Interviewed by Fatima Hasan & Cory Callahan
Written by Fatima Hasan
Lotus is undoubtedly one of the most iconic post-rock, electronic jambands of our time. Mike Greenfield (drums), Jesse Miller (bass/sampler), Luke Miller (guitar/keys), Chuck Morris (percussion), and Mike Rempel (guitar) have taken the country by storm and built a dedicated fanbase as they’ve organically grown their band since 2001. Lotus is a particularly unique band because they’ve consistently kept up with a changing music industry and are capable of skillfully blending many types of electronic sounds with instrumental rock and jam. This weekend, August 30-September 2, Lotus is hosting their yearly music festival dubbed Summerdance at Nelson Ledges Quarry Park in Ohio. Back in July, we had a chance to sit down and chat with Jesse Miller at Camp Bisco! Check out our interview below.
Fatima: Lotus has been featured on the Camp Bisco lineup quite a few times now. What are your thoughts on the event?
Jesse: “I’ve been playing Camp Bisco for, I don’t know, maybe about 10 years on and off… back when it was at different venues. It has been here for a few years, this is our third year in a row at Montage. One thing that really sets Camp Bisco apart is that organizers put effort into getting a nice balance of bands and producers. There’s definitely a point where bands like us are influenced by electronic music. A lot of these producers also came up in bands, then moved over into that kind of genre. This festival is kind of where all of that meets.”
Fatima: Absolutely, there’s definitely a ton of variety at Camp Bisco. Do you think you’ll have any time to check out some music while you’re here?
Jesse: “We’re probably going to have some time between our two sets, since we’re playing late night as well.”
Fatima: Awesome! Fill me in on what you guys have been up to lately, you just played Red Rocks recently, right?
Jesse: “Yep, Red Rocks and High Sierra! Festival season is in full swing and we’ve bounced around from the coasts and various spots. We keep pretty busy, and I’ve also been doing shows with my other band, Octave Cat [with Eli Winderman of Dopapod & Charlie Patierno] so anytime Lotus is off, Octave Cat is kind of filling in.”
Cory: “Do you have a favorite region of the country?”
Jesse: “It’s always fun to go to California; I grew up in Colorado so it’s always great going home too. I live out here in Philadelphia now so it’s nice to just be able to drive out to this festival. Way better than having to spend a whole extra day on an airplane or something!”
Fatima: Summer Dance is coming up and it’s a huge event for you guys. What’s your direct involvement with the festival? What’s in store for this year?
Jesse: “If you’ve never been to Summer Dance, it’s a small festival out in Northeast Ohio. People hang out on the beach, swim, and listen to music. Lotus plays two sets every night, and it’s very much centered around Lotus so hardcore fans come out. We’re around and hanging out too, so it’s definitely a place where people can come together and meet lotus fans from all over the country.”
Fatima: Your last EP, Drink the Light, was released August 2017. What was the production process like for the tracks?
Jesse: “So those were all songs that we did while we were recording what became Eat the Light. We recorded a lot of music and then as we were sequencing the record we wanted to narrow it down a little bit and not make it too long. The theme of that record is kind of already a pop theme, with singers on every track, so these were some of the leftovers from the initial release. We just ended up collecting them and releasing them as Drink the Light. We thought they were good songs, but they just didn’t exactly fit in the sequencing of the first album.”
Fatima: When you guys add lyrics to a track, do you usually produce the music first then add the lyrics or..?
Jesse: “Yeah, I’d say for me that’s generally how it works. Lotus is definitely a groove, instrumental band. We want a good melody, we want good hooks, but you need to establish that underlying groove beforehand. For me, it’s all about building up a really great groove then intertwining the melody through that. I never write super literally, it’s always a little bit abstracted. It has to do with the sound of the words and how everything fits together. I guess I approach it a little bit more from an instrumental view than from like a poetry view.”
Fatima: Are you guys planning on another full length release at some point this year?
Jesse: “Yes! There’s a big project that we are almost done with, and there’s a big video component to it that I’ve been working on as well. There’s some exciting stuff going on in that realm. This has basically been about a year-long project and we are very close to finishing!”
Fatima: Taking a step back to think about the band’s past, what has been your most rewarding experience involving music and have you ever had any significant or life-changing performances or experiences while you were touring?
