Luke Miller of the electronic jam band Lotus, performing at Sacred Rose Festival in Bridgeview, IL on August 26-28 recently called into WZRD Chicago, 88.3 FM, the Wizard. Meagan Panici chatted with him about what Lotus has been up to and what we can look forward to when they arrive in Chicago later this month.
MP: Thank you so much for tuning in and talking to us today. How are you doing?
LM: I’m doing pretty well! I am here in Denver, ready to fly out to Wisconsin for a festival tomorrow.
MP: How was your Red Rocks shows? I know that was a huge deal for you guys.
LM: We were one of the first shows when it opened back up. It was still at reduced capacity for COVID reasons but we were able to do 4 shows just by ourselves. It was a magical experience, one we'll never get to do again with Red Rocks only half full. Everyone just felt so grateful to be there and to finally be back at Red Rocks again.
MP: It is such a beautiful venue. I missed it so much when we were not able to go to shows. It was a moment of realizing what I had taken for granted. That was really cool and we all missed it so much.
LM: There were so many things like that, given the time. It really showed us all what we take for granted.
MP: It really did. To be able to come back to your home base where you are living and be able to play with your people to your people, this family you’ve created, that’s great. It is a family affair because your twin brother is also in the band. Lotus has been a band now for over 20 years, correct?
LM: That's right!
MP: What does that feel like? How does the evolution of a band over all this time feel?
LM: When I take a step back, it feels surreal. In the day-to-day though, it just feels like this is where the rubber hits the road. We are still doing the same things we always have, just writing music and out playing for people. Some of the contacts have changed slightly. People have their own needs - they have kids now, they live in different states but we don’t. We travel around in the ol minivan. At the end of the day, we are still so happy to get on stage and we still play our instruments and improvise and listen to the other members bringing music to people around the US.
MP: Obviously we have a new member, Tim Palmieri on board now. How is that all working for a band that has been together for 20 years? Is it easy to transition, or does it take a while to get him up to speed? He is a wizard on the guitar. Tell me about the transition.
LM: Well certainly changing any member is not easy. Specifically, the lead guitar for a mainly instrumental band like Lotus was not easy. That’s our lead vocal. But as you said, Tim is one of the best guitar players around so he was up for the challenge. He did a lot of legwork beforehand. Last September we made the handoff and played our own festival in Ohio called Summer Dance. Then next week was his first show so it felt like we were building the airplane as we were flying it. He is approaching a year now with the band and he has been doing a great job. Everyone is real excited about what is to come.
MP: That’s great! It’s really cool to see that happening. You guys have been a staple in the scene for a while now, it’s great to see you evolve and keep on going. The Sacred Rose crew was involved with North Coast Music Festival so it’s interesting that you will be involved as they head towards more live bands and fewer DJs.
LM: Absolutely. We have worked with these promoters for so many years, going back to some of our very first shows in Chicago at these little venues around town. I really like that with Sacred Rose, it’s more focused on the live bands. Everyone is excited about that, having a full Chicago fest with lots of jam bands and a lot of really great non-jam bands like Leon Bridges and Khrungbin and stuff.
LM: It’s always a highlight for us to be able to play in Chicago and the Sacred Rose Festival. The end of August might not be my pick for a time to come to Chicago. We’ve gotten hit with some brutal thunderstorms and I think we had a set completely canceled one year at North Coast because of lightning but hopefully, the weather gods will smile upon us.
MP: Yes! Pray to the weather gods! I hope we get a beautiful amazing weekend. The music that is lined up is too good to miss! There will be Phil Lesh paired up with Jeff Tweedy of Wilco. I’m sure the artists will be having as much fun as we are out in the audience. This Philco collaboration is Phil Lesh, Jeff Tweedy, Nels Cline
LM: He is probably my favorite guitarist of all time
MP: Who? Nels?
LM: Yeah, he is so good!
