American music’s evolving scope hasn’t played into the hands of many bands as well as it has for instrumental act Lotus. The collective of Deadheads with penchants for Aphex Twin and The Orb has ridden the rise of electronic dance music to sold-out tours and high-profile festival slots.
“When we first started playing, we were the oddballs out. People looked at electronic music as this fad that was just about to go away,” bassist Jesse Miller said. “We paved that path for a lot of bands you see now. Any young improv band out there, they are taking cues from Lotus as far as incorporating synths. In some ways, we’ve helped form a movement.”
Along with Sound Tribe Sector 9, Lotus helped popularize that subspace between jam music and EDM known as jamtronica, laying ground for acts like Pretty Lights, Beats Antique and Big Gigantic.
While Lotus’ members love that some of the world’s biggest acts are based in electronica, they lament that computers have replaced guitars as rock stars’ weapons of choice.
“When you have artists that are selling out arenas, and they just stand in front of a laptop and push ‘play’ … that becomes a very different thing,” Miller said. “I can appreciate the mega rock ’n’ roll pageantry to it all, but it takes the emphasis out of musicality and puts it into this theatrical realm.”
That’s where that influence of jam band legends Phish and Grateful Dead comes in; Lotus’ shows are full of heart and soul, never cold and calculated. The five-man group has used the stage as a platform to celebrate classically influential artists like Black Sabbath and David Bowie, and the music has become an intersection where all genres meet.
“We’ve always dabbled in textures and taking anything that is a good groove and has a good melody, and make it into a vehicle for something,” Miller said. “We want to make music that you can feel, that has an emotional element to it.”
The outfit has become increasingly capable of just that, growing as songwriters, especially with 2008’s Hammerstrike and 2011’s self-titled effort, which showcase more streamlined tunes that hedge closer to post-rock.
“We’ve put much more focus on composition,” Miller said. “Earlier on, we didn’t have quite those songwriting chops. It wasn’t totally thought-out.”
The band’s latest is Build, out Tuesday. It’s Lotus’ biggest sounding album to date, well-suited to the big rooms it is growing accustom to selling out. “The sonic quality is top-notch,” Miller said. “It was recorded on analog tape, and it has this warmth. There’s some heavy Moog stuff happening, and it has that high energy that our show has, distilled down to 40 minutes.”