STS9: OUR TIME IS YOUR POWER

IF YOU LISTEN CLOSELY, you can hear it. Voices from the past echo the sounds of the present, hinting at the future ahead. Nature's eternal conversation with itself, with ourselves: we are all reflections of what we were and what we will be. And like any productive conversation, we must listen and respond.


STS9 :: 02.05 Fillmore, CO :: By Soren McCarty
This week Sound Tribe Sector 9 begins Phase Two of their 2005 Artifact Tour. During Phase One, a month-long expedition from California to New England, they played to larger crowds than ever before, six nights a week, simultaneously wowing and inspiring audiences, and encouraging co-creativity and acceptance. Their message is simple: choose not to live with nature but as nature. Choose to use the time we have all been given to create rather than to destroy. Choose to live as part of a work of art in constant progress.

"We see time as not on a clock or calendar," says bassist David Murphy speaking on behalf of the STS9 organization. "Time is not linear, time is not money. Time is art." At any given STS9 show, this concept is evident, lurking somewhere in your subconscious thoughts until the music propels it out of you. The feeling of oneness, that our lives are so much bigger than any one person, permeates throughout the room. Heads all bob to the same rhythm, giving an impression of one single organism rather than 1,000 individuals. It becomes much more than a concert. The band is not playing at you, but rather communicating with you through mostly instrumental music. At times the music becomes a vibration, you literally feel it as you hear it. You realize that time is not running out; time isn't running at all. Time just is, and always will be. What you choose to do with it is up to you.


Zach Velmer :: Fuji Rock :: By Rie Kasahara
With the recent release of the new studio album ARTiFACT, STS9 has seen their popularity rise exponentially. After the first official week of sales, the album was #12 on Billboard Magazine's Electronica Chart, but this success has not come overnight. STS9 first emerged in Atlanta as a trio in the late 1990's. Drummer Zach Velmer and guitarist Hunter Brown began practicing together in 1997 shortly after they finished high school, and Brown invited his friend David Murphy, 21 at the time, to join in on bass. This trio became Sector 9, a name referring to Baktun 9, the period the Mayans believed their civilization peaked in terms of artistic and communal existence.

"Atlanta is our roots, where we're from, where we went from a three-piece to a five-piece," recalls Velmer. The young musicians immersed themselves in the Atlanta scene, hanging out at clubs like the Ying Yang Café. Often they would catch sets from Tria De Luna, a local band whose members played on TLC and Janet Jackson tours but got together during their time off to play free-form jazz, hip-hop, and jungle, clearly influencing the eager ears of the early incarnation of Sector 9.


Jeffree Lerner :: By Rie Kasahara
The trio began playing shows that year, and after sitting in with the band at the Home Park Festival in 1997, keyboardist David Phipps was invited to join. They played frequently around Georgia and the Southeast, and whenever they were in Asheville, NC, percussionist Jeffree Lerner joined them on stage. Eventually Lerner moved to Athens, GA, where the members of Sector 9 were living, and became a permanent band member.

Things soon began to take off. In 1999 they toured more intensely, leaving the comforts of home and trekking across the US to the West Coast and up to New York. This was not their first experience on the road - saxophone legend Gary "El Buho" Gazaway took them on as his back up band in 1997, teaching them the ins and outs of touring and introducing them to venues and promoters along the way, making connections that allowed STS9 to return on their own.

The year 2000 was a major turning point for Sector 9. The band still played a few southern frat parties but also hit areas like the Midwest, Pacific Northwest, and Canada, and by year's end, began to sell out 400-500 person clubs in Colorado and California. In retrospect, 2000 will likely be known as the end of the "early years" for the band.

 
It's about what you choose to create and leave behind; choosing things we don't need anymore like war and man-made time. The Earth is out there doing its thing, and it's a lot easier to destroy than to create.

