Interview | On The Record With STS9
Bands that are in it for the long haul have a way of testing the faithful. The ones that don’t often settle into complacency and end up losing what spark made them so appealing anyway.
But even by that standard it’s been a seismic year for STS9, which in January of this year shed core member David Murphy, and after developing its new lineup throughout festival season, is in the midst of its first significant tour since the transition.
It isn’t the first time Sound Tribe has curveballed its fans. But previous transitions have been more gradual schisms; the Peaceblaster era, for example, saw new fans attracted to the band’s more pronounced use of MIDI and laptop-produced audio effects, and older fans, who favored STS9’s more traditionally jammy period, called for the band to “pick up your instruments,” as the tired saying went.
Six months into its new lineup, however, the band – Hunter Brown, Jeffree Lerner, David Phipps, Zach Velmer and new recruit Alana Rocklin – talks and plays very much as honeymooners: new energy, new purpose, giddy excitement.
Sound Tribe consented to a brief group interview with JamBase this past weekend – its first interview since Murphy left, Rocklin came aboard and the renewed Sound Tribe started to become itself. Excerpts follow:
JAMBASE: It’s been a transitional year, to say the least. Are you all happy with where things are now – with where the band’s arrived as of today?
JEFFREE LERNER: Ecstatic. There’s musical inspiration and complete synergy.
ZACH VELMER: We’re having a blast. It’s fun –it’s just awesome. What Alana has brought musically and spiritually…to be straight up…it’s brought the music to a point where everyone’s pushing each other.
JAMBASE: Can you point to a show you’ve played with this lineup where everything just clicked? That to you represents where the band is at right now?
HUNTER BROWN: Red Rocks.
DAVID PHIPPS: Red Rocks, yeah. But it’s kind of ‘the last night we played.’ We came through festival season so this tour will really be our first as a real tour doing two sets a night and having the nights to ourselves. But really the best representation of where the band is at is the most recent show. We’re seeing exponential growth musically and together as a unit. Each show is amazing today.
JAMBASE: Was there ever a question along the way here that you guys wouldn’t continue as Sound Tribe or would change the direction of the band significantly?
ZV: Negative. We’re focused on where we’re going.
DP: I don’t know what else I would do. I’m in the band, that’s what I do. I could…make some pretty good coffee or work in a Guitar Center maybe…
ZV: We knew what we wanted to do. The best is in front of us, not behind us. We’re better
JAMBASE: Is there anything left to say about Sound Tribe’s parting of ways with David Murphy?
DP: Not really.
ZV: We wish him the best of course.
JAMBASE: What have you been hearing directly from fans since the new lineup debuted?
ZV: I think Alana has her own fanbase right now [general laughter]. I think honestly, what we’ve been hearing has been so positive.
HB: The fans feel it. People that we talk to who are coming to a bunch of shows tell us, we feel the energy coming off the stage right now and it feels really good.
ZV: Just even hearing from our management to our crew to the banter online and stuff, the music is really speaking for itself. We haven’t really talked much in nine months, and have just been playing music. We’re stoked, [the fans] are stoked, it’s very symbiotic right now.
JAMBASE: What have your discussions been about repertoire? Are you focusing on the whole catalog?
ZV: We’ve known Alana for a long time, and she came in already as a fan. So a lot of what we’re able to do comes from what she’s put back into it, as well as what everyone’s put back into it. Our repertoire is bigger than it has ever been. We’ve written new songs and are going back to old songs and I think the setlists are showing that. It’s epic. It’s breathing new life in, and it’s just fucking epic.
DP: It’s been really great for us and healthy for us to go through the entire repertoire. What we’ve been doing has made us better than in the last 15 years and that’s [provided] opportunities to do older songs as well as newer songs and approaching things newly and be able to be excited to play things we haven’t in years.
ZV: We were in Pittsburgh and played a track that’s been out for I don’t know how long but that we had never played live. We’re about to play another track we’ve never played live.
JAMBASE: What tracks are those?
ZV: I can’t tell you one because we haven’t played it yet, but the first one was “The Paint.”
DP: It’s kind of a hard track to find in our catalog.
HB: We put it in the movie #ReGeneration’s score.
