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In Conversation With: Flying Lotus

Good God, this interview made me nervous. I mean, it’s FlyLo isn’t it? The Los Angeles based experimental producer, rapper and DJ has released 5 studio albums so far, to increasing acclaim from fans and critics alike.

He’s worked with absolute legends in music – Herbie Hancock, Thom Yorke and Kendrick Lamar (to say a thimbleful of names in an ocean) and is the leading figure behind BRAINFEEDER – one of American contemporary music’s most forward thinking independent labels and home to the likes of The Gaslamp Killer, Thundercat, Lapalux, Daedelus and Mr. Oizo.

He’s known to be a reasonably odd guy himself, someone who’s relatively easy going and relaxed but isn’t afraid of making a statement if he feels like it. Take his last album ‘You’re Dead!’ - conversations about a topic that plagues human consciousness on a daily basis aren’t something you can have with your family at breakfast. It’s heavy stuff, but Steven Ellison wanted to talk about death, not necessarily as a depressing or morbid subject but as a curious part of existence - as something interesting, spiritual and sometimes completely ridiculous.

FlyLo told Noisey last year that the idea of the album started out when he and close friend, collaborator and fellow madman Thundercat were listenin to George Duke in the car ‘…We were like “Man, how come nobody doing shit like this? This kinda shit is crazy! Been doing this shit ages ago. Why don’t we make some shit that just kills everybody? Why don’t we just make some shit where when you hear it, your head just explodes.” So when you listen to it, you’re dead. That was the joke. But then, the first track happened. And to me, it sounded like the moment of death. The whole weight of it. This shit really, this is it. This is where we’re going. I wanted to try and continue from that track to go further into that idea. What would it be like to die, and leave your idea of who you are behind? That whole journey. I tried to get in that headspace, which involved getting into my feelings about death, and dedication to friends who’ve passed away, and more.”

Now the beatmaker joins forces once again with Thundercat and Shabazz Palaces (the duo responsible for last year’s abstract, intoxicating ‘Lese Majesty’ LP) for new supergroup ‘Woke’. They’re out with their first single ‘The Lavishments of Light Looking’ featuring funk icon and veteran George Clinton.

Right now, FlyLo is busy playing the role of resident DJ for ‘Why? With Hannibal Buress’, scoring and writing films and preparing for his debut India tour with the Bacardi NH7 Weekender festival.

I had the chance to speak with Flying Lotus about everything he’s been up, what to expect at the India tour later this year and much more:

Diya: Hi Steven, It’s amazing to speak with you. Thanks for letting us do the interview.

Flylo: Ah, my pleasure.

D: I’m just going to jump right into it. You just announced your new supergroup - Woke, with Thundercat and Shabazz Palaces. Where is that heading?

Flylo: I have no idea. That’s the fun part, is that I really don’t know. I think it’s kind of like uh all it’s up in the air really. It could be anything. It can turn into something - or not.

D: You worked with adult swim for this, and you’ve been working with them for some time now…the Captain Murphy biography video was great.

Flylo: Yeah I’ve always been kinda working with them. The Captain Murphy video was fun!

D: Anyway, this is going to be your first trip to India…

FlyLo: I’ve been before, but it’s my first time performing there, yes.

D: So the first time properly as FlyLo?

FlyLo: (chuckles) Perhaps, yeah.

D: So what’s made it to your Indian bucket list?

FlyLo: Um, I’m excited to have some chai, and some masala dosa. I’m excited to go see some art, go see some new music, hear some old music. I’m excited to see how the kids dress and how, you know, the west has bastardised your country (laughs).

D: A fair bit…

FlyLo: Yeah, I can’t wait to see what we’ve done now since the Internet blew up!

D: There has been a huge change since the Internet came into being. The sound has changed, people know so much more about music worldwide. That can be confusing. I was going to ask you this question later but it seems more contextual now - what advice would you give to young Indian people in this weird space who are trying to make music but struggling to find their sound?

FlyLo: Don’t be afraid to embrace who you are as a person, as a creative person. Embrace whatever parts that make you and you know - go for it. Don’t let it be anything that holds you back. Use it – you know, if you hate your family, make your album about how horrible your family is. If you hate yourself, talk about how much you hate yourself, you know, just embrace all the parts. The dark parts and the good parts - and use it all in your work.

