STS9: Right Here Right Now (Relix Revisited)
It certainly helps that the band is completely independent, releasing music through its own 1320 Records. Major labels have approached them in the past, but as self-described control freaks they couldn’t imagine relinquishing any of their ideals for a major corporation. “We’re trying to find a new paradigm,” Phipps says. “We see bigger acts like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails going that way now and to see the result is really inspiring for us. We were talking about giving our music away for free a year before Radiohead did it.”
“For a number of years we really struggled with that just because we knew there was nothing a corporation could do for us,” Murphy says. “Our growth came organically. Not really writing pop music, our success lies solely on how good we are as a band. That encouraged us to go further being on our own label. As long as we have good management, good booking, good publicity, we could reach all the people that were going to like our music anyway. We’ve tried to take a smaller look at the whole thing. There’s no need to go overboard and be something we’re not and see money faster and see more money than we would at a record label. Peaceblaster has done better for us than all our other albums combined. Maybe people support it because they don’t see Sony on the label. It’s worked for us, mainly in being stubborn and not going with a label.”
What’s more, Sound Tribe Sector 9 has been able to control all its output through 1320records.com, making full MP3 and FLAC albums of its live shows available almost instantly on the Web site. The label has also recently taken on other acts, including Count Bass D, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey and members’ side projects such as Landscape and Breath.
“With the way the record industry is we’re able to cover all the digital outlets on our own and target music stores where we know we can sell things,” Brown says. “We’re hitting the things we feel are important to support.”
“It’s a new day and age in the music industry,” Murphy enthuses. “We’re really stoked that we have a lot of people that care about our music and want to support our band. We sell more tickets than a lot of Top 40 acts. So you can’t be too concerned with what people call your art. The jamband thing is good and bad. It’s an amazing group of music players and fans—people that genuinely love the music and want to support it. How could we not embrace that?”
The summer tour with Umphrey’s McGee represented a major step for Sound Tribe Sector 9. After years of fighting off the jamband tag, they have finally decided to let go, that maybe labels aren’t that important after all in defining what your music is and isn’t. It’s obviously still a sensitive topic. Brown reaches for an acoustic guitar and instinctively starts strumming when the conversation starts, but for the most part the musicians have come to terms with it.
“I think if you would have asked us about that a couple years ago we would have a few things to say,” Brown says. “But today I just think more than ever we try not to understand it ourselves and just go for what we’re doing. It’s something we’ve dealt with for so long, it doesn’t affect us as much.”
“It usually comes from journalists that write about crowds at our shows,” says Phipps. “If you’re not listening to the music and you’re more attracted to this naked dude twirling at the front, that’s what you’re going to write about.”
“It’s the distractions that lead to the distortions,” says Velmer. “We work so hard at what we do. It’s almost like somebody making the electric car and nobody even talks about the car, they just talk about the problems. People are haters.”
“It turned out to be the most fun, most cooperative experience,” Phipps says of the Umphrey’s co-headlining tour. “Put up against each other we were so different—the virtuosity, song selection. It felt like a really great show for everybody and for the bands. It kind of lifted the last veil for me of worrying about the jam culture and thinking about culture in general.”
“What we do is so us, so STS9,” Lerner adds. “What we do doesn’t have a genre. It’s an original, inspired sound. So I think sometimes when people reach out to their readers they try to find that thread that they can relate to but we’re just our own thing. It’s tough for people to really nail that down without calling us a jamband. We just care about the music.”
They wonder aloud why no one ever tries to pin down likeminded trailblazers like Tortoise or Björk. They certainly don’t begrudge the people that come to their shows, people who despite the profusion of dreadlocks that gathered outside The Independent, actually appear to come from all walks of life. It’s merely something lazy journalists can’t get past.
“They’re people with heartbeats that appreciate music,” Lerner says. “If you have clothes on or no clothes on, does it really matter? They’re people who appreciate music and make our lives possible.”
“We’ve always been humbled by the number of people that come to our shows,” says Brown.
Spend any substantial time in their company and you get the sense that the members of Sound Tribe Sector 9 have had to conquer some pretty insurmountable odds to finally land on some solid ground with Peaceblaster. Running a band with five strong personalities is difficult enough, but throwing politics, mysticism, technology, causes and business into the mix only seems like a recipe for disaster. Yet there’s no way a band that didn’t have a deep-rooted sense of respect for its players could ever create such powerful music.
We’re just lucky enough to be friends together. We had that foundation to work from, which was really lucky for us. We were always able to come back to that friendship and brotherhood. In the last few years a lot of it has become that we enable each other to do this. It’s a lot about honesty and communication. The challenging part was going through those growing pains.”
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