Every time I see Sound Tribe Sector 9 (STS9), it is a blast. I can't think of another band who I have seen in so many various capacities: inside, outside, sharing bills at one event with hip-hop acts, and the next with bluegrass and jam bands, acoustic output vs. plugged-in, in the daytime, and then at night... you name it, these guys actualize abundant energy and a powerful sound, given just about any setting. From elementary science we've learned that in order to thrive, one must be adaptable, and that is a big reason why STS9 has been around, in a big way, for 15 years. In the music industry, we've seen so many jamtronica and electro-instrumental bands come and go with one hit here or there, but Tribe just keeps coming back with something new, something innovative, and as I discussed with STS9's David Murphy, something for musical palates across the whole spectrum.
"Murph," as he is affectionately called by friends and fans, takes care of the band's bass and some of the midi keyboard work. He's joined by Hunter Brown (guitar/midi keyboard), Zach Velmer (drums), Jeffree Lerner (percussion/handsonic), and David Phipps (keyboards). I was honored to share some space by phone with Murph before they soundchecked at The Pageant in St. Louis yesterday for a Q & A about their upcoming Chicago run this weekend. Returning to The Congress Theater on Saturday, March 16, will be their first indoor show back in Chicago since "The Great Cycle Spectacles" shows last January at the same venue, and they "love The Congress, and can't wait to get back there," which should serve for a great show. The indoor factor is major for a band with an extensive light show like STS9. They will follow up with a second show on Sunday, March 17, performing an already-sold-out show at a different venue, The House of Blues. Whether you have seen them a hundred times, or you've never even heard of them, GO. It's fun to say the least. There are only a few tickets left for Saturday's Congress show, so don't wait around, because it will probably sell out (buy here). Ok- enough of my RABBLE- here's what Murph had to say...
Q: Murph! What an honor. We're really stoked for you to come back to Chicago. And on St. Pat's no less. Are you guys excited?
A: Definitely. We love Chicago, it's one of our favorite places to stop (on tour). It's a great town for music. The fans are really into music, and have a great musical palate, so it's fun for us to play there. Chicago always comes ready to party and goes big. They let you know they appreciate you being there in their town, and it's just one of our favorite markets. Plus, the bars and restaurants are great. I love the speakeasy-feel of Barrel House Flat, and The Publican is one of my favorite spots to eat.
Q: Are you Irish?
Q: I figured, given your last name. Have you ever been to Chicago on St. Patrick's Day?
A: No, and we're excited about it. We didn't do it on purpose, per se, but...we're thrilled we're going to be there for all the festivities.
Q: Awesome. As far as this tour, and the music you've been playing, what can we expect this weekend? A lot of fans around here catch every show when you come through. Will we see something new?
A; This year, we have taken our old stuff, and made it more concise. The production and the look of the show, are both just more concise. But yet, in a way, it's bigger and better than it was because we've gone back into our repertoire and are playing a lot of songs from our catalog that our loyal fan-base will love. You know, just stuff we haven't played in years, like Kabuki.
Q: Yes- that is a track that has come back for you guys on this tour it seems. Any rhyme or reason?
A: We just really want to play more of our catalog. We've finally had the opportunity to go back and modernize stuff we wrote when we were... more...immature, as musicians. We've brought some stuff up to date and we just want to share it. Kabuki has been a real favorite on this tour, actually.
Q: My buddy Andy is a big big fan of yours and he was wondering, what mood, if any, do you attempt to create at your concerts?
A: It depends on the tour, you know. This tour, we're trying to put on a concert, and not just a dance party, if that makes sense. We're performing shows that touch on a lot of different styles, but they have to flow through the course of each night. We want to make the audience dance, we want them to feel pretty and beautiful; like they can rock out. It's a little of everything, but we make it all relate, and it's good.
Q: So do you write setlists night to night then, or is it just like one, big, tour-long concert for you guys as performers? As in- do you plan one long setlist from the first show to last, or do you make it up as you go from place to place?
A: No, no, we make setlists night to night. Each town is different and, you know, we have to play to that crowd. North vs. South, big city vs. smaller town... the history in each place, it all has to be taken into account. We look back and think about what worked last time and what didn't when we return to a place, and just craft it to make it all work together.
Q: That makes sense. And what about improv sets? Will you ever do that again?
A: We think about it at times. But, for us, we're at a place where .... we're at a level, where we should be 100% prepared when we go on stage. If we did the improv thing again, it would be promoted as such.
Q: Kind of like you did when you went acoustic for Axe the Cables?
A: Exactly. We won't just show up in, say, Chicago, and play an improv show without warning. Now that we've been playing together for 15 years, there are definitely fans that want to see new stuff, and we know this. But, you have to realize, we have to also play to an 18-19 year-old fan, or just a new fan really, that doesn't have a musical palate for that kind of stuff. Musically, we have to encompass all levels (of the musical palate) to create a common denominator. We want the audience to grab ahold of it and make it work for everyone.
Q: That totally makes sense. Would you compare it to how a teacher has to teach to the low-end of the bell-curve, even when there is a genius or two in the front row?
A: Yes, exactly.
Q: Is that a bad thing? For you, and for the people with less of an evolved musical palate?
A: No...everyone has to start somewhere. Plus, it keeps us thinking about all the different fans in the audience, which is a good thing.
Q: So, since we're talking about new stuff, what can you tell me about the new album you're working on?
A: (laughing) We're working on it. That's all I can say. We're in the midst of finishing up.
Q: Well, we're all really looking forward to it. Thanks again for all you do. To touch on something that a lot of fans are wondering, what inspired Axe The Cables?
A: Honestly, it was something we always wanted to do; take a lot of our music and play it acoustically, and play acoustic stuff that couldn't fit into an STS9 concert. The name actually came from a Bob Dylan concert when he was playing electric guitar and told the crew, "I wish I could axe these damn cables."
Q: Oh, awesome, I didn't realize that.
A: Yep, we just loved that. It's been great chatting, but I'm getting called to soundcheck, so I can do one more before I take off.
Q: I better make it good, then. I saw some video footage of STS9 from last year, where you said you like to consider STS9 "American Dance Music," or, "ADM." Was this an off-the-cuff remark, or is it something you stand by?
A: It's unofficial, but, yea, it's what I personally have thought about before. EDM (Electronic Dance Music) is now a stigma, and when you label something, that term gets thrown around and we don't want to label what we do. The "American" part of ADM comes from -- just that-- it's where we were born and raised. Dance music in America is different from the rest of the world. We're inspired by American foundations like rock, blues, soul, funk, 80's dance, soul, hip-hop, you name it...but it really is American.
Q: That's a good way to look at it, and I like the term "ADM." When you make up what you are, you have the freedom to make that thing...whatever it is that you want, versus the stigma that gets attached to something someone else has considered you to be.
A: Exactly, which is what we want.
Q: Well, Thanks Murph, it's been a pleasure. Anything else you'd like to add?
A: Just that we love our Chicago fans, and are really looking forward to the shows.
Sound Tribe Sector 9 will headline Saturday, March, 16 at The Congress Theater, with support from Maserati. 17+ Doors: 8pm, Show: 9pm. Sunday, March 17, STS9 headlines at House of Blues with no opener. 17+ Doors: 8pm, Show: 9pm.