D: So ‘You’re Dead!’ had a couple of really great music videos. You had 'Never Catch Me’ and ‘Coronus The Terminator’ – but I wanted to talk about ‘Ready Err Not’ by David Firth – the Salad Fingers guy. A lot of people loved it but many were really shocked and a bit grossed out. What was the idea behind it.

Flylo: Yeah, you know, I’ve been a fan of him forever. I’ve always wanted to work with him for years and years and years. We’ve been in touch and finally, he said yes. And I was just so happy with how it turned out, you know? He’s a big influence on so many creative people. He’s one of those voices that came out when the Internet took off; he was one of those people who had some cool stuff out there.

D: The visual aspect is an important part of your music, whether it’s in your live shows or your album art by Shintaro Kago, which was the most fascinating and odd yet. What drew you to that aesthetic?

FlyLo: “You’re Dead!”, you know, it’s obviously such a bold statement to come out, but I wanted it to be playful too. I didn’t want it to be so serious. So that’s why I wanted it to have this kind of animated feel to it so it wouldn’t be interpreted as a horror based thing, even though it’s got some playful bits to it and spiritual qualities.

D: Coming to BRAINFEEDER. This year’s been a really great one for your label with people like Kamasi Washington, Thundercat & Beeple. Anything we can look forward to in the coming months?

FlyLo: You know, we have two really dope artists that we’re working with – one is called DJ Paypal and there’s another that we haven’t announced yet. But there’s definitely more music coming out this year.

D: You’ve collaborated with a list of musicians who most could dream of working with, including Herbie Hancock and Thom Yorke – but who are your dream collaborators - living or dead - who you would love to work with in your lifetime.

FlyLo: I would have loved to have done a show with Freddie Mercury. And I’d love to do something with, man, so many people. But, yeah, I’d love to do something with Freddie Mercury.

D: Any others, off the top of your head?

FlyLO: John and Alice Coltraine…

D: They’re your aunt and uncle aren’t they?

FlyLo: Yeah! I would have like to start a band them. Then Sun Ra, Miles – all the jazz guys.

D: I’ve also heard you’re writing your own movie, can you tell us a little bit about that?

Flylo: Yeah, I’ve written a movie – one of them - already. It’s actually called ‘Woke’ and it’s based on the music that we’re doing now.

D: You’ve already written it?

Flylo: Yeah, it’s a feature film. I’m trying to write a new one, which is supposed to be a comedy. I need a new writing partner – someone I can work with for scripts and stuff but I haven’t met that right person yet. But I want to do comedy now.

There’s a new thing that’s coming pretty soon, you know, I’m actually putting a trailer out tomorrow for a short film I’ve worked on. And it’s been playing at film festivals and stuff and we’re going to feed it out to the world tomorrow. **(update: the trailer’s out and you can watch it below)**

D: What are you listening to at the moment. I mean, what are some of the artists you have your eyes on now?

Flylo: I’ve been listening to the new Kode9 album…been listening to a lot of MF Doom, been listening to Levantis – Levantis? Is that how you pronounce it?

D: Talking about DOOM, you played a really cruel joke earlier this year on April Fools Day. That was terrible.

FlyLo: Oh yeah! (laughs) I didn’t do it, I didn’t do it, you journalists did it. And I just said it was funny. It would have been cool huh? Me and DOOM doing an album together? That’d be great. I’d dig that.

D: I think you should go for it.

FlyLo: You know, he hit me up about it but I don’t know where DOOM’s at right now. I think he’s just kind of done right now. He’s kind of chilling out. So, I get it, I totally get it. But when he comes back and when he’s ready I’m always there man. I’ll always be there for DOOM, forever. He’s still one of the most amazing rappers and producers in the world.

D: I just have time for one more question – anything we can expect at Bacardi NH7 Weekender? Any new sounds, maybe…?

Flylo: (Pause) I’m not going to spoil it (laughs).

D: It was worth a shot…

Flylo: Yeah, but I am bringing a new visual show to India, which is going to be really fun.

D: It looks like I have to end this. Thank you so much, Flying Lotus. That was a complete pleasure. I’m really forward to seeing you live this winter!

Flylo: Aw, thank you much! I hope you enjoy it.


Words: Diya Gupta

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01 October 2015