Until The Awkward Silence Comes: A Casual Conversation With Flying Lotus
I started following the LA beat scene because, in the artists that comprise it, I imagined kindred spirits. It all began with Flying Lotus’ first album, Los Angeles, a record that first demonstrated to myself and many others that something revolutionary was happening in LA. From afar, at various desks in Philadelphia and New York, I gathered news of the LA scene, sought its sounds, and what I heard echoed into my own past. Here were kids who clearly came up on the same stuff I did—a heady mix of golden age hip-hop and British electronic music, perhaps a few remnants of angsty teenage years filled with old school punk. Add in a sense of humor honed by The Simpsons and an early introduction to Fruity Loops, and you get the mind of the modern day 20-something beatsmith.
Whether or not he is the most representative of that sound, Flying Lotus is its ambassador. With unmatched popularity in his style of music, he’s the door to the LA beat scene for anyone who doesn’t live within its geographic or conceptual realm. When I finally got the chance to talk to FlyLo a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t help but get selfish and go for all the nerd questions I’d been longing to ask him. At times, I shed my journalist hat completely and just let my fan curiosity guide me, bumbling through my own conjecture and occasionally asking a bit too much (he refused to tell me where he buys records). But upon reading the transcript of our conversation, it felt real to me. This wasn’t researched because I already knew what I wanted to find out, and it wasn’t ultrasmooth because I’m simply not that cool. This is the conversation that I imagine any beatmaking kid would have with Flying Lotus if he or she had the chance, and to me that’s far more entertaining than the boilerplate interview.
First off, I wanted to test a theory that I’ve been working on for a while: the five albums that most influenced the current beat generation. It can be argued that such simplifying lists are lame and insulting, but just this once I allowed myself this High Fidelity-inspired indulgence.
Flying Lotus: Yeah, that was a tough one. When I first heard I didn’t like it, to be honest. I just felt like he was trying to be like Madlib too much. I though he was really trying to adapt Madlib’s style too much, sort of like what he was doing before. And it took me a while, you know how it is.
If you love someone a lot you say ‘Wait, a minute, I was expecting this,’ and then after a while you’re like ‘Wait a second, this is fucking dope, and it’s cool that he’s not doing what he did already.’ But at first it felt like that. But also, it was really hectic for me because I worked at Stones Throw, and it was a very important record to the label even before he passed away. It was really big to all of us, because we were all of his biggest fans, so it was a huge, huge thing. So I have a different connection to it. I actually worked on it, I worked on like getting it out to people, I was part of the process of blowing it up, listening parties and stuff, I was there.
Did it change the way you produced?
I mean it definitely got me into using compression more. He used a lot of compression on that.
Note: Later that same day, I met with Daedelus following his performance at Rumsey Playfield in Central Park. I ran the list by him and he mentioned that Quasimoto’s The Unseen was ostensibly missing from that list, and that its influence on LA producers was massive. Whether that should be added to the list or replace Donuts is a question for the ages. Either way, Madlib (who made that record under the alias Quasimoto) deserves a lot of credit for shaping the sound.
I don’t have a great story, but I love Boards of Canada. I didn’t get into it when it was happening, I got into it later on. And I never really had one of their albums that I really really took to. But there was tracks on that I really took to a bit.
Oh, big record, big record. Mostly because there were songs on the record that we all heard a million times and I didn’t really know about it until a DJ named Kutmah started playing that shit out in the clubs.
He started playing it out real slow and I was like ‘What the hell is this?’ You know and it was like Mr. Oizo, playing things by him. And then it was like, I remember the scene, when I started getting on they were playing a lot of things like Danny Breaks. And Analog Worms Attack was straight drum breaks with these wobbly bass lines and stuff—big sounding. So that record was the one that kind of started that whole thing, I think. It really did.
I think that record was the first wobbly-synth record. It was really revolutionary for its time and it’s one of those records that today it still sounds really, really good. It aged really well. I think it maybe a decade old already. A decade old.
Yeah, yeah. I mean Aphex, you’re pulling the warm stuff. I mean, the album was one that at the time I wasn’t really hit by it. It was one of those things that came in from college, but there’s a lot of shit on there that I still listen to all the time like “Girl/Boy Song” and “Milkman.” All those things are like when Aphex made his most successful record I think. It was the one where he sounded almost like pop songs.
I’m not taking away from it at all. Do I find it influential to my stuff? For sure. Especially in the feeling of it. I think people definitely make the association with that stuff because of the label too. It’s funny because I think I found the album Drukqs a little more influential to me.
Oh, another big one. [Laughs] You’re just pulling out all the people who you think I love. Yeah, no that was a really big record, a big deal. That record was big. It came at a couple different points in my life, actually. I liked the record when it came out, but then it was part of that Dark Days documentary, so I listened again when I was in college, something like that, it was like discovering it all over again after years, you know?
