A Talk with Lotus’ Mike Greenfield

By Team JamBase Nov 7, 2011 1:36 pm PST

By: Michael Urban (MU) and Jeanne Bettencourt (JB)

Lotus is currently on tour. They play next on Tuesday, November 8th in Bozeman, MT, followed by Missoula, MT on November 9th. Check out full tour schedule here.

Mike Greenfield by Brian Hockensmith
Anyone who’s met LotusMike Greenfield knows how charismatic and warm his personality is. Greenfield was kind enough to spare a half hour of his time at Lotus’ Summerdance this past August to indulge us with some insider info on the festival, the tour life, and the electronic jam band quartet’s writing process.

Sitting on a picnic table behind the stage (next to a swing set), Mike answered our questions with ease and enthusiasm. His pleasure at being a part of Lotus was more than apparent, but he also spoke fondly of his other project, Conspirator. We talked for a while about the band and his personal life, and always the funny man, he never missed an opportunity to crack a joke.

MU: How has the tour been going so far?

Mike Greenfield: Tour has been a blast, but different. We’ve being playing festivals all summer so it’s mainly just been weekends. We’ll begin touring to promote our latest album this Fall.

MU: What do you find more tiring, festivals or tours? For example, Lotus was triple-booked the first weekend of June, playing first at Wakarusa in Arkansas, then heading up to Hunter Mountain in New York for Mountain Jam, then back down to Baltimore for Starscape.

Mike Greenfield: Those things happen and can definitely get crazy, but then again you get to sleep in your bed for the next five days and relax till the next gig.

MU: So in some ways it’s easier playing the festival circuit?

Lotus @ Summerdance 2011 by Brian Hockensmith
I think so, but there are some things good about playing shows on a tour where you’re up on stage every other night. You get in a groove, are well practiced and also get sound checks. Sometimes at festivals we don’t even get one. Each has good and bad. At the end of a two-month tour you’re definitely feeling it and want to go home. I would probably prefer doing the weekend gigs.

MU: How many Summerdances is this for you?

This is only my second one. I started right after the first one three years ago. That [Summerdance] was Steve’s last show. Then my first show with [Lotus] was actually in Japan. We did a three-day run in Japan, then my first one in the States was in New York all September. So, we are coming up to my two year anniversary.

JB: Did you know the rest of the guys in the band before you started playing with them?

Yeah, I knew them. I used to play in this band called The Ally. The bass player from that group actually is in Yeasayer right now and the guitarist has a band called Xylos. For four years we were touring and opened for Lotus when they were in college in Indiana, actually. So that’s how we met and became friends. Then, when they moved out to Philly, we kept in touch and did a few side projects together.

MU: Speaking of side projects, what do you find yourself more attached to: the sound/style of Lotus or Conspirator?

I would say Lotus definitely. They are my main project, so Conspirator is definitely on the side. They have like four or five drummers that they play with and rotate in and out.

MU: That brings me to my next question. How did you get involved with Conspirator? And do you just play more or less when you’re free?

I’ve been friends with them for years and I played with them [Biscuits] a lot, but never with Conspirator before. But I did the first time over their last New Year’s run because Allen got sick, then they were like, “Come on and play more with us.”

MU: What are your thoughts/feelings on the overlap, or seeming lack thereof, between Lotus fans and Biscuits fans?

There definitely is some overlap. I think that a lot of Lotus fans are younger. I don’t know, let’s say there’s a 25-35-percent crossover [laughs]. It’s basically the same genre.

Mike w/ fans @ Summerdance 2011 by Michael Urban
MU: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen on tour? (We all laugh; Mike pauses, looking off as countless memories come to mind, many not eligible for the interview). It’s been a long time; you’ve been with Lotus coming up on two years.

That’s a lot of shows – it’s a tough one – I mean I would have to say the most memorable in terms of show/venue would be Red Rocks, hands down. All Good was probably the biggest crowd we have ever played for though, which was about 25,000 people at the main stage last year. (Lotus’ 7/9/2010 All Good Festival set is still their most downloaded show).

Playing festivals you see a lot, and they can really be so much fun. Playing Bonnaroo was big for us, and for such a huge festival it was extremely well run. We had a great time. There are a lot of festivals I want to get back to.

MU: Being in a serious relationship myself, what’s it like being in one on the road?

It can be tough, but doesn’t have to be. I just got engaged over the summer with a tentative date of September 2012, but nothing is set in stone. This summer hasn’t been too tough because of us playing almost only weekends, but this fall between our big tour and Conspirator it’s going to be tough being gone for two months. But she is certainly not sitting at home waiting for me to come back. She’s in school and that takes up a lot of her time.

JB: Does your fiancé ever come on tour with you?

Not really. She comes to some shows, definitely the local ones in Philly or New York. She’s a Lotus fan, but actually used to be really big into Phish and was on tour with them for awhile. Now she’s getting older and studying for a PhD at the Afro Jewish Center at Temple, and does a lot with that. I have to say though, I think a good way to look at it is that if I’m gone for a month or whatever when I come back we really miss each other, and you don’t have that situation where if you see someone everyday you might start to take them for granted. When you’re gone for awhile and come back it just makes the time we spend together that much more special. Glass half full, you know, but sometimes it’s hard.

