It may seem like two incompatible musical styles: the exploratory sounds of “jam band” psychedelic rock and the more rigid, beat-driven world of electronic dance music. Yet, there is a wave of artists that have blended those styles for years, and Sound Tribe Sector 9 was one of the first to gain big popularity.
The band, who lately just go by their acronym of STS9, will play a show on Jan. 28 at Harrah’s Tahoe. Fans should expect the group’s usual mix of jazz-influenced progressive rock with big beats, plus lots of lights and visuals to complement the sound.
“It’s a way for us to express a different inspiration, different ideas that maybe we would talk or sing about if we weren’t primarily an instrumental band,” guitarist Hunter Brown said in a recent interview with the Las Vegas Weekly, when asked how they use visuals. “It allows us to be a little more direct with our imagery. We’ve been using screens and projection and LED and video for years, and we even went away from it for awhile because we couldn’t figure out how to do what we wanted to do.
“With the technology of today, it’s allowed us to be more specific, and it allows band members to collaborate with friends doing that sort of art, and come up with a story, so to speak, and an intention behind what we’re doing. It’s part of something we’re allowed to do because we’ve been touring for this long and working toward our entire career.”
STS9’s lengthy career began in Atlanta more than 15 years ago, although they are now based in Santa Cruz, Calif. The group features Brown on guitar and sequencing, Jeffree Lemer on percussion, David Phipps on keyboards, Zach Velmer on drums and Alana Rocklin on bass. All are original members except for Rocklin, who joined the band in 2014.
The group’s first two studio albums, “Interplanetary Escape Vehicle” in 1998 and “Offered Schematics Suggesting Peace” in 2000, were both on the independent Landslide label. All of their other albums – a mix of live shows and studio work – have been on their own record label, 1320, which has put out releases by artists such as Bassnectar, Pretty Lights and The Glitch Mob. The band’s latest release, “When the Dust Settles,” debuted at No. 1 on the iTunes electronic music chart and in the Top 25 of the Billboard charts.
It’s in the live arena where STS9 has earned most of its following, though. The group plays a lot of festival shows, including larger ones such as Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo and Coachella, among others. They were also part of the regional High Sierra Music Festival from 1999 to 2004.
The band’s line-straddling between jam and dance audiences led to some interesting insights from Brown in his interview with the Las Vegas Weekly.
“They come to us through different channels. They get here somehow. That can be through the more dance-pop stuff, the EDM stuff, or even some of the indie stuff. … At my core, I’m a music geek myself. I’m constantly listening and buying, and so that’s exciting to me that we’re in that other world and can be a part of it.”
Even so, recent interviews have pointed out that STS9 is also bringing back older material but refashioned in a more recent style. In a November interview with Offbeat magazine, Rocklin said that her joining the group allowed STS9 to take a step back and look at its music in a different light.
“We’ve been able to go back and work on songs that we maybe hadn’t worked on in a while,” she said. “It’s brought a lot of good energy for all of us, and it’s been a lot of fun. We’re all having a blast.”
Rocklin gave a preview of the band’s forthcoming album to Offbeat, saying that it’s mostly material the band hasn’t performed live yet. “We don’t have an exact date (for release) but we’re hard at work on it. It’s really close. We just want to take our time and make it as amazing as we know it’s going to be.”
Velmer told jambands.com in a recent interview that writing with Rocklin has been a boost to band morale as well. “You know, it’s that we’re writing songs together,” he said. “ 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.
“We’re all so stoked right now, man. From the conception, to the practice room, to the rehearsals, and even to sound-check before the show, what’s happening has just been fun. The music is literally speaking for itself and just taking us on a journey.”
The new bandmate also means some changes in how this longtime group has approached life on the road. Brown told jambands.com that it’s really 24/7 music now.
“We’ll do sound-check and then go backstage and just pick our instruments back up to keep working on that night’s show,” Brown said. “After the show, on the bus, when we wake up -- it’s just heightened right now. We’re all so amped to play.”
“Something that Alana has done is help with our rehearsal ethic and work ethic,” Phipps continued. “Coming from a college education in music, and with plenty of road legs and performances under her belt, she’s helped me not take our craft for granted. She’s inspired us to all play and rehearse as much as possible, to really dig into our craft.”