In listening obsessively to Seasons 01, and talking about it over sushi with Sound Tribe Sector 9's emphatic young drummer Zach Velmer, it becomes clear that while reviewing this album it does little good to just describe the songs. Because what this album conveys is really just a slice of Sound Tribe Sector 9. Simply a taste of them. The 9 as musicians, as individuals, as dreamers and as healers. It isn't perfect, there are incongruences, but it's all Sound Tribe, no producers, no record label, no outside influences, it's a snapshot of where Sector 9 is around the beginning of 2002.
More than anything else about the album, Zach seemed to emphasize that, "It's totally for the fans." He went on to explain the nature of actually putting this album together. "Well, the first idea was a double disc, and the first disc was live, and the second disc was all electronic. But we're indecisive. We're artists. And the way we see it is like, there is nobody distributing and promoting it. It's not like 'the next Sector 9 album', it's just a piece of us to have fun with."
photo by wyatt dexter
And believe me, this album is fun. It's more than fun, it's phenomenal. But what else would you expect when the songs that appear on the double disc Seasons 01 are all live tracks taken from 2001, a year that saw Sector 9 really come into their own. From the gorgeous opening trickles of David Phipps's keyboard work on "Gift for Gaia" you instantly realize that you are entering a vibrant, flourishing, enchanting new world of music. As the music floats, swirls, and wraps around your brain with melodic patterns, the vocal samples draw you into a distant land that is somehow both in the future and the past simultaneously, yet fully encompassing the present, and you realize that, "This IS, the sound."
As Zach and I look over the track list he begins pointing, "It has ten tracks. And seven out of the ten are improvs. And lets see, 'Gift for Gaia'," first time ever played. 'Satori', first time ever, played, 'Good for Everyday' first time, 'Eclipse', 'Thread', and 'Breach', first EVER. We just laid it down. Like 'Satori', it's a song now. But the first time that we played it, we decided to play in a mode of winter, and that's what came out. 'Thread', we played in a mode of going into spring."
Just what does Zach mean by a "mode?" Well it has to do with the vibrations of our world. And in a way, that's all that music is as well, vibrations. "This is stuff we are researching, and reading about. Phipps is very involved in that. Like 'Gift for Gaia', is in the key of the day. It was September 13th, so you know we were tripping on a lot of things at the beginning of that fall tour. So we started a lot of those shows, with the key of the day, because we were resonating that, and it was intense. And like, 'Breach', 'Breach' was in the key of the day. And 'Thread' was an improv that was winter. 'Good for Everyday' was an improv for the key of the day in Nashville."
Now it's not that these songs are dependant on the vibrations for a specific day, or specific season. These are just tools to help them express their art. Just as the connection to the Mayan calendar doesn't dictate their lives, Seasons 01 is another chapter in their development. "We’re just doing it. As the intention is, it’s the Mayan philosophy, it’s the Japanese philosophy, it’s the Chinese philosophy, it’s the Aztec philosophy, it’s universal. And as it goes into nature it’s all one. Just to go there, like, Buddha, Christ, all of the most high, it’s all incorporated. They’re all saying the same thing. And we’re just trying to be open and universal. Open that’s it. And what comes through one day is what comes through. Some days we start with the key of the day, and some days we don’t. Some days we start with a different mode that is related to the season, and some days we don’t. We’re open. Like we get on this vibration of like, 'today’s F, we’re really feeling F.' It’s not just like we’re in this tradition we’re gonna start like this. We’re open. We might say, 'Ok lets start with an improv, that’s what we’re feeling. Let’s set this vibration for maybe Tuesday, because it’s the starting of the week, and this is what we’re playing. Or it’s the end of the week, let’s close it out with an improv.
"The intention is just being open, instead of being locked. Like, (in his best Mr. Roboto voice) I am a robot. I go to work at nine, I come home at five, I eat my dinner, I have my wife. I’m incredibly blessed to be doing what I’m doing. I need to be constantly open to what’s coming in. Listening to new music. And just vibing with it. Ya know for example, I got up and broke dance in Chicago. That’s something I haven’t done in a really long time. Because I was feeling it. And my mom was like, 'I read that you got up and danced. You’ve done that five times, why won’t you do it when I can see you?' It’s like mom, 'I gotta feel it.' It’s not like, I’m gonna do this tonight. This is what we’re gonna do in our show. They had no idea, my boys had no idea. It’s just being open. Open channels, and it carries over to life."
While dissecting the entire album may not be of the utmost importance, a little insight into what tracks were selected, how and from where certainly is of interest.
