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Unstrung heroes

String Cheese Incident stretches its musical imagination



For the String Cheese Incident, it's always been about keeping it fresh. So it was only natural that after a decade of releasing music, Colorado's popular roots-jam act took a break in 2006.

"When Bill [Nershi, guitarist] was ready to take a break, at first we were resisting, and then we realized it was probably the best thing for all of us," says keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth.

Like many bands that build a huge grassroots following, the ancillary enterprises and activities around such a traveling musical phenomenon began to weigh down the main enterprise.

"We felt like we were being overwhelmed by everything that was happening," he says. "A travel company, a record company. We were doing everything. It was exciting when we got back to slim some things down and really focus more on the music."

The new attitude has already rewarded fans with the commensurately upbeat tune, "Can't Wait Another Day." Their first new track in seven years is a burbling, hook-laden number that seems to simultaneously reference the albums Graceland and American Beauty, and reggae icons Sly and Robbie.

Though initially based in bluegrass, the band has traveled the stylistic globe, increasingly incorporating electronics and moving closer to Galactic than the progressive jamgrass of Yonder Mountain String Band. Since their return two years ago, the group has been moving to synthesize their far-flung styles into one sound that encompasses all their influences.

Bassist Keith Moseley says the songs frequently continue to evolve: "It may have been something that was originally conceived as a bluegrass tune or an Americana roots rocker. There's room maybe to add some electronic beats to this. Push it into the next genre somehow."

The hiatus may have hastened this transition. Spending so much time away, they've had to relearn parts in songs, and are coming at them from a new perspective. "You can kind of walk back into it and feel fresh in hearing it, like, oh, that part never works. How come I never heard that before?" explains Hollingsworth.

In the process of relearning the songs, many are being renovated and modernized, something not every fan is excited about, but the band isn't inclined to sit still.

"There have been some makeovers for sure. I think it's OK," says the keyboardist. "The fans are very open and we're open and always experimenting. We're even doing a Bollywood song now."

"You can't rest on your laurels in this band. You have to be on top of your game," adds Moseley. "We build in all this practice time because when we get up there, the idea is to make magic together."

Current plans are for the band to head back into the studio early next year for an album that combines studio tracks with live recordings.

"The new tracks we're working on, the directions are pretty strange," admits Hollingsworth. "We are doing a lot of fiddle-based songs with some electronic music — but I wouldn't say we are going in any new direction that we haven't already gone in."

Moseley just sees it as part of their continued evolution.

"We've had our moments of being stuck in wishy-washy jams here and there, but I think as we mature as musicians and players, our music is becoming more accessible than ever," he says. "We all really appreciate a good song, a good hook and a good melody. That's really become more important to us as we've evolved."

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