UNTIL THE QUIET COMES
With that eye-opening collection of trivia out of the way, I figured I should try and get some insight on the new album Until The Quiet Comes (which drops today). I didn’t have much curiosity as to the actual process, as it sounds like FlyLo’s techniques haven’t changed too drastically since his first major release Los Angeles. What I was more curious about was his the expanding personnel appearing on his records.
A trait that applies to every person (except Boards of Canada) on the list of five albums above is that they created their seminal works on their own, locked away in a studio (or a hospital room in Dilla’s case), in their own world, constructing exactly what they wanted to hear using raw components. Over the past few years, notoriety has provided FlyLo with access to high profile collaborators. One of the first sounds that emerged from Until The Quiet Comes was his track with Erykah Badu, one that threw beatheads for a bit of a loop before they discovered that the album is still packed with crowd-pleasers. Thom Yorke makes an appearance to follow up his track on Cosmogramma, and Laura Darlington, the wife of Daedelus, continues the tradition of appearing on a single track on the record (she’s the only guest that’s appeared on every Flying Lotus album). But…
Was there a time when a Flying Lotus album was made with just you sitting in front of your computer with an MPC or whatever just making beats? Or has it always been sort of a collaborative project?
Flying Lotus: Yeah, but I mean, it is all about myself. Then I started getting people involved. Especially on the last album. It’s funny, the next album that I imagine probably won’t have any guests. It’s funny, I feel like in a way I kind of want to go back to where I started and not have any guests. But who knows though.
What was the last album that you made that was just you?
I mean even 1983 I had Laura Darlington on there. She’s like my lucky charm, you know?
Every time we do a song I say, ‘Oh, well maybe you should do something… and I always like it.’ She does the song and I love it. I like this new one more than I liked the previous ones. So I feel like I’m probably going to call her up on the next one too, even though I don’t want guests. Have her do something.
Is there like an all-star list that you want or is it just like something about this particular artist that strikes you at a certain time.
Yeah, it’s not about the names, it’s really about what they can offer the sound. You know if I got Lady Gaga in studio, I might have her do like ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhhs’ on the song. You know what I mean? It might not even be like what people would think it would be if I got her on the track. As long as it harmonizes a chord here and there that’s it, you know? Whatever the song or track calls for. It’s not really about names, I’m not trying to sell anything. I try to serve the music and make it what it is, man.
Often the second step in discovery of the LA scene for outsiders is Flying Lotus’ label/collective, Brainfeeder. Through Brainfeeder, FlyLo curates a roster of artists that he digs, most of whom are from the area. Notable members include Tokimonsta, Teebs, and The Gaslamp Killer. In the past year or so, the list has broken from just pure beatmakers and seen diversification in the area of experimental jazz and I was wondering what drove FlyLo’s taste in this direction, and in general how he goes about finding artists that make the cut.
Flying Lotus: I listen to my friends, man. Honestly a lot of the people on Brainfeeder, a lot of the people I work with… I don’t have to go real far to hear about new artists making cool shit. So it’s real easy to hear about the things that I feel like I care enough to be on the team. You know, I know what’s happening. It’s not difficult for me, man. I have tons of pairs of good ears.
You’ve mentioned in the past in other interviews that you consider Thundercat to sort of be part of your sound.
Yeah, he’s sitting next to me right now. We met years ago at South by Southwest and I had heard a lot about him before, some musicians told me I needed to work with him and you know we just emailed a track back and forth and then he said that was really dope. Then I said ‘We got to do some more shit, can you do it, record some more stuff?’ And kept going since that day really. It’s been on ever since. There’s this kind of unspoken understanding that we help each other out. I know, now my shit’s done I got to start going back in the Thudercat world, just helping him finish his stuff.
We already started on it. Before I started doing interviews I was going to ask him to play me the album, play me what the hell he thinks is gonna happen right now. I say it’s about 70 percent done. Musically I feel like it seems like it’s going a little bit darker than the last album. I mean Golden Age of The Apocalypse was the precursor to the apocalypse, now I feel its a little darker. Not like really dark, but I feel like it’s a little bit harder. I feel like you’re going to see more dance-y stuff on it too. I mean it might be too soon to be talking about all that though.
Speaking about picking up dark artists, you kind of went out on a limb and pulled a guy—your only artist that’s not from LA at the time—and that was Lorn. I spoke with him not too long ago, and he was sort of telling me the story of like how you sort of found him on MySpace. Now did somebody tell you about him, or were you just cruising?
Nosaj Thing told me about him. I used to hang out on iChat a lot and I had a lot of the producers were on iChat, so we would kind of shoot back and forth. I heard about Lorn that way.
And finally, to put a rumor to rest, do you have anything to do with Captain Murphy?