STS9 shocked their fans earlier this year when they cancelled their winter tour following an announcement that longtime bassist David Murphy would be parting ways with the group. The group’s supporters were confused by the news, and many—including myself—became resigned to the notion that things would never be the same. I am now happy to report that we were right, but not in the way I first imagined. STS9 is not the same band that it was less than a year ago because it is now a better one.
The reemergence of STS9 began with the addition of bassist Alana Rocklin, a friend and frequent collaborator who made her debut when the group returned to the stage back in March. The Sector 9 fanbase was all smiles from the start, as the band hit up the festival circuit with a renewed sense of purpose that really came through in their music. New songs appeared in the rotation, old favorites started making a comeback (Rocklin’s second show saw the band bust out “Poseidon” for the first time in 11 years) and the jams got, well, jammier. The bassist also brought a different skill set to the group’s cerebral post-rock sound. Whereas Murphy always stayed plugged in during the mostly-acoustic “axe the cables” sets, the classically trained Rocklin was able to incorporate her upright bass into the mix.
I caught up with STS9 to ask them what the future has in store, what Rocklin has brought into the fold and more. In the middle of the interview, which took place last Thursday, guitarist/keyboardist Hunter Brown told me that the surprises from the first few shows of fall tour were “only the beginning.” He wasn’t lying. In the four days since I spoke with the group, STS9 have busted out the long-shelved (though not forgotten) “Potamus” jam for the first time in 11 years, debuted a cover of “First Tube” that seamlessly segued in and out of their own “Moonsocket,” worked a wood box percussion jam into one of their songs and closed out a show with a previously unfathomable “King Pharoah’s Tomb/ Water Song” sandwich. In other words, each show has been filled with about as many surprises as a fan could have expected from an entire tour less than one year ago. No matter what your opinion of STS9 was in 2013, it needs to be reexamined in light of recent developments. Right now, this is a band on a mission.
This year, and this tour in particular, has seen you guys debut a lot of new material. “Only Light Remains,” “Love Don’t Terrorize,” “World Go Round,” “New Dawn, New Day”—just to name a few. Is this a particularly prolific moment for the band? Are these the songs we can expect to hear on the new album?
Hunter Brown: That’s a tough question. All of that stuff—some of it, yes, and most of it, no. As of right now, we’re still in the middle of figuring out what the album’s going to be and most of the material we have on it, we’re not playing. The stuff that we’re most excited about off the album, we’re saving until we’re ready. Some of this stuff has come during the album process, some of it is stuff we’ve had for a while that we’ve wanted to play, but it’s not necessarily from the album.
Zach Velmer: “Love Don’t Terrorize” has been around for a while.
HB: Since Peaceblaster, yeah. A couple of them have been around for a while. “The Paint” we’ve had for a while. So we’re just kind of reaching back into our iPods, and back into our sessions, and going back to things that we still listen to that we never got the chance to bring to the stage. We’re really excited to do that now.
ZV: Some of it is things that we started back then and some is things that we started for the record that just weren’t right for the record.
What does Alana bring to the songwriting process?
Jeffree Lerner: What doesn’t she bring? [Everyone laughs]. That’s a big one.
ZV: You know, it’s that we’re writing songs together. I think that’s a huge part of where it’s at right now. It’s just that there’s a lot of togetherness, which is really cool. There’s a level of—is ‘badassness’ a word? [laughs] We’re all so stoked right now, man. From the conception, to the practice room, to the rehearsals, and even to soundcheck before the show, what’s happening has just been fun. The music is literally speaking for itself and just taking us on a journey.
I’ve been looking at the setlists from this tour, and it seems like there’s a lot of arrows popping up. A lot more than has been the case in recent years. Is this increase in segues a result of this newfound inspiration?
ZV: Yes. It definitely is. Absolutely. That’s something else that Alana’s bringing to the table. The chick has an incredible knowledge of music and of how things can move. She might be better at connecting things, or connecting the dots I should say.
Alana Rocklin: I think we’re at this point of trying to be open to this lineup and see where it takes us and see where the music goes. That’s what this tour’s really about. Just sort of finding our voice as a unit and exploring all that. We’re open to all of it. Going back in the catalogue and revisiting stuff that we all loved, but maybe never played or that is totally brand new. “New Dawn, New Day” was something that we had the idea to do as a group in the practice room and we just saddled up and started working on it until we got the song. As a band on tour—what we’re playing—those decisions are obviously cut from a group effort. We’re trying to find that voice, we’re searching out.
In addition to the segues, there has also been more improvisational moments. One lengthy jam in particular—coming out of “Arigato” at The Orbit Room in Grand Rapids—is getting rave reviews. Can we expect more of this kind of thing?
ZV: Yeah, absolutely.
HB: It’s just the beginning. We haven’t had—we got together this January and just played as much as we could. This summer we didn’t have any non-festival shows, and in that way we took the summer a little bit more safely than we want to now. Now we’re on the road and kind of live in the music and let it take it us where it wants to go. Like Alana said, this tour is about finding our voice and exploring and letting the music really tell us what it wants to do. It feels good.
Alana sat in with you guys during the last New Year’s run, just a few months before it was confirmed that she would be replacing David Murphy. Did you all already know that she would be the new bassist at that point?
AR: Absolutely not. No way. You know, I’ve been sitting in with this band since about 2005, and so that really was just a totally natural thing that we’ve always done. I happened to be in town playing a gig for the run. An after party. So I was just hanging out and we always enjoyed playing with one another, especially Murph and I, over the years. That developed through soundcheck and me being on tour with sub-ID. We’ve always just enjoyed jamming with one another so it was a totally natural thing. No, no one had any idea that was happening.
You could totally go back and look at it. I think there’s a recording of me sitting in on “Vibyl” in 2005. There’s a recording of me sitting in on Halloween in 2008 or something. There’s a lot of times that I’ve sat in. There’s a lot of times that these guys say in with sub-ID over the years. Every one of these guys has sat in on one of our sets, so it’s sort of just a normal thing. I just happened to be there, and its like “Hey lets all have fun on New Years.”
JL: We’ve been collaborating together for as long as we’ve known her.
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