If you go
When: 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 7 and Saturday, Sept. 8
Where: Red Rocks Amphitheatre, 18300 W. Alameda Pkwy., Morrison
More info: axs.com
Etc.: Denver's 8 p.m. Thursday show at Summit Music Hall, 1902 Blake St., Denver, is sold out but lmited tickets are listed at stubhub.com
What is 'Wave Spell'?
"Wave Spell" is an interchangeable term used by STS9 to describe one of the following:
"Wave Spell," an all-improvisational record that was released in January.
"Wave Spell: Day Out of Time," another one-shot take that was recorded and released in April.
"Wave Spell" is also used to denote an improvisational set of STS9 music, whether played live in front of fans or in the studio.
Wave Spell Festival took place in Belden Town, Calif., Aug. 16-19
Fans of the band Sound Tribe Sector 9 (STS9) know every year when September rolls around, the group's annual Red Rocks shows are on the horizon. The five-member instrumental California outfit's yearly late-summer run has become a Colorado tradition as the band enters its 16th straight year on the venue's stage.
Ahead of next week's three-day run by STS9, which kicks off on Thursday with a show at the brand-newly renovated Summit Music Hall in Denver (so brand new, STS9's show is billed as the venues's Opening Night), drummer Zach Velmer took time for a phone interview to talk about the creative process and direction of the band, which is now entering its 21st year together.
Daily Camera: STS9 has a lot of love for Colorado. Behind Atlanta and Santa Cruz, this place is like a second home to the band. Why did STS9's fanbase explode in Colorado the way it has?
Zach Velmer: Let me say this first — we've got love for a lot of the people out there. Colorado is a crazy anomaly. We've been going there since 2000. It's a melting pot of people from the Midwest, West, East. STS9 feels a lot of love for Colorado, and it's definitely a special place that we love to come back to. From the mountains to Red Rocks to Telluride — we love it all.
DC: Talk to me a little about what it was like in those early days, playing venues like Tulagi's in Boulder in 2000. How have things changed, now that you headline Red Rocks for multiple nights each year?
ZV: Man, we were just living the dream. We were youngins. We were starting our musical journey, and it was magic. When we were young and starting out, we'd be on the road for 200 days a year playing music because that's what we love to do.
What's pretty epic, to be honest, is that not much has changed. We love playing in the studio. We love playing in front of our fans. We just love playing music together, and it's pretty special. From Tulagi's up to now, it's not a drastically different thing.
DC: Not many bands have played Red Rocks as many times as STS9 has consecutively. What makes the venue stand out?
ZV: It's in nature. I think for a lot of people, you're connected to that. Everybody knows it's magical. You're not up on stage looking down at people, instead you're looking up at them, which is wicked. Some of our best-sounding shows are from there.
DC: STS9 recently held Wave Spell Festival in northern California, which included some all-improvisational sets. Can you tell me more about the concept of Wave Spell?
ZV: We still feel like we're pushing the limits of art and creativity. We were in the studio and decided to have a session, and we were going to record it. But we were going in with no inhibitions. We wanted to let the music come through us. We wanted to communicate with our instruments and really listen to each other.
And when we delved into what was happening during this musical conversation, we were blown away by what was recorded. The conversation ebbs and flows with peaks and valleys. So we released the first "Wave Spell," which was this full improvisational evening that we had in the studio. Then we released a second "Wave Spell." It was a creative outlet for all of us.
Then that led to the idea of taking this concept out live and having the Wave Spell Festival. At the festival, we played nine sets, and three of those sets were Wave Spell sets. It was the same idea — let's have a conversation — just like you and I are right now. And the more we go back and forth, the deeper the conversation can go.
So from Tulagi's to now is not even an evolution, it's a continuation of what we've always been doing. But hopefully there's wisdom; the inclination to see something a different way than we did in 1999. It's just about refinement. And constantly pushing to find that creative spark.
The trust — that's also part of the magic. You're an artist — you're a writer — and we're all insecure at times. Asking ourselves, "Is this good or bad? Is it too simple or too complicated? What should I do?" We trust trust and know that we're going to be as one, and that's the magic. It's a cool thing to witness and be a part of.
DC: STS9 has hundreds of songs. Night to night, you never play the same setlist twice. How do you remember all your songs?
ZV: That's a good question. For me, a lot of it is muscle memory. Sometimes it takes a while to remember. When we're on tour, sometimes we decide to give a song a rest, then we pick it back up. And in rehearsal, everybody takes a minute. But we remember that at one point, the song was in rotation, and then we lock in. The muscle memory starts happenings.
DC: STS9 once played a live PA set at the (Denver) Pepsi Center as an opener for Jay-Z. What was that like?
ZV: It was dreamy.
DC: How did you get along with Jay-Z?
ZV: He was a sweetheart. Very much a gentleman. And he had his queen with him, which was cool. A lot of us grew up in Atlanta, and we grew up listening to hip hop and still listen to hip hop. Getting the call that we were going to open for him was a huge moment in time.
DC: Talk to me about the future. How many more years could STS9 realistically play?
ZV: Forever. But seriously, we're artistically and creatively inspired more than ever. The best years are definitely not behind us. We're having a blast pushing the envelope with our music. So there's really no telling how long. Our fans push us and make it fun.
Josh Sumner: email@example.com