Improvisational rock, electronic, post-rock: Jambands tend to merge a lot of genres with each tour or album they release. They even sometimes set the standard. Grateful Web called the heavy-instrumental band Lotus “jamtronica pioneers” upon the release of their latest album “Eat the Light” in July.
“I don’t really like the term ‘jamtronica,’” bass-player Jesse Miller says with a laugh. “I know people say that often because we’re a part of an early batch of bands who incorporated influences from electronic music with that jam style. But it’s a small part of what we do. At least to me it just sounds like the worst aspect of jam music and electronic music altogether.”
There’s not really a pinpointed style to encompass Lotus. If anything, when they formed in 1999, Miller suggests they laid new groundwork for what an improvisational band could be. He thinks Lotus has offered influence in composition as much as in improvisation. “Really, our big turning point and more of Lotus’ influence was what we did after that first album [‘Vibes,’ 2002],” he says. “We kind of flipped it on its head more in like a rock direction and we’re always balancing those things.”
Miller is joined by his brother, Luke (guitar and keys), as well as Mike Greenfield (drums), Chuck Morris (percussion) and Mike Rempel (guitar). The brothers have typically shared most songwriting responsibilities throughout their tenure, including their 13th album that features vocals for the first time on all 10 tracks. When he and Luke were writing and compiling songs for “Eat the Light,” Miller says they focused on pop music.
“That can be a little bit easier with vocals because the variation can be in the lyrics,” he says. “So there can be a little more repetition in some of the instrumental parts and make the form very simple. . . . We’ve written a lot of songs over the years with vocals, and it seemed like a good time to do [this] album.”
While they worked on it in similar ways as past releases, Miller says it was a much longer process this time around. He and Luke tend to do most composing remotely before sending songs to the rest of the band for development. At the end of the day, they had a lot of material to choose from in order to find the right sequence. They wanted this album to be void of “lulls,” and instead constantly move with groove, energy and dance.
“More than any album we’ve done, [on this album] we did different versions of songs before we arrived at the final arrangements,” he explains. “Even the process of mixing [was different]. We actually mixed 16 or 17 songs, mastered them, and then went back and remixed and mastered 10 for the album.”
Songs that didn’t make the cut may find their way onto future albums. However, the 10 that remain lean in very different directions.
The band never “breaks” from the road to write or vice versa. They’re collecting new material, which often times get tested on tour. While they’ve been playing festivals since “Eat the Light” was released in July, their show at Greenfield Lake on August 26 will be the debut of a number of songs. “We’ve really just started playing some of those live,” Miller says. “So there will be a lot of first-timers.”
Most tracks were written before Lotus had singers for vocals. They weren’t necessarily looking for “big names” for the project, but they did seek out help from friends and artists they knew with whom they could work well in following direction of the songs. For example, the title track features long-time collaborator Gabe Otto (Pan Astral).
“He has a nice rock sound,” Miller says. “On ‘Fearless,’ Mutlu [Onaral] is a friend of ours in Philly and has this smooth R&B sound. He says he’s the Turkish Marvin Gaye . . . so he [helped] bring out the disco and soul flavor.”
Other guest vocalists include Johnny Fissinger, Oriel Poole and Steve Yutzy-Burkey, among others. Though collaborating has its perks of making the album varied and fun, it comes with a conundrum: All the artists aren’t able to tour with the band. Sometimes Lotus has guest vocalists—as well as guest musicians on strings, horns or doing electronic parts. A lot of the time, the band is picking up the guest parts, as will be the case in Wilmington. “So we use sampling, recordings we’ve already done, which I’ll trigger live while we’re playing,” Miller clarifies.
Lotus is an instrumental band first; yet, they are producers, too. In some ways Miller says they’re part DJ and band. “Singing definitely isn’t our strength, but writing the stuff, recording and play it is,” he assures. “It also changes the focus a little bit. Sometimes the singer is just by tradition the front person. But there’s not a front person [in Lotus]; everyone is equally working together to create this stuff.”