70’s Cop Shows, Music & Beer: An Interview with Kyle Hollingsworth


For those of you who don’t know, Kyle Hollingsworth is somewhat of a living legend. After Jerry Garcia died in ’95, and the Grateful Dead began to slow down, a few key jam bands stepped in to help not only fill the devastating void left behind, but to push forward the new, youthful, and incredibly high-energy style of jam that we know today. Hollingsworth is the famed keyboardist for one of these bands, The String Cheese Incident.

Undoubtedly one of the most popular jam bands in history, String Cheese, along with other jam bands like Widespread Panic and Phish, have developed an wildly dedicated, passionate cult following. Solo, Hollingsworth’s presence and tone radiate through his keyboard, and his live sound is extremely identifiable — the type that can be picked right out of a lineup. He just released his third studio album, Speed of Life, on August 19th and will be releasing three limited edition home brews (crafted by himself) that will be nationally distributed by three renowned breweries from across the country.

As Hollingsworth hits the road to promote Speed of Life, SF Critic was able to sit down with him to talk music and beer, and also get a spectacular sneak peek at what’s up ahead for his next tour.

SPOILER ALERT: For those who are fans of String Cheese, mandolin player Michael Kang will be joining The Kyle Hollingsworth Band on Friday, September 26th at the Independent. You can check out Kyle’s full tour schedule here.

SFCritic (SFC): First of all, a huge congrats on the new album — I’ve been listening all day, and it’s a heater. I really love the strong funk presence, and yet it still sounds like Kyle Hollingsworth doing Kyle Hollingsworth. Was this new funk element something you had in mind going into the writing process, or did it naturally float to the top? Was there anything in particular that you’ve been listening to now, or in the past that served as motivation?

Kyle Hollingsworth (KH): These tunes have been percolating for a while now. For example “Racer X” was written many years ago when I was about 15… probably after watching too many 70’s cop shows. It has that car chase funk vibe to it. (He laughs). But other tunes have come together just in the last months. So this CD is a bit of a journey, moving from 70’s funk to modern pop electronic… it cast a wide net.

SFC: It’s really great to hear you play with so many members of The Motet, and I know you’ve done so for a while now. They’re a wonderful band and it seems like an obvious — and very funky — match. How did you all come together, and what is your song development process like? Was most of this coming out of jam sessions, and were there any necessary pieces / atmospheres that were contributing to the sound?

KH: The Motet rocks! Yeah, I have been playing with Dave Watts for over 15 years. He and I have been connecting musically for a long time. The band for this was an obvious choice. The main players, Dave, Garrett and Dan have been my core players for a while. The tunes were pretty well sketched out prior to the session, although some had been in rotation for the last couple of years. We did a bunch of jamming around the sessions and also in the studio. I meant to piece some of those moments together for the record but never got around it. Perhaps it will be on the outtakes…

SFC: Will the Motet crew (or any other special guests) be joining you on tour? If so, how has the touring process played out with them and how has the on-stage vibe been? What can fans expect out of this tour in terms of set lists, live improvisation and overall flow?

KH: I have a rotating line-up for my fall tour. It’s super slamming — I’m so lucky to be playing with such talented musicians. I’ll have my core band and occasional guest sit-ins. Specifically in the Bay Area, Mike Kang will be joining me. That is sure to be a throw down. Kang has such great ideas and musical intuition. Bonnie from Elephant Revival plays on a track and I would love to have to her join a show down the road, but I’m working on that. Expect the unexpected for the gigs. We will be exploring and taking chances at every turn.

SFC: So… let’s talk beer. It’s pretty well known amongst fans that you’re heavy into the craft brewery scene. What’s your craft brewery of choice right now?

KH: I have many favorites in the brewery world and my tastes are changing often. But most recently I have been digging a small brewery in Colorado called Twelve Degrees. Some nice Belgian beers there.

SFC: You’ve said before that brewing beer and playing improvisational music are very similar — which I think really makes a lot of sense. I always love learning about stuff like this — could you tell us a little more about how you got started brewing, and what it’s like to be brewer AND be on tour all the time?

KH: Yes, brewing connects to live music on many levels. From risk taking to finding balance, each art form is a sum its parts. How these elements come together and work in unison dictates its final product. I started brewing when I was a teenager. I loved the creative process, the ability to take chances and make wonderful mistakes. Sometimes that can turn out to be great. (Well…sometimes.)

SFC: Do you have a particular beer you prefer to brew? Or is it really across the board?

KH: Brewing while being away on tour is always a challenge but it seems to work out for those two week runs. Perhaps I should be doing lagers for those long tours.

SFC: With String Cheese, you’re playing huge amphitheaters, sold out, wild and crazy New Years shows, etc (and have been doing this for some time now). What’s it like to go back and play smaller, more intimate venues with your solo project? I could see that being a cool feeling, possibly a bit more connected? Have there been any experiences that were clearly different than your work with String Cheese at major venues?

KH: It’s awesome! I love these venues…so much more intimate and fan friendly. The circle of band and fan connection is much more immediate so the shows are so much fun. Looking forward to this run.

Press Photo by Dylan Languille