New Album
MU: Talking about the new album a little bit [Lotus’ self-titled album was released September 23 on SCI Fidelty Records], Luke and Jesse share the songwriting, but what is the process like for Lotus when coming up with new material?

It’s actually a very well-oiled system we have down. With us all being spread out over the country now, Jesse and I being in Philly, Mike and Chuck in Colorado, and Luke moving out to San Fran, it’s not like we are in the same city and can get together and jam to come up with material. So what happens is the Millers come up with some rough demos and email them to us, we learn them, and then we have these really compressed practice sessions where we get together for 3 days, 7 hours a day, sometimes more, just getting after it. When I get the demos emailed, the drums tend to be very basic because they are not drummers, so I take that and tweak it a little, add my own thing. I feel my goal in this project is just to take what they come up with and bring it to life. I try to make their vision of the songs come to fruition, so that’s my job. I mean, some parts of songs it’s very clear what the sound should be, whereas others are left open for me to play with and inject my own thing.

MU: Was there a lot of pressure coming in and taking the place of essentially two drummers?

Lotus Pre-Greenfield
I was lucky to have a year to get comfortable, but even then I knew coming in. I loved Steve and I learned A LOT from him, and there are also a lot of times when I really miss Chuck. With it now just being the four guys when you’re doing improv it can definitely be a little easier to bridge the gaps and whatnot, but I definitely miss [Chuck], and he will be joining us on this fall tour. Coming in after Steve, I know I play differently than he does, and I know there are people who say, “Oh it sounds so different now,” but I try to add my own thing. I don’t want to be a copycat. I try to float in the middle. The sound has changed a lot though. It used to be more kinda funk and noodling, and when I came in the sound was changing, so we have been able to grow and change together.

MU: Speaking of influences, what’s your biggest influence in terms of drumming?

When I was a kid I used to listen to a lot of John Bonham. Then I became more of a drum dork and started listening to Dennis Chambers and those guys, and they were all about playing a million miles an hour and trying to fit in as many drum notes as they could in a song. But then I got into more tasteful guys, even some early Disco Biscuits stuff with Sammy. At first when I listened to Sammy I wasn’t into it cause he wasn’t a drummers’ drummer, like going all crazy and stuff, but the more I listened to him I realized that he was really about laying down the foundation for the band. He knew exactly where and when they wanted to go somewhere, and I learned a lot from him. We’re still really good friends.

MU: Who are you listening to now? What’s on your iPod?

Hmm…I still like to go back and forth. Sometimes I like a lot of the new electronic stuff – Eskmo is really cool. I like his stuff, but I can only listen to that stuff for a little while before it drives me crazy. I was exposed to so much electronic music between Bisco and Starscape it was almost an assault of electronica. I was actually just at home recently and I picked up the new Eddie Vedder solo album [Ukulele Songs] and oh my God, it was so amazing and refreshing to listen to songs with a melody and harmony and raw songwriting. I try not to limit myself though – I like everything. I like Andrew Bird a lot as well.

MU: Back to Lotus, the new album is out. Tell us a little about that.

We recorded it in Kensington, Philadelphia, at Dr. Dog’s studio, who we know really well. It’s an old warehouse, and we recorded it right to reel to give it that warm feeling, then of course, converted it over to digital. We recorded all the basic tracks live in the studio playing together, which is always good, and then the guys added a lot of overdubs and Rempel came in and did some additional guitar stuff. We did it over a couple of different sessions. We are such a live band, so it’s fun to be able to record the majority of our material like that.

Lotus @ Summerdance 2011 by Brian Hockensmith
All the songs were pretty well road tested, but I can remember actually having to read off sheet music a couple of times in the studio. For example, “Orchids” is one we don’t play often. And we did want to save some stuff for the fall tour as well. I’m really proud of it. It sounds great. I’m really excited to have the fans hear it. I think it’s us, and it being self-titled says that I think. It’s where we’re headed. [When the interviewers caught up with Jesse Miller later in the weekend he told them that Lotus have, at minimum, another whole album worth of material from those recording sessions and plan to put out some EPs or B-sides in one fashion or another].

JB: Some of the song titles, even without lyrics, seem to go along with the songs so well. How do they get named?

Jesse and Luke pick them. They are both very well read, but Luke especially is quite the words man. He’s a little bit of a dork [laughs]. Every day on his Facebook page he puts out a word of the day and he has quite the vocabulary. They come up with some pretty interesting song titles. It’s hard when the songs don’t have words.

MU: Let’s talk covers. You don’t do a lot, but you do play Ozzy’s “Crazy Train,” which many wouldn’t expect. How did this happen?

The first time we did “Crazy Train” was New Year’s of 2009. We try to do different themes for New Year’s and the theme that year was hard rock riffs. Then over Halloween we actually did a whole Black Sabbath thing, so we got into Ozzy a little bit. It’s fun to try different covers.

JB: What is the fan base like in Philly?

Philly is great. It’s one of our top markets. It goes Philly, Chicago, Denver, and then New York, obviously. I love our fans.

MU: Anything you can tell us about the cover art?

Luke found this old photo. No idea where he found it, but he sent it to all of us and we were all digging it, so we kept it.

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