Interview: Jesse Miller of Lotus
By Mackenzie Gilchrist
No matter the venue, the energetic joy and catharsis of a Lotus show is infectious. The band slowly built a devoted fan base through steady touring and the crowds have grown at an increasing pace. This grassroots growth has made the band in high demand for festivals including Bonnaroo, Outside Lands, Ultra, and Rothbury and earned the band sold out shows at the country’s premier theatres and clubs. To coincide with their upcoming show at the Belly Up Tavern on Nov. 18, USD Radio writer Mackenzie Gilchrist had the chance to talk with the band’s bassist/sampler Jesse Miller about their fall tour, new self titled album and what makes their group so unique.
Mackenzie Gilchrist: With this new album ,you have made it known that you went in a much more electronic direction than you have with your previous work. Is there a specific reason for this shift?
Jesse Miller: In some ways it was just going in a different direct than previous albums like Hammerstrike or Oil on Glass/Feather on Wood which all came out of one long set of studio sessions where we were focusing on guitar sound. With this self titled one though, it was not so much intentionally going in different direction. Basically we just started writing a lot of different songs and what got picked out for the album sort of just presented itself organically.
MG: Have you noticed any particular reaction from your fans in regards to the new direction of your music, especially those who are more prone towards your jam band style?
JM: To me it seems really positive overall. Even when we say it’s electronic, it is really only in comparison to our previous stuff. We still obviously keep the live vibe. We still have all of the instruments that are part of the Lotus sound, and that is something that is not going away. I would say it is generally positive among the fans. I mean, this is also stuff we’ve been playing live for a while in the studio and in performances. We’ve gotten to really work out the sound and some of the stuff people have already heard.
MG: As you said, this album is self titled and it is your fourth full-length studio album. What is the reason behind why you chose to use a self title with this one?
JM: Well, we’ve never done one before, and something about this seemed like a culmination of a lot of work. The whole work represents the band and it is something that we were proud of. We put a lot of time into it and concentrated our sound and it just really felt like a milestone. It seemed better not trying to go in any particular direction coming up with titles. It just felt right to make it simple with just LOTUS.
MG: In the video that was released from your Red Rocks show this summer, you mention that you guys are currently working on your next upcoming album. Should fans expect a continued sort of electronic shift or was that just something you tried with this album?
JM: In a lot of ways the newest material we’ve written is a continuation of stuff from the last album. It definitely continues with sort of synth base kind of sound but we always try to explore lots of different territories with our music.
MG: You just released the official video for your first single Backlight Sunflare. Do you have an explanation for what is happening in the video or does it reflect any meaning within the song?
JM: We really just turned that over to the director to do his take on it. The beauty of instrumental music is that it can be interpreted in many different ways. We try to write stuff that is really effective and moves people and reactions are always really different. The director tried to tell a story and I think he really accomplished that. The video is not necessarily something to display the meaning of the song or what went into writing it. It was just one person’s take on it and the video is a visual representation of that particular interpretation.
MG: The song Orchids, one of my personal favorites, is how you guys chose to close the album. It seemed to have a distinctly different feel than the rest of the album, slightly similar to your older stuff. Was there any strategy behind that?
JM: It just seemed like the release track for the album. It was something that was in some ways slightly different from the rest. It is very heavy on the springs, less of a groove and builds slowly. In the context of the album it seemed right to release on this kind of open ended sound—more relaxed and not as intense.
MG: I have seen you guys play a bunch of times in a lot of different places and venues. Obviously with a group that jams like Lotus each show is unique, but I have noticed that each show has a very different feel. Is this an intentional effect that caters towards different audiences or just something that happens naturally?
JM: I would say a little bit of both. We design our setlists for each show differently. Some circumstances call for different things and we have massive catalogue of songs we’ll play at different venues. Depending on the stage we decide which direction to take. It might just be perception, but we do shape our setlists to fit each place we’re in or the crowds we anticipate.
MG: You just announced the news that you are welcoming percussionist Chuck Morris back to the group. Is he back for good or just this particular tour?
JM: Well, I don’t want to speculate on something like that. We never really know, but I can say that he is here for the tour and it is great to have him back.
MG: One great thing about Lotus is that your shows always seem to be affordable—something that college students like myself really appreciate. It seems to be a common practice with bands that start to blow up and gain more attention to start increasing ticket prices, but you guys have not. You even did a “Pay What You Want” tour two years ago. Do you have any comments on this particular strategy?
JM: (laughs) I mean, there are financial realities to what a ticket price is and some of it is based on the economy, but we want to help as many people get to the shows as possible. Obviously, we have to charge, but we don’t want to exclude anyone based on price. When it comes down to it, we would rather play at bigger venues and get more people included than do something small and super exclusive. Of course we have to make sure we’re allowing all of our people to get paid but the fact that we want to bring in as many people is definitely reflective of our overall strategy.
You can check out a sample of their live performance with this video from their show at Red Rocks in Colorado this summer. Be sure to take advantage of your chance to see this amazing group perform at the Belly Up Tavern on Nov. 18 in Solana Beach! Also keep an eye on the USD Student Radio Facebook page for a chance to win a free copy of their new self-titled album.