String Cheese Incident just played some great shows in Atlanta and Asheville over 4th of July weekend and they’re headed to Merriweather Post Pavilion on Saturday night to headline two sets at Merryland Music Festival. We recently caught up with Keith Moseley, bassist extraordinaire, to talk about topics ranging from Electric Forest to Keith’s bass rig to the new recording space.
I wanted to ask you about the bands new approach to recording and releasing its music. On Song in My Head you were working with Jerry Harrison and some other people. What’s it like for the band to go out on your own and do this? I understand one of your sound guys is helping with the studio engineering. What kind of stuff are you looking to do in that studio and what’s the difference in going in and playing a more integral role in production and the general perks to recording itself?
Keith: The whole idea with the SCI sound lab was to set up our own space. We bought a building in the Boulder area last August and we’ve been getting it set up. It’s now serving as our rehearsal space and storage for our merchandising company. When we come off the road all the gear goes there. On the other side we have rehearsal and getting it set up for recording. We’re getting to the point where we can kind of just press record and go. That’s kind of the goal. We want to get this set up to where we can just show up, walk in, pick up our instruments, press record and go. The idea is that we’ll be able to get the music to the people faster. We’ve become kind of frustrated with the whole process of making an album and the time that’s involved with writing the tunes, the pre production and the actual recording process. The mixing, the mastering and the lag time while the promo gets together. It can be a year from the time from the song is conceptualized and recorded until it gets out to the people. We’re really trying to cut down that time and have a more direct route from the creative process to the release process.
Now we’ve got the SCI sound lab building and we’re set up to record. We did this last batch of songs there. We did have help from Jerry Harrison producing this time around. That’s been great. We had a great relationship with Jerry working on Song in My Head. We’re really psyched with that album. The idea is that it doesn’t have to be a whole album. At this point we can go in and do just one song. We can do a remix of something or we can have special guest over and just record for the day. That’s kind of what we’re after. A super quick turnaround from creation to release. We want to have the ability to get the music out to the people immediately.
What do you like about Jerry Harris’s production style? They say some people are super hands on or super hands off. Some have that golden ear as to what exactly fits the right spot. What do you like about Jerry Harris and his particular production style?
Keith: Jerry doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel with the song. He respects that we’re 20 plus years into making music with each other. He doesn’t try to coach us up like we’re rookies. He does offer some good insight into things. On Song in My Head there were a couple tunes where he said, “Wait a second, maybe this song isn’t in the right key. I think if you raised up from B flat to C, this really might be the sweet spot for your voice. Can we try that?”
We did and we actually ended up changing keys from three songs on Song in My Head where he said, “I just feel like we could get a more dynamic vocal take from you if we change the key and had you singing at a different register.’ That was one thing that really stood out. He was all about getting the best vocal performances. He seemed to have a really good ear for that. Jerry was just really good about assessing each one of us as singers. He’s been really good about coaxing a great vocal performance and encouraging different takes on the vocals. On one of the Kyle songs he said, “Well, can you sing it in a lower register?” Experimenting with the vocals is something that Jerry really pushed that we probably wouldn’t have gotten on our own.
I wanted to ask you about how Electric Forest went and also I know you guys have quite a few shows coming up this summer. Could you talk to me about some of your favorite moments this summer so far? What are you looking forward to about the upcoming summer festivals?
Keith: We just came off Electric Forest last weekend. That was awesome and it’s a really unique festival. It’s kind of unlike anything else we do at this point. The production is huge. The forest itself is super unique and has grown this year with more permanent art instillations. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The main stage is really off the hook and super well done. For the Saturday night show we did a medley and had Karl Denson and Chris Littlefield from his band come out and join us. We did kind of Prince/David Bowie mashup. The spectacle of the forest is unlike anything else. We had this guy Russ Liquid come out play some really beautiful trumpet with us. We had Joel from Umphreys sit-in and the Greensky guys sat in. It was a great overall experience. There were 45,000 people there this year. It continues to be the premier festival of the summer.
We’ve got a lot of our own shows this summer which is also a lot of fun. When people come there specifically to see us we can really dig deep in the catalog and we don’t have to play the “festival set.” The crowd is going to be accepting of whatever we choose to do. It gives us the feeling that we can really stretch. We can dig deep in the catalog and play some things that don’t get played very often. We can get really mellow if we want to or explore the bluegrass roots if we want to. We can go the complete opposite end and hit them with some of our programming and EDM stuff. We don’t feel like we have to do any one thing. Our fan base is super accepting of our experimentation and seems to really embrace the different music styles that we play. Being in front of our own crowd is a really comfortable place for us and allows us to really express ourselves musically without other concerns of who plays after us or what’s the focus of the festival.
I’m curious about your current bass rig. Is there anything new for the summer tour that your using? When it’s just you and you sit down and practice what sort of exercises do you do to keep yourself really zeroed in as a musician?
