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?
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 ….
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?
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’?
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