STS9 at The Fillmore, by Joshua Huver

Last February, the jamtronica quintet collectively known as STS9 made a major move, quietly developing a new album in the comfort of their own home recording studio. Wave Spell, released in the third week of January, features a raw STS9 that has settled into a new groove.

“We’ve always dreamed of having our own studio, an ‘autonomous zone’ where we could be free to let the music happen,” read the album’s liner note on Bandcamp. “From basements to barns to makeshift rooms red-tagged by the city. In February of 2017 we moved into a new studio that truly feels like home. The ability to record ourselves live, to make it feel and sound like we’re on stage in the magic, has been a dream come true.”

The band, Hunter Brown, Jeffree Lerner, David Phipps, Zach Velmer and Alana Rocklin, has long been at the forefront of innovating its own path, as evidenced in the building of a custom studio to house their musical conversation.

Big moves have also long been a part of the band’s history. The group formed in 1998 in Atlanta, GA and very quickly made their way to Santa Cruz, where they have remained ever since. In 2014 they shifted again, when founding bassist and resident hype-man David Murphy departed the group, allowing Rocklin to step in.

Wave Spell is the second STS9 record to be released since Rocklin joined the team. The first was 2016’s The Universe Inside, a deep and meaningful album that was lampooned by few and lauded by many. The stakes were high, however, as it was the first full length release in nearly seven years. They also mixed up the sound, taking a page from Lotus’ Eat The Light and bringing in more guest vocalists than ever before.

As Phipps previously told Consequence of Sound:

We have actually used vocals in much our music, all the way back to our album Artifact. Even at that time, there was a small outcry about vocals, but now songs like “Music Us” and “Somesing” are considered classics. It’s important to me for everyone to know that these aren’t vocal “samples”, except “New Dawn, New Day”. These are lyrics coming from us, recorded in a studio by people close to us, and painstakingly worked into the songs. Hunter wrote most of the lyrics, and I feel he really reached for some core beliefs and motifs of STS9’s music and outlook. We are One. You don’t have to worry. Say it loud. Just want to live with nothing to hide. It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day. We can make the world go round. These are things we talk about and get excited about when we’re together; it felt totally natural to add them to the music.

On Wave Spell, however, STS9 return to their roots. They entered with a mindset “where we don’t talk about what we want to play, we just try and tap in to the moment and let the music happen. It’s a conversation where we speak solely with our instruments. A time where we’re completely free to explore.”

STS9 wasted no time in getting their new studio (formerly Gadgetbox in Santa Cruz) up and running, and began releasing singles every couple of months beginning in July. The first new taste of music was “Rise Above, Get Loud.” Considering that “Get Loud” was the lead single from The Universe Inside, that sentiment almost feels like the group’s personal mantra.