Back Issue__ Flying Lotus
Black Magic ft. Jose JamesPhotos: Kenza Interview: Hana May
Everyone has heard the sounds of DJ and producer Flying Lotus. If you slept through his ridiculously well reviewed 2008 album Los Angeles, then you've at least heard his catchy, ambient stylings segue between episodes of Adult Swim cartoons. But the only way to really hear Flying Lotus' music is to catch his show. After all, FlyLo, as he is known by fans, incorporates new material into time-tested favorites when he plays. “It’s so fun to present these ideas and surprise [myself and the crowd],” Flying Lotus says. “Wow, I didn’t know you could flip this thing like this to make it sound like that.” Plus, a FlyLo show is a physical experience. Forgetting his inhibitions when he steps behind the decks, FlyLo moves his whole body along with his beats. “I’m not one of those kinds of dudes that’s like too cool, I still like to have fun when I go out. I’m a fan of music.”
Born in The Valley as Steven Ellison, and raised by a single mother in Winnetka CA, a district in the San Fernando Valley region, Ellison was an only child until he was 10. “I always felt out of place where I grew up,” he says of the primarily Latino suburb. With no siblings to play with and having trouble relating to kids in his neighborhood, Ellison was a bit of a self-described loner. He kept himself entertained with hours of Nintendo--a life-long obsession whose primitive electronic sounds would eventually haunt his music like a Pac-Man ghost .
After high school, Ellison was adrift. Wanting, a post-secondary education, he tried going to the New York Film Academy in The Big Apple, but couldn’t get with the pace. New Yorkers freak him out. He also took a stab at film for a bit, but found there were too many people involved in the process of producing a work. Finally Ellison found his music. His mom encouraged him to send some of his beats to Adult Swim, an adult-oriented cable television network that features primarily cartoons. They used FlyLo's music on promos for The Boondocks, a cult hit and political cartoon. This is where he began to turn his hobby into a livelihood.
A well-established underground favorite, FlyLo is starting to make a splash in bigger circles. He lives in L.A., plays shows globally, runs his Brainfeeder record label, and is never without a box set of Ren and Stimpy DVDs (his favorite cartoon). He’s starting to produce for others, but is selective about the artists he'll work with. “I just want to work with people that are trying to do good and send out good vibrations on this earth," Flying Lotus explains. "Seriously, there are enough negative forces out there.” This spring Flying Lotus will continue to spread the positive vibes with his latest album, Cosmogramma, on Warp records.
The name, Flying Lotus, comes from his ideal superpower. “When I was a kid I would always bother people about super heroes and I was like, 'Ok if you could have any superpower in the creation of comic books what would you have, x-ray vision, you could be like invisible, what would you do?' I wanted to fly. That’s it. That’s all.” He believes a good song can give you that flight sensation. We caught up with Flying Lotus to talk about fan collaboration, video games, the end of the East Coast-West Coast divide, how indie rock is destroying the universe, and 50 Cent.
What’s it like living in Winnetka?
It’s really interesting it’s a crazy mix pot of people. I grew up in a mostly Mexican neighborhood. I definitely saw California through a different perspective—in a good way. And I think being around all different kinds of people around helped shape me. I don’t know too many artists coming out of The Valley; it's like Wal-Mart Land. But its really hood too, so it’s strange.
And you have to drive everywhere?
Yeah, just like anywhere else in LA.
That’s so crazy to me.
You in New York?
Yeah, so I walk or take the train.
It’s weird I always find myself freaked out by New Yorkers.
Why do they freak you out?
I can understand why someone would want to live in New York, but it’s definitely a different kind of person.
It seems producers are starting to have more important live element to their careers, more live shows and touring. Why do you think is happening now?
For one, we have the technology that’s available to us and that plays a huge role in it. Also it’s so fun to present these ideas and surprise ourselves. ‘Wow, I didn’t know you flip this thing like this to make it sound like that.’ So it’s almost part of the studio process now.
Your mom encouraged you to send your beats to the Adult Swim TV Network. They ended up being used as a promo for The Boondocks, which is pretty cool. Where else is it being used?
They’re all over. I mean every night they play at least one or two. It’s a funny way to start a conversation because a lot of young people are tuning into that stuff.
Were you super excited about that?
I’m still super excited. I’m still super surprised because I don’t really watch much TV and when I do watch, it’s usually that, but I’ll just be chilling and I’ll be like, ‘Damn I gave them that song!’ Or ‘The way the looped that was weird.’ It’s very strange when I’ve got friends over.
What’s your favorite cartoon?
Ren and Stimpy.
You’ve spoken about coming from a Nintendo generation. Where does your obsession with video games spawn from?
