STS9: Shock & Awe

By: Dennis Cook

STS9 by C. Taylor Crothers
As with most endeavors, the more one engages with their craft, the better one gets at it. A decade into Sound Tribe Sector 9's artistic caravan they remain a steadily evolving organism. There's a seriousness and deep determination in the entire band to not repeat the past and to continually better every aspect. Endlessly restless, each new sound they coax into being elicits genuine pleasure in them, which they palpably communicate through their music.

"For us, music is just something we have to do. It's a personal thing, a group thing, it's something we all collectively want to do all the time, and we have a vision of how we want our creativity to feel. We're always thinking about what's coming next – the next song, the next project, whatever," says guitarist Hunter Brown, a point man in STS9's five-person instrumental phalanx with Jeffree Lerner (percussion), David Phipps (keyboards/laptop), Zach Velmer (drums) and David Murphy (bass). These days, everyone is also armed with laptops and various blinking doodadery to manhandle as the spirit moves them, which it often does. "We always want to be in the creative process. It comes naturally for us."

There's a primal fascination with sound itself in STS9.

"That's a great way to put it," grins Brown. "That sense of wonder and experimentation and freedom that comes with being in this band makes our clock tick. When we're in that space – finding that sound, finding that feeling, finding that emotion – it feels real, and it feels like it's what we should be doing. When you find that feeling you always want to keep doing it, and that's where we are. We're really blessed to have fans that allow us to do that and go along that journey with us. It's absolutely a huge inspiration and it pushes us even further. It's a great give-and-take relationship."

Sector 9's new album, Peaceblaster (released July 8 on the band's own 1320 Records) goes a number of miles up the road, taking their mirror ball friendly ways and dusting them with beautiful, ancestral fog and a complex, shifting atmosphere that incorporates space, reflection and patience in fascinating new ways.

STS9 by Dave Vann
"Our maturity as a band makes it easier to complete our musical thoughts, as a group, now. This is our fourth studio effort and we've learned a lot about how to be studio musicians and how to make our music come across in that setting," says David Murphy. "With Peaceblaster, we wanted to figure how to capture the live energy in the studio, and really add some of that fluidity that's in our live show. We felt this was a good time to take a serious look at how we can make our art better by carrying through complete thoughts rather than just being happy with a new trick we learned in the studio. We took a step back from that and asked, 'What's best for this song?' On Peaceblaster we tried to let each song be its own thing, rather than water things down or force things into the music because we think it's cool or we're feeling it in the moment. We tried to take a more holistic approach."

STS9 has one of the most sincere, dedicated fan bases out there. But, it's a double-edged sword, where folks attached to different portions of the journey aren't always comfortable with changes. Each shift has its vocal critics, and those enamored by STS9's early electro pile driving may struggle a bit with today's more nuanced and frankly more musically robust work on Peaceblaster, which captures some of the pulsing energy of Herbie Hancock's Headhunters, Kruder & Dorfmeister, early Tangerine Dream, Lonnie Liston Smith & The Cosmic Echoes and Adrian Sherwood's On-U Sound, but does so without feeling like some retro mock-up. Like these ancestors, they've just learned to play really well, sans many biases or borders, and that greatly expands the possibilities available to them.

"We don't think of any of that stuff, in terms of how or why we create. When we get into the studio, there's a certain feeling that permeates our days leading up to the studio experience. Maybe there's a thread of conversation that keeps coming up over a year or two as friends and bandmates, and you have to take all those things into account. And we want to be honest with each other and ourselves and with the band. We want to make creative decisions from a creative standpoint, not from worry over how people will react," observes Brown. "We can't think that. It's not fair. We still take that into account too much probably [laughs]. But, at the end of the day, the arrow is pointed out and we're looking for the next thing. That's not to say we leave everything behind. Maybe one day we'll find a sound we'll stick with [laughs]."

Continue reading for more on STS9...

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