I briefly caught up with drummer Zach Velmer of STS9 last week, and to be honest, I didn’t know what the tone would be like at all. If it were up to me, we would’ve talked about the Mayan calendar and conspiracy theories all day long (see: crazy incredible amazing awesome backstory of Ad Explorata, their most recent album), but that could also be attributed to the marathon of A Haunting on Discovery that I’d been watching prior to our phone chat. Anyways, the conversation was not so supernatural, but with all the accomplishments STS9 has made recently, you’d think they were superhuman. From donating roughly $250,000 to various charitable causes including the Make It Right Foundation, to running 1320 Records (their very own label), to being consistently ranked as one of Pollstar‘s Top 50 American touring acts, STS9 is having no trouble staying relevant in 2010.
BYT: So tell me a little bit about 1320 Records which you founded…how do you pick and choose which artists to rep?
ZV: Well it’s kind of cool because it’s a whole bunch of different things. You know we have independent artists who let’s say are friends of ours and they’ll kind of come to us with an idea, a plan, or we’ll kind of seek out and say, ‘Hey, we really want to do stuff with you guys and we want you to be on our label.’ So I think it’s both. And what’s really neat about 1320 Records is the fact that it’s a label that is started by artists and run by artists and it’s all about artists, it’s all about the community and kind of creating a community. So I think that’s the main shtick behind what 1320‘s all about, and I think that because of that it’s just created a community because of that foundation. You know, at this day and age in 2010 we’re able to kind of have your own record label and you’re able to put out your own music and help other people put out your music. It’s not about huge record labels and working to place your music and blah blah blah. It’s all about networking and being a part of a community, and I think that we’re incredibly blessed to have the artists that we do and to have the label and just do what we do. So I think that that’s how we seek out and how we kind of maintain the label. It’s incredibly exciting at this point, in this day and age.
BYT: So you guys are really well-known for your philanthropic work…I don’t know if this number is still current, but the last I heard you had donated around $250,000 to various causes, which is incredible. How do you decide which organizations to work with?
ZV: Well I think it’s all different. It’s based on what’s on our palette and what’s in the mix right now. As of right now, we’re almost hitting the $150,000 marker to build a house for the Make It Right Foundation. Last year it was a huge intention because we were down there working on a film called ReGeneration and we were down in the Ninth Ward, and we were meeting people and connecting with people. And we decided that we really wanted to make a change in how we dealt with the charities, because usually we did it by little quarters or something like that. So, you know, after a tour we’d put forth this money to do this little after school program, and we donated this, and I think last year we really wanted to do something and we were kind of connected to the New Orleans thing. So, it’s different every time based on what we’re feeling and what’s going on and the state of the world and all of that, so it’s sychronistic with what’s going on and what we’re into. And that’s how we choose, you know? And I think the New Orleans thing is just such an amazing thing because of the fact that you see it in hard numbers rather than, you know, here’s $5000 for this one, or here’s $10,000 for this one, or here’s this or here’s that. It was really neat to see that all these people kind of came together, and we actually did raise $150,000. It was just neat to see it go towards something that we’re connected to. So it’s all different…you know, we’ve done stuff for solar cars, for after school art programs, we’ve done stuff for Katrina, we’ve done stuff for this program Jef Jel which helps an African tribe in Senegal. We’ve done all kinds of stuff which is directly correlated within our family and directly correlated with what’s going on in the world. So it’s always a continuous thing. Haiti’s next I guess, right?
BYT: Yeah, and maybe Chile too.
BYT: Well all of that is really impressive. Now with regards to Peaceblaster, which I know was a big project of yours to help out with Make It Right, how did you get people on board for that? Obviously it’s a good cause, but did people come to you or did you go to them or both?
ZV: Well, once again it was kind of like the label–it was both. We hadn’t necessarily released a full-length album since Artifact, and Peaceblaster was the next album. So we’d made a lot of friends in that time–you know, it was about two to three years. And we made a lot of friends who wanted to be a part of STS9 and wanted to do some remixes, and who just kind of wanted to give back. You know, they’ve opened for us and they’ve done all kinds of stuff. So we just kind of put in a call, and once we put in the call to different people, other people were like, ‘Oh, you’re doing a remix for STS9? And it’s a charity for this? I want to do it!’ So then they’d contact us and be like, ‘We heard Glitch Mob is doing a remix, we want to do one too!’ So that’s where it got to be like thirty different tracks. You know, it wasn’t going to be this huge project. We had some guys that we kind of went after, and everybody was just really receptive and it was just really neat. You know, I think a lot of people don’t really know how to give back, and I think with the STS9 infrastructure for how long we’ve been doing it provides a way that people feel good. They’re like, ‘Okay I don’t really know how to do this, but hey, if I give away a track and every time its sells it goes towards a good cause, hell, that’s my way of doing something.’ So I think that we provided kind of a little bit of a way to give back. And that’s included even with the Make It Right Foundation. You know, you look at the way we raised that money and it’s not only selling Peaceblaster remixes, but we’ve sold exclusive sound check tickets where people can come to our sound check and it’s a meet-and-greet and they get to meet us. You know, I think a lot of people like I said, to iterate again, they don’t necessarily know how to give back or whatever. But if we can help facilitate that, they’re like, ‘Oh, $100 and all the proceeds are going towards this?’, then it’s just awesome, it’s easy. It’s easy for them. And you know, it’s like if we add $1 to our tickets, even though it’s just $1, when it’s accumulated and mass numbers are doing that, all that creates change. So it’s really neat to see the community come together because we’re just facilitating it, and it’s really important to show that the fans and the people who are buying this stuff are the people who really are contributing to this stuff. And we’re just out there facilitating, so it’s super exciting. It’s a huge highlight of 2009, it’s a huge highlight of where we’re going, as well as Ad Explorata and the acoustic show…so 2009 was really a highlight of a year. We’re now on tour and 2010 has been just as amazing. We had a string of sold out shows and it’s just been phenomenal. There’s a lot of excitement out there. And it’s amazing because STS9 is not the new thing. I don’t know if we’ll ever be the new thing. But we’re remaining relevant and people are excited about it. All in all, good things.
BYT: Well congratulations, that’s incredible. Now, just quickly let’s talk about the upcoming DC show. What (if anything) can we expect? I know the sound is amazing, the visual aspects are amazing…
ZV: I think it’s always interesting when people ask me what to expect. You know, ultimately I want to say don’t expect anything, because if you expect something then you’re going to be let down. But to be honest, I would expect a rockin’ concert. I mean, that’s our job, that’s our art, that’s what do. We’re able to come into a space and kind of transform it into an STS9 show and, you know, it’s good music, it’s good people, and I mean, as of now our catalogue is pretty extensive. We’re playing tracks from back in the day, so it’s a wide variety of songs from new Ad Explorata, from Peaceblaster, from Artifact, all the way back to Interplanetary Escape Vehicle. So we’re mixing up the shows, and you know, I wish personally that I could go to an STS9 show. (laughs) You know what I mean? It would be the coolest thing ever. So if you want to come and see a cool show…you know, we’re an anomaly like you said, we’re an all instrumental band, so it’s such a trip. So I guess come with your dancing shoes on and have fun. The main thing is to kind of bring people together and have fun.