[Interview] Lotus And The Importance Of Space Disco
As I walked into the near-empty Variety Playhouse, it looked much smaller without all the fans raging, jumping, and swaying; all lost together in a musical moment. I arrived too early, as I often do - I haven't yet figured out if this is a curse or a blessing - and so took some time to wander around the Little 5 Points neighborhood. Summoned back for my interview with Lotus member, Jesse Miller, I returned to the Atlanta-staple and found my way back to a very stark white office attached to the green room. A white room if you will. The opener, Higher Learning, began and we were provided with the muffled serenade of an electronica-rock show while I chatted with Jesse about Lotus' new album and a Halloween space disco party.
The most recent album, Eat The Light, is the first where all the tracks contain lyrics. What inspired this move?
Well, we’ve written songs with vocals before, but we thought if we did it for an entire album, and really focused on the writing, we could give it a more pop structure, making it something different than what we’ve done before. It was fun to write songs that included lyric content and it also just opens up some things for us. We have always had this underground following, but just the nature of instrumental music makes it hard to get radio play, even today when people are streaming a lot. So we found that it opened a lot of doors for us. And for me, a voice and lyrics are one other instrument to be approached and a way to mix it up.
What strengths do each of you bring to the band and how do you balance this into a cohesive “jamtronica” sound?
I think you really hear each individual person’s musical voice when we’re improvising. If it’s something that’s composed, I think it moves around, it’s not necessarily something that’s designed to showcase a particular member. It’s all about the composition, how everything is working together. So when you’re improvising, the real key is being able to listen. And something you get into after doing it for a long time is figuring out, at least when it’s going well, when to step up and take a lead or when to lay back and open up that space for somebody else to do something with it.
When you’re on the road playing gigs, what do you do to stay sane with such a busy schedule?
You're definitely tossed into it when you’re on tour, especially when it’s a bus tour, going venue to venue every night. If we have down time I’m usually out looking for record stores or cool beer bars, just being able to check out the places we visit. Often we don’t have too much time so it’s nice when you're in a place like this where you can just walk up the street and find something to check out.
Were you able to check out any places tonight?
Yeah, I went to The Porter. I pretty much go there every time we’re in Atlanta. I’m a beer geek and they have a ridiculous selection.
Bringing up a blast from the past, tell me about Golden Ghost and what it was like recording your first music video? How have you grown since then?
Someone else was producing that video, so we shot it over maybe two days at a couple of shows in Chicago. We pretty much just had a couple of extra people around that were shooting. Someone else also did the editing, so I wasn’t very involved with it. We do put out videos sometimes, but the nature of our stuff not being a pop act makes it not as big an area of concentration for us. If we do put out a video it usually includes live performance footage, which the video for Golden Ghost had.
When you’re out there performing what separates you guys from other jam bands or electronic artists?
From electronic artists, I think we’re pretty far away. I think of Lotus as a rock band, we have electronic elements, but it’s very much a band. From groups that jam more, Lotus really has a unique sound. We’ve been around a while and there are a lot of younger bands that have been influenced by Lotus and you can kind of hear it in that way. But for some of the other ones that are in similar realms, one of the main things is that we don’t do straight electronic styles, we do a lot of things that are very straight rock songs or incorporating things that do not necessarily come from a dance background.
Which show or festival stands out for you?
For festivals, Electric Forest is always a highlight when we play there. Red Rocks is always memorable because it is such an iconic venue and I grew up out there too, so it’s both of those elements for me. Those stand out but even if you play 50-100 shows a year, I feel like most shows I can think back to and remember what the vibe of the show was. So they’re all kind of with you at all times.
Tell me about your themed shows, how did you get the idea for these?
We always try to different things both for our fans and to challenge ourselves. I think some are more successful than others. When they really work out well, they are a way for us to put a lot of work into something that might have some payoff later. We did two of these Talking Heads shows and I think that definitely influenced the making of our Eat The Light album. Going through those songs and finding our own path into them and the idea of using more vocals, we used a singer for that. Most recently for Halloween we did a set that we called The Space Disco Set. We were inspired by a lot of space disco sounds like [Hans-Peter] Lindstrøm and Todd Terje. Just writing for that in this really concentrated period of time set us up with a bunch of material to work on for our next album. I think it’s a good chance for us to surprise fans and push ourselves in another direction.
And I have to ask, how many Chuck Norris jokes does Chuck [Morris] get?
You know, it’s not that often actually, but there’s another one too. There’s a big promoter in Colorado who has been around the last 30 years whose name is Chuck Morris, and Chuck’s dad is also named Chuck Morris. I remember one time we had Chuck Morris on the guest list and they told us, ‘you don’t need to put him on here, he owns this place’. And we’re like, ‘uhh, a different Chuck Morris’. So, he’s just got a famous name.
Photos by Missy Stowell for Bullet Music.