"We've actually been doing John McCain rallies all over the country," says Sound Tribe Sector 9 guitarist Hunter Brown, on the phone from tour in Tulsa, Okla., a week before the election. "No one believes us though. I don't know why."
He jests. Alongside its fifth studio release, Peaceblaster, the band debuted a website this summer by the same name, a blog-based page that covers whatever the boys are learning about at the time — from offshore drilling to spy pigeons in Iran. The album itself ends with the message, "Stop hoping for action and be action," among some of the only words on the album. STS9's music is mostly instrumental and heavily electronic, but the band doesn't hide its passions and politics behind that.
"Just because we don't write lyrics doesn't mean we're not inspired by specific things, so we have to find any way we can to inject those kind of thoughts into the music, without doing it literally," says Brown. "It's fun for us to try to fit these ideas into soundscapes — how do we evoke these emotions, these feelings, through music? Because we're not trying to preach to anybody ... but it feels like the times are more urgent than ever, and we feel more inclined to share our specific thoughts aside from music more than ever. So if you want to come to the show and just kind of have fun and get away from the quote, unquote, 'real world,' we're happy to offer that service. And if you want to jump in and know what's inspiring us and why we're writing the music we're writing and putting in the little hidden subliminal messages we're putting in, you can dive a little further into what we're doing and know where we're coming from."
Talking days before Obama's victory, Brown said the band was "hopeful, glued to the polls, and nervous as anything." He also acknowledged that it's going to take more than a president to fix America — change always comes through the people.
And to that end, STS9 certainly does its part to motivate their fans. The band has raised money and awareness through concerts and their website for efforts to rebuild New Orleans, Democracy Now!, Women's Crisis Support, Rock Against Cancer, and the Haiti Information Project, among many others. The proceeds from this Charleston show will benefit the Jef Jel Project, a nonprofit dedicated to aiding people in and around the village of Ndangane, Senegal (see sidebar).
"It just seems like, we've always been able to go out of our means as a band to do bigger things than we could do ourselves," says Brown. "The charity events are always a lot of fun, because you know that the fun you're having that night is going to back a bigger cause than just the fun you're having that night. We're just honored to be able to do anything to help other people and be in a position to gather the energy of a crowd to put toward those things."
Dubbed the "Jef Jel Vibration," money raised at this show will go toward the organization's effort to build a women's clinic in Ndangane. The band's longtime friend and Folly resident Al Garrett organized the show, his fourth fund-raiser for the project. STS9's last visit to Charleston, in 2006, was also in support of Jef Jel — the "Vegetation Vibration," which successfully raised enough money to found a community garden where townspeople could grow their own food.
Playing a show for a Senegalese village is parallel to STS9's outlook on their music in general.
"Things seem so urgent right now. All the band talks about is what's going on in the world and what we're inspired by and how to promote positive and creative change," says Brown. "That's the way we've come together. We're open to any and everything right now. It feels good."
The band's awareness of the social patterns and natural happenings of the world carries over into the closeness of their own relationships, which often translates into epic, inexplicable surges of musical energy on stage.
"[That energy] is something; those particular times when the feeling's just right; it's something we definitely go for and try to set ourselves up for, in terms of how we look at our sets and how long we play, what we play when and where we give ourselves room to breathe," says Brown. "We're constantly trying to reflect on where we are, as opposed to where we've been; to be open for the moment. I think those high energy moments come when everything is just right, and you can't recreate that just by playing the song over and regurgitating the song over every night. You have to have some kind of new energy that has to be unique and special and authentic. It has everything to do with the crowd and how we're feeling and what's going on. It's something that we think about a lot, and it's why we play music — for those really special moments. They're impossible to recreate, you just have to be open to it and let it happen."
STS9's taking a couple days off between a show in Kentucky and Charleston, and they'll be hanging around town, catching up with old friends like Garrett, and gearing up for a return to the Music Hall.
"It's great to be back in the South around people we love," says Brown, an Atlanta native now based in California. "It's just the best. Tell those guys to bring it."THE JEF JEL PROJECT
Founded almost 15 years ago by a Peace Corps volunteer and her Senegalese husband, the Jef Jel project exists to provide health, education, and job development to the village of Ndangane, Senegal. In the area's Wolof language, jef jel translates to "give and take," or, "the nature of your reward equals the nature of your effort."
STS9's last show in Charleston raised enough money to start a community garden, and a "Hydration Vibration" with local acts Graham Whorley, The Key of Q, and Jesse Pritchard provided funds to pipe fresh, clean water to the town. A "Construction Vibration" with Cary Ann Hearst and Sol Driven Train built a hardware store to provide supplies for homes and jobs. At this show, simply dubbed the "Jef Jel Vibration," money will go toward building a women's clinic and nurturing local businesses.
"The more we can help the village become self-sustaining, the more people will want to stay there," says show organizer Al Garrett, who has played the recordings of the fund-raising concerts in Charleston for the people of Ndangane.
"Up until recently, many of the villagers have had to leave simply because there was not enough food, water, or work in the village. Our long-term mission has been to help build Ndangane's economy to a point where they can take care of themselves."
For more info, pictures, and to donate, see www.jefjelproject.org.
What's on Hunter Brown's iPod?
• Grizzly Bear — "By far, one of the best bands in America right now. The album Yellow House is just ridiculous."
• Count Bass D – "Always on in our bus"
• Deerhunter – "The old record"
• "A lot of TV On the Radio, David Axelrod, and Otis Redding"