Lotus: Strength of Weak Ties (Five Years On)
Back in January of 2007, Jared Hecht, who would go on to co-found GroupMe, conducted this interview with the group’s Luke Miller.
Entering 2007 with high spirits and an upcoming tour, Lotus will be trekking through the South and ultimately heading back up to the Northeast. Still riding the release of their well-received second studio album, Strength of Weak Ties, the group, which features Steve Clemens, Jesse Miller, Luke Miller, Chuck Morris and Mike Rempel, remains at the top of the livetronica scene’s current class. After a rugged four day journey through three time zones during Lotus’s 2006 New Year’s run, bassist Jesse Miller sat down with Jambands.com. There’s no doubt that enduring a Colorado blizzard and van crash on the way to a New Year’s Eve performance, missing equipment, and sleep deprivation ultimately takes its toll. However, bassist Miller managed to reflect on 2006, the origins of Lotus, songcraft, and brotherly love (and we’re not talking about Philadelphia).
JH- Lotus just came off an extensive tour hitting a lot of the West Coast in October and culminating with a night at SCI’s Sea of Dreams and your own New Year’s show across the country in PA. You played a ballsy four night, three time zone run to ring in the New Year. Can you talk about that experience?
LM- This was crazy. We went in early to set up and it had just started snowing but the worst of it hadn’t hit [editor’s note: on the 28th and 29th the band was in Denver before traveling to SF for the 30th and back east for the 31st] . We got there and by the time it was show time it had snowed at least a foot and a half and this was on top of the foot and half to two feet of snow that had hit the previous week. They shut down everything and nothing was open. We were like, “Who the hell is gonna come out?” Well I guess it turns out they’re either hardcore enough or stupid enough. I would say 80% or 90% of the bar was underage. It was all college kids. Over 200 people the first night and well over 300 people the second night. It was mostly people from Denver, and people from Ft. Collins or Boulder couldn’t make it out. Our guitarist got caught in the blizzard. What would normally be an hour and half drive took seven hours to get there. We didn’t really get to soundcheck . But people spent a lot of energy to get there and everyone was ready to kick ass.
JH- How was it to play San Fran for Sea of Dreams? How would you relate it to other festivals?
LM- Definitely a West Coast vibeOne of the only West Coast festivals we play is High Sierra and it’s fairly small. But it [Sea of Dreams] was great. It was a big crowd on the West Coast. We came on stage and we were the very first act to play. There was maybe 15 or 20 people standing beside the stage and about two minutes in we had over 2,000 people there who had never heard Lotus before.
JH- How did New Year’s in Pittsburgh go?
LM- Well, part of the difficulty was we had to leave from all the shows and go right to the airport for two nights. So we weren’t operating on much sleep. Unfortunately moving from the west coast to the east coast you lose three hours in time zone changes. So we didn’t actually end up getting to Pittsburgh until about an hour and half before the doors opened. We didn’t have any of our backline gear (laughs). It was kind of a little difficult, a little stressful.
JH- How did Lotus first come together?
LM- We got started somewhere in the summer of 1999 when Luke, Mike and Steve were playing together in school. They started the band there. Then they came out to Colorado for the summer and I started playing with them then. Then I transferred to the same school the following year and that’s when we really started gigging and playing small shows around Indiana and Michigan.
JH- When was percussionist Chuck Morris added to the band?
LM- Chuck was added in 2001. We had played with a couple percussionists prior to that. He had played with a couple local bands, actually, on the drum kit. He sat in with us and we always felt like percussion really rounded out our sound. And that’s when we started to move more to the direction that we do now. Before that time we were a pretty traditional jamband. We had vocals and we were doing a lot of other stuff in the vain of Phish. 2001 is when we went all instrumental and started to take more influence from the electronic producers and that kind of setup. We started working with a lot of the things that we do now.
JH- I know that if I was on the road with my brother all year long one of us would be dead right now. Would you say that bond enhances your chemistry? Does the brotherly conflict ever emerge?
LM- In addition to that we were taking out one of our younger brothers for some of the dates doing sound for us! I think we benefit from both sides. One thing is we feel really comfortable telling each other, “What the hell are you thinking?” We don’t think twice about telling each other about anything. At the same time we can also take it. It’s like when you spend that much time with anybody it gets to be a little hard. But we haven’t killed each other yet.
JH- When did you first start playing bass? Who and what are you thinking about when you construct your bass lines?
LM- I first started playing in high school. Me and Luke actually started a ska band (laughs). We needed a bass player so I went out and got a bass. I was self taught. I guess at the beginning I was listening to a lot of punk and a lot of funk at the time. Some other stuff , like Paul Jackson who worked with the Headhunters. I’ve never really been one toI don’t really follow bass players. It’s like playing under the same guitar chords, and I can make that chord become something else. I always try to maintain good melodic structure with something that can lock into the groove and really provide an energy and set the feel the composition is working for. That’s what’s really controlled by the bass.
JH- You’re self-taught?
LM- For the most part. I never took any lessons. Before playing electric bass I studied some upright bass in college.