STS9: Shock & Awe

 
It's inescapable right now as an artist to not reflect on the times we live in. They're so serious and urgent that to shy away from things or pretend we exist in some other world just doesn't do it anymore. To achieve the future we're hoping to achieve it's gonna take some reflection, some diggin' deep and talking about hard things.

-Hunter Brown

 
Photo of STS9 by C. Taylor Crothers

"It's hard not to say, 'Here's my formula. Here's how I do it,' and layer that over everything," adds Murphy. "That's a hard thing to do, especially the older you get and while you get good reactions off your formula. If people genuinely like the way I play bass it gets harder to not trot out the same tricks versus backing off and saying, 'This is a piece of art and I just need to put into the art what is needed instead of laying my ego over everything.' I feel like that was the best growth we made with this record. There are a couple songs where I didn't even do any bass and the song didn't need it. Why put something on it just to have it? Why do it just because my ego says there has to be bass on every song?"

Beyond Right Now

Hunter Brown by Casey Flanigan
Peaceblaster is a provocative title, taking the language of combat and combining it with peace. One's brain has to work on that tangle each time they see it or say it. The album hints at heavy concepts with titles like "The New Soma," "Empires" and "The Last 50,000 Years." A special Peaceblaster website is a hub of cool information about the state of the human condition and a rallying spot for likeminded individuals who want to follow the breadcrumbs STS9 is dropping today.

"It's inescapable right now as an artist to not reflect on the times we live in. They're so serious and urgent that to shy away from things or pretend we exist in some other world just doesn't do it anymore. To achieve the future we're hoping to achieve it's gonna take some reflection, some diggin' deep and talking about hard things. That's the kind of stuff we've been getting into on the bus or just talking as friends. That's where our minds are at," comments Brown, who's fully aware of the band's added impediment of engaging this high ground without the aid of lyrics. "It's our unique opportunity and challenge, and we really just feel blessed to do this thing, to get into these deeper conversations that go beyond music and partying. We've never been a preachy band but if you want to find out more about where we're coming from the clues are absolutely there. Hey, Alice Coltrane never sang and she put it all across, right?"

"We were trying to not be so coy. We tried to leave obvious trails to what we're into, if you want to find out. 'Shock Doctrine,' is a great example of that, since it's a book [2007's Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein – more info at the official website] they can dig into without us having to spell it out. But we also didn't want to be so ambiguous that it all seems random," says Murphy. "It's a fine line to walk for artists that want to be socio-political in any way – entertaining people and preaching to them, which really we try not to do. Not being able to put messages across by just singing, we've had to find different ways to do it."

In fairness, America in 2008 isn't an environment that readily accepts complexity or notices subtlety, which creates further obstacles for a band like STS9 that wants to stimulate thought but not from a pulpit. Depth and nuance are tough sells in the current environment.

David Murphy by Casey Flanigan
"Yeah, we don't handle that very well [laughs]. It can be forced upon us but as an artist that's your job - not so much to challenge people but to paint an honest picture of society. We're not setting the agenda for society. The artist's job has always been to reflect the current state of society, and that was our goal on this new record," offers Murphy. "This record is a lot like America; it's a beautiful place but it has a dark side that rears its ugly head on numerous occasions. It's important to recognize that as a citizen living in this country. That dynamic can rub some people the wrong way, some people are into it and some maybe just haven't gotten to these ideas yet. However, to just be socio-political is very shortsighted. It's good to be educated and concerned with what's going on but there's a bigger picture. We're not going through anything now that hasn't gone on before in the history of the Earth, and it's not going to be the last time we go through this. It's important to recognize that we're just stewards of the planet and we can only do what we can do."

That artistic reflection Murphy speaks of starts with Peaceblaster's jittery, agit-prop cover art, where striking black and white lines are cut by a bullhorn-headed girl and a bold red box with the title and track listing. Nowhere are the band member's names listed, but their various website addresses are clustered on the back.

"We pulled from pop art and really the punk movement of the '70s. It's borderline propaganda looking, and we wanted to be that blatant. We wanted to remove some of the ambiguousness of our past," Murphy says. "True mind control is a man at a podium with a megaphone. We, as a people, wherever you are in the world, listen to someone up on a soapbox with a microphone because we just assume that if this guy has risen to the position of having the microphone he must know what he's talking about."

Continue reading for more on STS9...


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