Explorations With STS9
Over the past decade STS9 has moved in a variety of directions. The group’s music has taken on a newfound intensity and nuance that have accompanied a change in the band’s moniker from the lengthier Sound Tribe Sector 9. Meanwhile the quintet has moved forward on the business side to support itself and over two dozen emerging artists via the formation of its 1320 Records label. Still, STS9 remains grounded and socially conscious as the group is in the midst of raising $150,000 to build a house in New Orleans’ 9th Ward, an area still struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Meanwhile, late last year the band released, Ad Explorata, a recording that despite its instrumental nature, interweaves coded messages on short wave radio (sampled for the song “Central”), the Cold War, an abandoned military bunker, patches, gathering signal intelligence on this planet and the galaxy (the band details these themes at its website).
In the following conversation, STST9 percussionist Jeffree Lerner walks through the band’s past, present and future, while offering thoughts on the formation of Ad Explorata as well as the responsibilities of an artist in the 21st century.
JPG: “Ad Explorata,” is it just a name or does it have Latin roots?
JL: Rough translation, and it came from a book that Hunter [Brown] was reading, is “Into the unknown.” Kind of the vibe we were going at.
JPG: Do you remember the book he was reading?
JL: I don’t. It’s on the tip of my tongue. He reads too many books for me to remember all of them.
JPG: That’s a better thing to do while on tour than something that could get him in trouble. Now, from what I read, during the band members’ off time from the road, you hang out quite a bit in the studio. Can you give me an idea of the process for Ad Explorata?
JL: The original intention of the album was as an EP, a shorter more condensed version of an album. We just found ourselves in the studio with things flowing and being so productive and just a really incredible flow in the studio coming off a tour and having some time at home. And, all of a sudden, we had more tracks than an EP. So, we just decided to go with the full album. It was a really a productive time off the road, and had a great time making this album.
JPG: At this point you have your own label [1320 Records]. Ad Explorata was the second release you put out in 2009. You could have made it your spring of 2010 release. Why put it out before the end of the end of the year?
JL: It was just the timing of the music that was there, and the fact that we had taken some tracks that we had already played and revamped them. It all came together really quick. In between Artifact and Peaceblaster was a pretty long time. It’s not like we finish an album and stop working on music. We’re continually working on music through that whole time, getting things together. It was just there. Instead of ‘We could wait ‘til the spring but it’s finished and we are going out on tour so let’s get it out there,’ we had a story behind it and we had a really cool studio experience. It just seemed right.
JPG: You mentioned playing some of the tunes beforehand. With live taping and the internet does that remotely influence decision making where you know that people have heard a version of a song live versus what you can give it in the studio?
JL: I guess that’s part of the logic but the realness of it is having a new expression for the song that’s valid that would dictate putting on the album. As we were looking at the songs we play live that, maybe, haven’t had all the energy that needed to be put into them. We got into some of those tracks and just new parts developed that were really powerful and potent that seemed valid to put them on an album and play them live, even though older versions were out there.
JPG: The album itself seems to be a consciously-constructed whole.
JL: Correct. It’s a story. Go back to Artifact, there’s definitely a theme there. Peaceblaster definitely has a theme. And this one does as well. It’s trying to tell a story, trying to have a complete expression on that little CD. We’re very diverse and a lot of different styles of music, lot of different instrumentation; some really solid inspiration from it.
JPG: Having it set up in that manner, when you move from an EP’s worth of songs to an album’s worth, was the whole vision always there or did you then, with the additional tracks, have to fine tune matters and move songs around to fit it?
JL: For past albums that might be the case but for this one, it all kind of happened together. The story that’s associated with the album and the press release, that was happening. And what we were reading and what was going on in the world, it was all coming together at once.
JPG: When I’m listening to the album, I notice the use of repetition, repeating notes, repeating musical phrases. Do you see it as a musical approach as much as say a brainwave approach?
JL: (slight laugh) Yeah, I mean, sure, all those factors are in there. As much of it is intentional as it isn’t intentional. Things just kind of come together and reveal themselves. It’s a really fine balance because you’re working on the song for the song’s sake, but you also have to think about your fans and the album and everything else. For the most part, the music was revealing itself. We weren’t trying to direct it, mold it too much in that respect, but that was part of it. Kind of a wishy-wash answer.
JPG: Well, let me ask this just to throw it out there, and maybe the band has had to deal with this question in the past. In regards to getting out your ideas, has there ever been the consideration to use vocals. I mean there have been vocals, as far as people reading stuff or stuff like that, but I’m getting to what you normally do, an instrumental with repetitive phrasing, versus a song where it’s a verse/chorus type of construction.
JL: You have to write those songs differently, for sure. That’s part of it. Just because we don’t have lyrics doesn’t mean it’s not something we’re open to and will record in the future. Kind of a progression. Something we’re all really interested in; something that would challenge us as producers and music writers as well.
JPG: The other thing I was getting to as far as repetition and the music is when I listen to you, I think of a particular band such as Tangerine Dream. I don’t know if others have brought that up. I hear you laughing.
JL: We actually hear that a lot. I’ve listened to them in the past and I’m like…I know that’s a really high compliment from where those guys were in their career when they were doing their thing. And yeah, it’s kind of hard to label our band and what we do and other stuff…yeah, interesting.