‘We Have A Lot to Say’: A Moment with Zach Velmer

Just a couple of months after releasing their newest album, The Universe InsideSTS9 recently embarked on their 2016 fall tour. This intergalactic planetary, mind-bending, core-shaking band just keeps getting better every year; every show; every day. The music they create not only inspires, but radiates this metaphysical energy that has the ability to awaken and transform your soul. Tribe is so progressive and dynamic that, no matter how many times you’ve seen them live, you always get something new and profound out of every show; and you always want more. There are literally no limitations to what this transcendent quintet (and Saxton) can accomplish. Before kicking off their fall tour, we got a chance to chat with Zach Velmer  STS9’s spirited and talented drummer — about the new album, touring, and interpersonal experiences.

Zach Velmer

Image: Aaron Bradley

Sensible Reason: Regarding STS9’s new album, The Universe Inside, a lot of people are saying it’s a bit of a change in direction from Tribe’s usual sound, what would you say to that?

Zach Velmer: We have been getting a, “this is an interesting departure from what you normally do… having vocals,” response. I have to be honest, I kind of disagree because if you go back to every record we’ve put out, there’s vocals… on Artifacts, Peaceblaster, When The Dust Settles. There’s even vocals on Offered Schematics, so within that, this is just a continuation of what we have been doing and what we’ve been a part of… and we feel that. We didn’t feel like, “Okay, we’re gonna go in this different direction, we have this concept,” it was never like that. The idea was just a continuation of what we’ve been creating with Alana, musically… together. It’s a continuation of where we were, where we are, and where we’re going. We definitely wanted the listeners to totally recognize and hear each individual player, and that was a huge thing that we really sought after. It took us a long time because we work with electronics and do all this other stuff. As far as the vocals, it was a process of continuously working with different artists and collaborations and we had always done that since… forever. This [The Universe Inside] was pushing what we know and – to be perfectly honest – we have a lot to say.

SR: Yeah, you definitely can’t be stuck in a box as an artist even though some fans might not be as crazy about a perceived change in direction to them.

ZV: Definitely. As artists, we have the ability and freedom to NOT put out what we’ve put out the last six years. We’re able to push the envelope as artists, be creative, and do what we want to do. We’re definitely not looking at what we DID do. We absolutely don’t want to do that again… because we already fucking did it!

SR: Well, you’re always evolving, that’s the whole point of being an artist.

ZV: Yeah, when we’re writing songs and what’s in our head, it’s not like there’s this overlying, “Okay, cool. Here’s what we’re gonna do and we’re gonna fuck everybody up!” No… it’s all inspiration. You’re literally pulling something from nothing; you’re creating music from nothing. So you just start and it just perpetuates, and the energy starts flowing and you have these vibes. It’s a collaboration and a creative expression. It comes from the camaraderie of us being in the studio together and bouncing ideas off each other. It’s just a beautiful thing that we get to do and we’re incredibly blessed that people love what we do. It’s just such a dichotomy of being in the studio and then doing it live. To sum it up, we wanted our fans to be able to – more than hear us – FEEL us.

SR: Speaking of feeling you all, the transference of energy at live shows is extremely palpable. Has there ever been a moment where you felt that intense connection with the crowd from the energy that is being exchanged?

ZV: Absolutely. More times than not. I have incredible moments of that kind of connection. I use the word “Symbiotic” because it is literally that. I’ve said it when I speak to the crowd, like these moments of just getting real. It’s such a neat thing that we get to do this together. We can’t just get up there and have that incredible movement of energy through all of us without everyone else in there. We play in the studio and create awesome music, but when we play in front of people… I long for that continuously. It’s not an addiction, but it’s just a longing for that transfer of energy and sharing it with other humans.

Zach Velmer

Image: Aaron Bradley

SR: A lot of people have a strong emotional reaction at Tribe’s live shows. Has there ever been a moment where you were on stage and had a reaction like that and had a hard time holding it together?

