Questions by: Helen Vivas
Interview by: Alex Rowland
This weekend while attending Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival, Festival Squad was extremely lucky and thankful for the opportunity to sit down and speak to Zach Velmer, the drummer from Sound Tribe Sector 9 – a band we’ve wanted to interview for awhile. STS9 is known for their ability to keep their fans on their toes. You NEVER really know what they might play, or how they will play it. It’s truly about the subtleties, transitions, and emotion behind every note. They can pull songs from their album “The Universe Inside” or remix and revamp songs dormant for over a decade like they did recently with ‘Havona Ascent” on a three night NYE run at the Fillmore in Denver.
STS9 weaves their past, present and future through their music. This band has the ability to instantly draw you in, make you move, feel part of one of the most special communities in music. Fans often clock over 15 show a year, and are still always left craving more!
Zach Velmer talked with us about new music, live performances, fan interactions, and the future direction of the band.
Festival Squad: Ok, first and foremost thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to sit down with us for this interview! I know you all have to be performing in a little over an hour.
Zach Velmer: No problem!
Festival Squad: So this is your first year at Okeechobee! How are you enjoying it so far?
Zach: It’s pretty cool! Yeah pretty cool most definitely.
Festival Squad: On top of all of the festivals that you guys play every year you guys are also known for multi night runs. What do you enjoy about playing multiple nights in one city?
Zach: Well it’s kind of like setting up shop, you kind of come into town and you’re able to get the vibe rather than this particular event we are in then we are out. You know what I mean? It’s kind of like going through a car wash instead of getting your car detailed. So when were able to get set up we get the vibe, it’s kind of like a takeover, we’re taking over the vibe and the energy of the place. We do that in a show of course, but the analogy I just used kind of explains it. The takeovers are pretty fun for the experience of the fans!
Festival Squad: I bet! The music changes and takes the fans on different journeys throughout the different days?
Zach: Absolutely! 100%
Festival Squad: You guys recently celebrated a milestone that most bands don’t get to reach by celebrating your twentieth anniversary! You guys did a big run at Red Rocks for your anniversary and we actually had a lot of people attend that show! They loved every minute of it and actually interviewed a lot of different fans. One woman that was interviewed there had actually attended 100 of your shows and our artist relation’s manager Helen has also made it to 40+ shows and has no intent of slowing down. What is it like having dedicated fans that are willing to go out and see 100 different shows and follow you around?
Zach: Challenging! It’s challenging because it’s kind of like you know you got to plan. It takes a lot of work and a lot of energy and a lot of time to build these shows. So when you have that realm of people that have seen a hundred shows you have to dig and try to do something different every time. It’s not like we feel like we have to, but it’s inevitable because we’ve got people coming, that hundredth show for that girl was the first show for someone else. It’s like we have this catalog where we’re trying to be able to express ourselves artistically. But that’s what we do as artists; it’s a super cool experience. We want to play new stuff; we want to play old stuff and create an experience that everyone can share in and experience it all together.
STS9 at Red Rocks 20th Anniversary
Photo by: JV Photography
Festival Squad: So about a month ago you guys released ‘Wave Spell’. It’s a live-recorded album that you recorded back in September?
Zach: It’s hard to describe… It’s not just a live recording. Pretty much we have a recording studio and what we’ve been inspired by just kind of getting together and letting the music speak for itself and literally let the music take us on a journey in this raw form. We just released a statement saying that this ‘Wave Spell’ is a series that’s not going to stop, there’s more that’s coming. It says right here that because of the raw nature of the audio we wanted to find a new avenue to figure out how we can share this music with our fans. So, that’s kind of where this whole ‘Wave Spell’ came from. It’s kind of like an analogy where these moments come in waves. It can be where we recorded five hours and condensed it down to nine particular songs or where we recorded one day and it was thirteen minutes or we recorded one day and it was four minutes; so its going to come in different waves where were able to communicate through our instruments and through music then how we release it to our fans through this avenue. It’s a pretty cool experience of what’s to come and where we want to take it.
Zach: It was amazing; it was super cool! It’s proof of concept, we don’t necessarily know how were going to keep doing this. We wanted to make it kind of exclusive where we can kind of create a community around other opportunities. We’re starting to take requests for our studio of what people want to here. So there are all these different realms where we’re trying to figure out how to put out music in the modern world.
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Festival Squad: One thing I’ve noticed and love about you guys is how you use your platform to help give back to the community more than most bands with either putting on food drives, benefit shows, or going on a “green” tour where you traveled in a carbon natural bus and powered all of your live shows with renewable energy. Do you have anything else planed for this year?
Zach: Just more of the same! We have a nonprofit organization where were constantly trying to give back where we’re building houses in New Orleans or some of the things that you just mentioned.
Festival Squad: Did you guys hear about the bubble party that’s going to happen during your set tonight?
Zach: We did! Very last minute though. Were super stoked!! It’s going to be fun.
Festival Squad: Do you guys like when fans do that kind of stuff during your shows? What are some of the different things that fans have done during your shows?
Zach: It’s really inspiring! We got sent the article about it and we were like ‘Oh! We wish we would have heard about this sooner’ but we changed some things around for our set. It’s super exciting. We were talking in the van on our way over here and were like who doesn’t like bubbles? We feel really honored to be apart of it.
Video from: Sean Wilkie, Co-Organizer of the Bubble Party
Festival Squad: I’m pretty stoked to see it all too! This is definitely the set I came here for this weekend. It’s going to be great!
Zach: We love it. We still do what we do, but when the fans get involved and participate it makes it that much more special.
Festival Squad: Ok so last question–You guys did a Peaceblaster album where the sometimes-polarizing society we live in helped shape that album. Do you have any plans to make another Peaceblaster album with everything that’s going on in this country now?
Zach: Well if you look at the Peaceblaster album and the names of the songs and the concept behind it, to be perfectly honest, still rings true today. It’s one of those timeless things. But we are still in a crazy time and it’s only getting crazier. That all still comes through ‘Wave Spell’ if you look at some of the song names. That’s how we connect with either nature, dare I say politics, or movements of peace or whatever. We look at our discography you can see that there’s always connecting tissues and weaving to where we got to from ‘The Universe Inside’ to ‘Wave Spell’. We hope that people can look at that and see that all of it is timeless and building on each other. We’re definitely telling a story, a pretty bold and interesting story.
Festival Squad: Well thank you again so much for taking the time to sit down for this interview! We love you guys so much at Festival Squad and are extremely excited to see where these next twenty years will take you! Thank you for everything you do from the bottom of our hearts.