Interview: Flying Lotus

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Hip hop has always been linked back to boom bap, but there’s more to it than being just a style explored by Wu-Tang Clan or The Roots. Melodic and chilled out, the subgenre doesn’t get much recognition in the scene. After the death of one of the most influential record producers, J Dilla, the world has opened up its ears to a wider spectrum of hip hop music, with a certain LA beat-mangler now taking on that experimental groove and unconventional rhythm. Steven Ellison aka Flying Lotus (or FlyLo) has been showered with praise from the indie music industry and even BBC Radio 1 presenter Mary Ann Hobbs has named him “the Hendrix of his generation”. He tells us why Dangermouse isn’t his favourite person.
Interview Courtesy of Manuel Moeglich + Warp Records
Image Timothy Saccenti

The nephew of the late John Coltrane, Flying Lotus signed with Warp Records in 2007 and has released the Reset EP, and albums Los Angeles and Cosmogramma. The 27-year-old recently collaborated with the Ann Arbor Film Festival to produce a live music score for the 1962 avant-garde film Heaven And Earth. FlyLo is so dope that the just-as-eccentric Gaslamp Killer did a mix of the former’s career retrospective called A Decade Of Flying Lotus recently. We got FlyLo to drop some knowledge.

“I love all types of music, so it’s been just a journey. Deep inside my imagination and influences, I try to come out with the best that I can, whether it’s hip hop, electronic or dubstep. I don’t think; I just go to the machine and work.”

“I do what I want. I sample whatever. I try not to sample for too long, but I’ll sample forever. They can’t stop that. The fun of that is turning it into something you can’t recognise. It comes to a point where you take a teeny tiny fragment and I don’t know whether it still counts, because if that’s the case, then it’s impossible to count. You gotta count all the drums, the layers… If I show you all these tracks, it’s all layer after layer after layer. They’re samples from all sorts of songs thrown in to the mix. It’s not taking one record and flipping it. That’s the most fun: taking the little pieces and making a bigger piece out of all these things.”

“In previous records, I wasn’t doing that so much. Now that I understand how important it is, I’m definitely gonna keep the collaborative process. It’s only made my work stronger, and it’s forced me to think differently and challenges me. It’s so inspiring. I’m not the best piano player in the world or anything, but I think it’s good to know a little bit about music theory and some kind of foundation before you jump into making beats. It’s fun if you just wanna make beats, but if you wanna make something that’s gonna stand out… I’m not doing it for now; I want my sh!t to be forever. You’re not gonna do the “forever” thing by just making beats.”

Thom Yorke
“I was obviously a big fan of his stuff and even did a remix for Radiohead, but never really connected [with him]. Mary Anne Hobbs knows Thom, so she put us in touch. He hit me and was like, “What’s good? I heard you’re making a really crazy album.” I sent him a couple of tunes; a couple of days later he sent me some vocals. I got to arrange the whole song and was geek-ing out the whole time while working on this sh!t. But it was a really chilled process. It was really inspiring to work with a guy like him because there wasn’t any talk about money or managers. It was really cool and [there was] mutual respect.”

New in music
“I don’t think there’s anything [new] anymore, but I want to be new for me. I wanna explore new territories and challenge myself-that’s what’s important, and not repeating myself. I don’t wanna do what I just did on the last album. I wanna make sure people experience new things, live more and have another story to tell. Some people remake movies, keep doing their own style and play it to death-like Inglourious Basterds, which I thought was terrible by the way. Because it seemed like [Quentin Tarantino] was rehashing the cool things that made him interesting. That movie bothered me in a way I didn’t think it would. I think he knows it wasn’t that good, but he did it anyway and people let it slide because it was Quentin. If it was anybody else who made that movie, people would have f*cking hated on it. I love Quentin; that’s the problem. I met him once and I freaked out. I still got his autograph framed at my house. For someone who knows his work like I do, when I saw Basterds it was like he watched all his old movies, pulled all the things he thought was cool and threw them into this war movie. I don’t even listen to my old sh!t no more. The only time I hear it is when I have to play it live. I don’t like to revisit that stuff, man. It’s a different time and a different state of mind. I feel like I’m still growing and still learning stuff, so there’s still a lot to say.”

Lifestyle changes
“On a personal level, I’ve been dealing with the ups and downs of the success of the record, family stuff, friends and love life. [I’ve been] listening to things from years ago and thinking wow, wouldn’t it be crazy if we had these ideas and fused them together. There are these specific things that I don’t know how deep into it we should get but I know because of what happened, I probably won’t make this record again, which is good.”

Alice Coltrane (wife of John Coltrane)
“It’s funny. [When it comes to] my aunt and everyone around, I really downplay the situation. She wouldn’t talk about making music. It was never about music; it was more about spirituality and meditation. If people talked to her, they only wanted to talk to her about John Coltrane. So while living here she was kinda living in the shadow of his work. It’s really sad when I think about it in retrospect, but she was so beyond all that stuff; she wasn’t trippin’ at all. I was definitely aware to some degree of the history and lineage of the music, but I don’t understand at all and I still don’t. But I feel as I learn more about life and music, it means more to me as I move on.”

“It is stemmed from the words “Cosmic Drama”, but I heard it wrong. I thought it was “cosmogramma” and when I looked into it, it actually reflected everything I was working on. It was such a coincidence. That’s what the album is: space opera, space odyssey, exploring infinity.”

“I have the urge to talk on tracks and speak my mind about how I feel about things. Words are very scary to me; they’ll dictate the whole tune. People come up to me and tell me what my songs mean to them and they’re like crazy stories. I hear people telling me, “Aww man, this sounds like flying in outer space, hopping on different planets and coming back down smashing to earth.” I’m like wow, that sh!t is more powerful to me than some guy telling me he met a girl in the club and fell in love or whatever, y’know.”

Los Angeles
“The scene in LA is really dope because everyone is really supportive of each other and very welcoming. I feel like if you went to New York, you’d have a tougher time getting on your feet because 1st off, there’s not really a scene brewing there. I feel that people over there are less inviting into the circle. In LA, I feel like so many kids build, connect and exchange ideas. That’s a common thing I see happening in LA and I don’t see it happening anywhere else.”

Danger Mouse
“He’s never been the kind of person who put it down for LA or [gave a] shout out to LA. There are a lot of people who put LA on the map who are local. I’m not dissin’ at all; I respect the homie, but there are people who really do make this scene happen and make it possible for other people to see that coming from us, but not him. It’s not like he’s in LA hosting nights of the music that we make. I didn’t even know he was from LA until I ran into him at a Thom Yorke party. He lives in my neighbourhood as well-I didn’t even know! There are people like Gaslamp Killer and from the Low End Theory…they’re the ones who have been shouting LA from the get-go, me included. I think that’s what people are seeing as well, that there’s a big family community of musicians. It’s not necessarily about hip hop anymore but this common thread that we all have. It’s like this addiction to imperfection, I guess.”

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