Live For Live Music
Live For Live Music had a chance to speak with Jesse Miller from Lotus in the GrooveShark Media Lounge at CounterPoint about working with your brother, their touring track record and where his inspiration to write music comes from.
With many streaming services out there, live broadcasts, bootlegs and the numerous other mediums for music, we wanted to get an idea from a band that’s been around for a while how they’ve been able to be malleable in a new, digital world.
L4LM: This is what I really wanted to talk to you about, this whole social media thing that is happening now, back in the day people used to sell albums and make money. So I wanted to get your take on the “grassroots media” thing.. let’s start there.
Jesse: In a lot of ways it’s not that much different than, just the extension of what was going on for years in the jam band scene of sharing shows and that community. Some of even the really early message boards grew out of these sharing groups that would be started as list-servers, and then grew into message boards – and now it’s definitely more streamlined. We came up in an era where it was really, casette tapes really – that’s how people were trading shows. People would send each other casette tapes in the mail. And that’s always been a model for bands, the Dead never made tons of money from albums, it was always on touring, now that model is just extended to everybody.
L4LM: Exactly- maybe you pay a little more of a price for a festival, but you’re able to hear so much more music. It’s cool that you mentioned the message boards, because that’s really how the whole social media thing started.
What percentage of your sets actually make it out- get released or whatever.
Jesse: Most of them. We record them and release almost all of them, some of them don’t get recorded for technical reasons, but I would say that 90-95% of the sets we’ve played in the last few years we record and release on Live Downloads. We have a page there where people can go buy a show for like ten bucks, check out the most recent Lotus show or dig into the archives a little bit. We started recording and releasing pretty regularly around 2008.
2001 Starts Playing, interview is briefly interrupted during fist pumps for Carolina Gamecocks football. Jesse doesn’t seem to mind. Author’s note: GO Cocks!!!
L4LM: I’m sorry, this is the theme some for my Carolina Gamecocks and I have no idea why it’s playing but that’s awesome.
Jesse: Strauss is pretty epic.
L4LM: No idea why… that’s awesome.
Back to the Interview
L4LM: How do you continue to challenge yourself everyday to make new music and for it to be the best music?
Jesse: For me, writing music is really my number one form of artistic expression. It’s what, I just feel like I have to do it all the time. I always want to challenge myself to do something different, and don’t like repeating myself- so it’s almost a thing of, you have to treat it like a 9-5 job – maybe you don’t keep those kind of hours but..
Not everything you write is going to be amazing, but if you write ten things, one of them has a kernel of being something good – you can develop that.
I think this notion of just being inspired really quickly, and all of that inspiration goes into writing that happens at that moment. I don’t really see that existing- maybe for other people, but for me it’s a thing that you continue to work on a craft and eventually the really good pieces arise out of that work.
L4LM: So when you’re writing music, do you take what you’re coming up with as a bassist and pitch to the rest of the group? Where does that inspiration start and spread out through the rest of the group.
Jesse: Well myself and Luke, my brother and also the keyboardist and guitarist, we pretty much do all of the writing. We work individually, usually a composition is either mine or his, and we take it all the way through completion. We do help each other out on some things and work on some arrangement things, but generally something’s mine or his.
We work on all of the parts out of a home studio setup, start with the drum part, start layering things on, working different ideas until I get something. If it’s something I’m writing for Lotus, I think about how in terms of how we’re going to perform it. If it’s for Lotus there’s going to have to be drum kit, guitar, and there’s certain limitations to what you can do with those instruments.
L4LM: I work with my brother, we bounce ideas off of each other sometimes also- working with your brother is there ever any difficulty in that?
Jesse: We’ve worked together for a long time, even though we do have some similar taste in things, we definitely have.. I have a tendency to do things one way and he has a tendency to do things in another way. With any composition, before it goes to the band, we’ll both work on it until we both think this is ready to go to the band. And then at that point, it goes out to everyone, we start putting it together and rehearsing it.
L4LM: Do you still have the same members from when you first started the band?
Jesse: Myself, Luke and our guitarist Mike Rentbull (EDIT) have been with the band the entire time. Our percussionist Chuck started a little later and then he was on hiatus for a little while when he had his second child. But he’s back out on the road with us and we changed drummers three years ago, but otherwise it’s been pretty similar.
Lotus Live from CounterPoint
L4LM: So how long have you guys actually been touring? As a band? What changes have been made?
Jesse: We started the band when we were in college around 1999, we weren’t doing national touring but we were playing a lot of local shows as we were in school and getting the band going. Maybe more like 2002 or 2003, well in ‘02 we relocated to Philadelphia started doing more regional touring and expanding from there. I’d say since about 2003 we’ve been on the road on a fairly regular basis.
L4LM: So having been together and played music together for that long, does that lend to having that groove, that rhythm with each other?
Jesse: Yeah, I there are certain things, especially like group improvisation – that it really takes time to develop. Figuring out how to phrase, figuring out and different ways to fit together and just learning to listen. When you’ve played together for a long time, you just can notice tendencies like approaching the end of a phrase, you hear some little turn and you know it’s probably going to go this direction.
There is something that’s developed over a long period of time that I don’t think there’s any shortcuts for.
L4LM: I’m going to group you in a category with a couple of bands, like the Allman Brother’s Band, Grateful dead, really epic bands of their time. Embracing the model of not having musicians that are making music today and gone tomorrow.
We’ve never really tried to chase trends…
Jesse: Yeah, we’ve never really tried to chase trends, we were doing stuff that was electronically influenced long before that became a really popular thing to do. And even now that electronic music has become really huge in more a pop sense- we’re definitely, we’re on the edge of that. It’s obviously very different having a full band as opposed to having one person on a laptop.
L4LM: Are you guys pretty on-point with your tour? You’re there every time?
Jesse: I think in our entire tour, we’ve had to cancel one show because we were touring in a van and the alternator went out. I think we actually made it on time but they had already called it off..
L4LM: Wow, what a track record.
Jesse: I think it’s really disrespectful to fans whenever you show up late, or you cancel..
L4LM: Or you show up drunk.. etc.. whatever..
Jesse: Yeah, I don’t know if this applies to everybody, but I think in some worlds there’s this attitude where the artist is more important than the fans. We exist because of the fans that have come out for so many years, and so we’re going to put on the best show every time.
L4LM: So what drives you to make music?
Jesse: There’s some type of artistic drive for me. When I was younger, I did some visual art, graphic art and writing, and over the years it’s just all come very focused down on music for me. And that’s the form of artistic expression, some type of drive that’s there.
L4LM: What percentage of what you compose makes it to the guys- and then what percentage of that makes it to the actual set?
Jesse: I don’t know- that’s kind of tough to quantify. I also have a solo project that some things I work on get funneled into that. At the end of the day the stuff that we do for the set we end up working on way more. So even if I write something that doesn’t get used immediately, sometimes it can come back to. Even recently I went through some hard drives and found some old sessions, and was like “Oh there’s some really good ideas in here, it just needs to be re-configured” – and brought some stuff out. Sometimes you don’t even know when the work you’ve done in the past is going to come back and reappear as raw material that you can fit in to new material.
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Age of Inexperience