Lotus: Cleaning out the grease

As group matures, songwriting gets tighter

Photo by Tobin Voggesser

We asked Luke Miller, guitarist and one-half of the brother team that comprises the core of the funktronica quartet Lotus, about the flyer we came across in Cleveland last January, while we were in town visiting family. It was a little slice of home, not even so much because the band first got its start with the Miller brothers jamming acoustic guitars in the Colorado high country during summertime camp breaks back in high school (they relocated to Philly years ago), but because … well, Cleveland doesn’t immediately come to mind when you think about raging groove band hotspots. Maybe we’re suffering a lamentable case of Boulder-centricity.

“Yeah,” Miller says, “it was a snowy night, sold-out show, decent-sized venue, held about 600 [people], I think. Fun show. But yeah, we’ve been playing Ohio for years and years and years. And people also drive in from places like Pittsburgh and stuff. But yeah … we sold it out.”

Miller was readying himself for a gig in northern California the evening we caught up to him, and if he sounded a little matter-of-fact about selling out a snowy night in Cleveland, it was probably because packing clubs has become pretty routine for the band. Years of road work and a steady, confident progression from loose-jam Phish wannabes to crafty, detail-obsessed, house-influenced composers have graduated the band into the top tier of working groove outfits.

The band’s latest CD, Build, dropped about six weeks ago. Tinged with a punctuating brass section riff and retro-soul string flourishes, the namesake track “Build Burn Build” lopes and swirls like a woozy, mid-tempo overture, vocal samples and guitars and drum breaks colliding in carefully measured ecstasy. The thing kicks off a series of instrumental workouts borrowing from house and big beat, leaning toward breathless rock figures here and slithery, riff-driven funk poems there. Equal parts etherea and grit-speckled grease, Lotus has evolved into a composer’s discipline, eight- and 16-bar passages slamming into each other in quick succession, a riot of textures and tempos with only one track, the chugging “Uffi,” extending past five minutes in length.

There’s a favorite bumper sticker around these parts: “all who wander are not lost.” True enough, but too much wandering and not enough destination can make for a short career in an ADD club scene. Probably still filed away someplace as a “jamband,” Lotus has learned its lessons and moved into a space probably better characterized as “house-rock.” Nothing wrong with reclaiming actual songwriting in a post-groove world. Get in, spray everyone with special sauce, and get out.

“I feel like early on, we kind of just got grooves going and let them flow,” Miller says. “Now we’re trying to balance that with tight compositions that build within themselves and become their own complete story. When we’re out playing live, we’ll play some of the older, more meandering songs, then kind of blast it with one of these more harder hitting, shorter, crunchier compositions.

“We’ve been kind of trying to cut out the fat, try to be more precise. Get to the point faster. Y’know, the shorter songs, we think that maybe it gives us an ‘in’ to different crowds or different ears that aren’t used to sitting down and listening to a 10-minute song. After 10 years of doing this, I’m interested in reaching into some new areas and trying different things, and one of them is tightening things up.”

It’s called growing.

“Yeah. Move or die, y’know?” he says.

Lotus tops off a successful winter run with three nights at the Boulder Theater, one of those because-we-can stands that, alongside a headlining Red Rocks gig (which the band staged last summer), marks a band’s critical threshold of support in a groove capital like Boulder. A quick survey at the band’s online fan forum shows any number of out of town fans plotting (or thumbing a ride for) a spring pilgrimage to Colorado to track Lotus’ five-date run, which includes Fort Collins and Aspen.

Miller says the band looks forward to these occupations, as it gives them a chance to reach deeper into the catalog.

“We play a different show every night; I think on this tour we’re playing almost 90 songs and kind of rotate through those. At a gig like Boulder … we know we won’t just be playing for people who know the songs from the records, we can bust out some rarities and do some different things.

“I know the people who come a long way to see these gigs are appreciative of that.”

Lotus plays the Boulder Theater April 4, 5 and 6. Tickets are $27.50. Doors at 8 p.m. 2032 14th St., Boulder, 303-786-7030.

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