A&E Columns

This must be the place: Ode to STS9, ode to intent and intuition

Sound Tribe Sector 9 is a jamtronica act originally from Georgia. Donated photo Sound Tribe Sector 9 is a jamtronica act originally from Georgia. Donated photo

Emerging from the rental car, a slight drizzle from an early evening storm rolled across the high-desert landscape of Morrison, Colorado. The Western skies overhead turned dark and ominous, only to quickly retreat and head for the skyline of nearby Denver. 

And it was in that exact moment when screams of joy echoed out of the Red Rock Amphitheatre and throughout the vast sandstone beds of rock layered through the rolling hills and towering mountains of this section of the Rockies — Sound Tribe Sector 9 had taken the stage.

“Every time we play music, I feel like we’re just getting started, that we’re right around the corner from what we’ve always [dreamed of],” said STS9 keyboardist David Phipps. “And Red Rocks is a good example of that — having that feeling, and feeling like we executed that.”

During its Red Rocks run July 21-22, STS9 revealed its latest stage experiment/show experience. Labeled “ChromaLight,” the production bridges the human connection between sound and light, and what colors an individual may associate with musical notes and scales.

“We were all excited to be standing onstage and seeing it all happen — the kick drum controlling the lights, all of the things we had as ideas coming to fruition,” said bassist Alana Rocklin. “It’s not a secret that sometimes it’s hard for us to play new music in front of people for the first time. [Red Rocks] was, ‘we’re going to go there and give it to them,’ show them what we’re working on and hoping it would connect.”

And it’s that continually evolution of intent and intuition that resides at the core of STS9 since its inception in Georgia in 1997. What started out as this concoction of drums-n-bass and emerging electronica music has now become this purposely-malleable entity absorbing and radiating countless avenues of musical exploration and sonic possibility.

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“It’s something we want to continue to do — pushing the experiment, pushing those ideas,” said guitarist Hunter Brown. “We’re not anywhere near where we can be or where we want to be. And so, in the next couple of years those ideas [including ‘ChromaLight’] will start to seep into everything, where both [the band and the audience] will benefit from the curiosity put [forth].” 

That feeling of breaking into new, unknown levels of creativity and potential within a live performance lies at the heart of STS9 recently crossing over the 25-year mark — Phipps, Brown, drummer Zach Velmer and percussionist Jeffree Lerner remaining intact since the beginning. Rocklin joined in 2014. 

“This has never been easy, but we feel like we’re just now getting to a place we’ve been working towards all these years,” Brown said. “We’ve allowed a lot of space for each other to explore and to become what we really see and want to become — the last year has kind of reinvigorated everything.”

“We all view music as a lifelong pursuit, this never-ending thing,” Rocklin added. “It’s this really interesting journey. It’s your life. It’s your own personal growth and how that affects your playing and music, how you’re able to communicate that to an audience or even to each other.”

Those sentiments bring into the play the simple yet existential notion that its time — and only time itself — that can conjure the long-held ideas within one’s creative self.

“It’s sort of like you have to go through that time,” Rocklin said. “There’s nothing that can replace [time and effort] — you can’t just speed it up [to get somewhere creativity].” 

And it’s the long-held ideas that then become launching points for in-the-moment inspiration and improvisation, platforms where spontaneity and vulnerability are both artistic traits that evolve through passion, purpose, effort and enthusiasm.

“It takes a long time to get there and we’re still getting there. But, that’s the fun of it, that’s the joy,” Rocklin said. “And it’s also the hard part about it, which is why I think not a lot of people get to 25 years [playing together]. [For us], we appreciate the joy of the journey we’re taking with each other.”

“The joy and awe of what music does for me as a person, to be able to perform and express these hugely personal emotions to people and somehow that helped them through a night or moment or time in their life?” Phipps noted. “Well, that’s still as raw, important and vital to me as a 40-something as it was when I was 19 [and started the band].” 

Brown spoke of a recent article about jazz legend Miles Davis being 43 years old when recorded his seminal album “Bitches Brew” in 1969. At that point in Davis’ illustrious career, he’d already become one of the prolific artists to ever walk the earth. But, there he was, headlong into the sacred act of music creation and still finding inspiration.

“[‘Bitches Brew’] was recorded in this [timeframe and age] we’re [currently] in ourselves. [Davis] wanted to innovate and keep working towards something, even after all the innovations he had already experienced,” Brown said. “We worship [Miles Davis] and it’s inspiring [to know musical discovery doesn’t end]. All of us feel the same way, where we really don’t have a choice — we live and breathe music, that’s what beats our hearts.” 

Want to go?
Sound Tribe Sector 9 will host its “Land of the Sky” showcase Sept. 8-9 at the Salvage Station in Asheville.

Performing on the Outdoor Stage, this is a general admission concert. Ages 12 and over. Tickets are $44.50 per person, per day, with a two-day pass available for $85. 
For more information and/or to purchase tickets, click on salvagestation.com.

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