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LOSTATSEA.NET > FEATURES >

May 29, 2008
From the Los Angeles suburb of Winnetka, tucked into the San Fernando Valley north of the city, Steven Ellison, under his Flying Lotus moniker, has for the past several years been creating some of the most competent yet unheralded music within the burgeoning musical community where electronica and laptop glitchery butts up against more traditional hip-hop styles. The great-nephew of legendary jazz artist Alice Coltrane, Ellison - or FlyLo as he is often affectionately called - released his debut full-length, the fuzzy and sprawling 1983, via the Los Angeles-based Plug Research label in 2006. That album's tightly produced puree of airy, psychedelic jazz influences and the staccato cadences honed to perfection by Stones Throw's sharpest producers found a comfortable home within the diverse but not completely divergent Plug Research roster, which includes noted acts like Daedelus, Dntel, John Tejada, and Mia Doi Todd (the latter of which saw her track "My Room Is White" given an excellent remix treatment courtesy of Ellison). Flying Lotus followed up his debut LP with last year's Reset EP, his first production for the venerable British electronic label Warp.

Though most don't know it, millions of Cartoon Network viewers have also heard Ellison's material, which comprises a good deal of the segue sounds for that network's hugely popular Adult Swim late-night imprint. Although he is not directly credited with the sounds, many of the Flying Lotus cadre of fans managed to track him down through the Adult Swim productions. In addition to the solo recordings and remix work under his own handle, Flying Lotus comprises half of the production duo FLYamSAM, a collaborative side project with Rust Belt artist SAMIYAM, and additionally heads up the newly formed Brainfeeder imprint.

LAS staff writer Josh Zanger recently caught up with Ellison to talk about his Cartoon Network connection, the process of constructing such intricately layered songs, and the idea of a conventional "message" (or lack thereof) in Flying Lotus' recordings.
---

LAS: You've had sort of a musician's storybook ascent - being the relative of jazz/music greats, releasing music on a solid indie with Plug Research, having segue featurettes on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, and recently dropping releases with revered electronic label Warp. What has been the most important aspect or achievement for you in your life so far?

Ellison: To be fair, you've really said it all. I think though, the fact that my grandmother has been around to witness all these things happen has been the most important thing to me. She pretty much raised me, and she really is the strongest supporter of anything I ever get into. From drawing, to film, to music, she's always been in my corner 120%. So every time something good happens from this music thing, I get to report it to her. Also, the fact that many of the musicians who've inspired me along the way are digging the stuff I'm making. It's a trip!

How did you get hooked up with the Adult Swim gig? Are you a fan of any of the shows?

Well, I don't really watch TV, but the only TV I do watch is Adult Swim... I have to say, I'm probably one of their biggest fans, and the fact that my music is on there a lot, STILL freaks me out. That whole thing started a while back [when] they were taking some submissions. I sent in a CD, and maybe a week after I sent it they were trying to get a track list. Ever since then, it's been ON!

I can hear comparative similarities in your style to that of other renowned producers such as Dabrye, Dilla, Madlib, and Ammoncontact. Do you take any influence from any of those guys?

Sure, all that stuff is dope, but I got my own thing going on. I guess people will continue to compare until I make a folk album.

What inspires you to make music?

Living, sunshine, tough times, weed, girls, politics... The usual stuff, but also the idea of getting closer to the "Perfect Beat."

From scratch, typically how do you go about crafting any given track? Do you start with one specific part - a rhythmic feel, a sample, et cetera - or do you imagine a complete concept and deconstruct from there?

I can't really tell you that, because I don't really know. It just kind of happens. After I make some shit, I listen to it the next day and usually ask, "Where the hell did THAT come from?"


Most of the music on your new album can be classified as instrumentally-based electronic/hip-hop. I like that you say you try to have a visual narrative happening with your musical projects. Does this mean that there is a conventional "message" - emotional, philosophical, or otherwise - involved here too, or is it strictly meant to be about killer cuts?

For me, it's not really about making the killer cut, it's all about the concept. The whole journey. I don't really set out to make dance floor albums. That stuff is cool for an EP or a 12" but I like to use the album to take the listener for a ride.

What are you listening to these days…either shit that inspires you or just some good music in general?

Right now? Muhsinah, Portishead, Benga, Ras G, The Congos, and pretty much anything SAMIYAM makes

I recently heard the FLYamSAM stuff. How did you get involved with SAMIYAM? Are you guys still doing stuff together?

Sam and I linked up on the Myspace. We were really building and exchanging tracks, and I figured, fuck it… I asked him to send me some sounds, I put a track together, and from there we continued to make stuff.

He was living out in Michigan but lives in LA now. So now pretty much all we do is smoke weed together, that's about as far as our project has gone.

Besides promoting Los Angeles, what else can folks expect from you on the horizon?

Look out for my label, Brainfeeder. Just released, SAMIYAM's Rap Beats Vol. 1 on iTunes.

SEE ALSO: www.myspace.com/flyinglotus
SEE ALSO: www.warprecords.com
SEE ALSO: www.plugresearch.com

--
Josh Zanger
Joshua Ian Zanger, a native of rural Chicago, rocks many a world with his writing, style, and generally sweet aroma.

See other articles by Josh Zanger.

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