Q&A: Hunter Brown from Sound Tribe Sector Nine Talks About Improvisation vs. Composition and the Band's Relationship to the Mayan Calendar

Bicycles? STS9 is so hip!EXPAND
Bicycles? STS9 is so hip!
C. Taylor Crothers

For over 12 years, Sound Tribe Sector Nine (or STS9 as the band is commonly referred to by fans) has been criss-crossing the country, dispensing its technically impressive, instrumental blend of funk, jazz, hip-hop and psychedelic rock. While building a strong fan base, the band has also involved itself in many worthwhile causes and has still managed to remain fiercely independent.

Often erroneously compared to longwinded jam bands such as Phish, the five guys in STS9 are actually more like the computer or band geeks you made fun of in high school. Y'know, the guys who are raking in the dough these days.

Band leader Hunter Brown took some time before a recent show in Arkansas to discuss with DC9 where the band has been and where it might be going.

There are certain areas around the United States--places like Denver and San Francisco--where your band always seems to do well. Is Dallas becoming like those other cities?
Absolutely. We always love coming to Dallas and to Texas in general. We always seem to go over well in Dallas. We always have a lot of fun. The crowds are into it. There are not as many of, what we like to call, the chin-scratchers.

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The band is heading into its second decade now. When you first started STS9, could you envision it lasting this long?
Absolutely not. When we first started, it was just for fun, just to make music. And it kind of took off from there. Everyday, we're thankful and in awe of being able to do what we do and that people seem to enjoy it. We have been so incredibly lucky.

If I am just sitting in front of a club where you guys are playing and a passerby asks me what the band sounds like, what should I tell him?
We've simplified it. We're just a rock band, but I guess you could say electronic funk rock. I guess that's what I'll go with.

Do you shy away from being associated with jam bands such as Phish and Wide Spread Panic?
That kind of stuff is hard to control. We just try to make the music that we make and try to be true to that. We don't worry about what people call our music or who they associate us with. We used to shy away from comparisons to those bands in past, but these days we just want to have fun and play.

In 2005, you said the band was moving away from improvisation and was going to focus more on composition. Is that still the case?
Yes, it is. There is always a pendulum that goes back and forth. Sometimes we use improvisation to explore an area we are interesting in or we will use that piece to base a composition upon. It's not either or. Sometimes the pendulum swings too far to one side or the other. We get a lot of grief from fans of one or the other. And I think that's a good thing as it's kind of the internal tension that we thrive off of.

Over the years, the band has incorporated a lot of electronica and hip-hop influences into the sound. What other directions might the band pursue in the future?
It's wide open. It's been an open-ended conversation between the five of us. On stage, wherever the music takes us, we will go. That's kind of the fun of it all being open to whatever comes next. For now, we're having fun going back and playing some of the songs we kind of left behind. We're going back and rediscovering some songs we haven't played in a while and having a lot of fun doing it. One of the things we want to do is play more acoustically. We did an acoustic show in Denver over New Year's. That was our first ever and we had a lot of fun doing it.

Besides the music, how important is the extravagant light show to the overall presentation?
I think it's very important. They are one in the same. We like to think of it in that way. We want to create this cohesive experience between the production and the music. The lighting is crucial to the show.

The band's name is a reference to the current era in the Mayan calendar. Is that correct?
That's one part of it. But it's not the current era in the Mayan calendar. It's between the 7th and 9th century of the Mayan calendar, during their renaissance. That inspired us. We thought the name was like a manifestation of a renaissance in our own time. We added sound tribe as a tribute to those people who were around us, the painters and other people who create with us. We couldn't do it without the whole crew.

So do you think the band only has two more years to tour before the world ends?
I wouldn't say that we presume to understand what the Mayans were trying to say, but I personally don't think the world is going to end in 2012. At least I hope it doesn't.

Sound Tribe Sector Nine performs Saturday, March 6, at the House of Blues


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