Flying Lotus

Blake Gillespie

“You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Where there is a way or path, it is someone else's path. You are not on your own path. If you follow someone else's way, you are not going to realize your potential.” – Joseph Campbell

Flying Lotus

All photos by Timothy Saccenti

As I sat with the long-playing mp3 advance of Flying Lotus's latest record Until The Quiet Comes, the impulse to hear it as a continuation of Cosmogramma was instantaneous. The same lucid electronic jazz meditations and the same cast of collaborators with the addition of Erykah Badu greeted my ears, although lacking those intense departues like “Do The Astral Plane” and the Thom Yorke collaboration, “…And The World Laughs With You”. Yorke returned for UTQC, but his role altered.

The word role is important, because once Flying Lotus mentioned Joseph Campbell as an influence on UTQC, my impression of his opus shifted. I dusted off my copy of The Hero With A Thousand Faces and began thinking about UTQC as a hero's journey, as the soundtrack to a myth.

Flying Lotus, born Steven Ellison, embodies Campbell's philosophy, in both his life and his music. If we look to the quote above, we see everything he's become summarized. He was part of a burgeoning LA scene, in which he could have joined his cohorts in their paths, but he sought higher ground of collaborating with jazz artists, rather than strictly rocking monthly parties or becoming a background player himself to rap artists. His albums introduced surrealist worlds, further realized through his cosmic videos like “MmmHmm” of soul brothers in indian headdresses and green-leafed alien queens.

On UTQC, FlyLo bounces in strong with “All In” like the jolt a body will do as it slips into a deep rest. And like that, “Getting There” arrives on a chariot guided by Niki Randa, the first to greet us on our journey. Randa brings the call to adventure. “Until The Colours Come” is waiting to cross the first threshold, for a hero's journey requires many layers of transcendence and the mastering of two worlds, the first of which begins at “Heave(n)” in the belly of the whale. After many trials, boons, flights and temptresses (embodied by the cast of Badu, Yorke, and Thundercat), the hero returns to the threshold with the power to live free. In listening to UTQC, one could sit with the table of contents open on The Hero With A Thousand Faces and map the progressions. I'm not suggesting that Flying Lotus's record is textbook. The power of following the myth formula is what sustains the record. A myth is a universal truth, retold across centuries and civilizations, but always told the same. It's believed that we are losing our connection to the power of myth and allowing history to be our guide, when as Campbell says “history is just journalism, and we all know how reliable that is”. Through his surrealist records, Flying Lotus is binding us once again to the story that is within our inner being, it just takes the proper tools and an open mind to hear it.

The following interview was conducted prior to learning all this, but still contains dialogue worth reading:

In listening to Until The Quiet Comes, I get the feeling of continuation from Cosmogramma… did you intend that?

In a sense, because I’m working with a lot of the same musicians in the making of it. There’s definitely the same spirit. The intention is a little different. I felt like the actual story of the album, the structure of the album I wanted to feel a lot different than Cosmogramma. With that one, I was pretty much like, let’s jump out of a fucking airplane with this music. I thought this time around it would be better to make something with more build up, more peaks and valleys.

I noticed a lot of fluidity to this record. I think it opens with eight minutes of continuous music, the tracks bleeding into each other before there’s a quiet moment between songs. What was the first song you made for this record?

The first song was… [Long pause as he hums and thinks]… “Heave (n)”. I think that was the first one and then, maybe “Getting There” was the second one.

In those songs did you start to hear the direction of the record?

You know, I didn’t know. I feel like when I go into this stuff, I’ll start making tracks and think this can work on the next thing and a lot of times it’s not a fit. I think that you know making this thing it reveals itself in a way. It shows itself to you along the way. You’ll start out thinking, ‘Oh, I want to make a record like this’. Two weeks later, you think, ‘Oh, I want to make a record like this’ [Suggesting a difference between “this” and “this”]. Then, two years later all those phases are your album, I guess.

