STS9: More Than Meets the Ear

By: Jason Turgeon

"We were in New Orleans for some gigs, and we were delivering the last amount of food that was donated [by our] Sector 9 food drive through the Conscious Alliance food drive system." Sound Tribe Sector 9 keyboardist David Phipps drops bombs like this often in conversation. He's telling the story of how the band decided to devote their considerable annual fundraising efforts for a variety of charities to just one organization this year, Brad Pitt's Make it Right Foundation. And along the way, he casually mentions that the band is responsible for having generated multiple truckloads of food for food banks around the country.

"It was kind of a photo opportunity, to be honest, it's not like we're working in the back of every one of the trucks that's out there delivering the food," Phipps continues, downplaying the band's role. "We had this awesome local driver who got us there in the van and gave us this amazing tour of the town. He was giving us history and pointing out things that we would have never seen. We asked him to drive through the Ninth Ward. We had been there not long after the hurricane. We got out of the van and not much had changed, but there was this one street that had my dream house - totally sustainable, green built, world-class architect designed, and right next to that were a couple of FEMA trailers. This guy came out and invited us into his FEMA trailer and showed us this 3-ring binder full of the business cards of the people who had visited and this videotape of his granddaughter's dance recital. We were very much at home and told him that we were considering [a contribution to] Make it Right."

For years, the band had been donating $1 from the sale of every ticket to a variety of charities. "We've always had kind of an activist stance from the very beginning of the band and that gradually crystallized into a direct way of tying our concerts and activism through ticket sales," Phipps says. The money had traditionally been split evenly. One-third was designated for local Atlanta area organizations like Mariposa's Art, an after school art and health program; the second third went to causes nationwide, including funding a project to help the students of David's brother Allan Phipps, a high school teacher in South Florida, design and build a solar-powered car that competed in the Dell-Winston School Solar Race from Texas to New York; and the remaining money went to a variety of international causes.

David Phipps by Chad Smith
Over the years, as the band's popularity had grown, the donations have grown, topping the $100,000 mark in 2008. "This year we kind of noticed that we were making some good dents in some things by splitting it up, but we wanted to see what would happen if we put it all to one thing," Phipps says.

So, the band had been looking for a new cause for a while but nothing had grabbed them until that chance encounter, a visit that occurred with some serendipity not because they were on tour but because they were delivering food to a food bank. But taking the plunge on a new charity and breaking their old ties wasn't something they did lightly. "It was a hard decision for me," Phipps says. "That was my brother's solar car and Mariposa's art ended up going bankrupt this year. It was a hard decision but I think we made the right one."

"We kind of decided [on our visit to New Orleans] that this was what we wanted to do," Phipps continues. "The full price tag for building a house [through Make it Right] was around $150,000. We couldn't promise that we can make the connection and build this man's house, but we wanted to be a part of this effort. Here he was, however many years later, and still had all kinds of hope." The band decided to find the funds to build a complete house, which meant that they would have to find $50,000 more than they had already planned on raising. They threw in all of the proceeds from their VIP ticket sales, but they needed more. And so the Peaceblaster: The New Orleans Make it Right Remix was born.

They started out inviting friends of theirs in the DJ and hip-hop world to take on individual tracks and the project soon snowballed. By the time they released the remix album through their own 1320 Records on June 23 (available online as mp3s for $0.99 each or $12.98 for all 30, with all proceeds going to Make it Right), the band had more than 30 collaborators including The Glitch Mob, Pnuma Trio and rapper Abstract Rude. To make room for everyone, the remix album stretched to a full 30 tracks, including no fewer than five different (and all excellent) versions of "Hidden Hand, Hidden Fist," the band's standout track from the original Peaceblaster album.

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