Keith: I’m still playing my Lakland bass that I got back in 1999. My Lakland 5594. I’ve got a pretty decent collection of different basses, but that’s the one I keep coming back to. That’s the one that really speaks to me and feels like home. I feel like those guys do a great job making instruments and they’re really great with customer support. Lakland has been really great to me and other players that I know as well. I’m really psyched on my Aguilar rig. I’ve got a DB751 head and two of their 412 cabinets. It’s definitely the best rig I’ve ever played on. It just sounds like the way a bass is supposed to sound to me. That’s been my live setup for the last couple years and it hasn’t really changed much.
As far as what I do at home with practicing and such, that’s kind of two fold. I play a lot of guitar at home and the focus there is kind of like songwriting and singing. It’s kind of hard to sit around by yourself, play bass and sing. I play a lot of acoustic guitar. As far as the bass goes, I still take lessons. I’ve got a guy here locally, a Berkley music school grad, he’s at the local music shop where my daughter takes piano lessons. Every Wednesday we’ll go in and my 11-year-old takes piano and I’ll take a half hour bass lesson. We work on jazz standards, theory and stuff like that. I definitely feel like no matter how much you know as a musician you’re never there. There’s always more to learn.
The one thing that really stands out to me about String Cheese Incident is variety. You’re able to do it with the bluegrass but you guys also have a psychedelic, rock and roll sound too. Some stuff has electronic influences. What do you enjoy about having a variety in the band?
Keith: It keeps it interesting. It would be hard for me to be in a band that only did bluegrass or only did rock. It’s so fun as a player to try to tap in and play authentically in those different genres. The songwriting in our band comes from all six different guys and everyone has their own different influences and ideas. We all appreciate a wide variety of music. It’s really fun as a player to have someone bring a song in and say ‘I’m going for maybe a West African kind of vibe, similar to something you might have heard on Graceland or for this song I’m thinking of a vibe that’s maybe like something you would hear from a pop rock band.’ Then we kind of do some research and say ‘well what band is he thinking of and then we listen to that band and say ‘what makes that style interesting or unique’ and try to capture some of the elements of what that’s about. We’ll incorporate in that into our own original music.
The variety of songwriting and the variety or styles really keeps us on our tows. It really keeps the band interesting. It’s a blast to play in this band. I’m super thankful that I get to be in SCI and that we cover the ground that we do.
I’ve never been to Red Rocks in my life until recently. I was lucky enough to get to go kind of see it from the side of the stage. Looking up from where the stage is up to the audience is incredible.
Keith: That’s what people don’t realize. As a performer it’s one of the few places where you stand on stage and you look up at everybody. Everybody is on your level or above which is unlike most places where you’re usually looking down at the people. It’s really one of the super special iconic venues in the country. It’s got a lot of magic and a lot of history. At this point we’ve playing there for about 15 years. It’s home for us. We’re a Colorado band so every time we play there we have tons of friends and family in the audience. You pack them into that magical venue and it’s really something special. You feel super inspired just being there.
I’m looking forward to Merryland Music Fest. Is there any chance of any sit-ins or anything?
Keith: We don’t have anything planned out yet, but it will be kind of as schedule permits. We’ve definitely been looking at the bill and talking about having some sit-ins. We know all those guys have a lot of history there. If we can make it happen we definitely will so I would look for some sit-ins to be happening for sure.
I know a lot of you guys have kids now. What’s it like to have a little bit of a different schedule?
Keith: It’s great. We’re at a point now where I feel like the band is really on it and we’re not playing at a level where anyone’s burnt out. We’re playing at a level where everyone’s still really excited about what we do. It’s often enough that I feel like we’re still really engaged and still really up on the tunes, but then we do have the downtime to really engage with our families. We’re at a really great spot. I think we all feel really lucky and blessed to be able to have the time off and the balance. It’s all about trying to find that balance as a musician between making a living and having your home life. When we do come out to play, everyone is really excited to be there and excited about the gigs.
What are some things you have coming up just for yourself as far as personal projects or future gigs?
Keith: I have a couple gigs with Keller Williams coming up in the next couple months. I’m doing a Keith Mosely and Friends thing here locally at NedFest. I’ve got Tyler Grant playing from Grant Farm who’s a good buddy of mine and a killer guitar player. Kevin, the keyboard player from his band and a local drummer friend, Christian Teal, will also be playing. We’ll do a set of my tunes and some fun covers. That’s a fun local festival that we go to every year and I play at every once in awhile. I did a one off a couple months ago with the BlueGrass Generals. Besides those kind of things, I’m still super engaged with my kids. I’ve got two girls that are 16 and 11. Between helping out with the kids sports teams and some occasional one off gigs I seem to be about as busy as I care to be.