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GoNOLA Jazz Fest Interview: Michael Travis of The String Cheese Incident

Get to know drummer and percussionist Michael Travis of The String Cheese Incident in this special Jazz Fest 2014 artist interview from GoNOLA.

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is coming up fast and there are so many incredible artists set to play. As you are making your Jazz Fest itinerary, it’s a great idea to get to know the performers a little more in depth. We recently had the chance to pick the musical brain of Michael Travis, the drummer and percussionist for the Colorado-based band, The String Cheese Incident. He shared with us about everything from late-night jamming at the Maple Leaf to biking adventures around NOLA to the honor of playing Jazz Fest. The band will be playing at Jazz Fest 2014 on Thursday, May 1 at 5 p.m. on the Acura Stage.

Michael travis string cheese incident
Percussionist Michael Travis of String Cheese Incident

Michael Travis of The String Cheese Incident

What was your first musical memory?

We always had a piano in the house growing up and I remember watching my mom and dad playing songs. In junior high, I played the French horn.

How did The String Cheese Incident get started?

Billy Nershi moved to Crested Butte for a while in early summer of ’93. He had lived in Telluride. I would leave every summer to work for the forest service, but he had moved into the backyard of the house I owned in his school bus. He started playing with Michael Kang and Keith Moseley, who I’d previously known, and they recommended me to him when I returned from the Pacific Northwest. When we got together, it was pretty obvious that we were gonna jam and play shows. Our first gig was a talent night at the Center for the Arts, a small theatre in Crested Butte — 15 min slot!

TSCI blends so many styles of music together. How does your creative process work when writing songs?

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Michael Travis and his band-mates of The String Cheese Incident

It varies from one person bringing in a nearly finished piece and getting adorned by the band to full anarchy building things out of nothing. We have taken a single band member’s song and rebuilt it to where it was barely recognizable. But the stylistic breadth comes from our super broad tastes that we had to address (being largely a democracy). Also, Leftover Salmon and Phish were huge initial influences and their bravely wandering through many stylistic twists and turns was a big eye opener for us.

Where did you play your first gig in NOLA? What was that experience like?

Wow. Well it may not have been our first, but probably the greatest, in a lot of ways, was a Maple Leaf show that started at like 4 a.m. and went ’till 7 a.m. — people dancing in the streets, hippies everywhere. We ended the show with Kyle playing a bossa nova beat on a little Casio keyboard and me on mandolin. Another one was a late night gig at Tip’s — madness. We had all our friends sitting in — a Klezmer band playing on top of the bus, a naked guy doing yoga. The whole deal.

You’re playing Jazz Fest this year. What have been some of your favorite memories from playing Jazz Fest over the years?

Seeing Rising Star Drum and Fife a number of years ago was amazing and eye opening. So many memories. The Gospel tent is always incredible. Snake and Jake’s at 7 a.m., laughing until the sun comes up. I am particularly fond of one particular Steve Kimock show at Tip’s. Such an ocean of memories from Jazz Fest.

What do you enjoy most about playing Jazz Fest?

Being in one of the greatest cities on earth with such a profound musical history. It’s very much of an honor to feel a part of the tradition in some way.

michael travis string cheese incident
Catch The String Cheese Incident at Jazz Fest in New Orleans!

What has been your strangest night out in NOLA?

Oh man, there are so many. One year, I had my bicycle and rode from Cafe Brazil [on Frenchmen Street] to Tipitina’s in Uptown, to my hotel downtown, back out to Tip’s, then to Snake and Jake’s, etc. Every time my posse would go to another party, I’d ride. Very cool to see the town from that perspective.

2014 is the 20th anniversary of The String Cheese Incident. What have been the most important lessons you’ve learned in your time together as a band?

Resignation of you, egos, agenda is very relaxing.

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