Interview with Incidental Animals
by Andrew Brown
Next week dreams are going to come true! Throughout my years of attending music festivals, there have been a multitude of incredible collaborative experiences on stage that fervently stand as moments in time that cannot be replicated. Each year getting a taste of Everyone Orchestra is about as close to a jam “supergroup” as one could possibly as for. Next week, Incidental Animals, a new group comprised of Kyle Hollingsworth of String Cheese Incident (Keyboard/Vocals), Steve Adams (Bass/Vocals), Dan Lebowitz (Guitar/Vocals), and Dave Brogan (Drums/Vocals) of Animal Liberation Orchestra and Jen Hartswick (Trumpet/Vocals) of the Trey Anastasio Band, will begin their first run ever as a band. This run is to include three cities only, starting at The Note in West Chester, PA November 20th, followed by the Brooklyn Bowl in Brooklyn, NY on the 21st, and ending strong in Baltimore, MD at Soundstage on the 22nd. Being stacked with such incredible musicians, it is my opinion that Incidental Animals is going to be the highlight of fall tour and an event that fans of ANY type of music will enjoy. Thankfully, we here at Appalachian Jamwich had the pleasure of interviewing bassist Steve Adams of ALO to grab some insight on the upcoming festivities.
How would you best describe the sound of Incidental Animals to a person who has not heard the original bands you all stem from?
“We’ve actually never played together as a band, so we’re gonna find out what it sounds like when we all meet up and rehearse a little bit and get the shows out there. The best way to describe it would be to say it’s three members of ALO, one guy from String Cheese, and then I think Jen (Hartswick) plays with a lot of people. If you don’t know those bands, well, we’re all kind of coming from the jam scene. We’ve all been on Jam Cruise a bunch. We’ve all done a lot of music festivals around the country. We’ve met a lot of them through Everyone Orchestra actually. So, if you know about any part of the jam scene or if you’ve been to a music festival, you’ve seen String Cheese, ALO or Trey (Anastasio), it’s gonna be related to that in some type of way. Right now we’re kind of working out our tunes and what our plan is going to be. It’s kind of leaning towards sort of like funk and soul and kind of danceable stuff. I think all five of us are going to be singing. We’re actually gonna have Natalie Cressman with us on trombone at the Brooklyn Bowl.”
How did the group come together and how long has this concept been in the works?
“In ALO, I can kind of speak from the ALO side because that’s where I’m coming from. In ALO, a lot of us end up doing different side projects. For example, Zach (keyboardist/singer of ALO) is a keyboard player in the Jack Johnson band and he’s on tour for basically a year now. It forces ALO to kind of go on a little break. Others of us play in other bands. I play in Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers, which is a San Francisco band. Once we all started taking side projects, it started loosening up ALO a little bit. One guy would go off and do a tour with somebody and the other three guys will be like ‘Well shit’, like ‘What are we gonna do?’. So they would figure out some bands to play with and then maybe one of their bands will go off and play for three weeks while the other three guys figure out what they’re gonna do. We’ve all been pretty creative with all of our schedules. So, part of it is that Zach is out with Jack, so me, Dan and Dave have a little bit of free time.
We’ve crossed paths with Kyle (Hollingsworth) a bunch and we always thought it would be fun to play with him. Me and Dan and Dave have done trio shows called Lebowitz, Adams and Brogan called LAB. Those are super fun. We’ve mostly done West Coast stuff, but often times we’ll kind of miss a keyboard player or a singer. When this break time came up, we started looking at it. We’d add a keyboard player and we’ve always liked Kyle. He even kind of reminds us of Zach a little bit. Zach and Kyle even did a tour once together with the Motet rhythm section and they did a whole West Coast tour. So, it’s sort of like all in the family in a way. With Jen (Hartswick), we’ve done a lot of Everyone Orchestra’s with her. We’ve seen her at festivals and jammed with her and she’s just rad. She’s just a great singer and obviously a great horn player.
The reason this band actually came together was because of a wedding offer. Our buddy Mike Greenhaus, who works at Relix, is getting married in November and he asked if ALO would be interested and it was like ‘Most of are, but Zach is gone’. So that kind of initiated the idea. We thought about Kyle and thought about Jen. We started putting the phone calls out to see if anyone was into it. Then ‘BOOM!’, we had a band. We have these three shows and then the wedding, so we should be pretty warmed up for Mike. Hopefully we’re gonna sound good by that point. We’ll see what it turns into. Maybe we’ll keep it going and do another tour. At this point, all of us in the band, we have like five other bands. It’s timing and schedules. Maybe someone who sees us runs a club in Chicago and they’re like ‘We have to get those guys out to Chicago. They’d be great!’. Maybe that would spark another run.”
Do you believe this collaborative experience will have a ripple effect or major impact on the original bands you all stem from?
