25 years ago, Kyle Hollingsworth set out on a career in music. Since then, with a wealth of desire and an abundance of ability, Hollingsworth has established himself as a formidable and versatile music talent, with the ability to contribute, collaborate, compose, and communicate on a number of levels and within a vast spectrum of musical environments.
Today, as a member of acclaimed jam masters The String Cheese Incident, Hollingsworth is revered by both peers and fans for his ability to write and perform in a mosaic of styles, from rock to classical, ragtime to bebop. Playing in SCI has allowed him unrestricted access to the world of music, and has bestowed on him the kind of fearlessness a composer needs to flirt with such disparate genres. Those who’ve seen SCI know that they can jerk from funk to bluegrass on a chord change. “In the jam world, where there are no set ways of doing things, we’re not afraid to move in and out of genres,” he says, “and because of that I’ve learned to be creative, not only onstage but in the studio. I can get on board with something pretty quickly. You have to.”
Hollingsworth also has a good ear, which helps when you’re constantly immersed in unfamiliar situations. “I’ve always felt the instrumentals I create in my home studio are tailor-made for films,” he says. “As far as communicating musical passages, I write pretty good hooks and I know what it takes to get to the point.” He’s proven that already with a variety of work that he’s already done for advertising, television, film, and even video games.
Kyle has developed soundtracks for EA Sports’ popular Sims 2007 and is currently dabbling in other video game projects. There are examples of his work on his website. He explains, “For video games, it has been fun writing in more of a classical vein. By utilizing timpani, strings and other classical elements, I am able to create tension beds and action sequences that help make the scenes come alive.” Most recently, Kyle contributed to the soundtrack of a Warren Miller film. “The key to good cinematic music,” he explains, “is to not overpower the visuals. My job is to add to the scene without making my music the focal point. I try to add emotion, not take it away.”
While his versatility and quick-study nature have become his signature skills with SCI, they have also proved tremendously helpful on stage during collaborations with a bunch of major acts, including Paul Simon, Bruce Hornsby, Bob Weir, Little Feat, and banjo master Bela Fleck. One summer he toured with Phil Lesh in a band that also included Steve Kimock, John Molo, and Warren Haynes. In another amazing highlight, Kyle also toured with Mike Clark in a band that starred nearly all the original Head Hunters.
These gigs prove that Hollingsworth is as unafraid to step out of the limelight as he is to step into it. “When I play with these performers it’s about showcasing them, to support the main role in the best possible way. Seasoned musicians can be tasty and laid back, too!”
While the jam scene has brought him much exposure as a talent—a relentless tour schedule will do that for a guy—it’s also allowed him to meet some of the very best musicians in popular music. With all that ability floating around between acts, it’s hard to resist the temptation to form “side projects.” Hollingsworth’s current musical hobby is called soleside, and it features Speech from Arrested Development and turntablist DJ Logic. soleside is Kyle’s brainchild, but it’s a true collaboration. “I’ve been a fan of Arrested Development for a long time,” he says, “and Speech has a great message in his lyrics, they are inspired and from the heart. It goes well with the SCI vibe of getting outside, playing with nature and finding spirituality in one’s self. Logic was the first person I thought of to help bridge the gap between the hip-hop and jam band scenes.”
Together, Kyle, Speech and Logic look to meld their experiences, in a place where their shared dialects—Sly Stone, the Staple Singers, the Brand New Heavies—have tripped upon exciting and funky ground to explore: “We’re looking for new musical adventures,” says Kyle, “and with a lineup as diverse as the three of us, there’s a lot of new ground to discover.”
All this incredible experience has turned Hollingsworth into a fluid talent with a wide range of abilities: as a sideman, a studio session player, a songwriter, soundtrack composer, bandleader, arranger, and film scorer.
Who knew it would come to this when he started this learning process 25 years ago? Back then, as a young kid sitting on his front porch, he’d immerse himself in the sounds of his older siblings’ records: the Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Yes, and the Beatles. He started playing in bands at 12, and by last count, that total has climbed to about 30.
His first real group, a psychedelic rock band called Black Friday, made waves in and around his Baltimore home base. In college, at Towson University in Baltimore, he took a sharp left turn; he chose to study jazz giants like Hancock, Corea, Peterson, and earn his degree in Jazz Piano Performance.
Kyle’s first solo album release in 2004 reflected his jazz tastes. Titled Never Odd or Even, Joshua Redman and Robert Randolph guested, among others. Never or Odd or Even was the recording Hollingsworth had always wanted to make since he was a kid. In addition to his jazz influences, the album’s music demonstrates Kyle’s ability to seamlessly fuse genres.
Kyle moved west to Colorado in 1993, and quickly gelled with a handful of Denver- and Boulder-based musicians. After his young band Durt opened for an early version of SCI, the band invited him into the fold for a tour they were doing. That stint led to a full-time gig and, consequently, a career in music. Today, 12 years after joining SCI, the learning process Hollingsworth began as a child is now flourishing into an impressive and rewarding career. “I’m always looking for challenges,” he says. “I thrive on the challenges posed by unique groups of musicians.”