Instrumental jam band Lotus’ most recent album “Build,” released in February, is a bit more restrained than usual.
The album’s 10 tracks build on the heavily electronica-influenced sound of 2011’s self-titled effort, but the approach is less sprawling than in the past, with relatively shorter songs built around focused grooves.
This might suggest plenty of room for jamming in the live setting. Since its formation in 1999 at Goshen College in Indiana, Lotus has built its reputation on extended jams full of electronic and acoustic instrumental interplay, with shows often stretching past the three-hour mark.
But while the band has pushed some of the new song’s lengths in shows since the album’s release, for the most part it has remained close to the recorded versions.
“These songs we extend a little bit live, but we don’t go into huge jams,” guitarist and keyboardist Luke Miller said recently from his home in Denver, Colo. (the band’s members are now split between Denver and Philadelphia, Pa.). “They are a balancing point in the repertoire to give it contrast. If I go to a show with a jam band, and there’s a set where it’s just five 15-minute songs, I start getting bogged down in it. I feel like a couple of big jams in a set, offset by tighter songs, lets the jams stand out more and not turn into a big noodle mush.”
Camp Bisco 12
When: Today through Saturday
Who: Performers include The Disco Biscuits, Bassnectar, Passion Pit, STS9, Animal Collective, Umphrey’s McGee, Flux Pavilion, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Lotus, Wolfgang Gartner, Boys Noize, Zeds Dead, Squarepusher, Tommy Trash, Madeon, Dillon Francis, Baauer, Toro Y Moi,
Where: Indian Lookout Country Club, 1142 Batter St., Mariaville
How Much: $199-$185 (full festival); $90 (Saturday only)
More Info: www.campbisco.net
Lotus will bring these new streamlined songs to its Friday set at Camp Bisco 12, which starts today and continues through Saturday at the Indian Lookout Country Club in Mariaville. This year the long-running festival, launched by Philadelphia jam band The Disco Biscuits in 1999, will feature the Biscuits’ usual multiple performances on all three days, along with sets from groups in both the electronica and rock realms, including STS9, Bassnectar, Animal Collective, Passion Pit, Umphrey’s McGee, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis and more. For a full list of acts and set times, visit www.campbisco.net.
Camp Bisco is one of a handful of festival stops Lotus is doing this summer before heading to Japan for the fifth time in September. The band is a veteran of Camp Bisco, having played the festival twice before at the Indian Lookout, most recently last year. The band also played the festival at its previous location at Hunter Mountain in Hunter.
“This might be our fifth time — fourth or fifth,” Miller said. “It’s a good central location for a lot of our East Coast fans, and there’s a lot of crossover between the other acts that are there with our fans.”
Miller, his brother Jesse Miller on bass and samples, drummer Mike Greenfield, percussionist Chuck Morris and guitarist Mike Rempel have made up Lotus’ lineup since 2001, when the group shifted to an instrumental focus. Years of heavy touring around the world helped to focus the band’s live show — the group is known for playing upwards of 100 shows per year, playing on both rock and electronica bills.
For “Build,” the band wanted to showcase its chemistry as a live unit — which isn’t so different from the approach the band has taken on past albums. The real difference came in the material itself, which was more focused on a specific sound than on past albums.
“The title says it — they all kind of have this build to them,” Miller said. “But while we were recording that album, we probably recorded three times as many songs — or maybe not three times, maybe more like two-and-a-half times as many as are on that. For ‘Build,’ we picked the ones that sounded alike, and it turned out to be this more electronic-focused stuff.”
The band’s mix of rock and electronic sounds runs through its recording process, as well. As with past albums, “Build” began in the analog realm, with basic guitars, bass, drums and keyboards recorded live to tape. The band then added the electronic elements and other overdubs using digital recording techniques.
“First and foremost, the sound [of analog] is unbelievable — when you hear it back it sounds like you’re standing right there,” Miller said. “With digital recordings, it feels a little ghostly; it sounds like you’re not there. What you hear coming off of tape sounds like you’re in the room. ... The second aspect is that there’s more of a — it depends on how many tracks you’re doing, but you get maybe 22 minutes [with tape], so there’s an added pressure time-wise to nail it in a few takes.”
View photos, videos of past festivals
View a photo gallery from Camp Bisco 11 in 2012.
View a photo gallery from Camp Bisco 10 in 2011.
View three videos from Camp Bisco 11:
View video 1.
View video 2.
View video 3.
View story from Bisco 11.
Despite the band’s jamming onstage, the songwriting is actually more controlled, with the Miller brothers composing the material and then introducing it to the full band.
“We basically just write those completely, and kind of flip it back to the other person once it’s nearing completion,” Miller said. “Once we think it’s ready to go, we’ll send it to the band to see if they have any suggestions, and then the rehearsal process is where the final touches and flourishes get added on.”
Even with “Build” just out, the band isn’t resting on its laurels anytime soon. The additional material recorded during the “Build” sessions will eventually see release on a series of EPs, according to Miller.
Hip-hop album in works
The band is also working on a hip-hop album due out in August, “Monks,” which utilizes remixed tracks from the sessions for the self-titled effort married to performances from rappers including Lyrics Born, Mr. Lif, Gift of Gab and C Knowledge.
“We sent them tracks and had them do their thing, and when we got them back we edited it a little more to fit what they had done,” Miller said. “They all gave us really good performances; we didn’t need to go back to anybody like, ‘Ah, can you do this again?’ It all came back pretty good. Only — a couple of them seemed like they needed more of a chorus-y hook, so we got some singers to fill in around what they had done, which was a cool thing.”
The band is also thinking about another themed show for Halloween. In the past, the band has done themes ranging from robots to David Bowie to Black Sabbath — not necessarily the first band one would think of with an electronica-based jam band.
“I was just reading an interview with Rick Rubin, who produced the new Black Sabbath album,” Miller said. “His whole thing was to get Sabbath back to how they wrote the original albums, which was through jamming, and he said, ‘Black Sabbath is a jam band.’ Yeah, you’re really right. So we were trying to bring out that element of Sabbath, that bluesy, jamming, heavy element.”
Reach Gazette reporter Brian McElhiney at 395-3111 or email@example.com.