Lotus Interview and Review: January 30th at the Westcott Theater

Lotus, the notorious EDM act-turned-jamband played a solid sold-out show at The Westcott Theater on a Wednesday, January 30th, making quite the comeback with their tenth album, The Build. The band continues to enchant listeners as they genre-bend their way into an idiosyncratic combination of funk and EDM, proving to be more relevant now than ever.

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Before the show, I got the chance to talk to Jesse Miller, the bassist and sampler for the band.

Gauraa Shekhar: Your new record The Build is recorded live to analog. How did that come along considering the wide range of instrumentation?

Jesse Miller: We have been following the process over the last few years. It is a classic 70s thing, you know—with basic tracks and everything.

GS: That’s really cool. In The Build the rich texture really comes through, especially in songs like “Middle Road”. How do you guys produce music within a budget without compromising the quality?

JM: Most of it was done by myself and Luke. We rehearsed the process before we went into the studio and relied on a lot of software to help us. So we didn’t waste time and money on extra studio hours.

GS: That’s very practical. What kind of a demographic are you catering to with such genre-bending music? Is it easier to find the venue that matches your sound or do you have to pay special attention to it?

JM: I don’t think there is a specific demographic that we cater to but venues are definitely important. We aim for high-energy shows. Sometimes, we play for a younger crowd but there really is no specific age.

GS: Performing live is obviously a great aspect of your music. How do you mix it up on stage to keep the audience entranced . . . I mean, besides the lights of course.

JM: Improvisation, for sure. We try to mix it up by changing the instruments and arranging the songs a little differently.

GS: Since you guys incorporate a lot of computer generated digital sounds in your music, how do you put a different spin on it whilst performing live?

JM: There are certain things that are important to pull out of line…sometimes, we play around with the melody and sometimes we change up the instruments. We also trigger samples on stage.

GS: Oh, wow! Well, what is it like having a 47 days tour?

JM: 47 days in a tour can be hectic. But it allows us to develop a sound and a rapport.

GS: I’m sure. Bands have issues but you guys seem to stuck together as a band through all these years. What are some of the main things that glue you guys together?

JM: Well, it’s mostly the work ethic and the drive. We’ve been at this for such a long time and we’re really passionate about the music.

GS: As are we! Looking forward to seeing you in ’Cuse on the 30th, Jesse!

JM: Looking forward to the show!

As promised, Lotus gave those looking to get a high-energy head start to their weekend more than what they had bargained for. As I walked straight off the campus to their venue, I couldn’t help but wonder if I had walked straight into a Tim Burton set with all its entailing paraphernalia. I watched inebriated girls in princess costumes flail their way to the front row and men leaping out of crumbling bathroom doors with glowing light sabers. The night was fecund with possibilities  as if anything could happen. Excited fans drove in all the way from Rochester and Watertown, yelling out to anybody willing to listen: “This is the fourth time I’m seeing them perform”, “I just watched their show in New York last week” and “They just keep getting better each time”.  It was more than evident that Lotus’ electronica sound sustained their fan base over a span of fourteen years. And let me tell you, the infamous interplay of stage lights was only the beginning. Only a band like Lotus could turn a dance party into a religious experience. Lotus fueled the room with time-transcending energy and a motley crowd checked their baggage at the door, walked in, simply wrapped their heads around the music— and let their hair down.

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An Interview with the Guys of Formula 5

Formula 5 has come a very long way since their start. Their talent as individuals and as a band has moved light years ahead from when they first took stage around the Capital District. Formula 5 has quickly become a staple in the Albany live music scene, opening for such bands as Timbre Coup, Twiddle, The Heavy Pets, Dopapod, The McLovins and Lucid. It is certainly refreshing to see a young up and coming band be so passionate about their music and be representing Albany’s music scene. Jenni Wilson sat down with Joe Davis and Mike McDonald of Formula 5 at the recent Autumnation Festival and followed up with the band for their first interview with UpstateLIVE.

Jenni Wilson: Where are you all from?

Formula 5: We are all pretty local to the Capital Region/Upstate NY area. Mike (Keys, Vocals) and Joe (Guitar, Vocals) are from Latham, Bill (Bass, Vocals) is from Clifton Park and Greg (Drums, Yelling) is the odd ball from all the way up in Lake George.

Jenni: When did you guys start playing together and how did you meet?

F5: I guess the way we all came together was pretty random. It was definitely a gradual process starting with Bill. Bill had been playing some music with some former members of our old band called Chinatown Lights. You may or may not have heard that name before in the Albany area. They played as a threesome for a little while (2 guitars and bass) and eventually met Greg by chance. Bill met Greg while waiting in line for Phish tickets at the Times Union Center, found out he played drums and lived in Lake George and they set up a time to jam. They got together, liked the connection and started playing as a foursome. Eventually they wanted a keyboardist and they contacted Mike, who went to the same local high school as the former guitarist, was local to the area and was currently playing keys in a Grateful Dead cover band called the Green Mountain Pranksters. Mike joined wanting to explore his original music ideas and they started practicing and scheduling more gigs around the Albany/Upstate area. After about a year, the band stalled out when the former lead singer and major song writer departed the group.

