Posted by: Amy – Nov 03, 2015
In the last fifteen years, there are few acts out there who have played more shows, headlined more festivals, and put out more records than the instrumental jam band called Sound Tribe Sector 9, better known by the initials STS9. The quintet has worked hard over the years to cultivate not only their signature sound (best described as a blend of electronic and funk with clear ties to rock, jazz, and hip hop), but also one of the most noteworthy live shows in the world. Their uncanny energy and never-ending creativity on stage almost every night has allowed them to gather together an intensely devoted legion of fans, some of which who spend weeks following the band from city to city. That legion of fans grows by the year too as well as STS9's deep catalogue and celebrated live performances. Even after a year of change they had back in 2014, the group is still striking out and finding ways to make sure STS9 spends the next fifteen years as original, creative, and lively as the first fifteen.
To get that point, STS9 is utilizing every trick in the book and really focusing on making themselves and their shows better every night, no matter what the case. Helping lead the charge is their new bassist Alana Rocklin who joined the band after founding member David Murphy departed amicably at the start of 2014.
"He's own his own journey of music now," percussionist Jeffree Lerner. "There's nothing but love for him though and appreciation for everything he did for STS9."
Though losing a founding member is something that can unsettle a band's deep foundation, Lerner revealed that they were blown away with the energy Rocklin brought to the band, something he said was almost infectious for the rest of the band. "She's such a pro. It's an honor to work with her. Her personal discipline and dedication to her instrument has definitely inspired us all. The amount of time she spends on it and the amount of works she puts into the show, it's really inspired us to do a bit more than we've done in the past."
"Doing a bit more" is almost unfathmomable to not only those who have seen STS9 before, but to those who have seen them multiple times over the years. Unlike most other bands around, no show is ever the same with STS9, a fact Lerner said is a very concious decisions. "For a week of shows, we're not trying to repeat more than one or two tracks. There are some things that are new or fresh or are crowd pleasers that we don't want people to miss out so it's a real fine balance of finding that. But really, we have plenty of music to pull from." STS9 does indeed have plenty of music to pull from - at one point, Lerner stated to us that they were touring with over 100 songs ready to be played at every night, something he attributed to being in a "constant mode of rehearsing." It's just one of the many reasons that has given STS9 the reputation they have at this point, but Lerner also remarked how it was the main reason so many fans travel with the city from show to show. "We're really aware that we have kids traveling to a week's worth of shows at a time. We definitely don't want to play the same show every night, you know? We want to pull out a special treat every night for the fans. Whether it's something we haven't played in a while or a different way of approaching a song, we just try to be super creative in order to make it super exciting for people."
If you were to follow the Foo Fighters around from town to town, you could easily start to piece together the set and guess what songs are coming next night after night. It's not a disparaging thing to say about them either, considering most in music follow the same formula, but for STS9, it's something that's just never going to be the case. "I just don't see it ever changing. Creatively, as a musician and an artist, it's rewarding to have that much music to pull from and be able to make the show different each night. We take deep pride in that fact and it's almost our calling card. STS9 brings that diversity and deep history and deep catalogue and allows those coming to the shows to really hunt for those rare songs or special moments."
Part of what fuels STS9 to make these shows so different and diverse from night to night is their own personal desire to grow as a musicians after all this time. Despite innumerable concerts at this point and a staggering catalogue, the band is still finding ways to challenge themselves and the way they approach their instruments, which ultimately allows them to move STS9 forward without ever being complacent or predictable. "It's a life long journey for me," Lerner continued. "In my mind, it's like a doctor who would say, 'I have a lifetime for work ahead of me.' A lot of it is done in the studio for me. I'll just put on some headphones and look at Cuban percussion lessons on YouTube, just trying to go back to the foundation of things to make me better. Just looking at the really simple things I may have overlooked in my learning. I have a lot on my plate in that regard and I really don't ever see 'arriving' so to say. There's not a destination - just a life long journey of me trying to find my voice with my instrument and through the music and figuring out just what I have to say."
Fans may see some of the fruits of STS9's hard creative labor soon as Lerner admitted a new album is on the horizon. It will be their first since 2011 in what is certainly the band's longest break between studio records. With the notorious amount of side projects each member has, it'd be quick to point to their outside desires as a reason for the delay, but Lerner clarified where everyone's attention truly lies. "There's no such thing as a side project right now. It's great. We're all just happy to be completely, 100% focused on STS9." That focus is fueling the band's newest work that Lerner couldn't help but gush upon even though the release date is still undecided. "We don't have a specific date for the release yet, but it's a real special work that we've put a ton of work and energy into. We've learned a lot through the process too. We're just so excited to share it with everyone, but it has to be just perfect before we release it. We wouldn't have it any other way."
Lerner revealed that some of these songs are making their ways into shows, but "not the majority" as he put it. Still, it's just something else to add to the musical scavenger hunt that STS9 fans go through each concert and adds yet another complex and intriguing dimension to their astonishing sonic universe.
STS9 returns to Richmond Sunday night at The National with Modern Measure as the opener. Doors are at 6:30 PM with tickets being $29.50 in advance and $33 the day of the show. For more information on the show, click here.
Words by Doug Nunnally.