Jesse Miller

Courtesy of Douglas Gordon via Flickr

To an outsider, the “jam band” label denotes long song structures and improvisational soloing, characteristics often dismissed with the infamous term “noodling.” These descriptors misrepresent the jam movement. At its heart lies a spirit of exploration, proof that music, even when founded in a concept as abstract as the exchange of energy, can be worthwhile enough for a culture bent on instant hooks. The diverse array of jam bands exposes the scene for its inherent complexity. It’s a sub-culture where southern Gov’t Mule fans and prog rock geeks who follow Umphrey’s McGee share a silent consensus over what moves them.

As one of the mainstays in the jam scene, Lotus brings together jam rock’s rusty, guitar-driven roots with sleek dance grooves and futuristic textures. The band released two albums last year, and for their current tour, stopped by at Rochester’s Water Street Music Hall on Jan. 29. Jesse Miller, bass player and sampler of Lotus, took the time to speak with Campus Times. He touched upon the band’s new creative direction, their tactics in the era of downloads, and their disenchantment with mainstream dance music.

Jeffrey Howard (JH): 2013 was a big year for you; you came out with not one but two albums: “Build” which was a dance album, but you also released an independent hip-hop record. Why don’t you start off by talking about what moved you guys to come out with two very different albums in the same year?

Jesse Miller (JM): “Monks,” the hip-hop album, was a project that we had started a couple of years prior. It started off with one track and then we started getting more MC’s, building up  this mixture of something that became album-like. We wanted to have that album done while we were finishing up “Build”. So we put out “Build” in February and went on a massive tour in support of that in the U.S. for most of the winter and spring, and then we released “Monks” in September. It’s pretty different than our live shows; we didn’t do specific dates in support of it, but we did a few – a short tour in the fall.

JH: Let’s talk about “Build”. Obviously, dance music plays a huge part in your sound for your entire discography. When Justin and I both listened to “Build”, we picked up on influences from some more modern dance bands like Infected Mushroom and Pretty Lights. But I know that you guys are influenced by a lot of bands – Radiohead, Daft Punk, Allman Brothers. What types of sounds and styles influenced you on “Build”?

JM: It was definitely synthesizer-heavy. We were focusing on synths a little more for that record. There were a lot of half-time beats, and for that stuff I think we kind of go back to early ‘90s, minimal hip-hop kind of stuff, as far as the beats, and then building this more layered, synth thing over the top of that.

JH: I was intrigued when I was looking at the names of the MCs on “Monks”. We have CX, Mr. Lif, a lot of names that seemed a little more from left field. How did you connect with these MCs for the album?

JM: We were reaching out to people whose flow and lyrics would work well with what we were doing. Some of those that were on the top of our list were Lif and Lyrics Born and Gift of Gab. Othello we had worked with on some stuff before, so we got him on a track. Some of the others we just reached out to people we knew and asked for suggestions and they put us in touch with friends or people they knew, and ended up throwing out the album with various people in L.A.

JH: Was it at all a new or different experience to work with MCs, since you guys are a very instrumental-based band?

JM: Yeah, it was really different. In terms of production, the stripping down of our sound to make room for MCs was an important thing. So much classic hip-hop is really no much more than a beat and maybe some kind of stabs. Yeah, taking our stuff and really just getting it down to the pretty bare bones of what makes up the beat was a pretty fun way to produce.

Justin Fraumeni (JF): The band seems to embrace an open source idea towards music. I think “Monks” was released as a “pay-as-you-want” model. Why do you guys push that at a time where everybody’s so caught up on illegal downloading and trying to stop that?

JM: For “Monks”, specifically, it was such a different project than our other albums, we wanted the most people to hear it. Because honestly, it was maybe the least traditional, maybe it wouldn’t get into… some people wouldn’t hear it. So we figured this way, we release it on vinyl and people would want to buy it that way and donate if they want, or they could just download it for free. We just wanted to get the largest exposure we could. Still, everyday that it’s been released, people are paying something for that album and chipping in for the whole process, which is really cool to see.

JF: I also heard that you guys release recordings of your concerts?

JM: Yeah. Those aren’t free, but we’ve pretty much released… I’d say almost every show goes up. We do really high quality multi-track recordings, mix them down and then release them through a website called

JF: You guys are a very improv-based band, so I assume that those different recordings are very unique, right?

JM: Yeah. We’re drawing from a pretty large catalog, so all the shows are different. Over the course of the tour, we might play anywhere from between 70 and 100 different songs. It’s a way for fans to either listen back to shows they were at and hear them in more detail or, if they’re across the country and can’t come to a show, to just kind of keep up with what the band is doing.

JH: It seems to me like that’s a big part of the jam band spirit and philosophy. You have websites like, where bands like “Umphrey’s McGee” and “Consider the Source” are putting out their stuff for free.

JM: Yeah, well that really came out of the era where people would bring their microphones to shows and tape shows. With the advent of, “Could the band do their own really good recordings digitally and be able to turn those around fast?” that’s really flown off. So now people will pay their ten dollars and get a much better recording of the band, and help support the band that way as well.

JH: I know Daft Punk is one of your influences and when they released “Random Access Memories” last year, they talked a lot about how dance music was in a stagnant place and they aimed to revitalize it and “give life back to music”, so to speak. How do you guys view the state of modern dance music, and do you have a similar goal of showing people where dance music is capable of going, beyond traditional mainstream dubstep and sounds like that?

JM: I feel pretty disconnected from that more popular… like you said, the “brostep” and the really overproduced kinds of sounds, and everyone kind of sounds the same and everyone’s just standing in front of a computer waving their hands around. Yeah, to me there’s not much life in it, it all seems pretty formulaic and drawing from the same sounds. For me, dance music is all kinds of things, it’s ska music, it’s disco, it’s punk-rock music even. It’s really anything that’s going to move people. I don’t feel for Lotus, that we’re really drawing from that much more popular realm, it’s more… I guess I would describe it as more underground, picking and choosing different things through the whole era from the ‘70s up through today, as far as taking different sounds.

JH: We’re affiliated with the University of Rochester. Have you guys played at Water Street Music Hall? Are you excited at all, or is this your first experience playing there?

JM: Oh man, we’ve played there a bunch of times. I think the last time was a couple of years ago. I think both the live shows sold out, so I definitely recommend people grabbing tickets early if they haven’t gotten them yet.

JH: It’s 2014, it’s a new year. What’s ahead for “Lotus”? Do you guys have any new albums that are in the works? What’s the future hold?

JM: We just finished mixing and we’re mastering on a new EP, kind of like a mini-album. It’s a six track album, more rock based. There’s really no synths, none of it’s really dance oriented. It’s more in the vein of My Morning Jacket, or some Radiohead rock stuff, or even a little bit Explosions in the Sky. And we’re taking some time off the road – we’re just doing less shows so we can spend more time writing for our EP.

Lotus’s new albums, “Build” and “Monks”, are available now under SCI Fidelity records. For more information on the band, visit

Howard is a member of

the class 2017.

Fraumeni is a member of

the class of 2017.

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