Watching the String Cheese Incident onstage is to watch a finely honed band of six zipping in and out of musical styles.
Rather than creating a fusion of sound — so common these days — they try to master each style individually. The result is that the band exists at the confluence of bluegrass, rock, electronica, calypso, country, funk, jazz, Latin, prog rock, reggae and with a smattering of psychedelia.
"It has always been a foundation of the band, anyone who wanted to add a song to our set, whatever style it was, we'd add it in," says drummer Michael Travis.
Although the band began 20 years ago in Colorado as a bluegrass outfit, genre-busting has remained important.
The String Cheese Incident is no stranger to Whistler, having performed at the Garibaldi Lift Company and convention centre, and they regularly come through Vancouver.
"We've had our GLC moments," Travis says.
The Boulder-based band started, like so many ski town bands do, with the aim of playing on stage at night and shredding it on the hill during the day.
"We became a band because we were all ski bums in Crested Butte. Getting free lift tickets and getting paid to play was definitely a big part of the whole idea. That perk weighed heavily on our minds," Travis says.
Time marched on, as it does, and the String Cheeses — Travis, plus Jason Hann (percussion), Bill Nershi (acoustic and electric slide guitars), Michael Kang (Mandolin), Keith Moseley (bass), and Kyle Hollingsworth (piano, organ and accordion) — settled down, started families and covered their ski butts.
The String Cheese Incident plays at the Pemberton Music Festival over two days, performing at 10 p.m. on the Mount Currie stage on Friday, July 17 and Saturday, July 18.
The band is known for its live show, which gives its musicians a chance to try everything out and test the audience.
"We've always tried to create an immersive environment, like at Shambhala or Burning Man," says Travis.
"It helped build a situation that was much more than a band on a stage."
It became apparent pretty soon after they started at Crested Butte that being broadly eclectic was a strong suit.
"We try to pursue this just for our own creative satisfaction, or to learn a new style. It's our thing. We're more of a smorgasbord of music than any other band I can think of," Travis says.
"We try to improve the authenticity in each style, as opposed to glazing over each one. In recent times, several of us have started our own band projects and I think it is because we are interested in so many different styles."
For example, Travis says, he and Hann formed their own electronic music and live looping group, EOTO.
An offshoot of their electronic music interest he added, were three EDM tracks appearing on String Cheese Incident's 2014 album, A Song in My Head.
Last month it led to the band taking to the stage with DJ Skrillex at a festival. Skrillex is also performing at the Pemberton Festival, on Sunday, July 19.
"That was amazing. Jason and I had been so immersed in dubstep and electronic music and Skrillex loomed large," Travis says.
"I heard he was performing and I really pushed the idea of having him sit in. The more hardcore bluegrass Americana guy, Billy, was very enthused by the whole experience and had a great time."
Travis calls it another example of the willingness of band members to expand their smorgasbord natures.
A Song in My Head was the band's first album in nine years and co-produced by Jerry Harrison of The Talking Heads.
It grew, at least in part, out of the band members' sense of urgency to record the music they'd been playing for sometime.
"There were a huge amount of songs. There are still a huge amount of songs that aren't on an album. We did it in the most abbreviated way, we were set up for rehearsing and recorded for four days," Travis says.
"We pounded them out and created a whole set of spacey tracks... the most compelling feature of the album to me is that it wasn't manicured or laboured over. It can kill an album, I think. But the mixing style, the engineering, was incredible.
"We're proud of the album, we think it came out well."
Most original pieces are written by Nershi, he adds.
The String Cheese Incident releases a recording of every concert on their website at www.livecheese.com or at www.livedownloads.com, which fans can purchase. Most recently, their shows at the High Sierra Music Festival earlier this month in California, and Electric Forest in Michigan at the end of June were made available.
"We try to get the music out. We often sell streaming rights so people can watch our shows while it's happening," Travis says.
"The reason we are so compelled to share our stuff is the ethos that comes from the Grateful Dead era. We push more than a lot of bands in that our songs can be played very differently each time. It is because of our love of composition and mixing it up and that is maybe why we have more fun than other bands."
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