MP: It is so awesome! Plus Karl Denson on sax, a mixture of artists we don’t get to see much around here. Then we will have Disco Biscuits, STS9, and Lotus!
MP: You guys have a new record coming out? It will be out that weekend on August 27, yes?
LM: Yeah - it will be a defacto record release set at Sacred Rose!
MP: Absolutely! Bloom & Recede is out on August 26th. The first studio album with guitarist Time Palmieri on it?
LM: Yes! Soon after Tim joined the band we had a lot of songs that were mostly done just missing guitar from it so we were able to get him in the studio and make an album pretty quickly.
MP: What band did Tim Palmieri come from? Before this?
LM: Tim played with Kung Fu and a band called The Breakfast.
MP: Ah yes! We had Kung Fu in the studio at one point. I remember hearing that and knowing that TIm would fit right in with your guys' vibe. How does the process of songwriting go for you guys?
LM: My brother Jesse and I write the songs. We have studios at home, him in Philadelphia and me here in Denver. We send each other demos all the time and we work on them constantly. Whenever we are on the road we are passing them back and forth. Jesse has a cool modular synth rig at home so this last labrum we were using that on a lot of these tracks. It gives a different spice to some of these songs that feature the modular.
LM: Absolutely. We are very committed to the vinyl and this one is coming out on vinyl as well. We just got the test pressings. I haven’t heard them yet but the cover looks so cool. It is an original painting that we commissioned. When you see it in the full vinyl format you can really see the details and the brushstrokes.
MP: Very cool! Who did you commission? Who did the art?
LM: His name is John Cohen. Jesse found him on Instagram.
MP: That’s amazing. So the song "Pluck" came out back in April but will be released on this new album Bloom & Recede. Tell us a little bit about this song. It’s got a driving synth bassline that uses a house tempo as a platform to build a musical world. Explain what you were working with on this song.
LM: The seed of that one came from improvisation that we did at the Summer Dance Music Festival. We focused on more electronic elements and that was one of the little cells that we used in that kind of improv set. We took it from there and expanded it into "Pluck." The melody of a plucked string and the bassline, like you said, has this driving kind of bassline. From there we tried to iterate on that energy that is so fun to play live. When we kick into the bassline, it is so pumping that you can really feel it in your lower chakra energy. It’s such a low-driving bassline.
MP: You like that type of thing? A piece of intuitive, introspective music that can be energetic at the same time?
LM: Oh yeah, that’s our bread and butter.
MP: Music can be the catalyst for so much change, looking introspectively in yourself. Yeah, that is definitely coming through in your music, that’s for sure.
LM: Thank you. Being instrumental, you leave that space for people to enjoy the melodies and the beats on their own. You can also use that as a moment of introspection and you can go wherever you want within that musical universe.
MP: "Pluck" is on the new record Bloom & Recede as is "Time Dilates." We are going to play that next after our chat. Can you tell us a little about this song?
LM: We played that one live for the first time a couple of weeks ago. It went off super well. The beat is a little slower than Pluck. It is more of a broken beat. I play some piano and we use the modular synth for a little arpeggio glitter sparkle and then there is a great melodic guitar solo that just caps that song off.
MP: I have one question about the dynamic between twin brothers working in the same band together. I am really close with my siblings but I know we can fight. How do you combat any sort of rivalry type thing on the road or working together? How did you figure that out after 20 years together?
LM: Moving to a different city was step number 1.
MP: Ha! That is a great answer.
LM: We work very closely writing music but it is nice to have some space. We are fine when we go out for social stuff when we aren’t working but it is very nice to be in different cities and not have to spend all that time together. It’s similar to work/life balance except it’s the twin life balance.
MP: I love that. Time dilates! Space and time with family are the best, that’s a great answer. Thank you for that. We are really excited to have you on the bill here at Sacred Rose. We will see you on August 27th here in Chicago. Thank you for calling us up today Luke!
LM: Thanks for having me, Meagan.