Interview | STS9 Get Their Groove Back
Sound Tribe Sector 9, better known as STS9, is one of those bands that you have probably danced to under a starry sky at Bonnaroo or a backyard house party, but still can’t place one of their songs by name. That is partly because the experimental live electronic band is a group that exists and thrives in the periphery of pop culture. Known more for their mind-bending improvisational live performances than making “hit singles,” STS9 has been one of the most bankable touring acts of the past two decades despite never being played on the radio.
The Santa Cruz-based band’s latest album, The Universe Inside (which you can hear below), comes on the cusp of STS9’s 20th Anniversary (in 2017) and is the first without co-founder and bassist David Murphy. It’s a rich, world-building saga inspired by the twin Golden Records included on the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 space probes, which had sounds that intended to communicate a story of our world to extraterrestrials. Thus, there are more vocalists than on past STS9 recordings, which exponentially expand their trademark freeform space grooves, yet also bring them back down to earth.
Crave did and exclusive Q&A with STS9 drummer Zach Velmer over email to chat about the group’s latest album, long career and their new direction.
Crave: Sound Tribe Sector 9 has been described as everything from a “space jam band” to a “funk fusion band” what’s the most out there or original description you’ve heard? What do you prefer?
Zach Velmer: The best description is that we are the best band in the world, or that we are the biggest band you have never heard of, or STS9 is like driving down the road at 120mph with your hair on fire. We don’t enjoy being put into a box or being labeled. We are STS9. We have always been STS9 and we will always be STS9.
You’ve had acts like Bassnectar, Pretty Lights and Big Gigantic open for you and are now headlining festivals. As a group that’s been doing it for a long time how do you define success?
Success isn’t about headlining festivals or the artists that used to open for you headlining festivals. Success is knowing that you are authentic in your intention and expression. That you are true to yourself and your art. We feel successful because of the response of our fans and that we have truly connected with them on a deeper level. We feel successful when our fans come up to us and have said, “your music has changed my life and my life trajectory.” That’s true success.
There have been a lot of changes in the band since your last album. Change can be good, but hard. What has the most difficult thing you’ve had to deal with?
Change is inevitable. It’s all about looking at the positives and moving through experiences really enjoying each and every precious moment, even the challenging ones. It’s all about perspective.
This is the first album featuring bassist Alana Rocklin. What does she bring to the band musically and as a person?
Alana and her husband Brad have been connected to the band for nearly 15 years and have been our dear friends and creative collaborators. Alana’s musical knowledge and musical vocabulary has been next level. The collaboration process both live and in the studio has been seamless and natural.
How does The Universe Inside fit into your music catalogue?
The Universe Inside is the perfect unfolding to our story. We have shared more than we ever have on any release into our microcosm called STS9. It feels like a new beginning and yet a continuation. Honestly we have so much more to share that will keep evolving and perpetuating.
Is there a song on The Universe Inside best personifies your new direction?
That’s a very hard question. To me the album is truly a album. The Universe Inside is meant to be heard all the way through as it is a collection of records that are meant to be together. The album tells a story; a complete thought. Each record feels so STS9 and exemplifies who we are as a band and where we are going.
You have a very special relationship with the Red Rocks venue. What was the moment you knew that this was different from the other places you’ve played?
Every time one plays Red Rocks you realize it’s this magical place that you can’t explain. Being able to play at Red Rocks every year never gets old. You pull up and walk in, put your stuff down and walk up to the stage and it’s like the first time all over again. It’s that magical and that special.
STS9 has partnered with a variety of non-profit organizations throughout you career. There are so many great causes. How do you pick one and what was one that you worked with that was the most personal?
We wish we could do more. STS9 has a long standing relationship with Conscious Alliance which has done truly amazing things. Our biggest endeavor was our relationship with Make it Right Foundation and the magic that our fans and our artist community truly came together to do something beyond anything STS9 could do on our own. We built a house for Katrina victims who lost their homes.
2017 will be STS9’s 20th year as a band. You can go back to the future. What’s something you would tell your younger selves when you first started?
Nothing! We have enjoyed each and every part of this journey. We still reminisce about all the good ol times; broken down on the side of the road in the middle of Nevada The time where I was too young to be in the club we were playing so I had to be escorted out at set break and then back in when we played. The time where we got to open for James Brown at The Warfield in San Francisco. Getting to play alongside some of your musical heroes and inspirations like Jay-Z, Snoop, Nas, Big Boi, etc. That one time a girl ran up on stage and stepped on my drum set and tackled me. Everything has unfolded just as it has meant to be. It’s all about the journey and not the destination.
For more info on STS9 and their upcoming tour go (here)