It was pretty obvious to Steven Ellison, a.k.a. Flying Lotus, growing up, that he was destined to work as a musician. He is, after all, the great-nephew of jazz pianist Alice Coltrane (wife of saxophone great John Coltrane), which makes him the cousin of Ravi Coltrane. He is also the grandson to hit Motown songwriter Marilyn McLeod.
Fast-forward to today and Ellison is one of the most talked-about emerging artists of the year. The L.A.-based producer is gearing up to release his highly-anticipated new album, 'Until The Quiet Comes,' on October 1.
In an interview with RedBullUSA.com, FlyLo explained that he finds out about new music by way of his email pen pal, Thom Yorke. He also called his forthcoming 18-track disc far from “club banging music” and divulged that his grandma is his biggest critic.
What can we expect from 'Until the Quiet Comes'?
I like to think of it like a movie. I really think it's my calling to make that kind of music. Some people make music that's just for club bangers and it works for them, but I think my music takes a little while to build into these moments.
I like to structure things in a little longer form. I still do that (club) stuff too, but I think I get more enjoyment out of this process where I know I have 40 minutes to take you on a ride. It plays out more like a film in that way. All the pieces are there -- from the good moments to the bad things and sad things and happy times -- since the last record.
How would you describe the sound on this album? It seems to have some elements of jazz and progressive rock?
I think you just described it. And obviously a lot of hip-hop influence and electronica influence of the past few years. It's music that I'm a fan of so I feel like that shows in what I do. I try to stay up on what's happening and have my own version of what's happening, too. So hopefully that's in there.
I think that's what keeps me on is really just trying to love music and all of the things that are happening even in the mainstream. That's really my only job -- to stay inspired.
How do you keep up with music trends in this day and age?
To be honest, I hear about things through my friends. I have a lot of friends whose taste I trust. I get to pick up on things like that. I like to let some of the hype die down, though, before I jump on board.
I just started digging into the Frank Ocean album. That's really good and I was like, “Okay, I get it.” I wasn't able to deal with it when it dropped; it was too much. I thought, “This couldn't possibly be that amazing. Everybody just cool out. Let it come to me the right way.” And when I got to it, it was really good. I like it a lot.
How did you hook up with Erykah Badu to feature on the album?
She and Thundercat are close. He plays bass at her live shows, and I produced his album. He must’ve played it for her ‘cause after she heard it, she was like, “Hit me up, I gotta work with this dude.”
She started coming out to L.A. a lot and we did a couple of sessions and some of these sessions were thought to be on her album; I don't know if it's gonna happen or not with me or whatever, but we were talking about it. I'm still down to do it. That's how it started, and one of the sessions ended up being one of the songs we chose for the album.
And Thom Yorke is on the album as well?
Yes. He’s on a track called “Electric Candyland.”
You’ve done Radiohead remixes in the past right? So you guys just keep in touch?
Yeah, he’s like my email pen pal. He will check in here and there with some music. Like, “Yo, man, this is what I'm tripping on and this is what I've got right here.” I just sent him one of my buddy Jeremiah Jae's album. I think he said he was listening to the JJ Doom album.
What would you say is the mood of your new album?
I think it's mellow. It's a mellow, cerebral trip. It's more mellow than the last one. I think it's funny 'cause a lot of times, people who have heard this record, they come to me surprised because they thought I was gonna make a record that was like super crazy. Instead, I thought of doing something really delicate and personal this time around. I just wanted to do something that I wanted to do. I figure if I keep worrying about what people want me to do, I'll fucking suck.
So this album is more one that you’d listen to sitting around your home versus out at a bar?
Yeah. You’d grab a cognac and listen to the record.
Tell us about your work with Adult Swim?
I've been working with them since about 2007, so it's been quite a while, hasn’t it? I'm surprised they still fuck with me. They haven't found another girlfriend.
I think it started off when they asked if I had any dope beats. I made a CD of stuff 'cause my mom told me to get off the couch. I sent them over and the next week they started hitting me for a track list and saying they were going to play the shit on TV and I was like, “Fuck! Me? Really? Wow!” And I've just been doing that since.
Whenever I have a batch of material, I just send it to them so they can run it if they like it. I probably do that twice a year. So throughout the year, you'll probably hear a lot of tracks that will never come out. That's another way of putting those extra tracks out. But it's only like 15 seconds, if that, so it's kind of frustrating. I'll listen and think, “Oh! You didn't even hear the good part.”
What shows does your stuff play on?
They use it between the shows. They program their own commercials between the stuff, before the shows begin, and right after they take a break, they have their own content that they run -- it's usually for those. I'm always surprised still when I hear my stuff. I’ll be watching it and it comes on and I'll be half asleep and I'll hear my beat and I’ll be like, “Oh, shit!” So it's really fun for me still after all these years, it’s really trippy.
Do you have a favorite Adult Swim show?
The 'Tim and Eric Awesome Show.' That's the one I still go back to over and over.
Your family's really tied into music and the jazz scene. What kind of impact have they had on your career?
I think I wouldn't have seen a future in it if I hadn't had them as a reference. I had my family as support when I was deciding if I was going to really pursue the music thing. I think it was obvious that I was going to do some kind of creative thing. I was always into art as a kid.
I was always, as a little kid, making stop-motion cartoons and stuff, so it just made sense. But they definitely played a big part of everything. I was exposed to a lot of different types of music as a kid. I got into Stravinsky before I was a teenager, so I think that might have had a little to do with things now 'cause I fell in love with a different type of music really early on.
Do you run things by them still?
My grandma, yeah. She's the one person. When I know I have something she'll like, she's the first person I'll play it for.
Is she pretty honest in her feedback?
Oh, yeah. She hates shit. She's not just like, “That's the most awesome thing. Go grandson!” She's like, “Yeah, you need to turn this up and put a vocal on. I don't know if I like that.”
- Flying Lotus: Master of Invention
- Flying Lotus at the Movement Festival in Detroit
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