Music transcendency is often times the result of relentless patience, self-awareness and significant hours mastering technique. Crafting a product that reflects these characteristics can often times be a daunting task for artists, and for many musicians the perfect composition often times doesn’t translate in the studio. For Georgia-based jamtronica pioneers STS9 however, this enigma may have finally been mastered. The Universe Inside, their first studio album in nearly seven years, is a melodical masterpiece with a message, one that speaks of space, time and this cosmic universe we are all a part of. It is a product and reflection of the band’s incredible journey, from times past through where they currently stand. STS9’s percussionist Jeffree Lerner was kind enough to sit down with the Grateful Web recently to discuss the new studio album The Universe Inside, the 2016 Fall Tour which kicks off in Minneapolis, MN as well as reflect back on some old memories from the band’s significant and momentous roots.
GW: What’s up guys, my name is Elliot Engebretson with the Grateful Web and today I’m here with percussionist extraordinaire Mr. Jeffree Lerner, Jeffree how are you doing this evening?
JL: I’m doing great, just landed here in Minneapolis and getting ready for the first day of tour tomorrow.
GW: I want to first start by talking about the new album, The Universe Inside, your first studio album in nearly seven years. Walk me through the recording process and what the idea was conceptually going into the studio?
JL: Well going into the album I think that we wanted to represent what we were able to accomplish on the stage live. High energy dance music accompanied with a story and a thread that would connect all the songs on the album and bring it all together. That was the intention four or five years ago when we started the project, and that may seem like a long time ago but we had also been doing an incredible amount of touring during that time, as well as working on different projects in the studio and bringing in a new member of the band. The album really is a labor of love, it was self-produced, self-written, self-recorded and mixed all by us in our studio in Scotts Valley and then we sent it out to be mastered out of shop. I mention that just in the sense of it was incredible opportunity for us to take the reins in that world and develop a skill set, gather the tools and working on honing that craft. The Universe inside is a product of that.
It was a huge learning process for our production, so you feel so much excitement coming out of it for what the album is and what the music is, but also looking deeply into the future about the next release and using those skills that we have crafted to start knocking stuff out when that time comes.
GW: And to your point, this album really feels like a new chapter in the band’s history. How do you feel the band has evolved over the years and come to this point that we are currently at?
JL: Well it’s a combination of things we’ve done in the past, but a lot of new things as well. The comradery, the brotherhood/sisterhood, the community and being part of the Tribe is still the same and motivation in and of itself, right? Then there’s also the maturity of the band and the individuals within the band, so members are putting more time into their instruments than maybe they have in the past. It’s a new regiment of discipline and of crafting our skills, and just digging in. When we come to that stage it’s not like we just walked in the door that day and just started playing music, there’s weeks at home practicing, there’s plenty of hours in the days leading up to the show where we play more music throughout the day then we do the actual show. So it’s what we love, we are inspired, just what we feel when we are on stage and what the fans bring to us is so inspiring. Maturity, I think that’s what people are feeling, and intentions, we are trying refine our intentions.
GW: Well for people have been following from the beginning, that maturity is absolutely noticed and appreciated. Speaking of the overall development of the band, this record contains more lyrics than previous STS9 albums. Tell me about the creative decision to add more vocal samples and how that came to fruition in The Universe Inside.
JL: The general statement there is, we have more to say now than we ever have. I feel that we as artists appreciate that expression, it’s something that’s new and different for us, but at the same time it’s not new or different. Through relationships we’ve built with people like Maureen Murphy, Lisa Taylor, Betty Idol and countless others, we know a lot of incredibly talented people, and we have a message we want to share. Not to over-simplify, but that’s where it’s at. It’s not just lyrics of fluff, they have meaning to us. We’re speaking what resonates with us, and we want to share it with you. It’s like asking Van Gogh why did you use purple? He just did man, no other way to look at it (laughs).
GW: This is the first studio album with Alana Rocklin on the bass, what has she brought to the table since joining the band in 2014 in terms of how you approach shows and in the studio as well?
JL: Oh man, so much. On the real she brings her experience, her knowledge and her wisdom, her goddess-ness, and she had a different type of musical upbringing than we did. I would use the word “traditional” but that doesn’t really work. Coming up through jazz school and being a classically trained standup player, she knows what it takes to make it in the music business. She’s seen a different side; she’s seen people who uber-talented and uber-hungry to make it in the industry but are still stuck eating ramen noodles. She didn’t have the luxury of being in a band for 18 years, so it’s eye-awaking to us and reminds us how fortunate we are and the opportunity that we have in front of us.
Also she bring just this incredible musical knowledge and discipline, that’s a word I like to use a lot to describe her, just an incredible amount of discipline in her craft. She has that bass in her hand every day, she eats, sleeps and breathes it so it’s inspiring to all of us, just this great alchemy. One thing people might not know is that we’ve been friends and playing shows with her and her husband Brad, also known as Sub-ID, for over 14 years. So they’ve been a part of this family for a long time and it’s just been an honor to be able to play with them for this long.
