, manager and guest engineers to build a 17-foot lotus flower stage design.
â€œWe knew that we wanted to amp up our production in general,â€ Hann says. â€œBetween Daft Punk introducing their stuff and Deadmau5 and that kind of stuffâ€”plus acts in our scene, like Pretty Lights, Big Gigantic and Bassnectar â€”you have these grand productions that audiences are starting to expect. We wanted to do something a little different. I always liked the 3D map-producing thing with LEDs [light-emitting diodes], because you can set up a flexible, bio-illusional type of setting thatâ€™s a little easier on the eyes. Itâ€™s really involved, with a big mix of shape-shifting, space-traveling visuals.â€
EOTO kicked off their cross-country Bass Invaders Tour in March, armed with a new stage set but sticking with the improvisational method. The duo works from a battery of MacBooks with Ableton Live software, midi keyboards, samplers, amps and drums. The tour supports the fourth installment of their live tour compilation, K-Turns & U-Turns Vol. 4, an album celebrating some of their best recorded tracks from 2011.
â€œWeâ€™ve gone from touring by ourselves and taking little risks on small stages to building a set, hiring a road crew, taking a financial risk and taking little risks on big stages,â€ Hann says. â€œYou never know how itâ€™s going to work out, but you always want to put your best foot forward and do your best with it.â€
Fans may download EOTOâ€™s show for free with advance ticket purchase. The link and instructions will be emailed within 48 hours after the performance.
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