Making Music at “The Speed of Life”: An Interview with Kyle Hollingsworth (Part 1)
Kyle Hollingsworth is a man of many hats.
And although most people know him as the vivacious and versatile keyboardist for The String Cheese Incident, many people don’t know that he’s also a successful solo artist, a highly skilled brewer, a composer of movie and video game soundtracks, a studio wizard, a husband, and a dad.
Interwoven into all of these ‘hats’ is an ever experimenting and curious creativity. A trait that Kyle exudes in everything he does, and one that has allowed him to mature into a musical renaissance man with an insatiable excitement to make music. And whether he’s with The String Cheese Incident performing to a packed Red Rocks Amphitheater, or playing a solo show in a small mountain town, the same childlike smile stretches across his face as soon as his fingers flutter across the keys.
With every well-placed note and playful nod of his head it’s clear that Kyle truly loves what he does, and in turn everything he does is undeniably real and ripe with soul. You can even taste it in the beers he brews. By hosting his own festivals and having numerous collaborative beers under his belt, Kyle has proven to be a master of funk and fermentation. Kyle approaches both beer and music with a fun-loving and fearless attitude that seems to thrive in challenges and consistently find new ways to express itself. For the release of his third solo album The Speed of Life Kyle combined these two passions through his ‘Hop Tracks’ promotional campaign, pre-releasing three tracks which were all accompanied by a collaborative beer: Stone Brewery (Collective Distortion IPA), Boulder Beer Co. (Hoopla Pale Ale), and Cigar City with Rock Brothers Brewing (Happening Now Session IPA).
AKcreative caught up with Kyle on yet another uncharacteristically cold and wet May morning in Colorado as he was wearing his ‘dad doing yard work hat’ and probably his raincoat, to chat about returning from String Cheese’s recent ‘Band Camp’ in New Mexico, re-writing songs in Simlish, and performing to traffic as a kid.
AKcreative: How are you doing this morning?
Kyle Hollingsworth: Good, I’m actually in the middle of this backyard project and I decided to kind of tear up the lawn. I picked the wrong month to do that because now it’s like this humongous mud fest. It’s like a mini little Wakarusa in my backyard.
What other projects are you currently working on other then your yard?
Good question. The first thing I’m doing is I’m excited to ‘wear the hat’ that is being a dad right now. Which is exciting because I’ve been on the road a lot, but right now I’m just happy to be home and to be able to work around the house, in the yard, go biking, hiking, and get outdoors as much as possible. The reason I’m so excited to be back home is because I’ve been working really hard on another project called Incidental Animals, which is a project with me, the guys from A.L.O., and Jennifer Hartswick who plays trumpet with the Trey AnastasioBand. So that’s kind of another new ‘hat’ I’m wearing working with those guys and doing some writing together. We ended up playing with Phil Lesh at his place, which was a whole lot of fun and hopefully that connection will continue in the future and we can work with those guys and go up to Terrapin Crossroads again.
How recently was that?
I just got back and it’s been a hectic kind of few months. I was out with my own band doing some work on the east coast and then I jumped into this really cool String Cheese ‘Band Camp’ to some degree, like a retreat that we all went to in New Mexico. We all hung out there and did some writing for about a week. Then I jumped off of that and went immediately to the tour with Incidental Animals, so I’ve been gone almost a month and it’s nice to get back home.
Do Incidental Animals plan on playing any shows this summer or releasing an album?
Wouldn’t that be fun? I don’t think we have anything scheduled yet till maybe the fall. This summer all of our separate bands are playing High Sierra so there’s definitely a chance that some sort of impromptu moment could happen there, but I can’t guarantee that.
It was pretty astonishing to discover just how diverse and deep your list of projects is outside of The String Cheese Incident. I had no idea that you’ve produced soundtracks for a Warren Miller film and The Sims 2007.
I haven’t done anything like that in a while, but I’d love to do more of it. That was a good opportunity at the time, the Warren Miller film happened through a String Cheese connection since we had done a track for them. Then they were looking for some more, so I gave them some tracks from my first solo CD. Some were kind of created for that purpose and others were just already on the CD. The Sims video game project was one where I was kind of revamping a String Cheese song and putting it in Simlish, which is so much fun. I went back and re-sang “Close Your Eyes” in Simlish and had to get a vocal coach who called me and went through every line of the song in Simlish.
When you’re doing soundtrack work like that is it difficult to draw the line between enhancing the work with your music and potentially overshadowing it?
