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Lotus: Monks of a Different Order

As far as unlikely musical combinations go, the pairing of jambands and hip-hop artists is up on the list. The highly produced beats and lyrical stylings of the hip-hop genre don’t really seem like the kind of thing that should mesh well with the heavily improvised, often totally instrumental jamband sound. Nevertheless, the combination is not unheard of. Galactic brought various emcees together for their 2007 release From The Corner to the Block, and Phish even performed with the ultimate rap superstar, Jay-Z, back in 2004. With their new album Monks, jamtronica masterminds Lotus can now count themselves among the ranks of jambands that have boldly ventured into the hip-hop arena.

Monks might seem like an aberration on par with that Phish/Jay-Z collaboration at first glance, but further examination makes it clear that few jambands are better suited to the task of merging these genres. Plenty of Lotus’ studio tracks—especially on their 2011 self-titled album—incorporate breakbeats and even straight-up hip-hop samples, and their studio production has always been more precise than a lot of their jamband contemporaries. In fact Monks is, in many ways, a remix album, as all of the record’s tracks are composed of samples from previous Lotus releases—with some stellar emcees working their magic on top of it all. We spoke with Lotus’ Luke Miller (who also co-produced Monks with his brother/bandmate Jesse) about the the album’s inspiration, playing it all live, what’s next for the band and more.

In an interesting move, Lotus’ latest album Monks. is grounded in hip-hop and features appearances by notable Emcees like Lyrics Born, Gift of Gab and Mr. Lif. Can you tell us a little about this project and how it came to fruition?

Basically it started when we were recording for our self-titled album that came out in 2011. One of the tracks we were working on was a hip-hop track. Originally it was instrumental with some vocal samples, then I thought ‘why don’t we make this the real deal and have Mr. Lif do a verse.’ So he did a verse for us and that’s how it started. It didn’t make it onto the self-titled album because it didn’t fit in with the vibe. I thought “Well I’ll just make three more of these hip-hop tracks and it’ll be a little EP.”

I started contacting emcees and a bunch of them got back to me. It spiraled up from there. When we had all the emcee tracks that’s when we decided to do the instrumental thing in between and weave the whole story. It kind of came together organically.

At first glance it seems kind of odd that a group that’s so deep in the jamband scene would branch out to hip-hop. But as you said, you’ve already explored the genre on your 2011 self-titled album. Have you and the other members of the band been hip-hop fans for some time? Is this something you’d been thinking about for a while?

I’m definitely a hip-hop fan. Some of the others are a little into hip-hop, not as much as me. When we were making the self-titled album, I was listening to a lot of Wu-Tang and RZA beats, trying to get into the tempos of those songs. I think that’s what inspired the eventual hip-hop album. It wasn’t something I’ve always wanted to do. Like you said, the concept of ‘a jamband does a hip-hop album’ sounds horrible. But, I was very pleased with how it turned out.

Both you and your brother Jesse have been working on solo projects that are more grounded in the production, DJ aspect of things. Did you experience with those projects influence any of the work on Monks ?

Not really. For Luke the Knife, that’s mostly a DJ project, while Beard-o-Bees is more of an analog synth thing. For us, production is what we always do. We’ve produced all of the Lotus records and we wrote all the songs on our home demos. For us, producing this album was an extension of that. We’ve each done remixing of other people’s tracks. This is the first time we’ve remixed our own tracks to such a degree.

A lot of the record is comprised of samples taken from past Lotus tracks. It’s actually kind of fun when you listen to it, trying to recognize the different samples, seeing how they’ve been rearranged. A lot of the album consists of this reworked material, but is any of it originally recorded for Monks.

The instrumental tracks were completely recorded for Monks. And then a couple of the tracks with emcees were worked on for other stuff but then it didn’t get released. “Different Dream” and “Four Tips” were recorded for other projects. They weren’t really remixed a lot, we just put the emcee verse on top.

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