In a music scene that is constantly changing and growing, it’s not always easy to stay at the forefront of relevance. In the jamtronica scene, Lotus has been steadily gaining fans since their early days in 1999. After playing sets at some of the biggest festivals in the country this past year and releasing a new album, the band has no plans of stopping anytime soon. Currently in the midst of an extensive cross country tour, and with plans to release a new studio album this year, Lotus is one of the hardest working bands in the live music scene today. After adding drummer Mike Greenfield to the band five years ago, the future is looking extremely bright as they continue to grow together. 

Catch drummer Mike Greenfield as part of the Stratosphere All-Stars at the Brooklyn Bowl on 3/26, alongside David Murphy (STS9, Seven Arrows), Steve Molitz (Particle), Marcus Rezak (Digital Tape Machine), Andrew Block (Gramatik), and special guest Todd Stoops (RAQ, Kung Fu).

L4LM had the chance to ask bassist Jesse Miller a few questions in between shows, and he was nice enough to answer them. Be on the lookout for their new album later this year and make sure to catch Lotus next time they come to town.

L4LM: Growing up, was music always a vital part of your upbringing?    
Yes. My father was a pastor at a Mennonite church so there was a lot of 4-part singing. I took piano lessons when I was young so I learned to read music and basic theory.

L4LM: When did you start playing the bass guitar in a band? Have you always played a five string and why do you prefer to use a pick?

In high school we wanted to start a band with some friends and we needed a bass player. So I picked up a bass and started to teach myself. I had played some guitar, so using a pick came most naturally. I really prefer the sound and feel of playing with a pick. It cuts through the mix and can be very rhythmic. It feels more punk rock to dig into the strings with a pick.

L4LM: As a bassist, who are some of your biggest influences? As a songwriter and a producer, who are some of your biggest influences?
Paul Jackson’s bass playing on the Herbie Hancock fusion albums, especially Thrust and Man Child was an influence. But, I feel like I’m more influenced by overall composition rather than specific bass players. The bass can play a lot of different roles – sometimes it is very basic just outlining a chord change and keeping a strict rhythm and other times it is more melodic with a lot of motion. So, I really approach the bass playing with an eye to the overall composition. I don’t really care about really technical playing, I just want to get the best feel I can. But, I’ll mention Pino Palladino and Joe Dart as players that I think are amazing. Those guys really know how to groove.
L4LM: Whose original idea was it to put together Lotus and who came up with the name? Did the pieces fall into place organically?

The initial group started with Luke, Mike Rempel and our original drummer Steve Clemens along with a couple other players. They played a few shows at Goshen College and came up with the name before the first show. The following summer Luke, Mike, Steve and I all moved to Colorado and started up the band – writing, rehearsing and going after gigs.
L4LM: How was it in the early days playing in small town Indiana? Were people receptive of your music right away or did it take some getting used to?

I was in college so I was studying music, but also getting the band started. We would rehearse all the time and play small gigs around town or other cities within a couple hours drive. We had fans both in and around town and from the college so the local support was pretty good.

L4LM: When was your first “big break” per say? Can you remember one defining moment where you felt that the bands hard work was paying off?

I don’t think there was one big break. We’ve been growing steadily since we started. But, there were a few big festival slots that got us in front of huge crowds that really started to solidify Lotus’s reputation as a heavy hitter in the festival circuit – All Good 2007 and Rothbury 2008 and 2009 stand out to me.
L4LM: Over the years Lotus has never really hit a plateau, not a lot of bands can say that. What keeps you guys progressing and where do you see lotus in the future? What else in the horizon?  

We always push ourselves to try new things musically. That’s why we did a hip-hop focused album featuring guest MCs, a synth-heavy record followed by an album focused on guitar-centric rock with no synths. We try to challenge ourselves and our fans by tip-toeing the line dividing the familiar and unfamiliar.

L4LM: How has the songwriting process changed over the years? Do you guys still write as a band like you did during the days of Germination or do you and Luke write most of the material now a days?

Luke and I write all the music. We both have home studio setups where we work on demos, arrangements and record parts for our studio recordings. One of us gets started on an idea and then after it starts to take shape we send it back and forth refining the arrangement and idea until we think we have a solid demo. Then it goes out to the band and we’ll start to work on it in rehearsals or in the studio.

L4LM: What is your favorite part about playing and writing music with your brother?
We push each other to write better.

L4LM: What do you love most about improvisation with Lotus? As a player which do you enjoy more, segueing in and out of songs or playing extensive standalones?

I think the best part about improvisation is the energy that can build out of something that is unexpected. The most exciting improvisations we do as a band happen when we surprise ourselves and take a section of music into some sort of groove or sound we’ve never done before and couldn’t have planned.