ZV: Absolutely. 100%. I’ve had some crazy out-of-body experiences through the energy and the music, yeah. It’s not like few and far in between, but when it links up like that — in one single moment — it’s pretty rad.

SR: Going off that, how do you feel when you hear that the music you all create literally changes people’s lives and perceptions?

ZV: Straight up, THAT is why we do what we do. It’s why we keep coming back for more; because of that. More times than not, I hear, “When I found you guys, it changed my life trajectory. I was going this way, now I’m going this way… because of you.” And I’m like well… it’s not really because of us, but if you want to say that’s a catalyst, that’s beautiful; but it’s because of THEM. That’s the connection that it all brings together. That’s the magic.

SR: Some people want to know, during your tours, what determines where you guys play? Because it’s inevitable, every year, there are people who are sad you aren’t playing near them.

ZV: I’d like to take credit for that but we have people who do it for us [laughs]. It’s definitely calculated. There’s so many considerations and variables. BUT, we do consider fan input on locations. Like, people want us to play in a certain area and we try our best to make it happen, absolutely. Whether or not it logistically sometimes works… but we do consider that. But ya know, in a fall tour, there’s only so much time so we obviously cannot go everywhere.

SR: Unless you have a teleportation device, which would be rad.

ZV: That would be cool. Yeah, we’re working on that… that’s why we can’t tour so much because we’re working on that teleportation device.

Zach Velmer

Image: Joshua Skolnik

SR: Well, you’ll be the first band to play on the moon so it’s all good.

ZV: I hope so.

SR: What would you say is your favorite city (or cities) to play?

ZV: That’s like asking what my favorite pair of shoes are…

SR: Well, the band did originate in Georgia…

ZV: Yeah! I LOVE going to Georgia, but also, going to Georgia is like a family reunion… it’s craaaaazy. It’s like, people that you haven’t seen in years come out of the woodworks; that’s why I love that. But, I gotta be honest, I love going everywhere. Our management asks us for our tour quotes, and I start writing it and it’s not only a quote, it’s a fucking novel. It’s all exciting. I’m truly stoked about it all.

SR: What STS9 songs really get you amped and you really love playing live?

ZV: Right now, a lot of the new stuff is really fun to play… because it’s new. And where the new stuff is gonna go —  and the exploration of the new stuff — is incredibly intriguing and inspiring. I’ve been working the sets for the tour and looking at all the songs and it’s like, “Oh my God! I forgot about that song!” So I write it in the setlist and it’s exciting. Some of the older stuff is as fulfilling as the new stuff because you can breathe some new life into it since you haven’t played it in a while. There are also those moments of playing a song that you’ve been playing for a while, but all of a sudden, because of the night, the venue and the people, that song goes to this new place. It’s the constant ebb and flow of change and it’s magical. If the music takes us, we’ll go there.

Zach Velmer

Image: Aaron Bradley

SR: Hulaween is coming up VERY soon and STS9 is almost always on the bill for SCI-dominated festivals. What is Tribe’s relationship with The String Cheese Incident and will we see an on-stage collaboration soon?

ZV: We are long-time friends of Cheese. We have collaborated with Cheese during Horning’s Hideout and the old-school days and it’s a beautiful thing that we’ve been friends with all those guys. Michael Kang lives in Santa Cruz and we actually play a lot of golf together, so we’re all buds. As far as this year, I don’t know… we’ll see. I know they do a lot of prep for their shows because they incorporate a lot of performance art and special effects, so I’m not quite sure about this year, but I always look forward to potentially collaborating with them again.

SR: Maureen Murphy has an awesome voice and has been a guest vocalist with the band in previous years, but on The Universe Inside she is very prevalent. What is the band’s relationship with her and will she be integrated more regularly during future shows?

