[Interview] Jesse Miller of Lotus
By Liz Turcotte
Photos by Sara Vogt
We came in the back side of the Tabernacle and heard ping pong tables and laughter as we walked through the halls before we sat down in a room below the Tabernacle. The room had three large black couches, an antique jukebox and the walls were lined with posters from Blackberry Smoke, Tame Impala, Pretty Lights, STS9, Mac Miller, Trey Anastasio Band, you name it. Jesse Miller, the bass player for Lotus, casually walks in rocking a beanie and jeans. We introduced ourselves and I mentioned to him my friend said that they rocked it in Charlotte the night before. Jesse replied, “Yeah, it was fun. We had never played that room [the Fillmore] before.”
Lotus was built on a grassroots foundation from word of mouth. Why do you think that’s important?
Just because it means loyalty. You see a lot of bands that come out of the Indie rock side, put out an album, it gets a lot of attention, then they go around and sell out all kinds of shows. But if their next album doesn’t go over very well, the band can completely tank and go away. With a band like Lotus being built up like that slowly it means we have this devoted following that goes with us wherever we go, no matter what. Not to say they like everything we do, we try to challenge them. But they are along for the ride. People come back and see lots of shows. Some of these shows this tour there’s definitely been some people that have been at every show - which is pretty crazy. Someone came up to me at the Vermont show and said that it was his 135th show.
You guys recently did an Instagram takeover for Okeechobee Fest. Who was the mastermind behind the photos?
I was doing some of them, but I think some of them were coming from Luke too. I’m not sure who else.
Are you excited to play the first time festival in March?
It’s always fun to be involved in first time festivals because that can kind of set the vibe of what that festival is. The people putting this on are pretty experienced but you know, sometimes first time festivals are still figuring some stuff out so it can be a little bit tricky. We’re excited to play it, it looks like a really interesting lineup of like diverse artists.
Is the band planning to headline Summer Dance Music Festival again in 2016?
There are still some details to sort out but I think when we have all of those you can expect and announcement.
What is so special about that particular festival to you guys?
We’ve headlined the festival around seven or eight times, something like that. The location is cool for a smaller festival. It was actually really kind of fan driven to have Lotus headline that festival the first time we did it. Then people liked it so much we kind of built it into something that was centered around Lotus.
Any particular moment at the festival that stands out over the years?
They were all a lot of fun. One year was really crazy when there was a huge rainstorm right at the start of one of the second sets. It was madness. I’d never seen it rain so hard.
The music always gets weird and interesting. We know since its pretty hardcore fans we can go to a lot of weird places at those shows so we usually try to mix it up and do some different things.
Do you prefer performing at a festival or at a venue like the Tabernacle?
Ya know, they are both fun. The thing with the theater show is it’s much more under your control so it’s really like presenting yourself. You get time for sound check and bring in your light rig. Festivals are just kind of like pure energy, big fields, tons of people, sometimes late night shows. It can be technically trickier but to me it’s all about just capturing the energy of that crowd. I think we’ve built a lot of our reputation on festival sets. That’s because we only have these 70-90 minutes to make an impression on a bunch of people who have never seen the band before or only casually know about us. We really try to make sure the energy is on.
What are your thoughts on the recent passing of David Bowie?
I was always interested in Bowie but there are a lot of albums I wasn’t really familiar with so I’ve actually been going back and listening to some stuff. Especially some of the stuff he did with Brian Eno. I’m a big fan of his [Eno’s] production work. He had such an amazing career. The amount of people that are into and respect his music is not really like any other artist I can think of. I don’t think we can produce another artist like that today given how more fractured things are.
You and Luke have a studio in your house, is that correct?
He lives in Denver I live in Philly, but we do all of the writing for the band. We both have small studio setups.
Do you guys ever hang out together when you’re not touring or do you write separately and send it back and forth?
Usually when we’re writing we use another studio, often in Philly, we use other studios also when we are recording the band or doing other stuff. We work both together and separately.
The new single “Eats the Light” features Gabe Otto on lead vocals and expresses fear drawn from technology. Tell us more about it.
I wrote that song and the lyrics. In some ways they seem somewhat abstract but this song is this fast-paced, non-stop synth art that has this driving feel. To me, it’s like the pace of today. It’s always going and you get this sense of an information overload - which is something that drives us but sometimes it can be too much. I don’t think the song takes a particular stance on it. You’re just kind of immersed in it.
What else can we can expect from the band in 2016?
“Eats the Light” is the first single on what’s going to be the album release later this year. We’re finishing up the last pieces of a live, full concert video and we’ve never done that before. Just a bunch of other recordings. We already started to debut some of the songs on this tour and have a bunch of recording already in the bag. There will definitely be a lot of new music coming out over the course of the year.
Later that evening, after we all escaped the bitter cold, DJ Brownie, of the Disco Biscuits, opened up the Tabby with a mix of deep house, future house and ended his set with a bit of electronica. Kung Fu stepped up to the plate next with support from The Pretty Fantastics. Their set featured a trippy, electronic, experimental, rock element sound.
Lotus made their grand entrance around 11 p.m. where happy hippies came from far and wide. I didn’t meet another person from Atlanta the entire night. Fur hood, fancy hats with feathers and people in robes passed around joints and danced happily. It was amazing to see no one was on their phone. The crowd was happily engaged with what was happening on the stage.
Funky guitar riffs and yellow and white light beams warmed my face. It made me feel like I was standing on a warm beach. The lighting crew for Lotus is truly remarkable. At one point, these blue lights took over the backdrop and resembled crystals shifting shapes in mid-air. The band brought us down a dark and sexy path of rhythms, but was quick to bring the energetic crowd back up with happy melodies. The show was great and it’s a pleasure to see such a talented group of musicians bring joy to their truly devoted and loyal fans.