A few hours before their stellar set at New York City’s Best Buy Theater underground at Times Square, we sat down with Sound Tribe Sector 9’s percussionist Jeffree Lerner and latest addition, bassist Alana Rocklin to discuss what’s new and old with one of the electronic jam scene’s founding bands. Both super approachable individuals, we had no problem getting right into it.
JL: That track’s been in the bin for a while. We just debuted it on stage but it’s been in the works for a while. We got to collaborate with [vocalist] Rashida [Clandening], Audio Angel, on that. It’s something that really happened organically. We had some intentions and some ideas for the lyrical stuff and it happened really organically in the studio.
PD: Do you think you’ll ever tour with her, or bring her on stage for it?
JL: Um, it’s to be determined.
PD: Can we do a quick rundown of the most essential parts of your set-ups, your gear?
AR: The main bass I’m using with STS9 right now is a Lakland Darrell Jones model. It’s been custom modified by my husband Brad and I to be a MIDI controller. So that’s that bass, going through an Aguilar 2×12. And then I’m using an Axon converter for my MIDI conversion into a Virus synth, a Snow.
JL: Uh, (laughs) an array of things… I have Gon Bop percussion congas, a Vibraphone, and a bunch of toys…
PD: What your favorite toy?
JL: My favorite toy… I’m a tough guy with favorites. They’re all unique and have the characteristics of different things. You’re not going to get a favorite out of me. They’re all there for a reason.
PD: You’ve been getting tons of fantastic reviews, and a lot of renewed interest in Sound Tribe from fans that may have been distancing from the band. Does that make you nervous or excited? Especially for you, Alana, being newer to the band, how does that make you feel?
AR: Oh man, both, you know? It goes without saying that it’s exciting. You want to be accepted by the fans as a new member of the band, that’s something you hope for. So I’m stoked on that. How we’re playing is the main thing. But yeah, from time to time you start to get a little nervous about it. But it’s all good.
JL: My perspective on it, really, is that I think the music is speaking to people, it’s speaking to us, and it’s inspiring us. I think that people are feeling the renewed fire in us, as a group and actually throughout this transition period we’ve been putting in the work in a joyful way. It’s not a burden, it’s not overwhelming – just an excitement to refine our repertoire and get things up to date with where we’re at as musicians. We’ve been doing this for seventeen or eighteen years together. Alana brings us a fresh perspective and work ethic that’s incredibly inspiring to us. So I think it’s all about the music, to be simple about it, I really do.
PD: Are you moving back towards a jazzier, organic sound?
JL: It’s going in all directions at once, really, I don’t think there are any limitations. I think that we’re trying to be really open to where the music takes us, as well as being musicians… Having the opportunity to express all those different aspects of our musicianship and what we love and what we love to hear is really making it fun for us. [From] deep electronic songs to pulling out the acoustic bass, there’s all kinds of stuff. I think we’re really just expressing emotion up there and there’s all different kinds of emotions to express.
PD: Great. One question for you, Alana, is what is it like to tour with a bunch of dudes?
AR: (Laughs) That’s a good question. Honestly, I’ve done it for such a long time, even before this band, and it’s not something I think about it too much. I just play the bass and I love playing music. When it’s people who are my friends it’s even more amazing, so that’s what’s so fortunate about this situation for me. Yeah, you know, I make it work. Sometimes it’s kind of hairy. But it’s a family vibe.
JL: I try to forget those really quickly. On a personal level, the most embarrassing thing is sometimes you get up there and you’re in the moment and you absolutely forget a part. You draw a blank. You know, and that’s happened to me at crucial times, even. So that’s embarrassing. I don’t think there’s anything totally overt. You know, that I can think of…
AR: The only thing I hate is when I do something totally stupid. You know, like, you’re playing and you forget to plug your bass in and you’re like “Why can’t I hear myself? …Oh!” Not that it’s happened recently, but that’s probably about as close as I can get. Something stupid! (Laughs)
JL: But I think that embarrassment, in any way, even if we do make those mistakes, there’s four other people who’ve got our back, in a real way. We’re there for each other, so it eases those embarrassing moments.
PD: What about a new album? Are you working on a new studio album?
JL: We’re incredibly excited about it. And it’s not a departure but a refinement, and a statement, and we’re getting close. No date yet, but next year sometime.
