Kyle Hollingsworth: Beer Jams!

By Jeb Wright

Kyle Hollingsworth is the keyboard player the band known as “SCI,” or for those of us not cool enough for initialism, the String Cheese Incident.  The guy is talented and not afraid to jam to his own beat…very creative, like most of the Jam Bandy types.

Proving his creative capabilities run far beyond his work with SCI (I am getting cooler), Kyle has released a new solo album titled Speed of Life, and is also doing his best to become a master brewer.  Below, we discuss beer, music and creating a song with the iconic Robert Hunter, which Kyle may think is not a cool story, but he’s wrong. 

In the interview that follows, Kyle admits to wearing a lot of different hats, but at the end of the day, this guy is as solid as the pilsner he’s a-brewing.  He’s consistent, can be counted on, is creative, and his music hits the spot on a hot summer day… oh wait, that’s his beer.  Damn, I was on a roll.  Well, buy his album and his beer and you will be grooving to tunes and downing a cold one; life could be worse…

Jeb:  Its been a busy time for you.  With all that’s going on with the String Cheese, I take it there is no TV watching in your living room at night.

Kyle: Well, perhaps Orange is the New Black is watched occasionally. You've got to be psyched when your band name is mentioned during a steamy sex scene.

Jeb:  Speed of Lifeyour latest solo album…how does this differ from the music you play in String Cheese?

Kyle: It's funny, in some ways it's similar to String Cheese. It definitely touches on many different genres, which is similar to what SCI does, but I definitely pushed the envelope in some areas. I think the biggest difference is in some of the pop tunes. I was purposefully thinking outside of the jam band box, for better or worse.

Jeb:  This new record kinda shows youre more of a funky dude and not just Jam-Band-Tastic…

Kyle: Well, funk has always been my first passion…

Jeb:  I know you dont want people to just think of this as a funk album, but it is…with a twist.  Where does that influence come from?  This release is different than one would imagine you putting out… like, having a cool one in the mountains, jamming on some Dead…

Kyle: Nothing wrong to get a little funk in yer life, but yes, this moves through many styles, influences on the album range from Billy Preston to Thomas Dolby to Paul Simon.

Jeb:  All kidding aside, musicians often get stuck into just doing what was most successful for them to do.  You seem to be the type of guy who wants freedom to exercise other musical muscles.  Is that true and if so, how do you know it’s time for a solo effort?

Kyle: Yes I like to try on lots of different hats. I find that I write in styles that interest me at that moment. And I know it's time to make a new CD when I have a handful of tunes together, most of the time they are an amalgamation of the many styles I have been enjoying for the last few years.

Jeb:  Why name the album Speed of Life?

Kyle: Lyrically and musically it speaks to my hectic lifestyle. From babies to brewing everything keeps me on my toes.

Jeb:  Do you just throw music out there with the end result being that youre trying to share an artistic endeavor with us? Or do you have some spiritual essence of musics true meaning that youre trying to hit us with?  What’s your vibe, man…if I may sound like a hippie?

Kyle: It's funny…there was a time in my early days of String Cheese that most of my songs had a bit of a moral theme to them, like “Dirk” and “Searching for Answers,” but in the last few years I have been feeling like writing more specifically about my life with songs like “Can't Wait Another Day.” Somehow it feels more genuine to me that way. It feels more truly passionate and less preachy.

Jeb:  Before we talk tour…lets talk beer.  Why would a beer connoisseur like your beer?

Kyle: For me, creating beer and creating music are intertwined. There’s a bit of passion and a bit of risk taking in both these art forms. Sometimes in the mistakes you find inspiration. When I play music live, I try to live in the moment and be prepared for anything. And when I'm brewing, I try to approach it in the same way, taking chances and exploring new avenues.

Jeb:  What got you into the home-brew thing?  Was it the challenge, or the art, did you run out of Sierra, or something else? 

Kyle: I started brewing when I was a teenager, partially because I was excited to try beer before the age of 21, but more so because I love the creative process. The ability to take chances and make wonderful mistakes that might turn out to be great, well...sometimes.

Jeb:  The Craft Beer market is as tough as the music biz.  How are you going to market this stuff? 

Kyle: Yes, there are many some similarities between the beer business and music business. When I speak to breweries about the business of beer, we draw similarities in these markets from creating the hits to finding inspiration. They both take a lot of time and energy.

Jeb:  What similarities are there to creating a good beer and creating a good song? 

Kyle: It’s all about balance, finding the right “base” and “groove” then it’s just fun to improvise on top.

Jeb:  Tell me about your band and the upcoming tour dates?

Kyle: I'm excited about the band for these upcoming shows. It's going to be slamming. This is a crew of musicians that I have been playing with on and off for the last five years. We all speak the same musical language and play well together.

Jeb:  I know all gigs are THE gig, but are there any stops on the upcoming trek you are most looking forward to?

Kyle: Like you said, I'm excited for all the gigs. The one in San Francisco with [Michael] Kang should be really fun. Love playing with him. We connect musically very well, and I enjoy his creativity and style.

Jeb:  I gotta ask you about some of the people youve collaborated with over the years.  Have you written songs with Robert Hunter?  If so, there has to be a cool story.

Kyle: I wish I had a great story behind the song I did with Robert Hunter, “45th of November.” In fact it is a bit more blasé than that. We connected through our managements and I sent him an MP3 in an e-mail of the tune I was working on. We started an e-mail thread with him writing lyrics and me reworking the tune. It worked out great, I love that tune, but unfortunately there was no sitting in his living room hanging and jamming together. That would've been fun.

Jeb:  How about Paul Simon?  Youve played with him... 

Kyle: Yes, we did a few rehearsal days with Paul. It was amazing. Definitely one of those “rock star” moments. We are still working on our Paul Simon Incident.

Jeb:  Okay, the last one is an odd one but, tell me about playing with Bela Fleck.

Kyle: Bela is an amazing musician. Anytime I can speak to him or jam with him is an honor. Love his approach to playing music. He is probably one of my favorite artists.

Jeb:  Really, this time…the real last one.  What is coming up as you creep closer to that 50 mark, man...  How will you stay inspired and what is left to accomplish that youve not already accomplished? 

Kyle: Wow, I didn't think I'd be getting these questions for a bit, but it is the truth. I'm feeling super creative right now and am excited playing music for a long time, let’s keep it rocking.