Photo via Listen Up Denver!
Lotus are set to play Pittsburgh February 1, at Stage AE. They churn out an instrumental stew of rock, electronica, hip-hop, and about a dozen other styles of music. Their energetic live shows have earned them legions of fans, and they are a regular at jam festivals all over the country and the world. Their light show, meanwhile, is approaching mythic status.
We spoke with bassist Jesse Miller prior to their visit. Jesse plays bass and sampler, and he is twin brother to Luke, Lotus's guitarist. The two of them started the band over a dozen years ago, and they show no signs of letting up despite a touring schedule that sees them play well over a hundred shows a year. Jesse also has a new side project, Beard o Bees, which owes more the EDM than rock.
Pittsburgh Music Report: Let me start with a question from my cousin, Emily, who is a big fan of yours. (Her favorite track: "Umbilical Moonrise.") She wants to know if Lotus has a goal or intention in mind when stepping on stage to perform.
Jesse Miller: For me, it is to build an energy in the room. If you can establish a connection with the crowd and we are playing well, a feedback loop starts to build where the crowd energy feeds us and that pushes us which in turn pushes the crowd higher. When that is working we go from really quiet, delicate music to huge rockers and never lose the crowd.
PMR: Lotus released two new albums last year, Build and Monks. When you record a studio album do you try to capture the energy of your live show, or is it a completely different process?
JM: I think it is a completely different energy. We record and release almost every live show we play via livedownloads.com. So, there is no shortage of high quality live recording. With a studio recording so many things are different than a live performance - the dynamic range, the listening environment. It opens up certain areas of detail but closes others in terms of range, power and time. We try to exploit the advantages, so we do things like improvising only in a live setting and recording to tape and mixing through an analog console for our studio recordings.
PMR: To say Lotus plays a lot of gigs is like saying The Grateful Dead had a pretty big following. Do you have any favorite venues or festivals? What about crowd size? Is there an ideal number of people to play to?
JM: We actually play a lot less shows than many bands, but we rarely take more than 4 weeks completely off. I definitely have some favorites - Theaters: 9:30 Club DC, Georgia Theatre Athens, Fillmore Denver, Riviera Chicago. Festivals: Electric Forest, Bonnnaroo.
PMR: Can you remember the longest set Lotus has ever played?
JM: Years and years ago we played a show in Baltimore. I think there was no opener so we started early, but then there was a time change and the bar ended up staying open an hour later, so we just kept playing. It probably ended up being 4 hours of music. By the end, we were losing it from exhaustion.
PMR: Tell me what your relationship is like with bands like STS9 or Papadosio, groups that you've played a ton of festivals with and even jammed with at times. Is there a special fraternity between jam bands?
JM: We've played with both of those bands before, but I've only briefly met a few of the band members. I would say there is a rapport among touring bands, especially bands that play a lot of the same festivals. Over the summer we run into a lot of the same groups backstage at festivals and that is usually a good time to hang out for more than a couple minutes. The touring lifestyle is difficult to explain to people who have never done it, but other touring bands will understand. It is always fun to trade stories with other people who are also out on the road and in the music business, and I think that is where the main connection exists.
PMR: Do you mind when people call Lotus a jam band? Is that a label you try to avoid?
JM: I try to avoid it just because I think there are more negative connotations than positive ones. We change our set lists nightly, perform group improvisations and don't fit easily in a genre. But, when a lot of people hear "jamband" they think mindless guitar noodling, terrible studio albums and Phish fans - I don't want to be pegged to those descriptions.
PMR: I don't want to perpetuate any stereotypes about your fan base with this last question, but here goes: After you play Pittsburgh, Lotus has a week off before heading back to Denver to play two nights at the Fillmore. This will be your first gig in Colorado since marijuana became legal. Do you have anything special planned? Maybe you can do another one of your themed shows, but with all Phish and Peter Tosh covers.
JM: Nothing planned at the moment. If we played "Legalize It" every time CO made a political step forward on marijuana, we'd be covering Peter Tosh every time we came to the state.
We have two tickets to giveaway for this performance. To enter, email your name to "pghmusicreport [at] gmail.com," and put "lotus" in the subject heading. We'll take care of the rest.
Opening is Buku, a local DJ. He has a song called "Booty Clapasaurus." You can read more about him in this City Paper feature.
- B. Conway