Although it will come as no surprise whatsoever to those who have followed Flying Lotus’s music since his debut on the Los Angeles music scene in 2006, his new album, Until The Quiet Comes, is nothing at all like the one that came before it. The futuristic, offkilter loping beats of 2010’s sci-fi space opera Cosmogramma, which were copied by all and sundry, have been replaced by fluttering, flickering beats that swarm around the listener’s head like gossamer electronic moths.
Futuristic. That’s the right word. When we meet at his manager’s house in the Silver Lake hills in Los Angeles for the interview, I tell Flying Lotus how amazed I am at how incredibly futuristic his new album sounds. Having listened to it in the car on the way over, I was gushing with enthusiasm to meet the 28-year-old beat maestro.
Until The Quiet Comes sounds even more powerfully psychedelic than its genre-hopping, category-resistant predecessor. Its sound stretches and redefines what can be done with electronic beat music, taking the listener on a moody, idiosyncratic journey best served by a late-night spin with the listener strapped in, well and truly stoned to the gills. The first single from the album, already out, sees eccentric earth mother Erykah Badu lend her voice to the tripped out, amorphous “See Thru to U”.
Possessing preternatural rockstar cool, even within the whirlwind of activity – stylists, photographers, videographers, journalists, managers – bustling around him, Steven Ellison aka Flying Lotus is a man with a mission. As it’s one of the hottest days of the summer, today that mission is making some iced sangria. (“Everybody has that one thing they’re really good at making,” he says. “I’m good at making sangria.”) His super-chill chihuahua, Buddy (“he jumped in my car one day and just stayed”), is always by his side.
Tell me about Until the Quiet Comes.
There’s a lot to say about it, but at the same time I feel like this shit speaks for itself, you know? It took me some time to put it together, mostly because I was looking to put out something I was really sure about instead of putting records out just because I’m making music. I wanted to make something that was really reflective of my life, kind of like a diary of where it took me, and I wanted to put those things forward. So yeah, here we are. (laughs)
The album is very different to previous ones. Is that a conscious thing because of how widely imitated your sound has been?
Yeah, but I had to set some new goals and challenges for making music anyway. I had enough time to sit with the old album and think, ‘Oh well, next time, I should do it like this.’ There are a lot of reasons why I wanted to change. I wanted to make sure I don’t say the same things twice. Even where I’m at now from making that record is different.
How do you compose? What’s your creative process like?
I like to gather a bunch of sounds, just random things, whether it be from vinyl or something off the internet, or just shaking things around or playing keyboards and recording it. Then I have this huge cache of material to work with and build from. And that’s what usually becomes the tracks. I feel like it’s a good thing for me to separate the two (compiling sounds vs composing with them). Sunday is a good day to just record things, to take things and experiment to find things that are reflective of what’s happening or what I’m feeling, and then I apply those things on another day when I have the spark to put something together.
In the last few years, you’ve been able to travel the world in style. How has it influenced your music?
It affects me in a really big way, actually, because I’m a homebody. When I’m in LA I’m pretty much at home working all the time. So when I get to travel, I go to venues and festivals and hear things that I’ve been missing because I’ve been in my cave. I’ll get to check out all these things that I’ve been hearing about, all the cuttingedge shit, because I’m out there. I bring that back to the studio. Influence, motivation and inspiration. I can bring that back and it’s really helpful.
You’ve gone on record as an aficionado of DMT – what have you brought back from the psychedelic experience to your music?
See, it’s funny. Because I speak about it a lot or whatever, people assume that I do it often, but I’ve only done it twice. I keep it around, but my experiences were so crazy and amazing, I don’t have to do it, you know? I can remember a lot of the shit, I don’t have to reach too far in my memory to get it.
Have you ever had a mentor relationship with anybody?
Yeah, there’s a lot of people, you know, I’m super blessed. My (great-) aunt Alice (Coltrane, spiritual jazz musician and wife of John) was one, and then there was a guy named Lil’ Sci, John Robinson. He’s
from New York, he was in a group called Scienz of Life, and he was the first person that let me in to see the workings of the underground hip hop scene building in LA, because I had no clue what, where to go, who and all that stuff.
How old were you?
Must have been 21.
You weren’t going to the clubs and stuff until you were 21?
I just didn’t know things like that existed. I was more into just, you know, playing video games, watching The Matrix with my boys, you know what I mean, some stupid shit like that. But I didn’t really know there was a scene of the things that I liked. Around then I was really into my film shit too, so, it wasn’t really about making music so much.
At what point did you say, ‘Actually, that is not the direction I am going to go in, it’s music for me’?