JAMBASE: It’s inspiring to hear that the transition has gone smooth. That’s not all luck, so what did you do as a band to bring Alana up quickly?
ALANA ROCKLIN: We’ve been friends for 15 years – there thankfully really wasn’t much of a transition. I had done two or three entire Sound Tribe tours before, opening up for these guys, including in Sub ID with my husband Brad [Bowden]. We’ve been friends, I know the music so well and I’ve just been hearing it for so long.
I took about six weeks to prepare to meet with these guys. When you go on the road with people you get to know them in a way you can’t otherwise – it’s just a different kind of relationship now and our friendship has gotten really deep. But we’re doing [tracks] we worked on altogether – “The Paint,” bringing something like that out.
HB: We’ve collaborated, traded tracks back and forth going back to Peaceblaster and through the album from a few years ago. Brad helped us, too; he’s been a huge part of it. It’s really good to finally be able to play together like this. It’s just incredible sitting here.
ZV: It was pretty natural – Alana is humble in that way. She prepped for six weeks and then we went through 45 songs in six days. It was fucking insane. We fucking crushed – we had so much fun. And then after we came to the table and played those songs, played them twice, made some changes, it was fucking magical.
JAMBASE: Alana, has it been a challenge for you to move into this role?
AR: Of course. It’s not easy to do. It’s not easy to walk into a band that’s well established and that care so much about the songs. I wanted to represent the music and the songs as best I could while being integrated into the sound. My main concerns were that the music means so much to me and has meant so much to me. As a fan, I would want to go to an STS9 show and hear it the way it’s supposed to sound.
JAMBASE: That brings up a question that’s been consistent for Sound Tribe for a long time. Some of your old-school fans criticized the band for some of the directions taken around the time of Peaceblaster and just the evolution of the band into other styles. People are going to gripe and if you’re a longtime band you have to evolve to stay fresh, but have those criticisms been fair you think?
ZV: It’s such a hard thing. We’re the artists, we want to push it. Have things been different? Absolutely. But we have to push ourselves. Our fans maybe want something, but that’s just what we do. To answer the question: fair? Yeah, I think they’ve been fair. But we’re always going to push it as the artist – it’s inherent in us. The sound that’s coming out is through the inspiration from Alana or the ocean we were at that day. We’re going to push that sound, and push the envelope of our art.
JL: The fans are true to themselves the way they expect us to be true to their art. Everyone is entitled to an opinion and I appreciate it.
HB: We don’t see all of it, either. Sometimes it takes us a while to hear what some of the hardcores are saying. At the same time, though, some things they’re very critical about, a year or two later, they’re loving them. It’s a funny thing.
ZV: We find that more times than not…
HB: …When the dust settles…
ZV: …Exactly, yeah. They say, oh it’s this, or that. And then we come out and play it live. They’re haters, haters, haters and then they hear it and they’re like, this shit is next level. We try to give people a minute to digest.
HB: We’ve come out and been so excited about new material and we would focus too much energy and time on that and not give them the older songs. That was our fault. But it’s an experience. We’re at a point now where we genuinely want to play most of our repertoire and how we approach it. It’s less about the song itself.
ZV: You get a new pair of shoes, you want to wear your new pair of shoes! I don’t know if that’s a good analogy but we’re excited about new music.
JAMBASE: Looking ahead to 2015, will you be on the road a lot? Will you be recording?
ZV: Yes to both.
HB: There’s a bunch of material we’ve been working on for a while and [this year] we had to take a step back and focus on the music as a whole and the shows we’re playing. There are some things we’re just dying to share – they’re burning a hole in our iPods. So yeah, we’re going to get those out as soon as we can. Next year will be big.
JAMBASE: You’ll be in Nashville for Halloween. Anything exciting planned?
[Band pauses to huddle]
ZV: Yeah. We’re doing inspire strikes the funk back in Nashville.
AR: All funk.
ZV: All funk all night.
AR: Space funk.
HB: STS9 funk.
ZV: Funk Halloween.
STS9’s tour continues on Thursday night in Portland, Maine before visits to NYC on Friday, Philadelphia on Saturday and Boston on Sunday.