GW: Switching gears a bit here, you guys kick off the 2016 Fall Tour tomorrow night in the lovely city of Minneapolis, what can we expect to hear on this tour and really what are you looking forward to the most about being back on the road with the band?
JL: Well we’re excited to share this music of The Universe Inside, we’re super excited to open these songs up and let them breathe and jam and see where it takes us and what sort of life comes into them on the live stage. So, expanding but also reach backwards in our catalog and looking at tracks that are older and haven’t been played much. I’m just super excited to share this with everyone, we are ready to throw down. Straight up, I don’t leave my family for five weeks and sleep on a bus with 12 other people to not kick some ass. This our opportunity to that, and we are going to make the most of it.
GW: You mentioned playing the new tracks as well as reaching back into your catalog, are there any old tracks out there that you haven’t played in a while that you are excited to play, or on the flip side new songs, not including the new album, that we can expect to hear?
JL: Yes and yes! Obviously, I can’t give you any names of songs, but yeah man we’re doing our work you know, reaching backwards and forwards at the same time. We have some stuff that we have never played, and we have some stuff that we haven’t played in a long time, and these are only our plans walking into the tour, we will see how things develop and what inspires us. The world’s our oyster, right?
GW: Absolutely man, love it. Now STS9 recently played your 20th show out at Red Rocks in Colorado, tell me about your most recent experience out there and what makes that venue so special.
JW: Besides the physical location which I will get you, I’ve got to give mad props to the Colorado fans out there, they have so much love for us and they bring it every time. As a musician, we have that feeling from your fans it just brings out the best in you. It brings things out of a band that you can’t do in the practice room. The actually physical beauty, the way sound moves and just looking up at the crowd is one of the most special things I’ve experienced. The shows always seem to be a little different, but at the same time it’s just another show right? It’s not like I have this special pair of congas that I use for Red Rocks, it’s the same instrument, but there is something to it that increases that level of experience. A lot of it has to do with the people, and a lot of it has to do with the place, but people out there just love the music man and the energy that creates is something to behold.
GW: That’s incredible, such a legendary venue and scene that they have out there in Colorado. So, I recently heard that you helped the Grateful Dead prepare “Drums > Space” for their 50th anniversary Fare Thee Well tour. Is this true, and if so what did you guys discuss when preparing that segment?
JW: I’m not going to get into too many details on this one, but we did help the Dead with some of their programming and computer work for that segment. Our wonderful EPU agent Mr. Brown got the call, and let’s just say it was quite an honor.
GW: Totally fair, no more needs to be said but what an honor that must have been. I did want to touch quickly on the all improve show you guys did back on 1/1/2015, what was your mindset going into that show from a creative perspective? Does that calm you knowing that anything goes, or is their more tension due to the loose structure?
JW: Both, in a weird way. It’s testament that anyone would actually show up to begin with, like people would actually buy a ticket to that is just crazy and awesome. I don’t want that to be misconstrued in anyway, I actually mean that as the biggest compliment ever. We have an incredible amount of trust and communication with each other. We talked about stuff before the show, and there was loose structure, but most of it just comes out as you go. You’ve got to have a blueprint, I mean even if you say, “Okay we’re going to go out there and wing it,” you’ve got to pick a key, you’ve got to pick a tempo, you’re still working within the framework of how an actual song works. Also, just the support that the fans at that dinner gave us was incredible, just going around from table to table and hanging out with people, it was like playing for your family. So, the pressure was off in a way, we we’re all just hanging out together and eating food and gathering our energy for a good cause.
GW: Few more for you here Jeffree, multiple electronic artists such as Bassnectar and Griz have mentioned that they wouldn’t be where they are today without the influence of STS9. You guys are the true pioneers of the electronic world meeting instruments; how does that feel knowing you’ve influenced the careers of so many of these musicians and producers?
JL: Well that can be kind of a tough one, because we will never self-proclaim that, but I’m glad you said it because it is interesting. Straight up man, without sounding cheesy, it’s a real honor. Like for real man, to think by just doing what you love to do and following your own heart and truth that you can affect the lives of others, like damn dude that’s where it’s at. Credit man, I don’t wear it like a badge of honor, it’s just an amazing thing. And I’ll go back to some of the earlier questions you were asking, like its all part of the inspiration. There’s a lot of people who understand and appreciate the history and our place in it.
GW: Final question for you, the journey has been amazing and we are so blessed to be a part of this, what’s next for the band and what can we expect in the future from STS9.
JL: I want to say more of the same, but I also know that can be perceived as a bad thing. We’re going to keep doing what we do, we’re going to keep playing shows, we’re going to keep writing songs, the old and the new, and we’re going to put every ounce of blood, sweat and tears into this project we call STS9. Expectations can be a tricky thing ya’ll, but come with an open heart and an open mind and just experience it.
GW: It’s been an honor Jeffree, thank you for sitting down and spending some time with us this evening and we are looking forward to what is sure to be a great 2016 Fall Tour and beyond.
JL: Thanks Elliot, it’s been a pleasure chatting with you this evening.