Laptops add depth to all-instrumental band STS9

by Erin Podolsky

Detroit Free Press (MCT)

1 July 2008

Photo: Casey Flanigan 

Santa Cruz-based, Georgia-raised STS9 is a five-member, all-instrumental band that combines live instruments with computer and synth samples to create an electro-live sound with grooves that move from dance-oriented to chill-out.

The group has always been technology-forward, whether it’s bassist David Murphy integrating electric and electronic bass simultaneously during the live show, or offering not just MP3s for sale through their record label, 1320 Records, but also live shows in FLAC, a higher-quality digital format for audiophile fans.

“We’re all sound junkies,” says Murphy. “It’s important to us to offer people the highest quality possible.”

We asked Murphy about STS9’s upcoming studio album, “Peaceblaster” and its appearance at Rothbury.

You play a lot of festivals. Where does Rothbury fit in on the spectrum?
I think it’s amazing to see a festival try to step in the direction of education at the same time as entertainment. That people can come to the festival and they have to respect everything, whether that’s trash or the way that we’re getting our power and the electricity for the stages.

I think for Rothbury, it’s great to see fest promoters and financial backers see that this is the future and start to make steps to fix some of these problems. Going to other big 100,000-person festivals, there’s a lot of waste and trash and there’s no real regard for the fact that they’re outside on somebody’s land, on a piece of Earth. It’s interesting to see how it’s going to go, how it’s going to transpire and how the fans are going to react to it and how the flow will be. We’re just really really excited to be a part of it, and definitely think this is the future.

What are Rothbury’s chances for survival, with so many other big festivals?
It’s got a great opportunity for survival. First of all the location of where it is, my experience as a touring artist, the Midwest has an incredibly loyal fan base for live music. We have great success in the Midwest, love playing in the Midwest, love the people there and I think most bands that we talk to do also. As far as them picking a location and the pictures that I’ve seen and everything, it looks amazing.

The people that go are going to have a good time. Any festival having longevity, that’s what it takes, being easy and fun for the fans so they go out and tell all their friends and they all come the next year. ... And they’ve done really good with their lineup as far as having a lot of diversity but also having those big-name acts that you have to have, like Dave Matthews Band. And how can you forget Snoop Dogg?

Tell us about “Peaceblaster.”
Basically we went in and just wrote 13, 14 new tracks that would fit on our live stage but that people had never heard before, and really honed them and crafted them in the studio versus the way that we’ve always done stuff - which is writing something for the stage, testing it on the stage, allowing it to grow and honing it in on the stage live in front of people. ... (That) has a lot of limitations because when you’re doing it live, you’re not allowing yourself to take as many risks as you are in the studio when nobody’s watching.

Can you explain how you manage to play a live instrument and man a laptop at the same time?
It’s definitely a back-and-forth simultaneous, sometimes it’ll be going back and forth in a song between my electric bass and a bass that I’ve either sampled or am simulating through a synthesizer on the computer. Or a lot of times it’s playing the bass and triggering samples, whether that’s a vocal sample or sound effects or different things like that. ...

That’s really what got me personally started in it and everybody in the band creating things on the computer that necessarily couldn’t happen from a live instrument.

Who in the band uses computers along with the live instruments?
Me, the other David (Phipps) and Hunter Brown. Some of us run sequences, some of us trigger loops or samples, play virtual instruments such as synthesizers or an array of more traditional orchestra instruments. Computers have come a long way with their reliability and the things that you can do with them as instruments. We all use them a little bit differently but our show relies on them a fair amount at this point.

Will you be sticking around the festival after your Saturday set?
We play at midnight ‘til who knows when we’ll stop playing, probably 4 in the morning. So we’ll be sticking around until Sunday and getting some rest. But we’ll be doing some Think Tanks, be on a couple of panels on different social issues and environmental issues.

Everything about what they’re trying to do there is stuff that we believe in and strongly support so we’re going to be there and looking to have a good time and be involved like everybody else, trying to educate ourselves and speak on whatever we can speak on, which as musicians is all we can do really.

Topics: sts9
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