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A Dirty Dozen with JESSE MILLER of LOTUS – December 2018

| 27 December 2018 | Reply


According to a recent press release: “Instrumental jamband LOTUS surprised fans with the release of their new album, Frames Per Second. The all-instrumental 19-song studio album and accompanying documentary, tracked live at Rittenhouse Soundworks in Philadelphia with cameras rolling, aims to showcase Lotus in a pure, raw form forming live in the studio. Norwegian space-disco and psychedelic rock are just some of the sounds that influenced the expansive audio and video project. Lotus are hitting the road supporting the new album. For Frames Per Second (written and produced by Jesse and Luke and available via the band’s own label), Lotus aimed to incorporate pyschedelia into the album’s sound by combining hypnotic beats with unexpected harmonic or timbral turns. Songs such as “December Sun” and “Milk & Honey” have sections that can wash over the listener like waves.  The band also put their own spin on different classic funk styles, like 70’s Fusion, West Coast G-Funk, Instrumental Soul, Boogie, and 80’s Electric Funk.” We get bassist / composer Jesse Miller to discuss new music, influences, and much more…

Photo Credit: Ben Wong

1. Tell us a little about your latest release.  What might a fan or listener not grab the first or second time they listen through?  Are there any hidden nuggets you put in the material or that only diehard fans might find?

Frames Per Second was tracked live in the studio and was also filmed. So it exists as an audio album and a video album. There are 19 tracks, so it’s a lot of music to dig into and watch. It ranges from funk-jazz influences to space-disco to post-rock. We kept the overdubs to a minimum, but some of the parts you might not pick up while watching the video are sounds I recorded using my modular synthesizer system and triggered while we were tracking. For instance, the synth melody on “Forgotten Name,” the arpeggio on “Faceblind” and the opening of “December Sun.”

2. What got you into music, and can you tell us about the moment you realized you wanted to be a musician?

Probably in high school. We put together a band with some of our friends and I realized how much I liked composing – it is artistic expression, craft and problem solving all rolled into one. I didn’t have any examples of people I knew who were professional musicians so I had no idea of how to pursue a career in music, but we just threw ourselves into Lotus while we were in college. We were rehearsing all the time, driving out to play gigs and then trying to get up for classes the next day. Even after graduating college and hitting the road with the band, I didn’t know if it was something that was sustainable long-term. We were making very little money, working landscaping and other odd jobs in between shows to pay the rent. Eventually, it became sustainable to the point that I could quit all other jobs and work on music full time.

3. Building on that, is there a specific song, album, performer, or live show that guided your musical taste?

One of the pieces that really broke things open for me was Steve Reich’s monumental work Music for 18 Musicians. I have always been drawn to minimalism in music, visual art and design, but that piece really brought together those aesthetic ideas in one musical composition. The idea that repetition embodies small changes with power still holds sway over my approach to composing. And the use of a small, plainly exposed process – like adding a single note to a repeating line every four bars – can be a very effective musical tool. I think about those ideas a lot when I’m writing, patching a modular synth or programming software – each piece becomes it’s own self-contained system that is put into motion and the beauty is observing how the system plays itself out after all the parameters are set.

4. Who would be your main five musical influences?

Herbie Hancock, Talking Heads, Four Tet, Tortoise, and Wilco.

5. If you could call in any one collaborator to do a song with, who would it be and why?

Brian Eno. His rock albums from the 70’s (Here Come the Warm Jets, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) and Another Green World) and his production work with the Talking Heads, Devo and others has always marked Eno in my mind as someone who is constantly searching for new sounds and musical approaches. I love that adventurous spirit. He has been pushing himself and others to be more creative for almost 50 years.

6. How would you describe your music to someone who’d never listened to you before? What is the one comparison a reviewer or fan has made that made you cringe or you disagreed with?

I call it instrumental dance-rock. Lotus doesn’t easily fit in a musical box. We are often described as “livetronica” but that is really just a small part of our music. Rock, Jazz, Funk and multiple electronic styles are incorporated into our sound. Whenever we are described as a “jamband” I feel like it can be a disservice. We play two set shows and use a lot of group improvisation, but I don’t think we sound like Phish and we definitely don’t get into goofy song-writing. In some ways it is a massive compliment to be compared to a band like Phish, but in other ways I think it completely misses what Lotus is doing.

7. What’s the best thing about being a musician?

Playing and working on music all the time. It is my career, but also my hobby. Any time I have a break from one musical project I immediately pick up on another one. So, if I’m not busy with Lotus I’m writing for (my other band) Octave Cat or re-building a modular synth to use for my solo Beard-o-Bees shows or helping produce and mix my friend’s records.

8. When the band are all hanging out together, who cooks; who gets the drinks in; and who is first to crack out the acoustic guitars for a singalong?

Not really the band, but our crew definitely leads acoustic jams and singalongs. Our front of house engineer Evan usually brings along a guitar or ukelele to play. I love to cook, but that is pretty tough when we are traveling. Our truck driver will often bring along a small grill to fire up when we have a day off.

9. When was the last time you were star struck and who was it?

Ha, I’m not really one to go in for celebrity worship culture. I saw Conan O’Brien backstage at Bonnaroo, he was getting mobbed by about 20 people at once. I wouldn’t want to add to that fray. That said, I’d probably forget how to speak if I was introduced to a Don Delillo or Cormac McCarthy.

10. If you weren’t a musician, what would be your dream job?

I think I would still try to be involved in music is some way. Maybe as a studio engineer and producer. If not music, I could see writing for TV or film or working as a video editor or producer.

11. Looking back over your career, is there a single moment or situation you feel was a misstep or you would like to have a “do over,” even if it didn’t change your current situation?

I wouldn’t say misstep, but I wish we had been able to play out on the west coast more when we were getting started. It’s tough to tour out there because everything is so spread out. I feel like there are a lot of music fans in California, Oregon and Washington who didn’t get exposed to Lotus early on because we were only able to get out there once a year.

12. If you could magically go back in time and be a part of the recording sessions for any one record in history, which would you choose – and what does that record mean to you?

Miles Davis – Bitches Brew. That album was so ground-breaking for it’s time, 1969, and still sounds fresh to me today. Miles was so good at bringing in really young musicians, harnessing their energy while subtly guiding a large musical ensemble. This album really pushed jazz ahead, maybe even transcends jazz. And studio techniques like tape-splicing, tape-delays and other tools takes this album outside the realm of simply capturing a performance. Even though the music on Bitches Brew sounds very different from Lotus I think there are a lot of ideas of groove and improvisation in a modal harmonic context that we use.





Category: Interviews

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ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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