Jesse: “I don’t think it’s ever just one single thing, I think it’s really about the collection. Some shows are better than others, but, it’s all really on this continuum. For me, it’s all about this experience of being able to make and perform music as a career and as a hobby… and to be able to do it all the time. Even a bad show can be rewarding in the sense that it gets you to the next place in order to keep growing.”
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6.7.2002 Philadelphia now available on Nugs.net. . Days after Luke and myself graduated from college we packed up our unreliable band van and drove out to Philadelphia to try to launch a touring rock band. The van was so weighed down we blew out 3 tires on the way out east. As you can see we had no money, a lot of unnecessary hair, overly baggy clothes and a youthful sense of optimism. This was the very first show in Philadelphia we played, in the basement of what is now a bar called St. Stephen's Green. A space called Club Nostradamus. As we approach our 20th year as a band I'm looking back through our archive to unearth live recordings that are not available online and shed some light on our evolution. – Jesse
Fatima: What do you do to rejuvenate your creativity?
Jesse: “I really like to go to shows, especially smaller shows. Big shows are sometimes really cool so I can see what they’re doing with production. However, it’s also much more exciting to be up close to these younger artists, or artists that are just getting started who have a lot of creative energy and are trying new things. I think that’s really where more of the development happens, people are not depending on others to produce some portion of their show. They are really taking it all in their own hands. To me, it’s all about that artistic voice of expression. I definitely get inspired when I see a really good show or when I hear a record that was passionately created.”
Cory: “So, do you like smaller shows more?”
Jesse: “Yeah, I would say I go to shows that have a maximum capacity of like 1,000. But most shows I go to are usually more like 200 – 300 people.”
Cory: Nice, do you see a lot of low-key artists then?
Jesse: “I really like both low-key, local artists or more well-known artists too. Since I live in Philly, there’s a huge local scene there… I’m definitely not on top of it; but whenever I hear about a local band that seems promising, I really like to check them out and support artists who are coming up.”
Fatima: What was the last show you went to?
Jesse: “We’ve been going to more festivals lately but I went to go see some of my friends open up for this band in Philly, I can’t remember the name of the band but they were all percussionists. They had a vibraphone, marimba, two drummers, and were doing these really complicated meters… it was really cool to see that stuff! I’m also thinking about how tough it has got to be to fit a marimba and a vibraphone in a van and drive around the country. *laughs* Respect to them!”
Fatima: What are some obstacles you’ve had to overcome in the music industry?
Jesse: “I think in the earlier days, touring. It’s really tough when you’re touring around and making very little money. Like, we blew the engine in our van in the middle of a string of shows and we were totally capped for money. We didn’t know if we would have enough to fix it, you know, things like that. Then, once you get a little bit more established and can move into bus touring or bigger events, there’s other problems that arise. But, back in those days, you’re living so much on the edge… anything unexpected can totally set you off course. I’m glad we were able to get over that hump, it’s really easy to see how an act can get started, then a van gets stolen or someone in their group gets sick and can’t go on the road. Even if a talented group is involved, things can still get in the way. There’s always difficult times, but for me, I feel like I have a bit of security just because we’ve been doing it for so long. Now we can take a little time off!”
Fatima: You have more of that cushion now, definitely! Is there anything about the industry that is completely different than your initial expectations?
Jesse: “Pretty much everything! When we got started, people were sending tapes to each other through the mail. You couldn’t really use the internet to promote either. When we got a cell phone on the road, and then GPS, it like totally changed everything. We could kind of see a lot of this stuff coming, like streaming. We’ve always been a do-it-yourself band too. We’ve relied on other people, but at the end of the day, it’s it’s been us funding our own projects, funding our own tours, and really doing it our own way. In that sense, it hasn’t really changed.”
Fatima: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Jesse: “The best advice I’ve ever received… my dad always had an approach about not spending more than you’re bringing in. Not that he’s a huge fiscal conservative, but in our world I think it’s really easy to say we need certain things and believe that’s the only way to improve. In doing so, you end up spending yourself in a hole. I always thought we did a good job of growing Lotus organically and not blowing our budget on random things. It’s really easy to say we’re going to put all of this money into a project and then have something go wrong with it. That could be a huge blow to our end goal. I think simple business advice like that could go a long way.”