Flying Lotus: Sound of a Seeker

With his third album, celebrated producer <b>Flying Lotus</b> has hit upon a rich seam of invention, combining jazz with the best of electronica, and transcending both

Feature by Bram Gieben | 27 Apr 2010
  • Flying Lotus

Flying Lotus answers the phone in a soft, mellowed-out Californian drawl. He’s having trouble with his plumbing: probably the last thing you’d want after completing an intensive tour of US venues, several dates of which were with Thom Yorke's Atoms For Peace ensemble. “It’s crazy, I just came back from the tour and I didn’t have any hot water in my house!” He sounds more amused than stressed by this. “They were like, ‘Oh no, we can’t get anyone to come out there until Tuesday.’ I was like, ‘There’s a leak in here! A leak! You gotta come chase it!’ It’s cool... Someone came and turned that shit back on.” Having dealt with this mundane but essential business, he turns to talking about his tour, his jazz heritage, and his intensely brilliant new album Cosmogramma.

So how was the tour? “It was great man, a really inspiring experience. The crowds were really interesting, because they were like zombies out there.” Was it difficult translating dancefloor music into head-music? “They were standing there packed - five, six thousand kids; and they can’t even move. Some of them were nodding their heads, some of them just didn’t know what the hell was happening! But, you know, I was just using that shit just to get inspired, man.”

So the head-nodding was just as inspiring as a sweaty dancefloor? “Yeah. I mean, I like to dance when I go out. I do want to make it an engaging experience, but there’s always time to party. You don’t have to seek too far in the sound to hear the spiritual. It should be something that you get. It shouldn’t be something that has to be told to you, or written: it has to be something you feel, in your heart. I don’t wanna have to preach to anybody, you know?”

Coming from a family steeped in the history of jazz (he is the nephew of John and Alice Coltrane), it has taken FlyLo a while to come to terms with this legacy: “It’s a huge part of my upbringing," he states, "a huge part of my culture. That’s the family music.”

Cosmogramma is the sound of FlyLo exploring every imaginable kind of linear, digital dancefloor music – from electro to techno to dubstep, to genres not yet named – but through the prism of experimental jazz. It’s a triumph of form and composition, and the making of the album brought him back in touch with his fabled roots. He rediscovered the jazz in his blood and soul. “That’s what I grew up with, and it’s been nice to find my own face in there, you know? I grew up thinking this wasn’t me. Like I wasn’t meant to be playing the horn, I wasn’t meant to play saxophone. So it was a very good, very fun experience dabbling in that territory.”

That said, FlyLo is quick to distance himself from the bland, mainstream jazz that constitutes much of today’s work in that genre: “All that elevator jazz shit. I always say to my friends, if ‘Trane was here, and he heard a lot of the jazz that’s out there, he’d be real mad! He’d be real frustrated that no-one had tried to take it further than where it was when he was around.”

Asked to describe the genesis of Cosmogramma, FlyLo gets reflective. “There were a lot of things that inspired this record to sound the way it does. A lot of it had to do with me going through some tough times, man, in my personal life... allowing that to inspire me to venture inward, into myself and into my ideas and goals and dreams and visions, you know?”

FlyLo describes something Coltrane must also have experienced – the frustration of dealing with imitators. “Another part of it was just hearing a lot of stuff that was starting to sound similar to what I had been doing years ago. Hearing kids on the scene doing that, it really started to annoy me. So I just thought, how about I just fucking... go so far inward, that no-one could possibly replicate it.”

This is exactly what the ambitious young producer has achieved with Cosmogramma; it's a glorious sonic assault that plays with musical form and structure in an organic, timeless way. One of the album’s highlights is the song ...And The World Laughs With You, featuring Yorke on vocal duties. The collaboration was a dream come true for FlyLo: “He’s one of my personal heroes. It’s beyond his shine, or his spotlight or whatever. I truly respect him as an artist first and foremost. I was one of the kids waiting in line to see his show years ago.”

How did the collaboration come about? “I met Thom in Japan a couple of years ago, after I had done a remix for [Radiohead]. They hit me up to do a remix of Reckoner, which was really crazy for me, because I was such a big fan and everything. After that happened, Thom got back in touch via Mary Anne Hobbes, the radio DJ. We connected again, we did the song really fast, and it all just happened, man. It was all love: there was no stress in the situation. It was the perfect time, he wasn’t too busy. I was just at the end of the album, it was just about finished, and he came and put the icing on the cake.”

FlyLo also runs his own record label, the fantastic Brainfeeder, featuring artists like Daedelus, Gaslamp Killer, Samiyam, and Glasgow’s own Mike Slott (also of the LuckyMe collective). What makes a Brainfeeder artist? “I think the general idea is the same for all of us: it’s the sound of a seeker. A seeking person – someone who is looking for more than just this experience. People who care about the state of music in general. People who are trying to understand life through music.”

With Cosmogramma, Flying Lotus seeks farther and travels faster than ever before. It’s an epic, baffling, emotional journey; truly cosmic in scale and ambition – perhaps the first truly essential electronic record of this new decade. It marks him out not just as a great producer and composer, but as an important and influential artist: perhaps one day as important and influential as his revered uncle.

All the same, FlyLo remains humble: “I’m honoured that I’ve made my little mark on music, whatever that is," he offers. "It’s really nice to know that, and to be alive to witness it, because a lot of people don’t even hear the influence that they’ve had on music until they’re old, or whatever. Or they die before they hear their influence on music, you know? I’m lucky to hear it. But, whatever man... I’m just here on a mission, my own mission.”

Cosmogramma is released via Warp Records on 3 May and is available for preview on his MySpace.

Check out the free download A Decade of Flying Lotus mixed by Gaslamp Killer at the Brainfeeder site.

Play the Flying Lotus video game here.