Just being alone. For a long time I was an only child, I didn’t have another sibling around, 'til I was about 10, so it was just me and my mom. And my mom was just trying to be a young woman and just have fun. I spent a lot of time by myself playing Nintendo. So all those songs they just loop over and over and over again. I’m trying to wean myself off of that stuff just because it’s almost become sort of a subgenre, a niche thing and I’m not really interested in that.
What do you mean?
It’s becoming a trend and I didn’t really set out to do trend music or fad music, I’m just trying to make music.
If you could create a video game what would it entail?
If I could make a video game, wow. If you would have asked me that question when I was 11, I would have been over the moon. That’s a pretty deep question you’re asking me.
[Laughs.] There must be something you’ve thought of before.
I’ve always wanted to make a video game where you were a guy from a horror movie, like Michael Myers, where you were actually the killer and it was up to you to like lock the house down. You’re in the house and there’s six kids in the house and you have to kill all the kids and they can’t escape.
It’s pretty fucked up. But it adds to that whole Grand Theft Auto thing, for once you get to become the slasher. You can’t run you have to creep slowly. So you have to like set up everything and lure people into certain rooms so they’ll stay there. You can’t go through the front door you have to like go around the side.
What’s your opinion on the thought that video games are killing kids ability to interact?
I’m a victim of it. Since I’ve been using a computer, I don’t read as much and I don’t have as much time for stuff as I did before. If I can’t get my information in 5 seconds, I'm like, ‘Meh.’ Even with YouTube I'm like, ‘Ah man, I gotta watch this, how long is this video?’
Oh its over 3 minutes? Never mind.
[Laughs.] Is there some funny-faced kid cause if it’s not man, I don’t know. It’s getting bad but you know that’s what happens, were supposed to get so advanced that we lapse or something.
You’re very physical when you DJ. Where does that come from?
I’m just having fun. Getting into it. I’m not one of those kind of dudes that’s like too cool, I still like to have fun when I go out. I’m a fan of music, so I'm still going to engage. And you know again it’s so fun for me to be up there you know pushing all these buttons. It’s like choose your own adventure. I could be on one thing and just go to something else. It’s almost like a video game in itself. [Laughs.] I don’t want to get too geeky on you.
Do you have a production routine?
There’s no routine really I just need to make sure I got weed and blunts and a bottle of water. You know that’s it and there’s never really like, ‘I'm going to make a tune now’ [In a stuck up voice.].
How does the West Coast production scene differ from the East Coast?
Now, I think about in terms of kids from the U.S. and kids from Europe. I think things are blending so much that for me the electronic thing isn’t really popping off as much as it should be in New York. I don’t really see much of a community thing going on over there. With indie rock though, y'all are fucking destroying the universe—the rock shit is really popping off over there, that’s dope. But as far as the sonic electronic scene I feel like kids from The States, do it different than kids in Europe.
What would you say the main differences are?
I feel like in Europe, they definitely tend to make music a lot harder. Everything’s a little bit more like, “grab you by the balls” where people in The States tend to give you more melody, trying to make it more musical I guess like “the club” is so much more serious in Europe and I think people keep that in mind when they’re producing like, ‘I’m going to make a tune that’s going to kill the room.’ Back here it’s more like, ‘I'm going to make a tune that’s going to be great for my walk to the subway.’
Are you producing for other people?
I’m trying to extend my reach a little bit—trying to work with other folks. But I do feel like my productions are like little children. I don’t wanna leave my kids with the wrong folks. Also I’m really concerned with vocals sometimes they give me stuff and its like, ‘I wasn’t even on this tip when I was making this tune.’ Which is sometimes great, but a lot of times I find it to be really negative and dark. I don’t really want my music going in that direction. Like even if it sounds like it’s that, there is more to it. I don’t want all that killing people and shit in my music.
That sounds pretty dark.
Well you know it's kind of accepted now.
You think it is?
Yeah pretty much. Everyone loves 50 Cent, everyone is on that shit, that shit’s dark. Like a lot of the lyrics that I hear in hip hop are negative, that’s just the truth. I just want to work with people that are trying to do good and send out good vibrations on this earth. Seriously, there are enough negative forces out there. Even if they’re not killing people its juts like people who are making music that like kills culture and killing art and the idea of art and the idea of progression. All that shit is death.
Totally or it’s like music that’s being made for it not to be music but for it to make or push a certain star.
That shits been so weird too. And the way people you’ve probably seen the way people talk on Twitter. Have you found that you might have liked someone’s music and the you started following them on Twitter and your like you know what actually this guy is kind of a douche bag.
I feel like that about friends.
Twitter is weird. Like the good morning Twitter. Ech, like don’t do that man. Not everybody deserves a good morning I’m sorry. Some people should just not be acknowledged today.
Where’s your heart at?
My heart is in the lab right now and I’m just trying to find the thing that everybody’s been searching for. You know people truly seeking the message, the music, the vibrations and I’m on a quest now more than ever.