Sound Tribe Sector Nine is an ambient, mostly instrumental, electronic jam band. Yet they also do live shows with grooveable beats and a near-cultish following similar to improv-heavy bands like Soulive and Phish. Formed in Atlanta, Georgia, in the late ‘90s, the five core members of STS9 now reside in Santa Cruz, California. They released their sophisticated, atmospheric album Artifacts in February of this year and their remix album Perspectives comes out Oct. 4. Recently, we talked with Jeffree Lerner, percussionist and elementals—basically wood, metal and wind instruments—who brings, as he says, “that organic element to the band.”
Maui Time Weekly: What was the music like when STS9 first started?
Jeffree Lerner: Funk was the main focus but with a lot of improvisation. And we were really kind of refining that. About a year or two after that, we started bringing in the electronic elements to the band. Just from, you know, what we’d been personally discovering and learning about through production. It’s a real, steady, organic growth to the instruments that come in and the technology we introduce and all that stuff.
We didn’t say, you know, “Alright—in 2003, we wanna be using computers.” It’s more of like, you know, we’d been fooling around with them and figured out how to bring some stuff at the instrument rather than a machine. So we really challenged ourselves to use the technology as an instrument, rather than a crutch, if you will.
It’s my highest aspirations for what we do is really to be a living metaphor, in a way, of how technology and nature can exist together. You know what I’m sayin’? ‘Cause we do it through art, and other people do it through biodiesel or solar panels or, you know, there’s a million examples out there. So we just try to be that living metaphor.
And now you have quite a following.
It’s different for everywhere we go, you know? Um, we go to some places and play for 300 to 400 people and we go to other places and play to 4,000 people. So it’s really wide, it’s really diverse. Even when the crowds were a hundred people, there was a core, Athens, Atlanta-based fan base that supported us and inspired us to get it out on the road, you know? It’s kinda always been like that. Even inherently in the name, you know—Sound TRIBE. People just resonate with that, I think, in the sense of being part of a tribe of music. So it’s brought us painters and visual artists of all different sorts, and people who bring crystals to the show, people who bring information about conscious events or concerns in the communities, and who try to do a food drive. We’ve always tried to make it a little bit bigger than just the music. You know?
You look at culture—you know, sporting events and church on Sundays are really the only times people gather anymore. And when people gather, there’s a huge amount of energy and power to the whole change. We always try to not preach to people, just make information available, let people make their own decisions and try to bring awareness to the things we’re concerned about in culture. We registered 2500 people to vote in the last election, we just did a Katrina benefit in Santa Cruz last Tuesday, which raised $17,000. If you just put it out there a little bit, you know, people wanna do the right thing. So we’re trying to just offer that opportunity.
What’s up with the hippies?
Those particular people are drawn to all sorts of music. You know, if you look out in a field and there’s one flower out there, you’re gonna notice that flower. Those people stand out in our culture. Our fans are also college students, they’re young professionals, I’ve seen 50-year-old couples in the audience. It’s really diverse. Because there are no vocals, in a way, there’s less boundaries, you know, as far as who can appreciate that music.
Those “hippies,” for lack of a better word, are part of like, the jam-based, jam-band community. That community is really less about the type of music played than it is the people who—on the mainland—who love live music and support it and actually create a culture around it. They’re open—they’re just open. They’re freed up enough in life as well, and young enough to be able to pick up and travel for a week and follow a band around. I give thanks, you know, ‘cause they really make our lives possible, to be able to go out and share the art with people who actually show up, who actually buy the albums and not burn them.
How’s the touring?
There are some aspects that are really tough to go out on a tour for 30 days. We try not to repeat hardly any music for three or four nights, you know? That means pulling out songs that you’ve been playing for six years now, and how do you keep those fresh and how do you present them in a way that doesn’t let on to the feeling of “Hey, I’ve played this song for six years—I’m over it!” Those aspects are challenging. So the new stuff for me is really where it’s at now. MTW