With the future of the band in question, Bill, Greg and Mike decided they wanted to try and keep this thing afloat by finding a new guitarist and pursuing the music that they loved – Jam music. The older lineup tended to be more of a funk/soul group and they all felt like they were ignoring their true musical direction of more improvisational music. They went through many, many auditions and finally settled on the unlikely younger brother of one of Mike’s high school friends – Young Joseph. When Joe came up to audition we weren’t exactly sure of what to think. He was 19, he had no band experience and no one had heard him play prior to the audition because he had no recordings of his playing to send us. From the very first audition, we knew he was the guitarist that we were looking for. He fit our style very well and things seemed to “click” right away. In January of 2012, Joe became our guitarist – and things have really taken off since we finalized our current lineup.

Jenni: Who are some of your influences?

F5: Being that we employ a very loose, improvised musical standpoint, our influences would have to point to artists such as Phish, Grateful Dead, Medeski, Martin & Wood, moe., Umphrey’s McGee and many others who have made the jam scene what it is today. We are also very big blues, folk, Americana, Motown and classic rock fans that have been influenced by the greats such as Jeff Beck, Clapton (and his assorted projects), Traffic, David Bowie, Van Morrision, The Band, Little Feat, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Rush, Miles Davis, BB King, Stevie Wonder, among many, many others. Growing up in our generation we have been exposed to many different genres and we are indeed very influenced by 90’s alternative music, some pop music as well as some of the newer indie groups that are writing great music in the 21st century. We like a lot of different music.

Jenni: What are some of your goals as a band?

F5: Some of our goals as a band include playing some larger regional festivals such as Catskill Chill, Gathering of the Vibes, Mountain Jam, moe.down, Backwoods Pondfest and others. In the next year we would like to release another larger studio album. We have enough new original material for two albums already and can’t wait to get back into the studio with some of these newer tracks that we are already playing live.

One major goal that we have as a band is to expand our musical resume as pertaining to different styles of music. Some of our favorite genres include reggae, funk, folk and blues but we really are working to encompass other genres such as more progressive rock, electronica, and even some exotic music styles. We have already written a bluegrass song and experimented with more progressive time structures and Middle Eastern scales in some of our newer material and are looking to incorporate these genres into our new material.

Jenni: Can you guys talk about the reincarnation of Formula 5 and the origin of your band’s name?

F5: Sometime towards the end of our old lineup, we decided we wanted to change our band name and we were toying with some concepts such as “Formula” or “Elixir” referring to the various influences and styles that come together from our various members to create our unique sound. We dragged the decision making process out for a very long time and we finally decided on Formula 5, due to their being 5 members in the band at that time and the fact that we were so sick of arguing about it. It seemed to be the name that everyone hated the least. Clearly we are now a four-piece band so it’s the most misleading band name of all time. In all honesty, we just thought it would be less trouble to keep the same name, websites, mailing lists, logos, etc… rather than re-branding ourselves. We knew that our new sound with Joe on guitar was going to do a majority of the re-branding anyways. Now we kind of enjoy the name because we know people are sitting there trying to figure out why we’re named Formula 5. People either think we can’t count or were looking to add another member. The truth is neither: we can count and no, we are not actively looking for another member. We are just focusing on becoming tighter as a band and writing more and more new material as a band.

Jenni: Where have you guys toured so far?

F5: In our short year as a group we have begun to play around parts of New York State and even a few outside of the borders as we look to grow and expand. While we haven’t strung together what could be considered a “tour”, we try to do the weekend warrior thing while we work our day jobs during the week. We frequent the Albany music stops, Putnam Den in Saratoga, Shepards Cove/Park in Lake George, The Monopole in Plattsburgh, The Waterhole in Saranac Lake, Java Barn in Canton, Oneonta, Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo, Jamestown and other random places across the state. We’ve played a few festivals as well such as StrangeCreek, Bellstock, the recent Autumation Festival, Green Mountain Getdown festival in VT, Mama Strawberry Jam and a few other smaller festivals. We are working on something in Boston and New York City as well.

Jenni: Where are your favorite places to play?

F5: We are still trying to play some of major stops in the northeast but we still love getting back to place we got our start – Red Square in Albany. We’ve had some great shows in the north county at the Waterhole in Saranac Lake and the Monopole in Plattsburgh. The Java Barn was a very memorable for us we absolutely loved the hospitality and the eager crowd that couldn’t get enough. Black Oak Tavern in Oneonta is also a very fun one for us.