I feel as though because you’re working with a similar cast, the significant change in your music happened from Los Angeles to Cosmogramma and Until The Quiet Comes. Did your recording style and the presence of collaboration change entirely for you in between those albums?

I still feel like I make live shit. But people don’t know. A lot of that stuff is sitting on my computer somewhere. Who knows if I’ll ever come out with it. At the end of the day, I like to push the shit that means the most to me, whether or not it’s commercially viable or whatever. I try to push things that I have some emotional attachment to. I feel like with this album, it’s probably the last that I’ll make like this because I feel like there’s other stories to tell.

What story would you say you’re telling with this record?

Oh man, that’s not fun. I can’t just give it away.

Ha. Fair enough, I’ll figure that one out for myself, but good to know there is a story in there.

I, myself, am a fan of Joseph Campbell. He was on some shit about a Heroes’ journey. I feel like I apply that with my record a lot.</p>

Damn, well I need to brush up on my Joseph Campbell and give this a renewed listen.

It’s like a movie for me. I try to build it up like one and have these scenes. It’s got a world and everything’s all good, then you start having adventures, then things get weird and you lose friends along the way, and it gets dark and then you come back with hopefully some sort of hopeful feeling or a feeling uncertainty or a peaceful kind of thing.

Hopefully be one of the heroes who finds his way. Did you recently discover Joseph Campbell or was he someone who’s been an influence on you for awhile?

Well actually, I got into him from being in film school in college. We had a study of… hmm, I don’t know, it’s been a minute though [Laughs]. It’s been a conscious decision though, since this album.

I read in another interview that the way in which the previous record was discussed rubbed you the wrong way and so you wanted to make a statement with UTQC. What was it that you felt needed to be accomplished?

I feel like with the last album I left everything on the table. With this album I thought it would be cool to put things on the table to really entice someone, only to take them away, and then put new things on the table, then take them away and so on. As opposed to saying here’s everything, here it is.

I wanted to have a record that had smooth listening and you wait for these big moments and when they have the power to release you.

You're working with Shabazz Palaces on their next record

We did a track together, but I’m working on a movie. I hope that Ish will be the co-star of the movie.

I’m really excited about Azizi Gibson, who you signed to Brainfeeder. How did you come to know and sign Azizi?

I was on the tredmill at the gym and he came up to me and asked if I was Flying Lotus [Laughs]. And I was like, “yeaaaaah.” After that, he kept coming around the gym looking for me. On my way home and shit, I’d see him outside of the gym and shit. He’d come through and say shit. One day he brought some music in. When someone hands me music, I don’t usually get into it, but for some reason I believed in this guy, something in his eye.

I gave it a listen and I really liked it. Had to sign him.

Why was his Ignorant Prayers debut [with Jeremiah Jae] a free release?

That’s what he wanted to do [Laughs]. It was good for him to build his name too.

Will you work with him on his official debut?

Yeah. If he wants, we’ll see. We’ve done more stuff, but I don’t know what’s going to happen with it yet. We need to be mindful of the releases. I’ve been recording a lot of rap music for different people lately, like Childish Gambino, Captain Murphy, Ab-Soul and a few others. I don’t know what’s going to happen with it, but who knows, maybe I’ll have a rap mixtape with all these productions I’ve done.

That would be beautiful. So, I’ve yet to get a grasp on Captain Murphy. What can you tell me about him?

He’s a young dude. He’s one of those dudes who’s super shy and don’t wanna say nothing. I heard some shit I thought was cool, but felt like he was a dude who needed someone to help him put some shit together. Sometimes he’ll come thru and we’ll some record some shit that he wrote and I’ll engineer it for him. I hope he does some more shit.

Yeah, the track you did with him and Earl Sweatshirt for Adult Swim… he sounded like a pitch shifted Del The Funkee Homosapien. I didn’t know whether it was another Del alias or an inside joke. Right on though. Real person.

It’s funny because everyone thinks he’s someone else. Could it be Tyler [the Creator]? Or could it be Earl and Tyler together? It’s funny to me, man. He’s a real dude.

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