Lotus - Transmitting Sounds from the Cosmic Playground

Editors Note: PhreshWater.com prided itself on bringing you the best up and coming talent each and every month in its own featured section called ‘The Gene Pool’. The purpose of The Gene Pool was to thrust this new talent right out onto the home page, in full view for maximum exposure, right along side of already established artists. It grew to be one of most popular sections and the most fun to publish.

Welcome back to The Gene Pool from our last trip across the Atlantic to London. Now we bring you back to Philadelphia which is becoming a hotbed of its own and brimming with talent and volatile sounds without any boundaries of genre. The city of ‘Brotherly Love’ has blessed the live music scene with virtuosity spawning from bands like Revisor, Brothers Past, The Disco Biscuits and now our newest inductee – Lotus.

Lotus formed in 1999 and toured extensively in the Midwest and Colorado before relocating to Philadelphia in 2002. Their sound is self described as ‘Organic Ambient Trance Funk’ and I’m here to tell you that it most definitely transcends these humble definitions. We are in an exciting time for live music and the Jamband scene where musicians with hybridized influences and technical mastery are changing the way we are experiencing and perceiving music as a whole. Lotus, much like Sound Tribe Sector Nine (who Lotus members cite as a major influence) and John McLaughlin and his Mahavishnu Orchestra, has a definite sense of music as spirituality and the instrument is an extension and facilitator of a trance like stasis that comes from seeking oneness with music and the universe simultaneously. In one listen to a live recording or seeing Lotus perform it is apparent that they posses a wealth of talent in every aspect of their intricate and danceable compositions. Now that you have a glimpse into ‘what’ Lotus music is about lets take some time and find ‘who’ is behind the instruments and imaginations of this highly creative band.

SR- Can you tell me about the early days of Lotus and how you formed the band?

Jesse Miller (JM)- The band got it’s first start in the fall of 98’. It was Luke and Mike’s freshman year.... Mike is the guitarist who is no longer with us… Luke and Mike were jamming together with a different percussionist and bass player at that time…I was going to school in Santa Fe and I had come out to visit them over my spring break and we jammed out and things were kind of clicking and seemed like something that we need to do… so in the summer of 99’ me, Luke, Mike Remple and Steve were living out in Denver together and started playing out there and that’s when Lotus officially started. And then I ended up transferring to the school that they were all going to…

SR- What’s the name of the school?

JM- Goshen College…. A real small school in Northern Indiana. We were playing there as a four-piece. We did some gigging there, not a whole lot…

SR- How did you decide that the Bass would be your instrument of choice?

JM- That’s kind of a funny story. In high school Luke, who is my twin brother, we decided to start and band and that would be cool. He played a little guitar and I played a little guitar and we wanted to start a Ska band….and we had a few friends who played horns. We decided to get this together and we found this drummer who was like in Junior High or something but no one played Bass, so I said ‘Ok, I’ll play Bass’.

SR- Do you guys see heading into the studio anytime soon?

JM- We’ve never been into the studio yet….our first album ‘Vibes’ is live release. We did do some things in the studio about three years back but it never got released. But, we are about to start to do some studio work in the next few weeks….

SR- I now that you guys have recently relocated to Philadelphia and was wondering how that has effected Lotus as a band?

JM- It’s just effected Lotus greatly ….especially in the business sense. It opened up a lot of markets that we’ve never been to before…we were just touring in the North and Midwest but now were touring in the South and North East. Where we were before in Indiana the closest market was in Grand Rapids which was a two hour drive and that was our home-base.

SR- I’ve already written an overview of Lotus as a band. And in my overview I make mention that Lotus as a band emulates their music in a spiritual awareness much like Sound Tribe Sector Nine or the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Is this true or am I over- analyzing you guys?

JM- No. That’s definelty how we gear our improvisation. We don’t do a whole lot of ‘Blues’ type of improv where there’s soloing back and forth. It’s more of a group improvisation and I think that type of improv lends itself well with the audience, it’s more an organic type of feel and that really taps into a meditative or spiritual state. That’s something that we definitely focus on….

SR- Luke, I know that you are Jesse’s twin brother…

Luke Miller (LM)- Yeah, that’s how I like to be introduced

SR- Out of curiosity have you guys ever tried to pull a fast one on stage and traded places?

LM- …No. But the crowd gets confused sometimes….

SR- I really enjoy your music and especially the textures that are created with the guitars. Where are you drawing your inspiration from?

LM- I’m not a big fan of guitar music. Most of the music I listen to is non-guitar….I listen to a lot of electronic music like the Orb and Kruder and Dorfmeister….Things that definitely are not typical guitar music….

