Flying Lotus

Flying Lotus

Steven “Flying Lotus” Ellison likes change. In fact, he fully embraces it. Seemingly, that’s what keeps the 24-year-old sonic auteur continually ahead of his peers. While most producers follow the standard, and most bankable sound, Ellison is sure to never create the same resonance twice. For him, it’s about one thing – progression. “It just keeps it interesting for me as a human being and as an artist to try some other shit that I haven’t tried yet,” the California native quips.

Off the release of his second full-length album, Los Angeles, Ellison sat and talked with Format about myriad of topics: the comparison between himself and the late J Dilla, the importance of having a spiritual connection to one’s music, and what fans can expect next. Chief among them all, Ellison spoke of the dedication to his craft and why it’s okay to be your own man, with your own sound. Progressive indeed.

“I don’t really know where I fit in; I don’t really know where I stand and I don’t really care. I like being away from everything.”

Format: I’m just going to come right out and say it: Your sound is very similar to J Dilla. And a lot of material I’ve read compares you to him, which I find interesting seeing as Dr. Dre turned you onto producing. What do you say to that?
Flying Lotus: I mean, for someone to say something like that at this point is kind of like … it’s almost like a slap in the face at this point. Years ago I could understand, but I’ve been doing this shit for a long time. A long enough time to where I can say I’ve come into my own sound. At this point people are trying to do the shit I’m doing now, not to toot my own horn, but I think it’s almost unfair at this point to go down that route. I haven’t heard a Dilla electronic record yet. I mean that’s what I do, I do electronic records. Sure it’s got soul in it, but anybody that does a soul record, ‘Does that sound like J Dilla?’ You know what I mean?

Format: When I say J Dilla I mean how intricate your sound is. But I get what you’re saying about the electronic thing. Take me inside your creative process; when you’re working on a piece, where do you draw inspiration?
Flying Lotus: Ah man, that comes from a number of things. It all depends. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of remixes so inspiration comes from source material really. But I find inspiration in sounds, man. Personally, I find that it’s all about the sound. Just hearing records and hearing what the homies are working on, so it’s inspiring in that way.

Format: What was it like growing up in Winnetka, California?
Flying Lotus: It sucked. It fucking sucked. You know I talked about progressiveness; this place is not progressive at all. It does not change around here. The mentality doesn’t change around here either. People are on the same stupid shit. There are not too many folks around who are on some other shit out here. I think I was very lucky to have stumbled upon some really ill music later on in life. You know, a lot of my friends are still super closed minded, just musically. A lot of this place keeps you like you’re trapped in a bubble.

Format: Do you think that’s why your music sounds so different and so progressive, because you’re trying so hard not be trapped inside that bubble or be boxed in?
Flying Lotus: I don’t think it’s too hard not to do it, really. Maybe it’s just the whole rebellious attitude I have toward it. I always felt that I was out of place here. And maybe it was my family and my upbringing, because they were on some other shit too. They always encouraged me to be on some other tip and read between the lines, and be my own boss, just to be my own leader in my own world.

Format: I want to talk about your aunt, Alice Coltrane, for a minute. How much ….
Flying Lotus: [Laughs]

Format: We can talk about something else if you like?
Flying Lotus: We’re still dealing with this whole thing, and it’s like people always expect me to give them some kind of answer. Like they say, ‘Oh, what was it like having your aunt Alice Coltrane in your family and this and that?’ And it’s like; she was just my aunt, man. Just like your aunt. But my aunt made music, and she was a very spiritual person. She was inspiring to be around. It seemed like folks in the family, in spite of so many artists and what not, she was the one who was really, really, about the art and about the spiritual lifestyle.

“I like to listen to stuff that sounds like shit that I’m not really doing.”

Format: Do you feel you have some sort of spiritual connection to your music?
Flying Lotus: Yeah, I’d say so. With me, which some people might be able to relate, I find that it’s like meditation when I’m making music. Like I’m receiving messages, or information, and interpreting it. It’s like creating a message and being a vessel for this information.

Format: You recently released the album Los Angeles; can you speak on that a little bit?
Flying Lotus: Yeah. It’s my second album, and I’m still pretty happy with it. After it’s all said and done, and the smoke settles, usually I find that I’m not really into the stuff that I release after it comes out. It feels old, but I said what I said and I’m proud of it. I’m happy with what I did at this point and I hope folks like it. I hope it’s not something people forget about next year, or at the end of the year or in two years. You know, whatever. Gotta do the next one now [laughs]. Round three.