I never consciously made that decision, it just happened. I was in film school in San Francisco and my buddy, a film student as well, was making crazy music on a laptop and having the time of his life. That was sci-fi for me. My idea of making hip hop was that you need an MPC and some records and some zip disks, but he’s doing it on a laptop, making crazy drum & bass also. I was like, ‘Why can you do that? Give me that program, I want to try it.’ I had made music before on machines and keyboards and stuff so to see that... And I was like, techie anyway, and I was on a computer and like, ‘Wow, you can do this? Show me some shit.’ And I started missing History of Film to make beats, man, and you know, it just happened. I was never like, ‘Fuck all this film shit, I’m going to just get on to music.’ It was like, ‘Well, I don’t need 50 people to tell me I’ve got a good idea,’ you know. ‘I don’t need $50,000 to make a film, or a short film for that matter, I can do this by myself in my cave, alone, and it’s awesome.’
Why did you start your Brainfeeder record label?
My initial reason was that I wanted to make sure that the people who started the sound, who were really involved in the shit from the beginning, had a say in where it was going. I didn’t want to just have all these like, weird pop-up labels from Europe trying to claim what we’re doing because they’ve got money to support it. I was like, ‘Fuck all that. We made it, we run it. Let us at least have some say in what’s happening.’ I also had a lot of talent around me at the time too. I lived in a building where a really talented producer, Samiyam, lived. Teebs, he also lived in that building. Adam (Stover, label manager), he lived downstairs in the building and he was really helpful with everything and supportive. He’s just this really good ideas guy, so it seemed like the right thing to do and it only got bigger and crazier.
Is running a label a distraction from your own art?
Everything is a distraction, man! Everything that is not me in the chair working on music is a distraction... But at the same time, I would be doing that shit anyway. If I had a label, I would be trying to help my friends with the things I like, just trying to push it because I believe in it. There were so many people who helped me out when I was first getting on, and I would like to carry that on, you know? Keep that going because it’s a big deal. We all need to support each other in the things we believe in, that’s the only way we can push forward.
How involved are you with releases? Do you oversee everything down to the CD covers, videos and press releases of all the artists?
Yeah, everything comes through me at some point. I see everything and have my say. You know, I’ll leave it to the artist to do the things they want to do, but if I don’t like something, I say it. They don’t have to change things but I definitely make my opinion known.
How was working with The Weeknd?
We haven’t worked together officially on a track but he’s contacted me to do some work for him and I’d do it gladly, I’m just kind of waiting for it. He’s a busy guy and a very mysterious person who likes to pop in and out whenever, you know, and I never know when I’m going to get a phone call or a text or a message, or when I’m going to get champagne poured on my computer. This happened when we were in London: I was playing at a show and all of a sudden Weeknd comes up on stage popping bottles, pours champagne everywhere and then all on my computer. I was about to play and shit and... that’s the way to get the party going. (laughs)
We played the party, the computer didn’t die. It was like an Apple commercial, man – it can stand Weeknd dousing that champagne all over it. Now there’s a younger crew: the Odd Future kids.
Is there a coming together of your two LA scenes?
The Odd Future kids, I brought them to Low End Theory for their first real show in LA. It’s that same thing, they know we’re here. We see each other as love, we work together, I collab with them, you know. It’s funny, I remember before all this shit happened entirely, I brought (Tyler, the Creator) to Low End Theory.
How old was he then?
He must have been... 19? And it was funny because he almost didn’t get in because he didn’t bring his ID and some shit. I had to beg these motherfuckers to let him in. You know, ‘Please, this is going to be good.’ I brought Frank Ocean down too, they were both together, you know. It’s just cool and I know the same story’s going to happen again. There’s going to be that kid who had a spark, we meet, he goes out, we link up and, you know, who knows?
Why is LA such a ‘strange attractor’? There are kids who move here just to go to Low End Theory. What is that energy? And who are the people who make that?
(nods) I think It’s some kind of symbiotic relationship we all have. LA embraces the camaraderie. There is this awareness, knowing that’s the way we all go forward: together. Even last night, I was at Low End Theory and all the producers, we were all there, and I’m like, ‘These are my people!’ They’re my only friends. I have some friends who don’t do this shit, but not many. If they don’t make music they’re in the business, so I’m hanging out with my best friends, and we’re all celebrating the work we’ve put into it. People see that, they feel that and want to be part of that energy. People want to keep that shit going because it’s the real thing.
Film by Tragik
Photography by Kevin Amato
Styling Imogene Barron
This interview is taken from the October issue of Dazed & Confused