Lotus Vibes with Mike Rempel
Since Lotus’ formation in the late ’90s, guitarist Mike Rempel has been both the group’s constant force and its best kept secret. Rempel helped found the group at Goshen College in 1999 and grew with Lotus as its stylistic palette expanded from jammy grooves to include a range of indie, rock and, most importantly, electronic sounds. While Lotus’ songs are primarily written by twin brothers Jesse and Luke Miller, Rempel has been able to add his stamp to the group’s rapidly maturing compositions thanks to his distinctive spiraling guitar parts. Following the departure of original drummer Steve Clemens in 2009 and percussionist Chuck Morris’ recent hiatus, Rempel has also watched his band enter a new phase. Shortly before the release of Lotus’ new self-titled album, Rempel discussed the group’s evolution, their recent headlining gig at Red Rocks and what’s next for one of the jamband scene’s biggest recent success stories (For more on Lotus, be sure to read longtime Jambands.com contributor Benjy Eisen’s interview with the Millers and new drummer Mike Greenfield in the October/November issue of Relix).
It has been two years since Lotus released the EPS Oil on Glass/Feather on Wood and three years since you put out a studio album. Can you could start by giving us a little bit of background on when you first started working on Lotus and how your process this time around differed from 2008’s Hammerstrike.
The process of making an album is definitely spearheaded by the Millers, Luke and Jesse. They’re pretty much behind all of the compositions. Basically, they’ll write demos and send them to us. We’ll learn the material, show up to rehearsal, work on the material and record it. This time we recorded in all of these different cities. Since I live in Denver and Luke and Jesse live in Philly, we used all these different locations when we were recording together. At one point, we were all in Colorado for some shows and we actually set up in Luke and Jesse’s parents’ garage and recorded parts for the album. A lot of the parts were also done in Jesse and Luke’s home environment, though the majority was still done in a Philly studio.
It seems like we started recording a couple of years ago. I don’t know when our first studio session was, but for the most part the process has been writing down compositions in the studio, and Luke and Jesse have been the guys behind the scene doing a lot of the production work. I haven’t been really integral to the process of the creating of the album aside from putting time into the studio and putting my soul into what I can.
How much of Lotus was road-tested before the album came out?
All of the songs were definitely performed before the album came out. It seems like a majority of them were written and performed simultaneously. I think most of them were performed before we actually recorded them as well. We recorded quite a number of tracks this time around—far more than are actually on the album. That was the idea: to record a whole bunch of material and then select which tracks we can use to make the best album possible.
Did [new drummer] Mike Greenfield play drums throughout the album or were some of these tracks recorded with Steve and Chuck?
Greenfield was on the entire album and because our percussionist [Chuck] was on a hiatus [while he had his second child], he actually doesn’t appear on the album at all—but he’s coming back this fall.
It’s interesting that this is our self-titled album because we have been down a member. I think part of that process was wondering if he was returning or not, but it was pretty much finalized recently that he would be coming back. But a lot of work in terms of our album was done before we knew that.
With that in mind, why self-title this album?
I personally don’t have a reason for the album title being self-titled. That came from Luke and Jesse, who are more of the band leaders. I think they felt compelled to call it a self-titled album because they’ve come into their songwriting a little bit more. I feel they’re establishing a bit more depth and a distinctive style of songwriting that has become a little bit more solidified. And I think for them, that’s significant.
Though the Millers are Lotus’ band leaders, the band also feels like a collective. How has the band’s songwriting dynamic changed since you formed in 1999?
In the beginning of the band—while Luke and Jesse were doing more of the introduction of musical ideas—songwriting was much more of a collective effort. We were in the studio piecing songs together as a group. I felt I was more integral to that process, and I enjoyed that. That included a lot of the material on Nomad, and I feel like there were definitely distinctive songs within that album were a little more representative of all of our musical voices. I definitely enjoyed being a part of that.
But I think as the years went by and we moved to different cities, it became more practical for the Millers to be the ones writing. There was something about it that just worked, and I wasn’t stepping up to compose whole compositions, although that has been something I’ve been getting into recently—I hope to get some songs in the repertoire. But in terms of how their writing has evolved, I think they’ve just approached it in a way where they’re writing the music that they love. They went through a time period where they were writing more straight up rock and roll oriented songs, and I wasn’t into that as much. More recently, they’ve brought in a lot more of a electronic tone and that’s just more my style.
At times, in the past, they definitely introduced material that I wasn’t at all into or that I didn’t really want to play. But it grew on me. So, in a way, the whole [evolution] has made me trust their songwriting a little bit more. Even if I didn’t like it at first, they’re taking some creative steps and maybe risks that I wouldn’t have necessarily taken, and [those risks] worked. They are not afraid to try different styles.