Flying Lotus On His New Album, Working With Thom Yorke, And His Dream Collaborations
As far as I’m concerned, Flying Lotus is one of the most gifted and most unusual producers in the world. He has released four excellent studio albums — most recently, Until The Quiet Comes, which arrived earlier this month — and has worked as a collaborator and much sought-after remixer for everyone from Radiohead to Lil Wayne. FlyLo (aka Steven Ellison) is currently rounding out a tour of the US before taking his act to the far corners of the globe. I had the chance to talk to him as he was preparing to come and NYC and play a million shows last week.
STEREOGUM: Where are you at? Still in L.A.?
FLYING LOTUS: Yeah, but I think I might move to New York this year for a little while.
STEREOGUM: Whoa. Really? How come? Just a change of pace?
FLYING LOTUS: Yeah exactly. Soak it up for a minute. I like New York. It’s got something to it, but I think the music scene out there is kind of suspect at the moment. It goes in waves though. Another New York renaissance is bound to happen.
STEREOGUM: You seem to always have about 20 different projects happening at the same time. How do you manage your time?
FLYING LOTUS: Poorly. I need to be better at it, man. How do I manage my time? In a way I roll out of bed and I just get right to it. In a way I’m always, always, always working. But I feel like there is free time, too. It’s a funny one, dude. I don’t know. I feel like I’m good at it at times and I feel good about going to bed at times and there are times when I hate myself and feel like I’m not doing enough.
STEREOGUM: Yeah, I feel like a lot of people that make art often feel like that — it’s not a job that goes away, really. Do you have a disciplined way of working? Do you get up every day and immediately go to the studio?
FLYING LOTUS: Yeah, I am pretty disciplined in that way for sure. I like to spend as much time as I can being a producer and working on music and directing as well. I could be working on my label or doing mixes, editing songs. There is a lot. I’m always on it. When I’m not doing that I’m in the gym for a little bit.
STEREOGUM: Taking breaks is important. The time you spend doing other stuff and just thinking about the work is often as important as the work itself.
FLYING LOTUS: Absolutely. A lot of people don’t understand that. It’s easy for us to forget because we always want to be like a machine, but part of the reasons for speaking and making art is because we have to put our life experience into it. You have to remember to enjoy that part of it as well.
STEREOGUM: In regards to Until The Quiet Comes, how was the process of putting this together? Was most of this music done in a very specific period of time?
FLYING LOTUS: It’s a three-part process for me. There is a time for sketching, a time to refine, and then there is the mixing stage. The refinement stage is the part that takes the longest. I can make a draft in like an hour or two and it sounds cool, but it doesn’t sound like a song. There are hundreds of things on my computer that don’t sound complete. Once I know, “OK, well this is gonna fit with this,” then I’ll finish it off in the refinement stage. I’ll get other instrumentation, or flesh it out more, and then after that I mix everything and try to make it sound like it’s gonna be on a record or something. It’s a three-part thing. The refinement stage took the most time. It took months and months. I was trying to make everything fit together, and feel like it’s all part of a single breath. That was a big deal to me this time, I wanted to get better at that. I feel like I get a little bit better at making a unified album every time I make one … so, just wait for the next one. [laughs]
STEREOGUM: I’ve always found that part of the process very interesting — the point at which the record starts to feel like an album to you and you can recognize it as a whole. I’d imagine that is a great moment when you can sit back and finally have a clear idea of where the whole thing is going.
FLYING LOTUS: Then you become obsessive though; that’s the strange part. Once you see it, it’s crazy man. It gets fucking crazy.
STEREOGUM: Do you have a hard time calling things finished or knowing when you have to stop?
FLYING LOTUS: I don’t have a problem knowing. I do have problems stopping. I feel like, “Oh yeah I get this,” and then you get to a point like, “Oh man I could spend some more time making that kick sound bigger.” And I’ll spend like four or five hours trying to make a kick sound bigger. You can spend a whole day refining and it might be the most subtle change that other people wont notice, but for me it’s a big deal.
STEREOGUM: When it comes to studio work are you super into gear? Studio technology has morphed pretty radically since you first started making records.
FLYING LOTUS: The technology … there are a lot of things I don’t take advantage of that I could. I could buy a lot of gear that I don’t need. I feel like I can do my thing. I know how to do my thing. It’s not about getting more gear, it’s about using the gear that I have better. I go through that a lot. I got some new gear today, and just between us, I’ll probably fuck with it for a bit and then go back to what I have been using for years. It’s fun to dabble for a little bit and then see what happens.
STEREOGUM: There are a lot of really interesting collaborations on this record, which isn’t surprising since you have such a history of cool collaborations. What do you enjoy about the experience of working with other people?
FLYING LOTUS: The fact that you open up that door for something that you wouldn’t have expected. That’s a great feeling, to know that you could potentially change everything. Someone can come through and totally revamp your whole process. That part is just the best. You’re like, “Oh wow, we started in this direction and we ended up over here. I didn’t know that was going to happen.”
