If someone were to ask what genre the jam-band Lotus belongs to, it'd be impossible to come up with an answer without rambling off a bunch of different genres. However, that's only part of their complex brilliance. The band resists a label simply because it doesn't need it; it is its own entity of electronic and instrumental mishmash.
The band – which consists of guitarist Mike Rempel, bassist Jesse Miller, drummer Mike Greenfield, percussionist Chuck Morris and guitarist/keyboardist Luke Miller – has been redefining its sound since its formation in 1999.
After 12 albums and a new one on the way at some point later this year, Lotus isn't slowing down anytime soon. The band continues to build a strong fan base, touring wherever they possibly can around the country – including a stop this Saturday, Feb. 28, at Turner Hall Ballroom with special guests Turbo Suit (formerly known as Cosby Sweater).
Before the show, OnMilwaukee.com got the chance to chat with Luke Miller about the band's improvised live shows, the inspiration behind "Gilded Age," and an honest attempt to figure out what genre best fits the band.
OnMilwaukee.com: For those who are unfamiliar with the band’s sound, what genre would be the best fit for Lotus? Or does that even matter?
Luke Miller: For all the years we've been playing, we've never been able to nail down a good, snappy, two to three word genre. We've been called live electronica. We've been called a jam-band. We've also been called post-rock, post-everything. I think we got our own sound, and it's hard to classify.
OMC: Your music has often been described as being in the same nature of a jam-band, using instrumentation. I’ve even heard the term "jamtronica" used. Would you still consider Lotus a jam band, or is the band evolving away from that?
LM: I always consider ourselves a jam band in the sense that we do improvise a lot, and that's a big part of the live show. I feel that, to a lot of people out in the general public, the term jam-band has a negative connotation, but for me, just at its purest level, bands improvise and we have that same kind of format.
The Grateful Dead sort of started that format of a band playing two sets a night and taking a set break in the middle, and that's what we do. The idea of having a different, changing setlist every night makes a unique show every night. Those are things we try to do, even though we don't necessarily have a similar sound as The Grateful Dead or The Allman Brothers. But we try to take those ideas and bring it into a more modern sound.
OMC: For live performances, is there a reason why you tend to stick with improvisation rather than keeping up with a structured set list?
LM: I think it's a nice balance having moments in the show that are completely scripted that we try to nail as tightly as possibly and then go into uncharted areas and have moments where we get to try things out and explore. I'd say that the most memorable part of a theater performance is sometimes when someone screws up or some set piece falls, and we kind of like being out there on a tight wire and add a sense of drama and surprise.
OMC: When conceptualizing "Gilded Age," what was the inspiration behind the album?
LM: We were kinda just approaching different angles of nostalgia and how that would play out in different ways – amplify feelings of either triumph or melancholy and maybe try to capture that feeling in sound.
OMC: You guys have released an impressive amount of albums since your start. How did you strive to make "Gilded Age" stand out from previous work?
LM: One thing we wanted to do was to use more basic instrumentation with live guitar, live drums, live bass, live piano and kind of keep it to that. For other albums, we've done a lot of strings and synthesizers and different electronic elements and samples. We kind of wanted to keep that more of a minimum for this album and have more of an organic instrumentation approach to the majority of it.
OMC: A re-issue of your first studio album, "Nomad," was just released. After all this time, why was it important to go back and re-master the album?
LM: At the time, we were just starting out, and we didn't have the funds to really mix and master it to the highest level, so we wanted to go back and present that album in an updated format that we can do a little bit better now that we have a little more means. It was a nice way of marking 10 years that the band's been working and a lot of those songs on the album we still play every night on the road so we wanted to release it in a vinyl format as well.
OMC: I’ve read that you're already working on the next album. I imagine that you won’t give me too many details on the direction the album is taking, but how will you hope this new album will stand out from "Gilded Age"?
LM: It's going to sound a lot different. All of our albums have their own unique sound. We've recorded all the songs, and we are very close to being done of mixing it so it's almost completed. There's a fair amount of collaboration on it. It's completely its own voice. It'll be released this year, but we don't know what time though.
OMC: You're touring with Turbo Suit, formerly known as Cosby Sweater. How’s the tour going so far with those guys?
LM: Tonight is actually the first show we will be playing with them. We've played with them in the past. They're fun guys to hang out with. They're definitely an up-and-c0ming band that bring a lot of energy to whatever show they're playing. They're young and hungry and out on the road busting it. I think it'll be a good match with Lotus.
The tour is going good. We have about a week and a half left, so we're nearing the end of it. It's been a long tour. We kind of circled the whole country. We started out in the cold Northeast, then we went south and stayed warm for a bit, and now we're back in the cold Midwest, still in the throes of winter. We've had a lot of highlights over the weeks, but everyone's kinda getting ready to finish it up strong and being able to go home for a little bit.
OMC: Will you be playing any new material at Saturday’s show?
LM: No. We're keeping all of that under wraps until the album comes out. We will be playing songs from our entire discography and stuff that's not on record, and we'll probably throw in some covers and maybe some collaboration with Turbo Suit.
OMC: Have you played a show in Milwaukee before? If so, what are you most looking forward to about coming back?
LM: We've been playing at Milwaukee for a long time. There used to be this place called Thai Joe's downtown. It was a Thai restaurant/music venue and one of the songs on our very first album, which was a live album before "Nomad" came out, was actually recorded there. I don't know what my favorite thing about Milwaukee is. It's not far from Chicago, but it doesn't have that huge city mentality, so everyone's kind of like good, honest and friendly people I feel like.
Colton Dunham's passion for movies began back as far as he can remember. Before he reached double digits in age, he stayed up on Saturday nights and watched numerous classic horror movies with his grandfather. Eventually, he branched out to other genres and the passion grew to what it is today.
Only this time, he's writing about his response to each movie he sees, whether it's a review for a website, or a short, 140-character review on Twitter. When he's not inside of a movie theater, at home binge watching a television show, or bragging that he's a published author, he's pursuing to keep movies a huge part of his life, whether it's as a journalist/critic or, ahem, a screenwriter.