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Flying Lotus: The Genre Hopper

The American music producer/rapper admits he worries that his genre-bending music might be too much for some people

Nirmika Singh Nov 19, 2015
Flying Lotus Photo By Tim Saccenti

“It sucks to do just one thing. But you know, every two years it gets harder because I also need to adapt myself to the changing music climate.” says Steven Ellison aka Flying Lotus. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Steven Ellison aka Flying Lotus is the kind of artist that disturbs and comforts in equal measure. While his videos swing between the extremes of intriguing to downright repulsive [please watch “Ready Err Not”], his eclectic music seems to have a more promising effect. FlyLo is also someone who, with one stroke of a song, can prove how outdated the concept of genres are. Take, for example, his 2008 album Los Angeles and try counting the number of genres on any of its 17 tracks. You’d find a mix of hip hop, soul, jazz, techno, bass and even harp samples. His next offering, the 2010 record Cosmogramma was hailed as a formidable EDM release and the one after it, Until The Quiet Comes [2012] an atmospheric electronica jazz album. Probably the producer-performer’s biggest strength lies in his ability to play a most sneaky game with genres ”“ accepting and renouncing them on a whim.

As Flying Lotus gears up for his maiden tour of India and perform at the upcoming editions of NH7 Weekender, we caught up with him and discussed his eclectic music, ambitions and the impact cinema has had on his music.

Is this your first time here?
No, I’ve been there before, about two years ago. I didn’t perform, though. I went to Bangalore and Tirupathi. I am really curious about how different it is now over there…to see how much the Western culture has influenced the people, especially the young people.

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For people, what makes you different from other artists is the fact that your music is so genre-bending. But what, according to you, is your trademark?
That’s for journalists to decide. I just make art. I don’t think about all these things.

You come from a very illustrious family [his grand-uncle and aunt are celebrated jazz saxophonist John Coltrane and pianist Alice Coltrane respectively]. Is there ever any pressure to be a certain way or to carry the music legacy forward?
No, there’s no pressure to do anything. I put pressure on myself.  My family is very supportive; they tell me to keep doing my thing, so I just try to stay focused and not be distracted by the money or the girls.

What kind of pressures do you put on yourself?
I always want to be learning something new and be challenging myself. I want to be a better singer, a better rapper and a better producer. It is important for me to keep things interesting.

Your releases have been very consistent; you have put out an album every two years since you started out in 2008. Did you always plan on being this regular?
I never plan on it, it just kind of happens. I don’t know if it will happen next year or not. I just try and stay inspired by things around me, put my shit together and work.

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You’ve studied filmmaking in the past and it has had an influence on your music too. Tell us more about it.
Film is my first love. I love music just as well but I have always loved films. I love the combination of both arts ”“ how powerful it is. It sucks to do just one thing. But you know, every two years it gets harder because I also need to adapt myself to the changing music climate.

Do you worry about keeping yourself relevant or ever adapting your music to what people like currently?
I don’t believe in that. It doesn’t matter what people are liking. My work should want people to become fans.

As an artist, do you have any fears or insecurities? What are your biggest ones?
Sometimes I worry my music might be too much for people. But mostly, I trust my gut and go with my instinct.

Why did you keep your Captain Murphy avatar a big secret? [Captain Murphy is his rapper identity which was showcased discreetly on his 2012 track, “Between Friends.”]
I never really planned on becoming a rapper. I never really wanted it to become something like ”˜Flying Lotus decides to become a rapper.’ So being anonymous was the true test of my music, whether people would like it or not. The anonymous vibe gave me some confidence also to write the music I wanted to. Because I am always learning, I’m always writing songs. I wrote a song today.

Oh cool! What is the song about?
This one’s about making a sandwich.

(Flying Lotus will perform at the New Delhi, Pune and Bengaluru editions of NH7 Weekender)

This article appeared in Rolling Stone India Issue 0093: November 2015.


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