If you’re a fan of Lotus you’ve probably attended the annual Summer Dance festival which takes place at the band’s home away from home, Nelson’s Ledges Quarry Park in Garrettsville, Ohio. This year’s edition took place this past weekend and offered a number of surprises including long requested bust outs, a fantasy set list written by and voted upon by the fan base, and a DJ/Live hybrid set dubbed “Bellweirder”. I had the chance to ask Jesse Miller some questions ahead of Lotus’ upcoming fall tour that will culminate in two nights at Ram’s Head Live in Baltimore for New Years eve on 12/30 and 12/31.
Over the past 20 years as Lotus can you identify one aspect of the band that has remained constant after line-up changes, style switch-ups, and having an ever-growing fan base?
JM: Groove. I think that is the foundation that built the Lotus sound, but enables it to move between funk, rock, jazz, and electronic elements. We want to keep people moving at shows and that becomes a conduit to channel in more emotional and complex music than you might normally associate with dance music.
I never thought I’d see a day where Lotus was playing Four Tet and Floating Points. Where did the inspiration for the “Bellweirder” set at this year’s Summer Dance come from?
JM: We always try to do something special for SummerDance to keep the fans on their toes. Luke does a solo DJ act called Luke the Knife that mostly focuses on disco and house and I do a solo modular synth set under the name Beard-o-Bees. The idea for this set was to bring all those elements together. Luke put together a list of tracks he DJs that he thought could work and I came up some tracks. Then I spent about 3 weeks reverse engineering those tracks – programming the drum beats, writing midi parts (that get sent to my modular synths), programming synths, re-recording vocals and other sounds. This way we could rearrange and remix different parts on the fly. Then we pulled in some other elements that made sense in this context – Bubonic Tonic studio vocals, Ra Ako St and a few original pieces I wrote last week specifically for this setup. On stage I was running a modular synth, a synth bass and sending drum beats and effects into a mixer that both Luke and I could mix live.
In the end it was a little crazy because we only had 2 days of rehearsal to test out an entirely different way of performing with all new material and no full sound check due to the festival setting. But, we got so much positive feedback during and after the set. People seemed to be freaking out the entire time.
You have a very vocal and dedicated group of fans. Is it sometimes a blessing and a curse to have such an intense following?
JM: Yes. It is amazing to have people recognize a song we haven’t played live in 15 years and to have people tell you it is their 25th, 100th or 200th show. But, if they don’t like something they definitely tell you that as well.
Lotus is no stranger to collaborations on stage and in the studio. Are there any dream guests you’d like to have on a record or to play live with you?
JM: Live: John Medeski – we’ve listened to him for 25 years and it is still inspiring. Nels Cline, Marc Guilliana, or Jojo Mayer as well. Studio: Four Tet, Floating Points, or Caribou. I think what those producers bring to electronic music, in terms of thinking outside of genre lines and creatively evolving their sound is what we try to do in the context of a jam band.
Being from the DMV area, it’s always exciting to see New Years come back to Baltimore. Looking back, are there any highlights from the many times you’ve played the D.C. and Baltimore area?
JM: 9:30 Club is always a highlight for me. I think that room is perfect for our sound. I feel like I can reach into every corner with the sound of my bass and move it.
Lotus has played in a number of unique venues from Red Rocks to The Caverns in Pelham, TN to the beaches of the Dominican. Is there anywhere you’d like to play, but haven’t?
JM: Hollywood Bowl.
What have you been listening to in 2019?
JM: Four Tet – Live at Alexandria Palace, Miles Davis – Get Up With It, Tortoise (all albums), Darkside – Psychic (as well as projects I’ve worked on and mixed Octave Cat – Refract, BeesWax (with Wax Future)).
Looking ahead to 2020, is there anything big in the works that will get the fans excited?
JM: We are getting prepared to record the next Lotus album. Not sure exactly when we’ll get into the studio to cut it, but the music has been written and we’ve started rehearsing it.
Popeye’s, Wendy’s, or Chick-Fil-A?
JM: I’m a vegetarian, so none of the above.
Listen to Lotus’ take on K.H.’s (Four Tet) – “Only Human” below. You can now purchase tickets for Lotus’ New Years eve show at Ram’s Head Live here