Jenni: What is the name of your album and how many tracks are you including?

F5: Currently the album is slated to be self-titled “Formula 5”. Another idea we had was “Peanut Butter Tuesday” but not sure if that’s going to happen. It will likely be self-titled unless an amazing name comes up in the next few weeks. We are picking our final mixes of the songs and will be sending it off to get mastered over the next couple of weeks. There are seven tracks total on the album with one of them being a short interlude leading into the track “Mister Elixir”. We chose six of the oldest tracks that we have been playing since the beginning of this lineup and many of them were written and played long before Formula 5. While being our oldest tracks, we also feel that these tracks really illustrate our style as a band and what we like to do with our songwriting. Each song averages about 7-8 mins (we’re a jam band…) and they showcase many different styles that drive us. We have straight ahead rock, minimal funk, horn-driven R&B, gritty blues, reggae, progressive time structures and plenty of improvisation across these six tracks. We employed the horn work of Bryan Brundige (trombone) and Jeff Nania (saxophone), two well know performers in the Capital Region to spice up the funky track “Houdini.” Stay tuned for an album release party in early 2013.

Track Listing for the upcoming self-titled debut album:

1. “Hot Box”
2. “Coming Home”
3. “Paella”
4. “Sueno”
5. “Mister Elixir”
6. “3 Ring Circus”
7. “Houdini” feat. Bryan Brundige and Jeff Nania on horns

Jenni: Is this your first experience in the studio as a band?

F5: Yes, this is the first time we have entered the studio as a band. A few of us have done some assorted studio work but nothing too extensive. We really focused on this album and put a lot of time and thought into it. We can’t wait to get it out there for people to hear.

Jenni: What are some future shows you guys will be playing?

F5: We’ve got some great shows schedule in the next month or two. Friday November 23rd we are at the Bayou in Albany; December 7th we’re at the Monopole in Plattsburgh; December 15th at The Putnam Den in Saratoga with our friends Lucid; January 4th we’re at the Dinosaur BBQ in Troy; January 18th we’re in Buffalo with our good friends Funktional Flow; January 19th we play in Jamestown, NY again w/ Funktional Flow and February 2nd we are in Oneonta at the Black Oak Tavern.

Live Free But Die Digital : An Interview with Jimkata’s Frontman Evan Friedell

Nearly exactly four and half years ago, I drove up to Ithaca to interview four young musicians making local waves as an up and coming college band called Jimkata. They had barely released a 5-track LP and were playing Friday nights in Ithaca and Oneonta. Fast forward to today, that same foursome has caught the attention of more than just Ithacans or regional Upstate New York jam fans. On the heels of releasing their 4th album Die Digital, due out September 18th, and a 10-week national fall tour, I caught up with Jimkata’s front man and guitarist Evan Friedell. The following is the transcript of our recent discussion covering everything from sharing the stage w/ Umphrey’s McGee, their new fan-funded album and how the uniquely infectious sound Jimkata has patented continues to evolve.

Johnny Goff: so I believe it was 2008 when I came over to your house in Ithaca and sat down to interview you guys. You guys were just getting going. What’s changed in the past 4 and half years as a band?

Evan Friedell:  We’ve come miles in those 4-5 years. No. 1,  we’ve all grown up and changed as individuals. And also, we’re just kind of starting to find our sound. When we started, our sound went many different directions. And now finally, the sound writing, the instrumentation, the use of technology w/ analog/synth and e-drums has really evolved our sound to what it is today. We’ve also started touring more extensively in the past several years and that has helped us grow a fan-base which is awesome. Also, the new record has been entirely fan-funded. So yeah, we’ve come a long way from a scrappy, little college bar band into you know what we are today.

Johnny:  So, in attempting to achieve a good fan base, how important is it that you guys, as a band play every night of the week and not just weekends in attempting to win over new fans?

Evan: Well, you know, that’s something that has changed over time too. We’ve realized now that we can’t pick a day here or there and play those dates. We’ve realized that in order to get your name out there, you have to play every day of the week. For example, when we go out to Colorado, we decide to play Michigan on the way. And it’s funny, one of the bi-products we’ve found is when we leave our home area and venture away and then return to our home area, our local fans seem to be more energized and at the same time, we are building new grounds withnew fans.

Evan Friedell, photo by Johnny Goff, 2008

Johnny: So I’ve noticed that recently, you’ve shared the stage with some pretty notable bands. Can you talk about that?