While speaking with Zach, I picked his brain for more information into how they selected what songs. "We listened, and listened, and listened, and listened. It was definitely hard. The way that we did it, is we knew what was already on albums, so all those were excluded. So we narrowed it down to like 30 or 25 options. Tough to pick just ten. And also, we multi track some shows, but we didn't use any of the multi-track, this is all two track, and that had some affect on what shows we could use, because some shows didn't sound good. And with some of the stuff you can hear snare rattles that you wouldn't necessarily hear on a professional studio album, or even a professional live album, but the music couldn't be denied because of a snare rattle. Because in the realm of the whole picture it's still musical, it's in time, it just rattles. So we didn't sacrifice it, because that piece of music needed to be out there, and it sounds good."
photo by liz o'keefe
Gift for Gaia - New Orleans
Jabez - Eureka
Ramone & Emilio - Pittsburgh
Satori - Boulder
Good for Everyday - Asheville
Equinox - Boulder
Kaya - Cincinnati
Eclipse - Boulder
Thread - Boulder
Breach - Portland, Maine
So how did they pick the songs, they more or less ran with a vibe. But again, that's not just this CD, that's Sector 9. "Like 'Gift for Gaia', shit dude, that's not even a song. We'll probably never play it again. (Laughing). We haven't yet. And that's what's really cool about a lot of our stuff too, is that you'll never hear some of that stuff ever again. Because that was the moment, and to release it, that's what it's all about."
With the second track, "Jabez," some of you will notice that this song was formerly known as "Drone." Why is it now "Jabez?" Zach enlightened me, "See we have a problem naming songs. Hunter wrote that song (Jabez), and he didn't name it. There's a drone in it, so he named it "Drone." So that's what we called it, and that's what everybody else called it."
The next song, twenty minutes of "Ramone & Emiglio," might just be the high point of the album, in fact it might be the single greatest track Sector 9 has put down. The bottom end bass licks and smooth thumps instantly set the course for a serious journey. Next, Hunter's deliberate, slightly angular guitar pushes the sound further. In comes the space swirl keyboard wash of Phipps, as Zach lightly taps his cymbals. Then the pressure changes and one by one each band member drops into one of the hottest pieces of music available. At this point the extremely poignant, and meaningful vocal sample enters, "Here we are, Here we are, Here we are, Here and now." The music exposes emotion, and a driving fury of energy. They exhibit wonderful tension release control, while shifting the musical ground effortlessly.
photo by wyatt dexter
As "Ramone & Emiglio" progresses, Hunter falls in and out of heavy funk wah wah sections, back into more cutting, and slicing directions. The pressure continues to build, toppling over itself until the 11:54 mark, where it just kicks in, "Here we are, Here and now" and all of a sudden the music opens up and exposes divine inspiration. Phipps then drops into a slight King Tubby dub twist only to segue into an array of blips, bleeps and swooshes, sending the listener into some sort of space walk, star wars journey. Meanwhile Jeffree is rapping on the congas and everything fits perfectly, with five musicians making one sound. The lines are blurred and Sector 9 has once again managed to separate from the physicality of the world, leaving human form behind, dwelling in a time and space that really doesn't have words. Simply put, it's the vibrations of life.
This underlying notion of a higher goal and deeper meaning permeates through out Seasons 01. As we continued discussing the names of songs Zach said, "You know there is huge intention with the words we use." And of course there is huge intention, this applies to the entire Sector 9 entity. From the music they play, and the energy they emit this holds true in every step the Sound Tribe makes. Take for instance the final song of the album, "Breach." You can literally hear whales breaching. Where did they get the breaching whale noises, or the other amazing samples. "We had microphones, we went down to the ocean and sampled it. It's all our stuff. And the 'chink - chinkonk' metal sound, well right across the way there were these guys drilling, and we just held up a microphone to a DAT and recorded it. (Laughing) We were just running around, [pretending to hold up a mic] 'Oh that's cool, are we getting a reading here,' and just put it into a computer, rendered it and had fun with it. And the 'Here we are, Here and now. That's actually a Goddess who's part of the Sound Tribe family, and I just sampled her. I wanted some things and she said some stuff."
As I made note of earlier, it's all the Sound Tribe, right down to physically sampling the ocean. And yes I am looking forward to what the Tribe will come up with when they truly learn to use the recording studio, and heavy production value. But this album is pure Sector 9. You would have a hard time trying to capture the essence of STS9 in a controlled environment because it's not controlled. What you are dealing with is energy. The exchange of energy between band and audience. I've said it before, and I will say it again, this is not just music, it's a life support system for the future.
To come back to the end of the album lets look at "Thread" into "Breach." "Thread" is dark, almost evil. But life is too sometimes. And this is art, and art IS life. What could represent life more appropriately than the sound of a whale breaching. . . breathing, living. These are the cycles of life, this is nature, this is Seasons 01.
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