Jesse Miller of Lotus Chats with Trebel about the new album, the band’s college days, and more
Featured Image Courtesy of The Artist
Since 1999, Lotus has been organically building a rabid fan base, thanks to their energetic live shows and distinctive sound, which is a kaleidoscope of electronica and rock and roll. Trebel Music got the chance to chat with bass player, Jesse Miller, about the band’s beginnings at Goshen College, music streaming, what we can expect from their highly anticipated new album, and so much more.
Trebel Music: You guys initially formed at college back in 1999. What’s the story behind that?
Jesse Miller: Luke and I (we are twin brothers) met Mike Rempel and our original drummer, Steve Clemens, at a camp in Colorado when we were in high school and played some music together. We were from different parts of the country, but Luke, Mike and Steve were all at Goshen College together in 1999 and started the band. That summer we all moved to Denver and started writing, rehearsing and playing shows as Lotus. I transferred to Goshen the following semester and we kept going.
TM: What was it like in the early days? What was your first big break back then?
JM: It never really felt like there was ever a big break. We played a lot of shows in college – in the small town where we went to school in Indiana, up in Michigan, Mexican restaurants, bars in South Bend, cafes in Fort Wayne. We almost played as many shows back then as we did later as full-time touring musicians. This was really before the days of the internet, so it was all word of mouth. After college we moved to Philadelphia and started touring regionally and eventually nationally building up a fan base along the way.
TM: Lotus is one of the hardest working bands in music. What is your secret to staying motivated and staying in sync with each other?
JM: Mennonite guilt. If you aren’t working hard it seems like something is wrong. But, really I just love writing, recording and performing music. If I start to get burnt out on Lotus music I turn to my solo project Beard-o-Bees or producing and recording with other musicians. My career overlaps so much with my interests and passions it continuously drive me to keep working on new ideas.
TM: You just released an electrifying new single, “Eats The Light.” What was the songwriting process like? How do you go about capturing the magic of a live show in the recording studio?
JM: Studio recordings are so much different than a live show; energy is built up and manipulated in much different ways. A studio record is so contained that it can be difficult to convey a sense of wild abandon. At the heart, making it work well is a good composition and arrangement. “Eats the Light” uses a few techniques, like the cross-rhythmic phrasing of the synth arpeggio, to maintain a subtle tension against the fairly straight-ahead form of the song. Then sonic considerations come into play. We recorded to tape and mixed with a lot of older analog gear, so the track sounds warm even in digital formats.
TM: A new album is in the works and I read that it includes collaborations with Mutlu and Steve Yutzy-Burkey, both Philly guys. I know you’re based in Philly these days. What drew the band to the city? What keeps it there?
JM: I live in Philly, but three guys from the band live in Colorado. We moved to Philly after college and I’ve been living there since then. I really enjoy being on the east coast and I like the grit of Philly. It is such a center for musicians, visual artists, and other creative people. It is a good size, tons of cultural events, but you still run into people you know all over town.
TM: What can we expect from the new album? Any hints as to what it’s going to be called?
JM: The big difference from previous albums is there are vocals on every track. But it is very much a classic Lotus sound with driving beats. Every track is designed to be danceable, hooky and concise. These are the songs that will get stuck in your head. I think it has a timeless sound; overdubs and layering were kept to a minimum. The synths and drum machine sounds were all analog modular and some older classics like Juno-106, Juno-6 and Octave CAT. The keyboards are all classics as well: Wurltizer electric piano, Hammond organ, clavinet, upright piano.
TM: Your band has been around long before music streaming. How has music streaming affected Lotus as a band?
JM: I don’t think it has changed much for us. In a lot of ways we are an underground band. Our fan base was always built around fans telling their friends or people seeing us at a festival. It was never dependent on radio or a viral video or something like that. With streaming more people have access to more music but at the same time, anyone can record something and make it available, so there is more and more competition for time and attention.
TM: What can be done to make the world better for musicians?
JM: Ticket service fees are frustratingly high sometimes. For recorded music, I just hope the quality of listening environments and media improves. Things peaked at vinyl and we’ve been going down ever since. Now it is MP3, streaming, listening from laptop speakers, or cheap headphones. It is a fraction of the quality and range of our finished mixes. I’d love to see the return of the home Hi-Fi system. It is good to see some people getting back into vinyl, but the majority of people out there are really not experiencing recordings in a high quality.
TM: What’s next for Lotus?
JM: We’re on tour through the beginning of March. The new album will be coming out later this year. We’re finalizing a full concert video for DVD and video on demand. And as always writing and recording new music.
For all the latest on Lotus, visit www.lotusvibes.com. The band is on tour through the beginning of March with stops in St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Cleveland. They will also be performing all three days of the Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival in Florida.