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Morphing Through the Genres: Sounds Tribe Sector 9 brings something for everyone

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Sound Tribe Sector 9
April 23rd, 2013
Greenfield Lake Amphitheater
1941 Amphitheater Drive
7:00 PM, $25-$30

Sound Tribe Sector 9 (STS9) sound exactly like their name suggests; spacey-funk-electro-rock-jam-dance band. In an act of continual play, their concerts tend to resemble one giant song, waving in and out of many different styles of music. With an unparalleled light show to compliment it, what’s not to vibe to?

Originally from Georgia, the band relocated to Santa Cruz at the turn of the millennium and have been touring major cities and music festivals ever since. As their name suggests, their live shows are an experience to be had.

Sound Tribe Sector 9 was allegedly coined due to the band’s interest in the natural timing frequency of the Mayan calendar. In the ninth baktun of that calendar, the Mayan civilization was at its peak, by proof of their constructed pyramids that related to a firm grasp of astronomy. STS9, inspired by this ninth period of natural timing frequencies, creates music that seems to transcend the speakers and almost become palpable.

The group consists of five members: Hunter Brown [guitar/midi keyboard], Jeffree Lerner [percussion/handsonic], David Murphy [bass/midi keyboard], David Phipps [keyboards], Zach Velmer [drums]. The group has released 11 albums and two remixed albums (“Artifact: Perspectives & Peaceblaster: Make it Right Remixes”), as well as two live DVD’s, all under their own label 1320 Records.

Besides their love for creating music, the band also has a very generous history of giving to charity, most notably their involvement in the Make It Right Foundation. All profits from their album “Peaceblaster: Make It Right Remix” were donated in helping rebuild New Orleans.

The group also helped produce and created the soundtrack for the documentary “ReGeneration,” which explores and captures the inherent cynicism and apathetic approach to political and social issues found in today’s youth and young adults.

Encore caught up with David Phipps and talked about the band’s evolution, as well as their most top secret handshake.

encore (e): You guys played in Syracuse last night? How’d the show go?
David Phipps (DP): It was great. We haven’t played there in a long time, beautiful historic theatre [Landmark Theatre]. It was a lot of fun.

e: Live shows are obviously one of your specialties. How has the live show evolved over the years?
DP: Right now we have an awesome light show. Lights have always been a big part of our show, going back to, like, nickel-and-beer nights on Tuesday [laughs]. We’d be the band from Georgia that brought four techno beams to a place that had never seen light before, ya know. We’ve always loved having light show. Now it’s great; we have all custom video that actually means stuff to us as apposed to just screen saver type things in the background. Our friend that does the lights is awesome, he’s been friends with some members of the band since like kindergarten so he’s almost like the 6th member of the band.

e: I was watching some of your concert feed earlier and it looked really awesome. I always love a good light show.
DP: I’d love to see what it looks like because, from where I’m standing, it just looks like a bunch of blinking shit [laughs]. I’d love to see what the audience sees. The videos look sick

e: So, you guys have been together since ’98 correct?
DP: Something like that; they tell me it’s the 15th year. We aren’t making a big deal out of it or putting it on all of our posters or anything, but it’s the 14th or 15th year. It started as a three piece then I joined and then Jeffery [Lerner, Percussion] joined.

e: How do you continue to make new stuff? Fifteen years is a long time.
DP: It’s crazy because we just feel like we’re figuring things out, and so that’s super inspiring. We’re still writing a lot of new music and continually getting inspired.

Recently, on this last tour and the first stage of this tour, we tried to revamp some old songs and bring them back, and kind of dig back into the catalogue and had a lot of fun doing it. So, it’s a great place to be where you love all the music that you play, and you’re excited to write new music and everything still feels fresh and super inspiring. We’re not quite on the greatest hits tour yet [laughs], where it’s like “yeah these are the 10 songs people like”–like a Broadway play where nothing changes. Any day now it feels like another awesome song could be pouring out of this band.

e: I know a lot of experimental bands say they “can’t be described,” but I don’t buy it. I actually think you might be the band that can say that, but how would you describe yourself?
DP: These days, we’ve been calling it ‘electro rock.’ We still rock out, but we have a lot of electronics, but it’s not as easy to say that we’re a drum-and-bass or a dubstep band, because one of our shows will go from like a ballady-piano song all the way to guitar-rock songs to heavy electronic-techno song. We’re not really one style where we could say y’know “we’re a punk band” or whatever, because over 14 years we’ve gone through phases and written a lot of songs. And different people like different eras in the band, so we try to be balanced in that, but when we do our shows and how we describe ourselves as well.

e: Yeah, I was going to say your concerts are more or less one continual flow of music and at the end it ends up being one big song.
DP: Try to be [laughs]. Sometimes it doesn’t always work out that way, but that’s what we’re going for. It’s a DJ mix, more or less, it just keeps going.

e: And the songs are incredibly layered, how do you start a song; does everyone come together at once or is it more of a building block sort of process?
DP: A little bit of everything. We all write and come up with ideas then we’ll share it. Inevitably, someone hides something or changes something, then we go from there to kind of play it together.

