When asking a beer connoisseur or musical savant their opinions on what makes their craft “good” in comparison to one another, you’ll get a wide variety of speculative ideas that claim that it takes a fundamental understanding in order to enhance one’s proficiency and comfort level to experiment. Some may even find little to no similarities between the two, but for Kyle Hollingsworth, bandleader of his self-entitled group and keyboardist for the esteemed jam band-quintet, The String Cheese Incident, beer and music couldn’t go more hand-in-hand.
“Going into a show, anything can happen. You get the basics at your fingertips. You know how to brew beer, you know all of the ingredients [and] you know how to play music. And then when you get to a certain point, you can improvise…and when [I’m] in that moment, I can throw in cranberries or Earl Grey tea,” said Hollingsworth. “You never know what’s going to happen until you do it.”
Brewing since the age of 18, Hollingsworth has always related his experience with music to his penchant for brewing, which has grown into collaborations with Stone Brewing and Boulder Beer. The key for him between both artforms is the act of balance, which has become essential as the chairman of the keyboard turns 50 in March. “It’s a good balance in sound and engineering, and the music you’re listening to has to have a good bounce,” explained Hollingsworth. “You could have the most raging Trey [Anastasio of Phish] guitar solo ever and it could be ten times louder than the rest of the band, [but] you’re not getting the right balance.”
The number 50 not only is impactful in terms of Hollingsworth’s age ⎯ it also takes form as the title of his upcoming solo record, which is set to release on March 2, coincidentally falling on his birthday. “I kind of set myself up by naming it ‘50’,” laughed Hollingsworth. “50” marks his fourth solo release, his first since 2014’s “Speed of Life,” however, Hollingsworth explained that he tapped deep into his jam roots to come up with a distinctive record that doesn’t come off as a “super-concise pop album.” “It was a little more exploratory. I entered, what I may call, a jam route,” explained Hollingsworth. “I think my past few albums contained concise songs with slow numbers here-and-there and there is definitely some of that on my new album, but there is an expansive arrangement of songs.”
Most notably about the upcoming record is the star-studded list of special guests that contributed to the making of the album, including SCI bandmate, Jason Hann, as well as The Infamous Stringdusters’ Andy Hall and The Motet’s horn section, which Hollingsworth believes allows himself to explore spaces he couldn’t necessarily reach himself. One collaboration, however, stood out to Hollingsworth, which was with Jennifer Hartswick of the Trey Anastasio Band, who lended her trumpeter and vocal prowess on “Come On.” “It was cheesy and I didn’t want it on the album,” exclaimed Hollingsworth. “Jenn showed up in the studio and was like, ‘this is what the song needs.’ [She] came out with this great creative energy, and great voice and trumpet line. All of the sudden, it became a new song.”
In explaining his methodology behind recording a solo record versus going into the studio with SCI, Hollingsworth states that he finds it more relaxing as he can set about on his individual creative journeys, which are inspired by his love for the outdoors and outdoor sporting. “There’s five less hands [so] I am able to follow my vision all the way to fruition,” said Hollingsworth. “For me, in the String Cheese setting, in the way we get in each other’s way, we [also] let space occur between the five of us. So even though it seems like a lot of music, you’re also sharing the load with everyone in the band.”
In the realm of SCI, fans of the jam band laud the band for their unique and utterly imaginative sit-ins, sometimes known as “Incidents,” which have included the likes of Bassnectar, Zac Brown Band and The Doobie Brothers. Though, for Hollingsworth, there is still a laundry list of musicians still needing to be added to the “Incident” list, including the Paul Simon (which was meant to occur a number of years back), Beck and David Byrne of the Talking Heads, of whom Hollingsworth is a rather huge fan. “The Talking Heads were right on the edge of punk but not quite, but I felt I could sit in a good way with them where I could be slightly alternative. The choruses were quite never where they were supposed to be and the voices had this sweet, crack moment, and for me, I was into that,” explained Hollingsworth. “What I love about ‘Remain in Light’ and Talking Heads during that era is that they were experimenting with sounds and producing in different ways.
“I was like ‘wow, what is that weird noise? Is it because I’m high?’” said Hollingsworth comically.
As for Mr. Hollingsworth, his band of misfits are already ready to bring the sounds of “50” to the masses as they prepare to headline Fairfield’s StageOne on Thursday, Feb. 8, which will include music from Hollingsworth’s vast solo material as well as SCI gems. “Bring your hoola hoops,” quipped Hollingsworth. In addition, Kyle Hollingsworth will be debuting his latest brew, Ground Score, his latest collaboration between Relix and SweetWater Brewery, on tour.