In this case they would say ‘we need an action bit’ or ‘here we’re jumping over a huge crevasse’, so I kind of just gave them music to work with that.
From what I understand, you started making music as the youngest of seven kids and all of you were heavily encouraged by your parents to take piano lessons.
Yea exactly, and encouraged is a good word, but it was pretty much mandatory.
Was there a particular artist or moment that inspired you to make music into a major part of your life and potentially pursue it as a career?
Well my father played piano, and I actually have this really cool black and white picture of him playing piano where he looks like me if you want it. He would play a lot at the house and I was really inspired by always having music around and taking piano lessons. Also when you’re 12 or 15 and you’re watching rock stars on TV it’s something bigger then life, and I think I was intrigued by trying to be in the limelight.
I was an actor when I was younger and did some local television shows and a couple commercials, so I’ve kind of always wanted to be a show-off or in the limelight. I think there’s a mixture of a passion I enjoy and also a drive to be on stage. As far as particular musicians I mean I grew up listening to The Beatles, like everyone does, and I had an older family so Paul Simon and all those sort of singer songwriters of the sixties and seventies. But in the end I guess The Talking Heads. They were the first group that was sort of ‘mine’ since all the other ones were my brothers and sisters. Also The Cars was another group that was ‘mine’, and I was like ‘I love The Cars, I want to play keyboards and play synth’ and then when I saw Bernie Worrell with The Talking Heads I knew that was it for sure.
You were 15 when you wrote ‘Racer X’ which is actually the lead off track on your most recent solo album Speed of Life. Is that the first song you ever wrote?
It’s pretty close. I have an old tape, which I should release because it’s ridiculous, of me playing when I was 12 years old with my first band. It was just a saxophone player who kind of played sax, me who kind of played keyboard and a drummer all playing on the front porch to passing cars, that was our concert. It was during those early years when I was writing mostly really simple old blues songs that ‘Racer X’ came out, and that was influenced by Billy Preston.
Your older brothers are responsible for introducing you to The Grateful Dead and Little Feet, who were both influential in inspiring you to play the style of music you do today and to initially take your craft from your parents piano to the stage. But when did you first ‘catch the funk bug’?
I think it’s always kind of been there, but without knowing what it was. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed, through Latin music, funk, or rock, just pushing against time and meter. I’m trying to think who are some of the first funk acts I was introduced to, probably some of the early Stevie Wonder albums, and as I said before Bernie Worrell kind of turned my head a little sideways. There was definitely some cool stuff to be listening to when I was growing up.
After majoring in jazz piano in college then moving out to Colorado, how was it making the move from studying in a university classroom to creating funky music in Colorado with members of The Motet?
There was something during that time called Acid Jazz, which is basically jazz covers put to funk. So I was like this is great, I have a degree in jazz and I love playing funk, so lets just mix those two worlds. So there would be these Acid Jazz nights in Nederland and here in Boulder, and Dave Watts would be there along with a lot of great local players in that scene. It was a great way to improvise and get to know better players. That’s how that whole connection with The Motet came about, through all the funk and jazz that was happening at those Acid Jazz nights.
What was that time of your life like, moving out to Colorado, becoming immersed in that scene, and hanging out at Dave Watts’ house ‘The Double Dig’?
I was younger, it was like 20 years ago, so I was kind of like moving out of my mom’s house for the first time. I got this random car that barely made it to Colorado and I think it actually ended up dying somewhere on the way to Georgetown, which was the last time I used that car. It was awesome, and really one of those moments where you didn’t know what was happening in your life, but there were no worries as to whether it was going to work out or not, and I could always go home. But then meeting players who were kind of similar minded and just great people as well really made it a special time, it was very unique. I hope that scene is still happening here to some degree. I just remember at that time ‘The Double Dig’ was really cool, the guys from Phish would stay there because they’re friends with Dave and it would just be this huge center for people to connect. Kang was living in the basement, Travis was living in a tent, and it was pretty much a commune with like 15 men and women living there and all sharing their lives together.
(Continued next week in Part 2)
For tickets to Kyle’s upcoming solo shows and more information on this man of many traits, check out his website here, and for those fortunate enough to be at Beanstalk Music & Mountains Festival, The Kyle Hollingsworth Band (ft. Michael Kang) will be performing tonight at 9:30 (MST). Also don’t miss out on the last remaining tickets to The String Cheese Incident at Red Rocks July 24th-26th.