SR- With your own guitar are you trying to create different sounds that are not normally achieved in traditional guitar playing?

LM- I think if you put too many effects on a guitar it sounds cheesy ….so I use a fairly clean sound…..maybe its more of a ‘mind set’ of electronic music and not drawing from the Rock solo aspect….

SR- When you guys are improvising would you say that the crowd has a direct effect on what’s being played on stage?

LM- For sure. We definitely try to make it an interaction between us on stage and the audience and try to break down that traditional boundary a little bit through improvising….if there’s people out there dancing like crazy that gives us more energy and we want to throw that back out at them….Yeah, I draw a lot of energy from the crowd..

SR- When you guys go on the road what kind of vehicle do you take?

LM- We have a Dodge six-passenger van with a turtle-top and a trailer…the van is from the 80’s and the engine is from the early 70’s …. …not very reliable. Luckily, we haven’t missed any shows but it’s about time for us to buy another one….

SR- What are you reading right now?

LM- I just finished ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’….It was really fun and now I’ve got the whole series..

SR- If you were to take your stage persona and give it a name from one of the characters of the ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide’ what would it be?

LM- ….I think it would be that lost, middle-brain section of Beeblebrox. Who knows what’s there?!?

SR- Chuck, what kind of percussion set-up do you take on the road?

Chuck Morris (CM) – It’s a Roland handsonic with some electric pads, djembe, congas, high hats….basically auxillary percussion and hand drums….

SR- Are there any new instruments that you are playing or experimenting with?

CM- Actually, I’m trying to simplify the set that I’m playing with and trying to move over to a more electronic feel….. I’m starting to get into a lot more things electronically

SR- Do you and Steve get to spend much practice time with just the two of you together?

CM- …That’s something that we just haven’t had much of a chance to do…we both have 40 hour a week jobs and get to practice at night…..

SR- Where in Philadelphia does Lotus consume most of it’s meals?

CM- Definitely in the kitchen! We pretty much cook everything and don’t go out much….except Rizzo’s Pizza every so often….

SR- Who’s the best cook do you think?

CM- That’s a hard one…but it’s between the Miller brothers

SR- What’s the ‘Miller specialty’?

CM- 'Whatever-We-Have'…. anything with potatoes!…

We weren’t able to speak with Steve Clemens, the set drummer, who was in Peru at the time of the interview until the end of March but I feel that this will not be our last conversation with Lotus. As they have mentioned a studio release is in the works and we should get an update from them by mid-spring or early summer and we’ll be sure to pass that information along. If you’ve never heard or seen Lotus please do yourself a favor and have a listen and catch them live; you won’t be disappointed. Also, check out streaming audio that they have provided at the top of the page.

Thanks for joining us in The Gene Pool! Who will be next? Maybe you know already!

By: S. Remington – Article originally appeared in March 2003


Snake Oil Medicine Show - Preaching Galactic Unity

Packed into a van, along stretches of interstates leading to the Northern tip of the United States, sits the members of the wildly unique, Snake Oil Medicine Show. Riding along, singing a song, happy-go-lucky and all that jazz, Snake Oil and their road manager agreed to fill out my survey of playful interrogation so that I, You, We could get to know what makes this “zany, original, enlightening, inspirational, mystical, and colorful” band tick.

Although the band has seen many lineup changes, its core is still the same: George “Geometrognome Warpextor” Pond (bass and guitar) as the band’s founding member, his lovely wife Caroline (fiddle), and his brother Andy (banjo). Also adding to the mix are Sean Foley on keyboards and accordian and Phil Cheney on the canvas. Although MANY things separate Snake Oil from other bands, having a live painter on stage, creating art as the music progresses, catapults SOMS into a league of their own. Billy “Festus” Herring rounds out the rest of the crew, making sure that “galactic unity is being preached” as the voice of a road manager, and below the sextet answers some of music’s craziest questions.

GP: George Pond
CP: Caroline Pond
AP: Andy Pond
PC: Phil Cheney
SF: Sean Foley
BH: Billy 'Festus' Herring

How Did You Join The Band?

GP: Long Interview Process
AP: The band joined me.
SF: Through a Phil Cheney Recommendation

What’s Your Favorite Color?

GP: Chrome
CP: First purple, now red!
AP: Plaid
PC: Rainbow
SF: Clear
BH: Purple

If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing?

