Lotus is the rare band that can do funk festivals and electronic music festivals in consecutive weekends. They are as at home at 10,000-seat amphitheaters as they are in 400-capacity clubs. Fresh off a coast-to-coast tour, bassist Jesse Miller sat down with the IN to talk about the band and what it’s like being part of such a great Hangout kickoff party lineup.
IN: When you and your brother Luke [keyboards] were growing up, was music encouraged from the get-go?
MILLER: My mom played piano, and at our church there was a lot of singing. Our parents got us into piano lessons for a few years. We learned how to read music. In the end, it was something I had to discover for myself though. I didn’t get the bug for writing and composing until we started a band in high school.
IN: What were some of those initial artistic influences?
MILLER: In high school, the Talking Heads really got me excited. Phish’s prog-leanings showed me you could get a little more complicated with things in a rock and roll setting. They opened my eyes to a lot of things about composition.
IN: There’s a little hesitation in your voice when you bring up Phish. Does the jam-band moniker get old for you guys?
MILLER: The word is so loaded. People automatically think your studio albums are garbage and that you just play really long guitar solos. We try to avoid those pitfalls, but we do improv and we play varied set lists. We also hold down a lot of good set times at festivals.
IN: When you guys were first getting started, was it a conscious decision to hone the live show?
MILLER: We focused on the show because we didn’t have the resources to pursue recording all the time. We didn’t have access to a studio for long amounts of time. It took us a while from when we formed to when we put out “Nomad,” our first official album.
That was before the days when you could do a lot of that stuff on your own. Now, we feel a lot more empowered both because we can afford to go into a studio and Luke and I are both experienced in doing studio work on our own.
IN: You guys just wrapped up a monster national tour. What’s the most difficult part about being on the road so much?
MILLER: The constant exhaustion. We’re playing three-hour shows six nights a week and traveling constantly. Keeping that up is a lot to handle, but it’s a lot of fun being out there. Trying to eat healthy is big. Sleep well whenever you can, but that takes a miracle. If it was exhausting and also no fun to do, you would want to get out of it pretty quick, but it’s hard to turn away from the payoff a good show leaves you.
IN: What’s the band trying to accomplish each night when it steps on stage?
MILLER: For me, it’s all about energy. I want to feel energy from the crowd. I want to give energy. I want to harness the energy of the room. When it all comes together, there are these moments where it seems like everyone in the room is on the same page and feeling the same beat. It’s really at the core of the human experience. Live concerts can be truly deep experiences for a lot of people.
IN: Lotus has nearly sold out Red Rocks with a capacity of 9,450, but last year you played the Alabama Music Box in Mobile that only holds about 400. How does a band adjust to such different surroundings?
MILLER: Even bands as big as the Rolling Stones deal with that. They’ll play club shows and smaller shows as warm-ups. A small show is not necessarily a bad thing. It can be equally as fun to be in front of a crowd of 300 people that are really going off as it can be to be in front of 10,000. It’s a different experience, but if you love playing music, you’re going to try to get something out of every experience.
IN: Talk about the evolution of the Lotus sound from the jazzy funk of the early days to the more hip-hop and sample-based spirit that you have going with the latest record.
MILLER: It’s tough for me to find strong threads in our records. We try to make it different with each one to challenge ourselves. One of the biggest changes is that when we first started off, we weren’t as strong composers. We leaned heavily on our improvisation because of that. We would write to set up an improv jam, instead of the full compositions we have now.
THURSDAY KICKOFF PARTY
WHAT: Lotus, Umphrey’s McGee, Benny Benassi, Railroad Earth, Dillon Francis, Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors, Hayes Carll, Conspirator, Quixotic, Reptar, Wick-it the Instigator, St. Paul and The Broken Bones, Future Rock and more.
WHEN: 2 – 11 p.m. Thursday, May 16
WHERE: Letting Go Stage, BMI Stage and Boom Boom Tent
COST: $45; $20 for 3-day ticket holders, free for VIP ticket holders
DETAILS: hangoutmusicfest.com/tickets/kick-off-party; lotusvibes.com