Interview by Parisa Eshrati
During the 11th annual Gem and Jam Festival in Tucson, Jesse Miller of Lotus spoke with T&E Collective about their latest album, Eat the Light. We discussed the themes of light and anticipation, creating instrumental narratives, and what fans can look forward to the rest of the year.
Your latest release, Eat the Light, is the first album to feature vocals on every track. In a previous interview, you stated how your dad being a pastor has always been influential to your musical approach since you were always surrounded by 4-part singing. Did that have direct influence on the vocals for this album?
I wouldn't say there was too much direct influence there for this albums. I listen to a lot of music with lyrics...but Lotus is primarily instrumental because none of us are strong singers. Writing and producing have always been things that I’m more interested in. I didn’t feel that doing a vocal album was too much of a departure from our other stuff, it's just more concentrated down. It's a slightly different approach when you're writing and putting focus on the lyrics rather than solely instruments, but it was a fun challenge. .
What precautions did you take while writing this album to avoid having a lyrical narrative and continue letting the instruments dictate the theme?
When I write songs, I don’t usually begin with a story-based narrative in mind. Even if there is some kind of story that I'm trying to create, it's more abstracted. There are no characters or literal approaches. The story rather builds from the melodies and the syllables complimenting those melodies. I tried to keep the lyrics abstract so just like our instrumental work, it allows the listener to interpret the music in different ways.
The theme of Eat the Light revolves around "the magic hour" and specifically honing in on that feeling of anticipation of change. It's great in that it's so abstract a listener could attribute that metaphor to a personal feeling, or perhaps even what we're all experiencing right now as a nation. What do you think is the most important aspect of this feeling of anticipation?
You know, it's funny because the theme was something that emerged after the album was already made, It wasn't something that we planned out, rather it was a common thread we noticed running through each song. I like that idea of "the magic hour" specifically, though, because if you're taken out of context you're not sure if the sun is rising or setting. You're kinda riding on the moment just knowing that there is going to be some change emerging. It's not necessarily a paranoid feeling, but there's something to that idea of looking around and knowing there's a change approaching, but not fully knowing which direction it will go in.
I think that's really interesting how this theme emerged after the album was finished. When you revisit your older material, whether it's playing it live or just listening to it, do you feel that you've seen new themes emerge over time?
When I look back on our older instrumental recordings, there are certain music theory things that I'm drawn to and notice patterns emerging that I might not have been fully aware of before. There are certain intervals or chord changes that I can see going back to some of the older material that I've written. Just like how people in the visual arts field can notice trends of color palettes when they look back at their previous work, I can more easily notice certain music theory threads running my older work.
It's also been interesting to hear the subtle but noticeable differences in what I wrote versus what my brother, Luke [Miller], wrote. We're drawn to slightly different styles and if you really know our personal styles, you can pick out which songs were written by who just based on those little nuances. Luke tends to write more sunny, upbeat things and I tend to gravitate towards compositions that are a little more murky.
I read that you were in a very "cinematic" state of mind while writing this album, which really helped develop the mood and atmosphere of this album. What helped develop the more structural song-writing process for this release?
For this album, we wanted to base things off of a basic pop structure. In the beginning, we set out to have a record that was more catchy and tidy. We did a Talking Heads cover set which influenced this more conventional, pop-style that you hear int his album...so really that basic idea of making pop music created that more traditional song structure rather than lengthy, improved jams.
Since Valentine's Day is coming up, tell us one of your favorite love songs.
I don’t know if it can really be considered a love song, but there’s a Spoon song off their latest record called "New York Kiss" from their last album. I love that song, but I don’t think I’d ever write a love song personally [laughs].
I hear you're a bit of a podcast junkie. What are some of your favorite podcasts?
I really enjoy On The Media and The Gist with Mike Pesca. Mike started off as a sports broadcaster, but now talks about culture, politics, and a lot of other great topics. I'd definitely recommend that one.
What can Lotus fans look forward to for the rest of the year?
We’re on tour right now, so that’ll consume our lives for the next four to five weeks. We have more shows booked but this is the longest tour we’ll do this tour. We’ve already started to record and do some demo work, so we're excited to get back in the studio and work on another full-length.
We also did video shoots of our last two Red Rocks shows, one of them being The Talking Heads cover set, and those should be released soon. It's just taken a long time to clear the liscensing, but that process is just about over with. There are also a handful of B-sides to Eat the Light that should come out at some point soon, so stay posted on that.