--Dave Murphy

 

In 2001 the band relocated to the Santa Cruz area and continued to tour, soon finding themselves headlining bigger clubs and playing on the main stages at festivals like High Sierra and Berkfest. They were also booking multiple-night stands in Boulder, San Francisco, and Athens. Velmer reflects on the move to the left coast and its direct effect on their music:


The STS9 Collective :: By Rie Kasahara
"The music opened up, metaphorically, like the vastness of California," he remembers. Amidst the barrage of touring, new songs were being written. The music evolved and matured, often leaving behind the dance party elements in exchange for slower, more melodic compositions. The dance party was still there of course, but the music was connecting with crowds on a much deeper level. And as the music evolved, so did the STS9 organization. Sector 9 became Sound Tribe Sector 9. "It's an ever-evolving, family kind of thing," Velmer continues, "a collective group of artists." In other words, STS9 was now more than five musicians playing on stage. Their road crew, management, and fans all felt the same sense of a communal, shared vision that revolved around the band's music but did not begin or end there. Their message — co-creativity — had taken form. The band began implementing other artistic mediums at their shows. STS9 lighting designer, Saxton Waller, beefed up his light show frequently. Giant crystal and floral arrangements were placed on stage every night, often provided by the fans, and the band welcomed various painters, writers, and lyricists to contribute to the creativity. "Different artists — musicians, painters — all inspire what we do. It's very refreshing," Velmer describes. Frequent collaborators included painters J. Garcia and Kris Davidson, and lyricists Audio Angel and MC Scottrohedron.


STS9 :: Bonnaroo :: By Rie Kasahara
The growth and evolution of the STS9 organization continued into 2002 and 2003. Legendary late night shows were played at High Sierra, Jazzfest, Bonnaroo (with Mike Gordon sitting in during the second encore), Harmonic Convergence (the closest thing to an STS9 festival to date), Mishawaka, and Boulder's Fox Theater, and the band traveled overseas to Japan to play a slew of shows including the Fuji Rock Fest. Murphy spoke openly from the stage, protesting our government's decision to start a war, but encouraged the audience to make their own decisions and to register to vote. 2002 also saw the appearance of laptops and midi-triggered digital devices on stage, providing a means to use samples, loops, pads, stereo drum sweeps, and subsonic bass tones in addition to their analog instruments.

"Uniqueness in phrase or sound is part of the art," explains Murphy. "We try to play everything we can humanly play, and [have found] a new piece of art in sampling ourselves." The band became more comfortable and confident with these new creative outlets to the point where they now play "Live PA" (laptop and midi-drums only) sets occasionally while on the road.


Zach Velmer :: Fuji Rock
"The new stuff is more refined, and the conciseness came in the writing process," Velmer states, explaining the progression from all improvisational shows to the polished compositions found on ARTiFACT. Most of the tracks on the new album were constructed with samples the band had recorded on tour and in the studio. The samples (i.e. a certain drum beat or chord progression) served as the foundation of the track with everything else added on top, literally creating a musical collage. "And what we still love about playing live is the open-ness." He cites the track "Peoples" as an example, a synth-heavy hip-hop groove. "It's about four and a half minutes long on the album, enough time to get the point across, but live it's usually around eight minutes." The live version includes a smooth female vocal sample different from the one on the album and an extended crescendo rise with an arpeggiated keyboard progression and sampled cellos and violins, demonstrating their incredible compositional abilities as well as their knack to just kill it live.


STS9 :: Halloween 04 :: By Casey Flanigan
"The tracks on ARTiFACT cover the spectrum we wanted represented as our piece of art," Murphy adds. "Sometimes the live energy doesn't translate to a record." Recent setlists have seen these heavily composed new songs interwoven with the older, looser material, and the two styles have clearly influenced each other. Old songs like "Moon Socket" have been reworked several times to include new composed sections, and new songs such as "Music, Us" are expanded upon in the live setting. Songs like "Really Wut?" and "Luma Daylight," which have been around for two or three years, are now the backbone of many shows. It usually takes a few tours for songs to reach their true potential, but every song they play, like the band itself, is a constant work in progress.

At any live show, Sound Tribe Sector 9 confidently displays their ability to bridge the gap between post-Industrial Revolution technology and Nature's instinctual primitiveness. They describe ARTiFACT as "an ode to preservation and change," stressing the importance of maintaining your ancient roots while adapting to our continuously changing modern world.

