Lotus: Electronic Flower Power
Photo by Dave Vann
“Going into the making of this album, we didn’t set out on a theme or in a direction,” says Jesse.
As he explains this, he and Luke are sitting on a couch backstage at the Outside Lands Music Festival in San Francisco. Some of the other bands performing include Muse, Girl Talk and Phish. Deadmau5 takes top billing on the stage that Lotus played earlier in the day while Arcade Fire headlines another.
SCI Fidelity—a label that was formed and financed by the members of The String Cheese Incident—released the band’s previous album, Hammerstrike, in 2008. Still, despite another incidental tie to the jamband scene, the album is a far cry from “Drums”> “Space.”
By Jesse’s description, Hammerstrike was somewhat “guitar-driven, post-rock. And maybe, unconsciously, as an answer to that, we started writing more synth-driven stuff. And that kind of led to some of the more electronic and dancey stuff that ended up on this album.”
The new self-titled release also marks the first studio album to feature Lotus’ new lineup. After the band remained united for most of their career, original drummer Steve Clemens dropped out of the band in the fall of 2009 to spend more time with his family. (Lotus tours relentlessly, playing nearly 100 shows a year. It’s a way to carve out a living but not a great way to start a family.) A year after Clemens left, percussionist Chuck Morris also resigned around the time that his wife gave birth to their second child.
Clemens’ departure was initially supposed to be for one season. In order for them to on the road—and unwilling to take the full electronic leap into drum machines—Lotus found themselves in search of a drummer, which is a daunting task for any band. Lotus unanimously decided that if they could have any drummer in the world join them, then it would be Mike Greenfield.
They first met him eight years earlier when Greenfield’s band at the time, The Ally, opened for them in Indiana. In addition to Greenfield, The Ally featured bassist Ira Tuton who would soon attain indie rock fame with the band Yeasayer.
Greenfield had become something of a drummer for hire in the Northeast live music scene for awhile, subbing with the Disco Biscuits on several occasions and performing with several of that band’s offshoots and side-projects that, in turn, also featured members of Further (Joe Russo), The New Deal (Jamie Shields) and the guys from Brothers Past. He also played for State Radio, which featured Chad Urmston from Dispatch.
Almost as a long shot, Lotus contacted him and, much to their surprise, he was available to join the band full time. “That eliminated a lot of the work or headache that could’ve been involved,” Jesse says, mildly. “We’re blessed to have Mike Greenfield be a part of the project.”
For his part, Greenfield relays that he was on a temporary contract at John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Md. when Lotus contacted him. “Prior to receiving their email, I had given up on my dream of playing an extensive cross-country tour in a tour bus,” he says. “But, with that email, the dream came to fruition. I was beyond elated and immediately began to tackle their 100-song catalog.” The group now performs as a four piece, with Greenfield having secured a permanent position on drums and nobody, as of yet, replacing Morris.
Greenfield’s addition is the perfect placeholder for the band’s new era. Coming from a background that merged improvisational-friendly rock music with more modern, electronic beats, he swears that his entrance into Lotus had little relevance to the group’s latest electronic explorations. “When I joined the band, the Millers were already starting to change their writing style in a noticeable way,” he says. “The songs were becoming more electronic and assertive, and I feel that my playing complements that style very well.”
So, while the band consistently picks up new fans and continues to expand their reach, they may find themselves always and forever trying to explain or define just exactly what kind of music they play. “I really wish that we could have a simple name that would encapsulate what we do,” confesses Luke. “We’ve tried over the years but nothing seems to really stick or encapsulate the entirety of Lotus, so it’s been a hindrance not to have that. Still, to this day, when people ask what kind of music we play, I fumble around.”
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