“Again from the ALO perspective, it’s all pretty groovy. We’re all psyched and are also really supportive of Zach. I think he’s stoked that we’re finding stuff to do. I wonder what he thinks of the Kyle thing because I’m sure he’s like ‘That’s cool! That’s almost like what I would do. Play keys the same, just a slight difference.’ It’s almost like another version of ALO, you know? I’m sure he’s stoked. He loves Kyle. We all love Kyle and I think Zach’s all good with it.
The thing is, in ALO we’ve had this base understanding and support of each other doing different things and those things pop up at different times for everybody. Like I’ve been really busy with Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers this year and that actually forced me to get a sub for ALO for the first time ever. We had Ron Johnson (best known as the bassist of Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe) to cover like four or five shows this year for me just because Nicki was so busy and I kind of chose to stay on that tour versus coming back home to work with ALO. It’s a hard decision to make. Each individual sorts out in their minds what’s important, but in the end everyone has always been very supportive of each other.
Also with Kyle and String Cheese Incident, now I wouldn’t know how to speak on his behalf, but I get the impression that it’s pretty similar because everyone does different projects. To compare ALO to String Cheese, they’re actually very similar in a lot of ways. I mean String Cheese is a much bigger band, but they still nurture all of their side projects. The music is even similar. It’s kind of feel good, dance party kind of music and like String Cheese, ALO typically pulls on a lot of different styles. Sort of messes with blending different styles. They’re like our older brothers.
With a large repertoire from ALO, String Cheese and solo marterial from various members to work with, how are the songs decided upon that make it to the setlists?
“I think we just all kind of like figured out that for one night of music we definitely want to leave a lot of time for jamming and sort of improv, off-the-cuff stuff. We figured maybe twenty songs a night will sort of get us through. We each, the five of us, pick four different tunes more or less. These four, I would presume for everybody, will be their favorite songs that they play in their bands or maybe one of their favorite covers. You might get a little more ALO tunes because there’s three of us playing on the ALO side. We’re trying to keep it all pretty balanced and let people choose their favorite tunes. Maybe stuff they don’t get to do in their main band or stuff they’ve always wanted to do. There’s no real rules around it right now. We’re just kind of letting it be whatever it wants to be.”
How is the group preparing for the shows if you all are spread across the country, with such varying schedules?
“The reality of it is we’re just sort of on the phone and on email. We’re just devising little plans, you know? We’re picking the tunes and we’re sending each other MP3’s of cover tunes, original tunes, or even demos. Even live versions of songs our own bands have played. Right now we’re in the the virtual world through phones and emails. That’s sort of our preparation. We’re trying to get some promo out there to let people know that it’s happening. It’s going to be pretty special and unique. I think fans of any of these bands will be interested or excited about it.
When musicians get together that haven’t played together I think it pushes each musician actually to play and show off their best. I think all of the musicians are sort of on that edge of ‘I don’t know exactly what the other guys are going to do. I’m just going to do my best.’, but you’re all on this edge of not wanting to fail. You want to make it work. It’s a really exciting place to be. It’s a different thing then if we had played a tour for two weeks and at that last show we better knew each other, knew the setlist and were all a little bit more comfortable. It’s a very vulnerable place to be.
I think as an audience member, I personally would really enjoy seeing a band on their first night because it’s just like ‘Well, what’s going to happen?’. You just have no idea and the band’s kind of got no idea. It’s cool. There’s two sides to it, the beginning and end, and they’re both kind of cool places.”
Are there future plans for composing original Incidental Animals material?
“That’s an awesome question. When we first proposed this to everybody, and we were looking on deciding to do it, I think we all were wanting to set aside a few days or a week or whatever to just meet up, hang out, and write music possibly. Our schedules are so crazy that we can’t even do that, so we’re gonna show up maybe a day to practice and then I think we’re just gonna put the plan together in our correspondences. That [creating original material] is absolutely something that would be super fun to do and I hope if we do it again that we can sort of do that. We can maybe set a week aside and meet up and just hang out and play. Make breakfast and all of those things your typical band tries to do, at least when you’re a young band.
A lot of bands live together, in college or whatever, and you’re just breathing, eating the same food and listening to the same music. You sort of become one little organism. As you get older and you set these gigs up with people, you only have like a day to even get together. Obviously you become a better musician the older you get and you can do that, but it’s just not the same when you live in the same house. You could wake up and if you had an idea you’d show it to your roommate, which is probably your bandmate. I have a longing for that type of experience. It’s just harder when you’re an adult. There are just too many factors. Well not an adult, but just when you’re older. Family’s involved and there’s money involved. When you’re young it’s a precious time. It’s so special and unique. That’s when bands form a lot of times.
So yeah, I hope we can do something like that because I think that’s important to actually becoming a real band.”