STS9: More Than Meets the Ear

 
We've gone... I don't want to say as far we can, but we've really gone headfirst into that whole methodology of creating music and being able to bring something that's bigger than your own instrument to the stage and pull it off - the laptop AND the guitar. But now the pendulum's swinging [and] we find ourselves playing acoustic guitar and a real piano and trying to write some really beautiful progressions and melodies that are just really strong [and] timeless. The next round of Sector 9 might be completely different.

-David Phipps

 
Photo of STS9 by: Casey Flanigan

Fans of the original album will be pleasantly surprised by the remix. The production is top-notch throughout and the inclusion of multiple remixes of certain tracks lends itself to some outstanding experimentation. "These tracks really come across as a heartfelt, true donation of [the contributing artists'] time and talent," says Phipps. "This wasn't something just thrown together. We're really excited."

One of the highlights for folks who like lyrics with their music are the three different versions of "Hidden Hand" with some stunning lyrics. The versions range from dark (Abstract Rude rhymes ominously, "It's not all over just cuz one man 'came the president/ Not to be negative but you know how the rest of us is") to cautiously optimistic ("All we want to do is improve the situation that we got before we pass it to you," riffs GFE) to nearly transcendent, as in the Lowpro Lounge's effortless intro segue from JFK's "Ich Bein ein Berliner" speech to Obama's inaugural address to Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. The 25 songs on the album not named "Hidden Hand, Hidden Fist" are every bit as good - Pnuma Trio's take on "Late for Work," in particular, deserves a mention - and even though the collection clocks in at almost two and a half hours it stands up to repeated listening.

Phipps says that despite the band's strong ideals, progressive leanings and the forceful lyrics in the remixes, they don't want to alienate fans. "We try to do it not in your face. We're not directly addressing the audience with a hard idea or statement," he professes. "We throw up a bunch of dots that are obviously creating a connect the dots picture but we leave it up to you to connect those dots, and that way you're participating, learning, and not just being told something. If you Wikipediad or Googled 'Hidden Hand, Hidden Fist' or 'Metameme' you'd invariably come across an article that was talking about some historical or political or sociological idea. And maybe by connecting [those dots] yourself there's a true sense of learning something as opposed to [it] being delivered as lyrics in a song. The ideas that there's clues embedded in this makes it fun for us, and hopefully fun for the fans."

There's also a pragmatic aspect to the band's decision to keep politics and music somewhat apart. He recalls the band's early years, "We were very inspired by the 13 moon calendar, and it was so identified with us [that] for a good five or six years of our career nobody ever talked about our music. It was always about Mayan numerology or something that was not necessarily what we were wanting to talk about when we wanted to talk about our band. It really kind of overshadowed our music. We've learned to be a little bit more restrained in our [politics] and we feel like it's more effective."

David Phipps by Dave Vann
Oh, yeah, the music. When these guys aren't dropping off truckloads of food or organizing 30 friends to do a charity album or funding solar-powered racecars, they're also making some of the most original music around, and they're relentless in their drive to push the edges. Writing songs can take years for the band, as each song may go through 20 or 30 iterations before they're finally happy with it. Every member of the band plays at least two instruments onstage, a laptop and something more traditional, and the computers are fully integrated into every step of the process. "Most of our music, we'll have laptops and software and we'll start a song idea. It gets imported into the studio computer. Maybe the drums will be replaced by real drums, the bass line will be replaced by the bass player, and we'll come back and [decide] we liked the original drums better, take the live drums out. And then a week later the live drums are back in and the bass line is being recorded," he explains.

But after years of being known for the technicality of their music and their unique computer-driven sound, the band might be ready to pull the old switcheroo on fans. "We've gone... I don't want to say as far we can, but we've really gone headfirst into that whole methodology of creating music and being able to bring something that's bigger than your own instrument to the stage and pull it off - the laptop AND the guitar. But now the pendulum's swinging [and] we find ourselves playing acoustic guitar and a real piano and trying to write some really beautiful progressions and melodies that are just really strong [and] timeless. The next round of Sector 9 might be completely different."

While the band is moving towards a more acoustic sound in some ways, it's beefing up the high-tech production behind the studio work. STS9 has made improvements, including the ability to mix 192 tracks simultaneously, to its recording studio, where the original Peaceblaster was recorded. "We've really kind of made some leaps and bounds. We've graduated from, 'Yeah, we have a home studio,' to, 'We actually have a recording studio here.' We're getting more confident, and we've learned so much that [we've shrunk] the time that it takes. We think we might have another five or six song EP coming out in the fall. We've never followed up a huge studio album with another release just about a year later."

Continue reading for more on STS9...


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