Format: How was creating Los Angeles different from your debut effort, 1983?
Flying Lotus: I think there was a little bit more added pressure. Everyone was kind of like, we’ve come this far and now we’ve got a big release, the first big release, so how is it going to work out? So there was a little bit of pressure because the name had been floating around for a bit and people had heard about me, had done some shows overseas and stuff and now it’s time to see if all the hard work is going to pay off. That’s really all, I think. Sometimes there’s this feeling inside my gut like, ‘Am I making the right decision by not having any rappers on here? Or am I making the right decisions for this and that?’ So I’m kind of second guessing myself, which is the difficult part. But after you’ve already turned the thing in, you have to sit on it and just wait until it comes out. And then you’re like, ‘Oh, I should’ve shortened this thing a little bit here or added this here.’ It’s shoulda, woulda, coulda. It’s just part of the creative process. When you’re not second-guessing yourself, there’s something wrong.

Format: I guess it’s almost like a sign of growth.
Flying Lotus: Yeah, it definitely is. And fuck what ‘they’ say. Be critical about your shit.

Format: I read a review about your album that said, “Genres are for wimps.” The review was getting at how your sound doesn’t have one particular sound. What do you make of that? And is that something you try to do?
Flying Lotus: It’s so funny because when I did the record I kind of wanted to pick up where the last one left off and kind of go from there in a way. But, again, I essentially wanted it to be a story, to be journey too. I don’t want to keep hashing out the same idea over and over and over. People want me to keep making “Massage Situations” and “Tea Leaf Dancers” but it’s like I already did that. It’s like, lets move on and try and figure out some new shit. I’ve been doing super hyper kinetic stuff for a while. But I’ve been getting tired of doing that and now I want to do quiet and harmonic stuff.

“After it’s all said and done, and the smoke settles, usually I find that I’m not really into the stuff that I release after it comes out. It feels old, but I said what I said and I’m proud of it.”

Format: Why the change?
Flying Lotus: It just keeps it interesting for me as a human being and as an artist to try some other shit that I haven’t tried yet. And I think I’m blessed because I kind of put myself in that situation before and a lot of folks would think you get pigeonholed with ideas and certain sounds, but I came out on top like, ‘Yo, I do all kinds of shit [laughs].’ I’m just going to try and keep doing that. There’s some other stuff, this thing called Vengeance I’m working on, it’s going to be … I don’t know exactly where we’re going yet, but it’s going to be a little different.

Format: It’s an album coming out?
Flying Lotus: Yeah. Right now it’s sounding like a really dark slow techno album.

Format: I was also reading this interview and you said you feel like you “represent a movement.” How so?
Flying Lotus: I don’t feel like I’m the ambassador or anything [laughs], but I feel like I’m one of the kids right now who has a voice in this thing. There’s sort of this wave of [individuals] who are inspired to create work by themselves, to create albums on their own from their laptops and they’re in their early 20’s. Teenage kids now are picking it up and really going at it and coming through with these crazy ass sounds and I’m one of them. That’s really it, and I think if you don’t know by now you might be a little too late [laughs]. For the folks that don’t, its about to be on.

Format: What’s some of the music that you like to listen too?
Flying Lotus: I like to listen to stuff that sounds like shit that I’m not really doing. Especially when it comes to being home and having records around. I like to listen to psych shit that will inspire me to sample or just some melodic or trippy stuff, or summer time stuff. I like my little summer time hypno-psychedelic shit. I don’t listen to too much rap personally.

Format: To say the west coast music scene is diverse would be an understatement. Where do you think you fit into it all?
Flying Lotus: I don’t know man. And that’s what’s funny and weird. Sometimes I feel like I’m down with these folks and then I feel like I’m down with these folks. I don’t really know where I fit in; I don’t really know where I stand and I don’t really care. I like being away from everything. That’s kind of why I still live in the Valley, come to think of it. It’s good to be on the outskirts and not being too into any kind of scene or in the mix. It’s all relative to me. I’m not for one man or one team, I like it all.

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Flying Lotus

Jason Parham

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