Axiom Nation touched base with frontman, Jesse Miller, to discuss Lotus’s return to the Riviera Theatre in Chicago and the forthcoming 2-night run.
Axiom Nation: The last time you played Chicago was at Concord Music Hall after the crazy North Coast weather. What was your experience like playing that show coming straight from Summer Dance that weekend and fresh off an album release?
Jesse Miller: That was a long weekend. We played Buffalo, NY on Thursday, two sets both Friday and Saturday at Summer Dance in eastern Ohio, then closed our stage at North Coast before playing until almost 3am at Concord on Sunday. Our set at North Coast was cut very short due to weather warnings. We love the energy of big festival crowds so not being able to play the full set was disappointing, but safety comes first and we can’t control the weather.
The toughest part about the late night Concord show was that it was incredibly hot. The venue was very new at that point and they hadn’t worked on the AC yet. It was one of the hottest shows I’ve ever played. We were wringing sweat out of our clothes after it ended. But, it was a sold out show and people were sweating it out and getting into it. It is that energy from the crowd that really helps drive those performances.
AX: It must have taken a lot of endurance to play a two-hour plus set after such an intense weekend. What drives you and the passion behind Lotus?
JM: A love of music and artistic creation drives me. The music industry is not the easiest way to make a living. It takes a lot of work, sacrifice and luck to turn it into a solid career. But, I love that we’ve built Lotus from the ground up on our own terms playing our own music. Even if this wasn’t my career I would be writing music, I see it as the most powerful artistic expression. The messages we get from fans relating how much our music and live shows impact their lives is a constant reminder of how powerful music and the music community can be.
AX: What do you love most about playing Chicago? The Midwest?
JM: I spent my early childhood in the Midwest and then my college years as well, so I feel a connection. Chicago is such a great city. Not only is it big, but also there is a great music scene. There are some great venues – The Riviera, The Vic, Park West and many more. Great crowds, great venues, great city – what’s not to love?
AX: Last time Lotus played the Riviera you also did a two-night run. Anything you’re looking forward to or plan on doing differently this time around?
JM: We love doing 2-night runs. It provides for more time to spend in the city, makes things easier on our crew and pushes us to be extra creative with our sets and improvisation. Those shows in December 2012 were a lot of fun. This time around, I think we’ve put together two great bills with the opening acts – Gigamesh and Penguin Prison (Friday), The Floozies and Daedelus (Saturday). That is a lot of quality music for one weekend at one theater.
AX: Being from Indiana you must have played some shows in Chicago growing up. Any memories that stand out to you while touring in Chicago back in the day?
JM: Yes, we have been playing Chicago for many years. We played a number of shows at the Boulevard Café when that was running. Subterranean, Martyr’s, Park West, The Vic… I remember playing a small show (Hog Head McDunna’s I think) and then leaving out that night in the heaviest down pour driving this old van of ours that was just getting blown all over the road. One time we flew in for a show the day after Thanksgiving then went straight to the airport, slept on the floor for an hour and flew to New York for a show the next day. And playing Park West the first time really felt like an accomplishment – it is such a great venue with a long history.
AX: You’re playing a three-night set in New York, directly after Chicago. Did you ever foresee Lotus becoming this big when starting out?
JM: It seems strange to say, but I never really doubted that we could grow the band. Maybe it was just youthful naïveté at the time, but without that vision I doubt I would have been able to spend so much time and energy on the band.
AX: Do you have a favorite festival you played last year? Any that you’re looking forward to this season?
JM: Electric Forest was great. I love the location and how it is organized. I’m looking forward to going back to Summer Camp in Illinois and the return of Jam on the River in Philadelphia – both on Memorial Day weekend.
AX: It feels like the sound of Lotus has grown so organically over the years, along with it a substantial following – especially amongst the jam and festie circuits. Many people have described Lotus as ‘Jamtronica.’ I feel most would agree your sound transcends such a simple description. Could you briefly describe the sound, style and motivation behind the Lotus Vibes you create?
JM: I just call it dance rock. We incorporate a lot of different influences but I never wanted any of our music to be a pastiche or imitation of another style. We are a rock band – guitars, bass, drums – and we often play music that is danceable.
AX: Who influenced you growing up as an artist and how does that progression carry into what you create today?
JM: When I was in high school I went to a lot of punk rock shows. The energy at those shows was incredible – tiny clubs with this loud, fast music and the crowd just throwing themselves around with reckless abandon. I love that energy. Then I got into more and more complex music – jazz, classic music, minimalism – while I was studying composition. I think all these musical pieces inform how I think about music and writing in some way. Basic punk rock chord changes and classical counterpoint voice leading are equally important in my mind to Lotus’s music.
AX: Where did the influence to create electronic music stem from?
JM: When I was growing up, there were things like Daft Punk and Chemical Brothers on the radio. I thought those tracks were great, but I wasn’t out at raves or listening to a lot of DJs. One of the first records to turn me on to electronic music was The Orb – Orblivion. It was so psychedelic and textural. It showed me that electronic music could be used to create these incredibly varied sounds and wasn’t just simple dance beats played at warehouse parties. The sonic possibilities of samplers and synthesizers combined with the visceral impact of dance beats were powerful. Taking those possibilities and combining them with the flexibility and expressive possibilities of live musicians has been at the center of Lotus’s music for a long time.
AX: You’ve recently changed gears releasing a hip-hop album, Monks. In what direction do you foresee the sound of Lotus evolving?
JM: I see our music evolution more like and expanding balloon than a linear path. We love to push ourselves to do new things musically without abandoning things we’ve done before. Our next release will be a more straight-ahead rock album and we are currently working on writing for the next album, which is going in a different direction.
AX: What inspires you to create new music?
JM: It sounds cliché, but all of my experiences. I see music as my artistic outlet, I feel like I have to do it.
AX: Lotus is consistently collaborating with one another almost every night. Yet on your last album you collaborated with an eclectic amount of artist’s on a large-scale project. How has this experience shaped what Lotus has become today?
JM: Monks was a concept hip-hop album so it required a lot of collaborations with rappers and a few singers. We’ve worked with a number of singers and musicians over the years to help us realize different visions. We’ll use string players or horn players because we can’t play these instruments ourselves – but we love to write for them and think they can complement our sound.
AX: You have a lot of unreleased recorded material. Anything you plan to use it for in the future or anticipation for new material in the works?
JM: Sometimes I go back through things we have recorded or demoed and find a piece then transform it into something else. That happened a lot on Monks. When we decided to turn the project into a full album we pulled out a number of unreleased things and rearranged them to work in the context of that album.
AX: You’ve recently been releasing some live tracks on your Sound Cloud. Any plans for a live album or (dare I say) DVD set upon the horizon?
JM: Not at the moment. We release almost every live show on Livedownloads.com. These are multi-track recordings that Luke and I mix down, so I feel like there is no shortage of great sounding live releases to listen to. We may do an official live album again in the future, but right now all our time off the road is going into working on new music.
- Duncan Ross