L4LM: You stand next to Rempel on stage, does he ever surprise you with his playing or are you used to it by now?

We’ve been playing in a band together for about 15 years, so it is pretty tough for any of us to play something that hasn’t been played before. The way all the instruments fit together can be the most surprising, because that can change a lot even though all of us are pulling from ideas we’ve all used many times before.

L4LM: Fans have been saying that 2014-2015 have been extra special, the best playing since Greenfield joined the band. Would you agree that you guys have been playing on a very high frequency as of late or is it just business as usual?  
I think it has been a high point. Mostly because we played fewer shows in 2014 and the few we did tended to be big highlight shows that we did a lot of prep work for. There are a lot of very small musical details that, when added together, make up a fantastic show. The more we can prepare, the more we can smooth out those details and build a more complete show.

L4LM: Some of those older songs that you guys played during the North East Leg of the Gilded Age tour were really special for the true fans. How did it make you feel to bust out of some those classics like ‘Philly Hit’, ‘Spiraling’ and ‘Soma’, did it bring back any old emotions?

Honestly it is a bit strange going that far back. I think it is analogous to reading papers you wrote many years ago in high school or college. I usually understand what we were going for with older compositions, but they usually need some arrangement changes to work better.

L4LM: Do you think that Luke will continue to mix it up with an ideal balance of older songs that haven’t been played in the past few years and newer songs that have?

Yes, that is one of the defining aspects of a live Lotus show.
L4LM: Out of the songs that you have written, what are some of your favorites to play live?         

Behind Midwest Storefronts, 128, Age of Inexperience, Gilded Age

L4LM: You guys brought back ‘Around The World’ and have played it a few times recently and ‘Inspector Norse’ has also been making steady appearances, the fans love both of those. What are your favorite covers in your song catalogue?
When we did the Talking Heads Deconstructed set at Gathering of the Vibes I was really proud of how Born Under Punches came out. I recreated a lot of the weird studio sounds from the original version using my modular synth and I think we ended up with a very interesting take on it.
Playing electronic cover songs with a rock line-up can be a challenge, but can end up sounding really rocking and unique. Around the World, Ghosts ‘n’ Stuff and We Are Now Connected all fit that description.

L4LM: You guys played your new song ‘Basin to Benin’ twice in Boston and New York. It features some awesome horn players and heavy funk, what does the name mean? Can fans expect more collaborations in the future?    

The studio version features the Soul Rebels (a New Orleans brass band). There is a very layered horn arrangement. The name refers to Basin St. in New Orleans and Benin is the country is west Africa. The basic groove I used for the song is inspired by 70s era Beninese funk.
L4LM: What can you tell us about the new album? What can we expect?  
The new album is almost done. We recorded and mixed 17 songs that will be narrowed down for the album. I don’t know exactly how or when we’ll release it yet. I think it is the best studio work we’ve ever done. The songs are all really catchy and dancey.   
L4LM: Playing Red Rocks and Jam Cruise are probably both dreams come true.. are there any other events or venues that you dream of playing someday? Nationwide or even Worldwide?

For festivals Lollapalloza, Austin City Limits, Coachella. I’d love to introduce Lotus to European crowds at  festivals like Glastonbury or Reading. For venues I’d love to play at the Gorge and Hollywood Bowl.

L4LM: A lot of people were really happy to see you guys at Holidaze. Could you ever see you guys playing there in the future and do you have any idea about Jam Cruise this year?

Sure. We don’t need a whole lot of convincing to go to the Caribbean to play music on an outdoor stage next to the ocean.

L4LM: I know that almost all of your gear didn’t make it to Holidaze this year but you guys still played an awesome old school styled set, all instruments and no programming. I know multiple people that have seen you guys over sixty times and they all said it was one of their favorite sets of all time. How’d it feel to play an earlier styled Lotus set?  Would you ever play another set without programming?

For that set we had no keyboards or the sampler. I like playing with two guitars and I’ve written a lot of music for that instrumentation. Most recently Gilded Age and Sunset of the Giant Dipper for the Gilded Age album. So, it is not necessarily all older music that fits that bill. It just cuts out a lot of the variety when keyboards are not an option. And that variety – the movement between rock and electronic textures – is big part of what makes Lotus unique.
Also, for Holidaze we were playing a set outside right next to the ocean in December. That is going to make it a special set no matter what we played.

L4LM: You guys have obviously paid your dues and have worked extremely hard your entire career. Lotus now has one of the fastest growing fan bases in the Live music scene right now, how do you feel about that? 
I feel like our hard work paid off, but we still have a lot more to do.