ZV: That’s TBD. We love working with Maureen and she is a dear friend of ours. That connection has been blossoming, hence why we started working with her more. We are just super open. It’s incredibly inspiring and fun to do that stuff. As for it being a regular thing, we don’t know. We enjoy it and we welcome it, and we hope everybody else enjoys it because it’s different. We’re able to do things that maybe doesn’t make that much sense for an instrumental band to do, but when we have vocalists we’re able to do some really cool, fun things. We fuckin’ did Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” because we had a vocalist and choir. Those types of things open the door for so much fun stuff.

SR: Let’s talk about Tribe’s lighting design for a second. Obviously, Saxton is a genius and the evolution of the lightshows has been mind blowing. Does the band have any input on the lighting or is it all pure Saxton magic?

ZV: It’s absolutely a collaboration, but yes, Saxton is 100% a badass. He is very, very, utterly and crazy meticulous. He’s like the music… the amount of energy and time we use to dig into the details; he’s the same on the lights. We love him. I’ve known Saxon since I was five years old; I played soccer with him, so it’s just really rad that we’ve been doing this together. From our FOH engineer, Ryan, to Saxton, we’re definitely a team that works together to make it the best we can for everyone else.

SR: Who is your personal, biggest musical inspiration in your life?

ZV: My biggest musical inspiration in my life has to be my parents. They weren’t musicians, but the love and support they gave me to pursue my passion and my dreams at an early age was truly magical and I can’t thank them enough. Thanks Mom and Dad, I love you guys.

Zach Velmer

Image: Joshua Skolnik

Catch STS9 on the road in the following cities:

Wed 10/26: Louisville, KY — Mercury Ballroom
Thu 10/27: Memphis, TN — New Daisy Theatre

With GRiZ
Fri 10/28: Pelham, AL — Oak Mountain Amphitheatre

Festival Appearances
Sat 10/29: Live Oak, FL — Suwannee Hulaween
Sun 10/30: New Orleans, LA — Voodoo Music + Arts Experience

Mon 10/31: Athens, GA — Georgia Theater
Thu 11/3: Nashville, TN — War Memorial Auditorium
Fri 11/4: Knoxville, TN — Tennessee Theatre
Sat 11/5: Asheville, NC — Thomas Wolfe Auditorium
Sun 11/6: Charlottesville, VA — Jefferson Theater
Wed 11/9: Norfolk, VA — The Norva
Thu 11/10: Silver Spring, MD — The Fillmore
Fri 11/11: Philadelphia, PA — The Fillmore
Sat 11/12: New York, NY — Terminal 5
Sat 11/19: San Francisco, CA — The Masonic
Sun 11/20: San Francisco, CA — The Fillmore

Festival Appearance
Thu 12/1-Mon 12/5: Punta Cana, DR — Dominican Holidaze

Thu 12/29: Denver, CO — Fillmore Auditorium
Fri 12/30: Denver, CO — Fillmore Auditorium
Sat 12/31: Denver, CO — Fillmore Auditorium

Newly Announced 2017 Dates
Fri 1/20: Los Angeles, CA — The Wiltern
Sat 1/21 : Los Angeles, CA — The Wiltern
Fri 1/27: Austin, TX — ACL Live at the Moody Theater
Sat 1/28: Austin, TX — ACL Live at the Moody Theater
Fri 2/3: Chicago, IL — Aragon Ballroom
Sat 2/4: Chicago, IL — Aragon Ballroom
Fri 3/31: Las Vegas, NV — Brooklyn Bowl
Sat 4/1: Las Vegas, NV — Brooklyn Bowl

Buy The Universe Inside on iTunes or 1320 Records now.

For more information on STS9, visit:

Website | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Soundcloud

Jen Seifert

Jennifer graduated from Georgia State University in 2013 with a BA in journalism and a minor in performing arts. She currently works in marketing as Web Writer and Editor at the University System of Maryland. Her interests include music, philosophy and socially-relevant issues. A writer for over a decade, she cultivates her creativity by publishing original works of poetry and various articles on culture, society, music, ideology, and current events.

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