Lotus Dives in Head First with New Album, Free Swim
Words & Photos by Jason Myers (Memorandum Media)
Music in the year 2020 certainly looks a bit different from the past. Venues are empty, stages ungraced, and touring schedules are essentially non-existent. But with the vast amount of change the music industry has gone through, one constant remains the same: the album. This fact has come to the forefront for jamtronica outfit Lotus who will be delivering their 10th studio LP, Free Swim, to the masses on August 21, 2020.
Sometimes soaked in sun-glossed disco dance grooves - other times projected with blissed-out melodies, Free Swim is a portrait of a band confident in their style and direction. Opening track “Catacombs” works as a hyperactive dancefloor jump starter, while other songs such as “Land of the Lush” send listeners floating through a world of relaxation and euphoria. The overall combination of these 10 new tracks provides for a listening experience that is both captivating and extremely satisfying.
MusicMarauders recently got to sit down with Luke Miller (guitar, keyboards) and Jesse Miller (bass guitar) of the band to chat about the new album…
Let’s start with talking about the new album, Free Swim. What was the writing/recording process like for this? How was this process different from your last LP, Frames Per Second?
Luke Miller: The writing process was fairly similar to Frames Per Second. Jesse and I were each working on demos, then when songs were fairly complete we’d collaborate on finishing them - then rehearse the demos with the band to work out the nuances. For me personally, I was trying to streamline my workflow on writing demos. So, some of that was just getting some new plug-ins and soft synths that I could use very quickly without having to set up extra equipment.
Jesse also built a home analog studio and really finalized some of his gear so he could more easily access different hardware and outboard gear. He ended up mixing the album from his home studio, which is the first time we’ve done that. Not having a ticking clock of studio time for that scenario really let us get into the details without wasting time on periphery things.
We recorded 18 songs basically live in the studio, with the whole band set up at the same time. That is how we did Frames Per Second, as well. Working fast and not overthinking things makes things efficient and comfortable for us. From those 18 tracks, we picked 10 that we thought worked together the best for the album. The studio, Spice House Studio, was a different one than the previous album. They had some nice gear that we used like a grand piano, vintage bass amp, Hammond organ and Leslie. The engineers were great at getting a good sound fast, so we didn’t spend a ton of time messing with drum mics and could just focus on playing.
You guys mentioned that you drew a lot of influence from disco and French music for this album. Can you elaborate on this a bit more and touch on how you were able to incorporate these styles of music into the classic Lotus sound?
LM: The line from disco to French Touch producers is pretty linear. The French producers sampled disco and funk tracks and then did a lot of looping and filtering. For us, the groove of a song is usually the foundation since there aren’t lyrics. In disco, there is a certain level of sophistication without being overly complex, because (at the end of the day) disco and French Touch are all about dancing. Hitting that zone of energy, something to dance and groove with, while still being chill is very much in the classic Lotus sound. So, recording the songs live is more from the disco influence, and then some of the electronic elements and effects in post-production are a nod to the French sound.
You guys have a pretty well-established fanbase at this point, but, alike any artists, drawing in new fans is always a goal. How cognizant are you guys of this when you write new music?
LM: I used to think about that more, but nowadays I tend to just go with intuition and what I’m feeling at the moment. With that being said, I’m always trying to grow as a composer and music listener. I’m certainly a different person from when Lotus started when I was a college freshman to now, and if the music I was writing was exactly the same, I think I would feel stagnant as an individual.
Jesse Miller: I think if you try to play the game of guessing what new fans versus existing fans will enjoy, the end results won't be very interesting. I want to write music that excites me and that I think will work well on stage for Lotus or on an album. If you are hyper-focused on always trying to please your existing fans, you would end up writing the same songs over and over. And alternatively, if you were hyper-focused on grabbing a mass audience, you'd probably write dumbed-down, bland and formulaic music.
Over the past few years, Lotus has performed select shows filled with covers of other band’s songs. You’ve done a Talking Heads set at Red Rocks. You covered a handful of Flaming Lips songs at a recent Denver show. Do you have plans to do more cover sets like this in the future? Are there any bands in particular that you guys have fantasized about covering?
JM: I always thought The Clash, New Order or Television would be great. It’s always a challenge to find something that is somewhat original (not already covered by many other bands), but also known widely enough that at least a fair amount of the crowd is familiar with the original versions. Also, it needs to be something that can be adapted to fit Lotus's instrumentation. Aphex Twin would be an interesting and difficult challenge. Radiohead would be fun. They have great arrangements, but I would want to have the right singer for that.
LM: I don’t have a band I’ve fantasized about covering, but I’ve had this fantasy of playing a shrunken set. The whole band would be squeezed onto one drum riser and we’d all be playing tiny instruments. The drums would be like a toy set, the percussion would be those tiny shakers, a mini keyboard, etc. But the sound would be this huge in a lo-fi way.
If I were a fan that wanted to check out a live Lotus soundboard, what shows would you guys suggest I start with? Are there any shows from the past few years where you guys felt like you were clicking on another level?
LM: Last year we played at The Caverns in Tennessee. It is literally a cave an hour outside of Nashville. I thought that show was great because of the super unique setting and the reverberation from the cave. It gave the show a very cool and special vibe.
JM: We've put a few select live shows on our Bandcamp page. That would be a good place to start as those are typically shows I thought had interesting and well-played group improvisation.
If you guys could play alongside any current band or musician right now, who would it be any why?
LM: Just off the top of my head - Radiohead, Anderson Paak, Tame Impala, Wilco, Floating Points, Aphex Twin.
What have you guys been listening to lately? Any music recommendations for the masses?
LM: Chicano Batman - “Invisible People,” Floating Points - “Bias” and “Crush”
JM: Four Tet Sixteen Oceans, Ross From Friends (various singles), Nicolas Jaar/Against All Logic (A.A.L.) (various mixes and albums)
If you guys could send a single message out that reached everyone in the world right now, what would you say?
LM: Man…I don’t know. I’ve thought about this before. Like if I had a billboard, what message would I put on it for maximum effect to help the planet? I don’t think there is a right answer. It’s a cliche to say we are living in a post-truth world, but it really feels like it. Instead of the power to send out a message that reached everyone, I would like the power to hear the message that everyone else is sending.