State In The Real – Penn State Music Scene

"If You're on a UFO and You go to the UFO Disco Lounge…": My Interview with Jason Hann of EOTO

EOTO is the improvisational duo of Michael Travis and Jason Hann. If you like to get funky, these are the guys for you! EOTO is a livetronica band with influences from almost every genre of danceable music. Every show they play is completely improvised, and in itself, an unforgettable experience. They bring it all together, and through their creativity and phenomenal musical abilities they truly make it their own. The duo’s goals are to keep developing their sound, and to really maintain a wide variety of influences and moods. Michael and Jason play for their crowd; just as their music is fueling our dancing, our dancing is fueling their music. This past week, I got a chance to call Jason and talk to him about EOTO, the Bass Invaders tour, and what they’re trying to do in the future.


Michael Travis & Jason Hann of EOTO

Where are you guys headed now?
We just landed in Seattle, we play tonight for City Arts Festival, and uh tomorrow we’re in Ashland, Oregon and then Arcata, California on Saturday.


You guys do hundreds of shows a year, and you and Michael have to spend a lot of time together. So, I’m curious, what’s that relationship like?

Oh, that’s a good question. You know, basically it’s like a ton of fun on the road and after a while it’s just like the whole family traveling together on a group trip somewhere. Everyone knows everyone pretty well.


How do you two communicate on stage? What cues do you give eachother?

Basically, what we used to do, we used to have all kinds of hand signals almost like baseball signals on stage where we had certain cues for what each other was getting ready to do with the music. We used to have a bunch of those, but after playing almost 800 shows together, we’ve kind of narrowed it down to very few because we get so busy and in our own world.


Whenever you go to add something, how specific do you have to be with each other?

Oh, not at all. If there’s anything that really happens on stage that feels kind of weird that the other person’s doing, we’ll just sort of mention it after and keep that in mind; either stay away from it or do that more next time, but it won’t be something that we go through during the show. When we’re musically going with our instincts, you know, we improve on the stage. Everything happens and you deal with it but we know how to make things that even we think are mistakes into some of the coolest parts.


I know that The String Cheese Incident doesn’t play as many shows as EOTO, but you guys are both still committed to both things. How does having the commitment to SCI and EOTO affect you guys?

Basically, I think String Cheese has a little bit further look ahead type of thing. We have our meetings months and months in advance to see what summer might look like or what the holidays might look like. Then, we factor in rehearsal days and after that we go back to our manager and say we want to do these certain amount of days with EOTO. We basically fill our schedule up, but right now we’re getting better at leaving some weekends open and also some days during the week open for family’s sake and having a little home time.


What does SCI think of EOTO?

I think there’s a general feeling that they’re glad that we’re working and doing stuff outside of it since we’re addressing that part of us musically. We definitely have our things though, like when we do a SCI weekend, it’s preferred that we don’t try to do EOTO as part of it, except for something like Rothbury where we play on a completely different day. That goes for everybody’s side projects, not just for EOTO. They expect that for the little bit of time that we do get together with SCI, we’re completely present for that.


What do you feel is the biggest reward from being in EOTO?

Oh wow, there are all kinds of things that go along with that. There’s a lot of musical satisfaction. We can just make our music on a night-to-night basis, and we can just play hours of music and keep an audience captured and dancing really hard all night, and hit so many different areas and moods of music as well. The only thing it does, really, is get better; you know, how we’re comfortable with our instruments and new things that we’re trying to do. There’s a lot of things that we try to do that don’t necessarily work out but if we keep doing them more and more they get better and better.


You’ve played at venues of all sizes. Which do you prefer, crowds of thousands of people like Electric Zoo or smaller more personal ones like Catskill Chill or venues you play on tour?

It probably sounds predictable, but it’s all good. The intimate crowds are great because you just see faces. Through the course of one evening, I’ll definitely try to look at whoever’s face I can, where the lights aren’t shining in my eyes, even if they’re not looking back at me. I like to see where everyone’s coming from and it’s so great to see all the different personalities and you know, try to connect like that. Then, at a big festival, where you know there’s probably a few thousand people that you can’t see, you just try to take in the energy that’s coming at you and transfer that into the music and get it back out to them and you see a general sense of the sea bubbling [hahaha] on how people are dancing and that becomes a little bit more of what we feed off of.


Okay, so does someone play the lotus stage to what you guys are doing in the same way lights are played to a show?

Absolutely, we have our guy, Zebbler (Peter Berdovsky), who used to do the video stuff for Shpongle, and he’s been with us for about a year and a half now. He’s flying by the seat of his pants at the same time, you know, where he’s got this layout for the lotus with all his projections and all his themes. When we hit certain moods, he tries to find a theme that matches what we’re doing. He’s got his own thing going on as far as trying to match up his videos with the music but also thinking like, “Is this the part where you really turn up the crowd or is it not enough to drop the monster face on the lotus, or is it playful enough to have the EOTO pinball game, or now are we going underwater or going into steampunk kind of vibe?” So we just let him go off on his own with whatever he’s feeling too, and that’s why he’s very interactive with the say and changes in our mood as well.


