Interview with String Cheese Incident's Michael Kang
by Frank Poppe
February 18, 2004

How and when did the String Cheese Incident get started?

We first became a band in 1993. We were all living in a little town in Colorado called Crested Butte, a little mountain town where everybody goes skiing. We all kind of moved there to ski and live there in the mountains. We just all met each other and started to play music. One thing kind of led to another and then there is this festival, a famous Bluegrass Festival, that happens every year up in Colorado in Telluride. We got invited to play that and so we figured that if we’re gonna play there, it’s kind of a dream where everybody gets to play up on stage up on the mountains with ten thousands of people watching everything. So we figured that if we’re gonna play there we better practice. We ended up getting a bunch of material together and started like that, playing a lot of towns in the mountains around here and going to places like Salt Lake City and Boulder and Vale and all the ski towns around the state and that’s how it all started.

Where did the name String Cheese Incident come from?

It was almost like a free word association where we just came up with words that don’t necessarily mean anything to each other. We had no intention of really being a band full time seriously and we all looked at it as something funny and something that was more or less a joke. More than anything else then, after ten years the joke is still coming.

How would you characterize your musical style?

I would say that really it’s just a combination of all kinds of different forms of music that could be loosely characterised as world music because we really do like a lot of different kinds of music. But I would say it’s more groove oriented music just to help people kind of get to different trance states while they come watch us.

Well, four studio albums versus more than a thousand live shows! What do you think is the role of your studio releases compared to the live shows?

Right now I think the band, actually, is interested in putting more energy into doing a lot of studio recordings just because we’re learning a lot more in the studio. When we’ve done the live thing so much we’ve gotten pretty comfortable with doing it now and we’re looking for something else that’s just give us an extra kind of creative boost so to speak. When you’re playing live there are certain things you have to deal with and right now we are just interested in getting into the deeper parts of being creative and not having to feel any pressure performing.

In your new studio release “Untying the Not” you introduced a new producer, called Youth, who used to work with Killing Joke, The Verve and Crowded House. Might this be an expression for a step into new musical territory then?

Yeah I would say going with him as a producer was very much a step off the cliff so to speak. You really never know what it’s gonna be like, but we knew we wanted to be challenged. So in terms of finding a producer for the last album we definitely wanted somebody that was going to push us into new directions and see what was gonna come of that. That definitely happened. There is a fair amount of not knowing how it’s all going to turn out but at the same time we still felt like you have an idea of it going to be something that was really positive in the end.

You built up a real network with the record label SCI Fidelity Records, the ticket centre SCITicketing and even a travel bureau for the fans, Madison House Music Travel. Why did you go this way and do you consider yourself as an independent band?

Yeah I would say we are very independent in the sense of always doing everything by ourselves, having your own record company and doing all those things. The travel agency is always something that we put forward as a service to our fans. It’s just something that has grown from one thing into the next and it’s definitely something that has allowed us to more or less to do what we want to do.

With a whole bunch of internet communities like Friends of Cheese or Incidentalist…

Yeah, as you probably know the internet is changing everything. I don’t think twenty years ago this kind of thing necessarily would have been possible but now there is a whole group of bands that are kind of promoting themselves that way and make it possible for bands that don’t have major label support and a lot of commercial appeal to be able to forge a career for themselves.

So the fans even have the possibility to trade or download literally each of your shows. I think that’s very special and not well known here in Europe.

You know when we were in Glastonbury last year we kind of realised that the scene that exists in America for bands like us that doesn’t necessarily translate over here. It’s kind of a different type of thing. Our friend Youth is very definitely involved in a psychedelic trance scene and everything, something very similar to I think what has been out here in Europe for the electronic music scene, too. You got bands over here that are kind of playing music for people to dance and get into a space together and really enjoy being together. In the States there is a fair amount of electronic music but there is also this jamband thing but it’s doesn’t seem that in Europe there is as much of that going on.

So Jambands are a Northern American phenomenon?

Very much so, I mean I think it has a lot to do with the fact that only in America can you travel to so many cities and have it relatively cheap, you know gas here is pretty cheap, so…

Again, how would you explain this phenomenon to unknowing Europeans and why might it be so hard for American jambands to find success in Europe then?

I think it’s all about the vibe that gets put out. You know it gets interesting for us to go to Europe and it’s such a growing/learning experience to get to see all the different cultures and that’s something that we’ve really been excited to do because I think right now what the world needs is for everybody get on the same page so to speak. I think the same thing that is going on over here, you know, everybody is affected by what happens in different ways in America; it’s interesting to get to interact with different people especially given what’s going on with the politics over in America right now, so… (laughing). We as a band have always had a voice, we’ve had a kind of deep wanting to want to go to explore the world and check it out and I think the same thing that all humans go through, you know, love and friendship and having good times and we all think about the same things really, so hopefully that’s the basis by which we all get to share it.

More than thirty years ago deadheads began to follow the Grateful Dead and to tape their shows. Do you see yourself in the tradition of bands like the Dead, Phish or Widespread Panic?

They are definitely some of the pioneers in a lot of ways of what has become a scene in the United States and it’s been taken to a lot of different places now. It has made it possible for a lot of bands to be able to do the same things as well. In it’s own way it’s very much of what I consider to be the truly alternative music scene in the United States.

Yeah, and what’s very interesting I think, is that the scene is very diverse. You have Bluegrass bands, Blues or folk jambands, or even bands who play techno music or something like that.


Very interesting, so there’s something for everybody actually. So, do you have special feelings playing in Europe or any expectations then?

Well, for me, I’m really excited to get to go and personally I’ve been wanting to get to go to a lot of countries because you know, living in the United States makes it very… There is very much of a bubble that you exist in and the media just tell you so much and I think it’s just good to get out and get to check it out and to get a fresh perspective. The last time we went to Europe it just felt so nice to get to be in cultures that really kind of seemed to be a lot of more reasonable to me. So I’m looking forward to that.

And you are also going to play in Japan and Australia, so what do you think is the difference then for you playing as a band in front of totally different audiences?

Yeah it’s funny, in Japan, the Japanese got into our band somehow through tape-trading, so a lot of Japanese hippies or alternative music fans come over to see us when we play in Hawaii and different places. They got it figured out right away and came over. You know, when we went over there for the first time, there were already fans of ours there. It was one of those things that was kind of surprising but it showed us how small the international community is, really.