STEREOGUM: I’d imagine it would be wildly different depending on the person. The experience of working with, say, Erykah Badu, is probably very different than working with Thom Yorke?
FLYING LOTUS: Yeah, because I work with Thom over email and with Badu it’s in the studio so already it’s way, way different. I obviously prefer to work in person, but with some people I probably wouldn’t get on well collaboratively because some people aren’t as easy as other people. With Thom, I mean, I wouldn’t really know what it would be like to work in the same room; I’d imagine it would be similar. But I think there is something to be said for being in the same room because if there is something you don’t like, you can speak up right there on the spot. Like, “Why don’t you take this part out and let’s add here or there.” Those are things that probably wouldn’t be said if we were just emailing and shit.
STEREOGUM: I would guess you probably get hit up a lot from people who want to collaborate or get you for remix work. Do you have to say no to a lot of things?
FLYING LOTUS: Yeah I get hit up a lot — my phone’s not dead yet, you know what I mean? I get hit up but it’s all love man. I don’t do remixes that much anymore, admittedly, just because I don’t really feel like they have much use other than being written about in a blog somewhere. People listen to it for like a week and they’re like, “Oh that’s cool,” and then they are over it. It vanishes into their iTunes library.
STEREOGUM: Yeah and there are so many of them now it sort of takes away the specialness of it.
FLYING LOTUS: Yeah.
STEREOGUM: I really loved when they sent me your record and it came as one continuous mp3, which was really great because I listened to it as one entire piece. It changed the way I thought about it. I was able to consume it as a whole and avoid the temptation to flip through tracks and skip around. I like that. I was wondering if that was your intention if people hear it that way first or …
FLYING LOTUS: Yeah it was my idea.
STEREOGUM: The Kahlil Joseph video is beautiful. How did that come to be?
FLYING LOTUS: Me and Kahlil have been talking about working together for a long time now, and he is a really talented guy and I’ve always wanted to work with him. Since we’ve talked about it we’ve been like, “Oh we should do this, we should do this,” and it just hadn’t worked out. But we both had time and we have refined our chops. With the new album it was perfect because I was like, “I am your humble servant.” I have complete trust in him and it feels good. It feels good to have that trust. There aren’t a lot of people I would trust like that — “Whatever you say man, I’m there” — and it felt great to be able to do that.
STEREOGUM: Did you see the footage along the way as it was being made or did you just see it at the end when it was done?
FLYING LOTUS: To be honest we did it all so fast. We shot it, and then we had the film processed and then a rough cut within a week from we started. So I was really engaged in it the whole time. It was really special.
STEREOGUM: Do you anticipate doing more things like this for this record or other pieces from the record?
FLYING LOTUS: There are more music videos coming, and he and I are going to do another piece later on.
STEREOGUM: I know you are going to be touring this fall. How do you approach performing this music live or mixing it in with your older music? Will you have a different setup this time around?
FLYING LOTUS: I’m working on it. I don’t know exactly what is going to happen yet, but I’d like for it to be a little different. I don’t want to tour around with the same material. But I do have this album down and I can move things around.
STEREOGUM: That’s exciting. Your music really appeals to a broad spectrum of people. It makes total sense that you would be playing shows with Animal Collective but I can imagine a bunch of other scenarios where your music would also work. It must be satisfying to see your material work in all these different ways — people who are deep into electronic music love you, but you also have a hip-hop audience and can play to super indie-rock crowds. There aren’t a lot of people who can bridge the gap in that way.
FLYING LOTUS: Yeah, I’m lucky man.
STEREOGUM: Is this a little bit of a break time for you before you hit the road?
FLYING LOTUS: Hell no! What break? Honestly, I’d love to step away for a second but there are all these opportunities around the corner. Rappers have started hitting me up and I’m getting all these cool things that I’ve always wanted to be involved with that are finally happening. So, I’m like, “Oh shit, well all the cool stuff I have is on my album so it’s back to square one again.” The sound of popular music and all of that are changing and I want to stay current so I’m back in the lab trying to make new stuff to show rappers and also make music for movies. There are no breaks yet.
STEREOGUM: You’ve been able to collaborate with so many amazing people already. Do you have any dream collaborations that have yet to materialize?
FLYING LOTUS: Kendrick Lamar and Tyler the Creator.
STEREOGUM: Those both seem very plausible.
FLYING LOTUS: It seems like it, right? We are all in L.A. I know them both. It’s gonna happen, it just hasn’t yet.
STEREOGUM: I have a feeling it will.
FLYING LOTUS: Well, we’ll see about that. Kendrick is a big star now. So is Tyler, so … they are both quite famous.
STEREOGUM: Well, you’re no slouch either. Thanks for taking a minute to speak with me. Honestly, I think your record is really beautiful. It’s soundtracking my life this week.
FLYING LOTUS: Thanks, man. I appreciate it. I appreciate that you give a shit, you know?
Flying Lotus’ Until The Quiet Comes is out now on Warp.