I know that you guys are influenced by STS9 and Lotus and recently Skream with dubstep. Is there any new genre or artist that you guys have been feeling lately?

Well, one of the things that’s cool that we’re able to do and that we’re really proud of is with whatever genre that we’re really into, Travis starts sound designing stuff and I start to get into different beats and a lot of times those influences translate into other styles that we happen to be playing. So, if Travis has this really killer bass sound that he created for dubstep, all of a sudden he might try to use that same sound on something that’s electro or that’s kind of funky or glitch-hoppy. Then, all of a sudden it becomes, “Wow that sound isn’t normally associated with that style, but it’s working and it’s new.” I think one of the things that we’ve tried to go into is doing some of the trap music that’s live and that’s kind of become quite the rager. It’s a different style of music and we just figured out a way to make those huge 808 bass sounds work in an improvised way, which if I got into it’d be weird and nerdy and technical but we just kind of made it be able to work. So now, the last couple of sound checks, we’ve sort of tried to go into that mode and to make sure that if we go into it, that it sounds nice and big when we hit it because if you try to play one of those styles and you’re not really hitting it, then it comes off looking pretty wimpy. We just try to get better, and that’s the thing that we’re struggling with right now, but we’ll play that a few times and try to get used to what it takes to play that style and then we’re good to go.


Since you guys kind of came up in the underground electronic scene, I’m curious as to what your opinion is on mainstream EDM music like Aviici and Skrillex.

As far as Skrillex goes, there’s not a single producer that I think I’ve talked to that hasn’t been like, that dude changed the face of so much electronic music. The way he came up with his bass sounds and how he started messing with melodic sounds and vocal stuff and drum programming and putting it all into one package got every producer to be like, “What the hell just happened? How did this little screamo kid just change the face of bass music?” So he gets a lot of respect like that from other producers and I know the general feeling is that there’s equal amounts of love and hate for that guy. Anybody that I know that I’ve ever talked to says he’s the nicest guy. When SCI did the Hangout Festival last year, he was side stage being all into us and you know, he’s just a really nice kid. As far as the music in general, once anything that big comes out, then you have the clones just following it up like, “let’s all sound like Skrillex.” Then it becomes something else and there’s a lot of bad and boring stuff out there and Skrillex has kind of repeated himself to the point where it doesn’t necessarily sound as fresh but anytime music gets that big, you’re gonna have some good music that you really have look for and a lot of really bad music that you have to wade through. I just search for the good stuff and try to keep up on music that’s come out in the last two months or so and, you know I hear a lot of bad music but I also hear a lot of young producers where I’m like, “Oh my God, they’re really hitting it.”


So how would you describe EOTO’s sound to someone who has never heard and knows nothing about you guys?

Yeah, for someone that’s not either around it or not into EDM, I just say it’s an alien disco dance party. If you’re on a UFO and you go to the UFO disco lounge, we’re probably set up trying to do our stuff and it’ll be fun; you’ll get all your tentacles and webbed feet dancing [hahaha].


So what are some of the goals you guys have set for this tour season and the upcoming year?

Well this tour season, it was to really hit these weekends hard, let people know we’ve got our lotus sculpture projection mapping with us and that our style continues to evolve. If you haven’t seen us in a year we already sound really different. We went through a phase where we were just trying to get our gnarliness out and trying to really nail how gnarly we could get and now we’ve really gone back to trying to hit all these different styles so that throughout the course of the evening it’s kind of this journey of like, “Wow that’s really different and that’s really different,” but it’s all groovy and working together. So if you haven’t seen us in a while, then you should definitely see us again. We just keep playing and keep getting better and hitting more variety.

What, out of all the gear you use, are your favorite mics and plugins and compressors?

Ah, that’s great! Well, we can’t do any of this without Abelton Live, and that lets us record everything. All the effects we use are just Abelton effects because if we used any other effects, it would create too much latency in using live microphones. Then, Travis uses an iPad with Animoog, and as one of my iPad programs, I use Lemur. That allows me to control my computer and Travis’s computer to control different effects on Abelton for the overall mix. Travis also uses a Korg Kaosillator, which is kind of an effect type of thing that we use on a lot of different sounds.


Is there anything else that you’d like me to include that I might have missed?

Well, we try to record as many of our live shows as possible, and they get released on this site called, and we just recently released our 500th live show (for free!!). We’ve probably played almost 800 shows but have recorded about 500 of them, so we’re really proud that we’ve been able to release that many shows. All of our shows are different, so you can really hear our music progress.


EOTO will be in Stroudsburg, PA on October 25th and Pittsburgh, PA on October 26th. State In The Real will be at the Pittsburgh show, so see you guys next Friday at The Rex Theater!


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