Sound Tribe Sector 9 bassist David Murphy says his band is at the peak of its career. The quintet, whose heavy touring schedule has earned it a cult following, has found a balance between work and play.
But from a hotel in Madison, Wis., the 37-year-old recalls the few weeks in 2011 he spent unsure about his future in music due to a type of internal skin cancer, and his first time onstage following surgery, months later at the Ultra Music Festival.
"That was a really emotional show for me," Murphy says. "Back onstage at Ultra, which is so cool, right in downtown Miami, and the Heat are playing next door. It's a madhouse. It reminded me how much I love playing music and to get more serious about what we're doing with STS9."
Since the band's start in the late 1990s, Murphy and his colleagues have gone from playing hundreds of shows per year, to aiming for 60 to 80.
"This is probably the least amount of shows we've played in the last two years," he says. "But it's probably the best tour we've ever done."
That's because time off the road freed the band to rework old songs, some of which made Murphy cringe at the sight of them on a set list, he says.
Fans may have been happier if he cringed. STS9 belongs to jam-band culture. Playing club shows and hangout festivals — Bonnaroo, Wakarusa, Suwannee — is how it built a fan base. People pay to attend a Sound Tribe party.
Fewer shows means fewer parties, especially for Florida. Although Murphy recognizes the Atlanta-based band "grew up" playing North Florida clubs, scheduling tour dates all the way south becomes more difficult with nationwide attention.
But he says the group tries to come down once a year, and it will play Friday night at Revolution Live. Murphy says they always try to keep some Southern influence in their music.
"At the time we came up in Atlanta, there was no jam scene," he says. "But I think we were inspired by everything that has come out of Georgia. … Being from the South instilled that funk soul in our music."
STS9 is no P-Funk, but it works get-down grooves into tracks filled with ambient outer-space sounds and airy keyboards.
Murphy considers STS9's genre to be electronic dance, but takes pride in achieving an Ultra-friendly sound with live instruments rather than computers. He thinks more EDM artists are going to pick up guitars and ditch synths for snare drums.
He took his band's Ultra performance as a reminder to strive for better musicianship, and so did his bandmates, he says. The "Sector 9" in the band's name refers to a period of Mayan civilization when the culture reached an artistic pinnacle. Murphy says he feels the band is on that track now.
"After you've been around for 15 years, the feeling can ebb and flow. You can get lazy sometimes," he says. "I think now we won't get lazy again."
Sound Tribe Sector 9
When: 8 p.m. Friday, April 26
Where: Revolution Live, 100 SW Third Ave., Fort Lauderdale
Contact: 954-449-1025 or JoinTheRevolution.net