AR: A lot of that no one’s heard yet. Most if it is stuff that no one’s heard.
PD: (To Alana) Are you coming in on, you know, playing some of Dave (Murphy, former bassist’s) content that was written for that or is everything, as far as the bass, all yours?
AR: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. All me.
PD: Was there existing content that you had to go back and sort of revamp to make it your own?
JL: A lot of the songs have been just so redeveloped and they’ve been works in progress, you know? And some stuff is brand new since Alana’s been here. So, not so much really. A lot of the album is it’s own thing.
AR: We’ve really been tracking as this unit for the album, not anything from before.
AR: I guess, for me, it’s really different in that I’m part of this group. Most of the time – aside from Sub-ID, which is my husband and I – I’m a hired gun; I’m playing as a musician in someone else’s band and that’s a bit of a different role. I need to serve that music in a way that’s really about the vision of that artist, whereas this is being asked what my vision is and to contribute, you know, my own vision. So that’s what’s really amazing about playing in this band and also just playing with my friends and family. We’ve known each other for, I guess, fourteen years or something. So it’s a really long friendship and it’s really comfortable for us to be on tour and play music together.
JL: Not only that friendship, but in that fourteen year history, you and Brad have toured with us, worked on projects together, worked on tracks, traded files, you know for years and years and years.
PD: Who are your favorite percussionists on the scene right now, or any scene I guess.
JL: You know I do have a favorite. Zakir Hussain is one of my biggest inspirations. He’s the kind of guy who makes you want to work really hard or quit – he’s just a master. Mike Dillon is another one, on the scene, incredible inspiration.
JL: That’s a deep question. We’ve seen a lot of changes around us and some of our contemporaries reach great success and it’s really great to watch. And um, through all that, we’re just inspired by it mostly. But really staying true to whom we are. It’s just what we do. It’s the music we hear, the music we want to share. It’s just fun to watch.
PD: Do you ever feel like you’re partially responsible for what’s happened over almost the last 20 years or so?
JL: I don’t know if that’s for me to say, that’s not for me to say. That’s for the other artists playing the music, if they want to say that. (Laughs) It’s hard for me to say that by myself. You know, but sure…
PD: …In a way, at least?
JL: I mean, yeah, of course.
PD: You kind of can’t deny it. But at the same time, of course, you don’t want to take credit for it.
AR: Man, there are so many exciting things. We just want everyone to really know how happy we are to be playing music every night and how just blessed we feel to be able to do that. We’re on a journey just like everyone there. You know? We’re really trying to find our voice; we’re really trying to enjoy this moment of being able to do that – almost in front of people while they’re watching. Because that’s really how it is every night, there’s something new happening that we haven’t done before. We’d been in intense rehearsals. We’d been working as Jeffree said, really hard. But nothing compares to that time on stage together and having that interaction.
JL: Yeah. Before the Red Rocks show, we hadn’t had a sound check.
JL: We’d been at festivals the whole summer. [Bands do not generally sound check when playing festival stages.] This tour is really an opportunity for us. One of the things that’s really exciting is that going out on the road with this tour we have more playable songs than we ever have had.
JL: I mean, you know, some of the songs have gotten left behind. Through the work we’ve been doing this year we’ve brought back these old songs, we added these new songs to what we had as a group before Alana. We have more playable songs…109 songs that we can play.
JL: I don’t know if “going back to the original style” would be the way to put it.
PD: How would you put it?
AR: I think that’s a new sort of arrangement that we did that encompasses both. I always loved that bass line. I just love that. But Zach (Velmer, drums) and I broke it down and started dong it spaced out, at first, and then started really getting into it.
PD: Are you excited to play New York City?
AR: Oh hell yeah!
JL: Not yet, not that we can say yet.
PD: (Taking notes) Not yet…
JL: That’s not the name for it, though…(laughs)
PD: Oh I’m gonna tell everyone the new record’s called “Not Yet…”
JL: (Laughs) Hey you might have something there…
PD: What about the prospect of doing another acoustic album?
JL: That’s something we’d definitely consider. Yeah, it would be great.
PD: Awesome. Well that’s all I’ve got, thanks for taking the time to hang out; it’s been very cool.
AR: Thank you, man!
Interview taken & written by Peter DeStefano
OurVinyl | Contributor
Photos by Jessica Giovannetti