AP: Teaching Children
PC: I’m not a musician, but I like to paint. If I wasn’t a painter, I would probably like to be a musician.
CP: I have a secret desire to be an actress in a movie or a play. I would need to take classes to hone that art though.
GP: Activist/Advocate for awareness, perhaps Peace Corps?
SF: Pimping!
BH: Riding around in a van with SOMS making sure that galactic unity is being preached.

Would you rather play to an audience of 10 diehard fans, or 150 who know none of your songs?

BH: that’s tricky because 150 people would help pay the bills but the 10 diehards(they know who they are) are the reason we can keep doing this beautiful thing.
AP: 150—they will become Diehard
PC: Diehard fans are awesome and we feel the love, but 150 fans helps pay the bills and at this point we need that help.
CP: Although I love both, I especially love playing for family and friends, I dig playing for huge crowds because I feed off the energy of the crowd—and I feel my performance is more animated and fueled.
GP: Happy to do both. I love the family and friends, but I love to spread the word!
SF: Either or, you can’t change the weather!

Does one person usually write the lyrics/melodies, or is it a collaborative effort?

AP: Group contributions of song and melody.
PC: Usually one person does write lyrics to a particular song, although some songs have more than one lyricist. Then the group will help with the music, each adding their own distinct flavour.
CP: Well mostly George is the genius who writes some crazy, whacked-out fun tunes. But we all have dabbled in it. Andy has beautiful compositions with wonderful, melodic ideas. I have been writing maybe two a year.
SF: Everybody does something.

What 3 adjectives would you use to describe what it’s like to be at a SOMS show?

SF: Zany, unpredictable, weird
BH: Mystical, colorful, WIDE-OPEN
AP: Original, fun, energetic
PC: Amazing, enlightening, inspirational
CP: Energetic, original, positive
GP: Happy, colorful, weird.

George, what’s with the funky outfits?

AP: Hey! It’s a show (said like the Fonz)
CP: Yeah Geo, what’s up in the air with your clothing choices?
GP: Haute Couture (Hot Cooter!)

What would you say to people who “just don’t get your music?”

GP: Please try again!
SF: What are you deaf?
CP: Maybe open your mind one more time, or hey, thanks for listening and trying!
BH: It’s not all about the music, it is about audio/visual stimulation to awaken the minds, hearts and spirits of those who partake of Snake Oil.
AP: I know, it IS a little complex.
PC: Well, they either do or they don’t—its art so it’s open to interpretation.

How did Phil join the band?

GP: Long interview process
CP: We had a mutual friend Woosel who introduced us. Phil has been with us for 5 years now and we truly love him and he is part of our family and a huge part of what we do.
SF: Ask Phil
AP: He started coming to gigs.
PC: Woosel bugged me to come see a show and I finally went. After several shows we were invited to paint the first and only festival.

What do you think his artwork brings to the music? Does it reflect in the songs?

PC: I am greatly inspired by the music and grateful to be around such awesome, creative people. They are my family
GP: I love it! Yes, the paintings have theme music and songs have theme paintings.
CP: The artwork of Phil’s brings the music to life! The colors, the comedy and the clearness of it all.
SF: It encompasses the energy and lore that laces all the music.
AP: The art reflects in the songs and the songs reflect in the art. Most art pieces reflect happenstances, situations and fictional eye imagination scenery.
BH: A completeness; Yes

Where did the name, Snake Oil Medicine Show derive?

PC: The name derives from the old-timey Medicine Shows which used to travel around in carts and buggies doing Vaudevillian performances.
GP: We were “The Jaguars” but we changed to SOMS.
CP: From the old covered wagon days. “Step right up and get your cure—all tonic” Snake Oil heals what ails you.
SF: Ask George.
BH: George Pond’s mind.
AP: Old Timey Medicine Show stuff. The Snake Oil is the Ultra Tonic.

What Song do you secretly long to cover?

AP: Any North Indian Raga. Truly the finest most spiritual experience I can imagine.
PC: Anything by the Beatles or Abbott Vaughn Meader.
GP: Princess Papodi has plenty papaya.
CP: “Midnight in the Oasis” Maria Muldaur.
SF: None, maybe old forgotten originals by the other bandmembers.

What 3 cds are in your cd player now?

BH: Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers, Abbott Vanugh Meader and Blue Bunny Express, A Cajun Mix CD
AP: Spike Jones, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Bela Fleck: "Tales from the Acoustic Planet"
PC: Les Primitifs Du Futur, “World Musette,” Hypnotic Clambake “Square Dance Messiah,” Thelonius Monk, “Underground.”

Interview: Bacon

Note: This article was one of the first featured interviews on PhreshWater.com, was written by our first intern writer Bacon, and appeared in the Fall of 2002