A lot of the time it just goes straight to the stage in a prototype form, and we’ll see how the crowd reacts. A lot of times when we put music together in the studio or in rehearsal we don’t account for how long we should play some things before we move to the next thing, because people like to groove out! But, when you’re in a rehearsal, it’s like, “What’s the next part; let’s practice the next part,” and you move through a song pretty quickly. Then, we play it onstage, and it’s like that part should go twice as long or four times as long. and this part is sort of a sore thumb so we’ll axe that. It’s very much kind of evolving in front of our fans in public.

e: Like live feedback.
DP: Yeah, and we’ll take that back to the studio and try to come up with an album version of it. Or sometimes it’s the other way around, and we’re working on a song in the studio that we haven’t played live, and we’ll like it so much we say, “Let’s try to save this as a surprise before the album comes out”–ya know, a song you’ve never heard before. But it’s tough because some of the songs that we’re working on now to be on the album have sick parts, and we want to play it live, but people in the band are like, “No, save it for the album; it’s the big song!” And others will be like, “No, it’s the dope part we have to play it live!” Everyday we talk about that, especially now because we have so much in the oven right now.

e: I imagine your jam sessions must go on forever inside the studio.
DP: Yeah, a little bit. There’s actually a lot more talk sessions than jam sessions. We’re working on computers, and we like to talk about music a lot: what should we do, what should we go for. The playing is kind of the easy part. Trying to strategize is a lot of band talk; you’d probably be just as interested to a fly on a wall as you would be our conversations in the studio. Kind of funny.

e: Tell me why you guys decided to do the soundtrack for ‘ReGeneration’ movie?
DP: We were working on the movie itself, and Hunter Brown and Phil Montgomery kind of burst the idea of the whole movie and added changes, and as we added new interview content and stuff–I think there’s literally over 25 versions of that documentary on our hard drive. It kept evolving and getting better and longer, then shorter [laughs], so it wasn’t three hours.

At one point we hadn’t really even thought of doing the soundtrack ourselves and just sort of licensing music we liked to be part of the movie, as we kept working on it and budget this and that, so we were, like, hey, I know a band. So we started working on music that we had worked on before between preparing for our acoustic shows we did a while back, and we also did some soundtrack work for a small independent film. It wasn’t very big, just on Netflix I think, but it was pretty bizarre, in a lot of ways.

We were introduced to the workshop for making music for film and had a lot of fun with it. It’s just a completely different platform, you don’t have to adhere to the “band format”; you can get really cinematic and ethereal. It was a really cool experience, watching movie on the screen and writing music to what’s actually happening; it’s like instant magic.

The director would come up and say, “We need something really cool for these 30 seconds to build tension,” and kind of just went at it with goals like that. Totally different than writing a song, who’s purpose is to move a couple thousand people to dance [laughs], which is the goal for most of our stuff—then to writing a piece under Amy Goodman talking about all the unreported casualties in Iraq. It’s a completely different mood, and super fun to meet that challenge.

e: Speaking of making thousands of people dance, I see your on for this years music festival train. You guys are like veterans of the festival scene now, though.
DP: Yeah, we’ve been on the festival circuit for a long time. Seems like we went from a two o clock option on some stage off to the side, to a mid-afternoon option, and now we’ve got like main stage slots. We’ve gone through the ranks of the festival circuit. We love playing them.

It’s a little stressful for us; there’s no soundtrack and a lot more people than your used to, and in the end, it’s kind of like a wing-and-a-prayer situation, because we can’t have our hour rehearsal and sound check before the show, and get super comfortable. We usually have 30 minutes to build the whole stage after the band before us breaks down. They’re really high-stressed situations, but when it all comes together, it’s super fun to see 20 times the normal people in front of you.

e: I’ve seen a bunch of pictures of you guys doing a pre-ritual where you put all of your hands in like a sun shaped circle. What’s that for.
DP: It’s top secret.

[Laughs] Just kiddin’. We call it circling up. We circle up before the show and it’s evolved over the years. It used to be a little more—dramatic, I guess—a little longer? [laughs] I’m not going to tell you what we used to do, but now it’s a simple group handshake kind of thing. Left hand on top, right hand on the bottom, it curls together into a spiral. Hard to explain, there’s pictures. Then we do that, after that there’s the super secret handshake we do with each other and high five and kind of—yeah, all get into the same zone.

e: Super secret handshake, huh?
DP: Oh, yeah.

e: Never to be revealed?
DP: It will never be revealed [laughs].

STS9 play Greenfield Amphitheater on Tuesday, April 22nd. “ReGeneration” can be seen by going to http://www.regeneration-themovie.com. –Trent Williams

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