 
"We see time as not on a clock or calendar. Time is not linear, time is not money. Time is art."

--Dave Murphy

 
Photo by Soren McCarty

Specifically, their music invokes the idea of communication as an art form. Everything everywhere has always communicated in some manner. People have used words, movements, music, and art, but with recent technological advancements, communication has become very easy and has lost some of its sense of creativity. Sound Tribe Sector 9 employs technology as a means of communicating creatively by playing live instruments mixed in with on-the-fly sampling. The samples come from the band almost exclusively. While all of their songs have structure and specific parts, the band members approach the parts loosely, sometimes skipping sections, sometimes expanding on sections, treating the songs as if they were always being played for the first time. Playing unique versions every night emphasizes the level of respect the band has for their music, their fans and for art in general.


Dave Murphy :: By Rie Kasahara
"Music means everything to me," Murphy continues. "It is a statement about the deepness and seriousness in regards to the way we look at life." The live STS9 experience is beyond entertainment. Quite literally, it is a glimpse into a way of life fueled by a complete excitement to be alive, here and now. You begin to understand that everything that has ever existed is all connected, and we have the ability to communicate with anything because we are all a part of everything.

"For thousands of years people grew their own food, and then it changed. Everything we've created since the Industrial Revolution — we're new at that," explains Murphy, hinting that although nature has suffered as a result of technology, we have the choice to acknowledge the problem and to use our knowledge to improve on it. "It's harder to build a coffee table than to destroy one. It's about what you choose to create and leave behind; choosing things we don't need anymore like war and man-made time. The Earth is out there doing its thing, and it's a lot easier to destroy than to create." The idea is that art breeds creativity, and creativity connects you to the world that surrounds you.

On ARTiFACT's title track, words from special guest Jose Arguelles (who Murphy describes as "like a prophet for us") are arranged in phrases like, "Every cell of life, an artifact of the old world," and "Our time is your power, take back the Earth." The words encourage the listener to believe that everything we need is already here, and it is our responsibility to use our resources — both natural and technological — to co-exist with the world as one force.


Brown, Lerner, Murphy :: Fuji Rock
Clearly, STS9 is inspiring crowds from coast to coast, and the band has lots of touring ahead this year. Phase Two kicks off in the Southeast and continues through the summer. Look for performances at festivals like the Winter Music Conference, Wakarusa, Bonnaroo, and some time in Japan. Also in the works is an ARTiFACT remix record due out this summer. As the scene surrounding the band grows, Murphy is optimistic about not letting it get out of control as it has for several bands in the past.

"We try to be non-threatening and non-judgmental," he says, "and guide the scene along to be a reflection of the band." And although STS9 enjoys more comforts as a result of their success, they are still involved in every decision made. From the artwork on tour posters to the show setlists (usually written by Saxton) to the studio production process to choosing which artists to produce and release albums for on the band's 1320 record label, STS9 maintain complete control.


STS9 :: 02.05 Fillmore, CO :: By Soren McCarty
"Musicians and painters often say, 'Man, I wish I just had a manager,' and I don't get that," Velmer says. "A manager doesn't just 'do it' for you. We have had the same management for three years, and they have hired personnel to help with various tasks, but this is still our thing. Everyone plays their role; the ship has steered itself. This is what we do. We are still firing all the canons." I asked him if anything has happened thus far in their career that they used to joke about as if it were never possible, and immediately he said, "The people we've met. I mean, I email with LTJ Bukem. All these different artists and musicians that we're so inspired by, some of them come up to me and say, 'You guys are dope,' and I'm like, 'Huh? You guys are dope!' It's like, pinch me, you know? Just pinch me."

Communication through Art is not a new concept. Sound Tribe Sector 9 is not the first band to use modern technology in the live setting, nor do they have all the answers to the world's problems. But amidst today's corporate-controlled music industry, they are a deep breath of fresh air.

Technology and Nature can work together. We can choose to learn from the past to create a better future together. Time is all around us, not just ahead or behind. The history of the world speaks through all of us. If you listen closely, you can hear it.

Chris Newton
JamBase | Colorado
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