Evan: We’ve played a number of festivals on the same bill as some pretty big acts. And we’ve also had the chance to directly support Umphreys McGee for a few shows in Colorado and in Utah. I think as of right now, it’s pretty inspiring to see how bigger acts work from the inside. The professionalism is a totally different ballgame. Everything’s pretty regimented for them and they are on schedules, etc…and then there’s us…you know, we slept in the van and go on stage. We’d love to be there someday but right now, even though we’re growing, it feels like a different world.  The big ones are great too, but I love seeing bands we’ve built the comradery together over the years and seeing them at regional festivals and hanging out before or after our sets.

Packy Lunn, photo by Johnny Goff, 2008

Johnny: So, considering this interview is for Upstate Live, I’d be remised if I didn’t touch on Upstate New York and its festivals and JImkata’s plans going forward. Also, if you could, discuss my home festival, Grassroots, in Trumansburg, NY and  how Jimkata has taken off there also. It seems like every year, you guys are jumping up to a bigger stage and a better timeslot.

Evan: Yeah, yeah. We are very grateful for that. All of us are. It’s been great for me because I grew up a couple hours from there (Oneonta) and I used to go to Grassroots when I was 16 and I was like “Holy Shit, ya know, this would be sick to play at sometimes”, and then, well, we were. So it was a huge thrill to get that slot after midnight on a Friday and thinking about back when I was 16 and wondering if I was 16 and watching this, what would I be thinking about these guys? So, it’s pretty cool.

Johnny: So the way your guys’ sound has morphed from album to album,  I’ve drawn some other comparisons besides just Umphreys McGee; the way your sound is headed with added synthesizers and e-drums, but how would you describe Jimkata’s evolution of sound?

Evan: First of all, after seeing first-hand what and how Umphrey’s does what they do, I don’t think we would ever be as virtuosic doing what they do. Their skills are out of the park. But, I think, with this latest album, what we’re going for, is we’re simply trying to create songs that hit home for people. That hit home for people in two ways: 1) We’re trying to drop a beat that’s infectious and 2) bust out a melody and chorus that people can bring home with them in their daily lives. I mean that’s one thing I’ve always loved about watching jambands because of they’re playing, skills, and live improvisation but that’s one thing you miss by not putting out an album, the “Wow! Holy Shit!” Factor of a song where you wanna listen and relisten to the melody or chorus was our focus.

Aaron Gorsch, photo by Johnny Goff, 2008

Johnny: If you can, for readers who may not be all that familiar with Jimkata or reading about you for the first time, drop on us some chronological album history and how your sound has morphed from album to album up to your very latest release.

Evan:  So our first album has some of our earliest songs and is way more guitar oriented and some has killer early rippage. And then, “Burn My Money” was after that and that is when we began to gain some of our earliest fans and has some of our songs that we had been working on for years and years and so we had a ton of available possible songs to choose from to put on that album and that had some of our core songs that we still play today and you can start to hear to some of those synths and e-drums begin to make some appearances and it really was the album where we began to hone a lot of our songwriting. And Next was “Ghosts & Killers” and that came after we had come into some analog synthesizers that we had been playing around with and That was recorded with very little being done to it afterwards post-production. Like with “Burn My Money” we did a lot in the studio to that album but with “Ghosts and Killers”, it was almost like it was simpler arrangements but more complicated instrumentation.

Dave Rossi, photo by Johnny Goff, 2008

Johnny: So, take “Ghosts and Killers” and that simpler approach to album making to this latest album Die Digital, I just listened to the other day, it’s obvious there’s a clear delineation now between your album creating philosophies from previous to this latest JImkata album. Is that fair to say?

Evan:  Our songwriting process has morphed a little bit. The recording process was different also. We recorded w/ a different engineer, a different space and the song writing process, we all started writing music on a laptop to start. So, like If I had an idea, to start the process, I would immediately open the laptop and start putting something down. So, it was like instead of me walking up to see the band and saying I have this great idea for a song and they’re like, “What is it?” and I can’t describe it…I am able to say, “well, here ya go. Here’s an idea for a song,” and simply pull out my laptop and immediately give them an audio sample of where we can go with something. We are all were writing on our own and we were touring more too so it was actually an natural adaptation because it meant we had less practice time.  This album, there’s a couple songs that are straight up Packy (drums) which is a first for all of our records. There’s a couple songs from Aaron as always.

Johnny: So with the help of technology, you are able to get a better picture of what a song could end up becoming?

Evan: Exactly. And I think our song-writing skills have gotten a lot better also. You know, for example, when to add something or to cut something from a tune.  Knowing when to keep things simple is the key. Knowing when to keep things simple when you have a lot of different elements happening…that is key; and we had quite a few of these actually from this latest album. We had a million things going on in this album and we seemed better at knowing when and where to cut something.

Another thing that was noticeable from this album is us as a band really embracing our electronica and hip-hop influences we’ve had. We’re children of the 90’s…ya know? We’ve listened to tons of 90’s hip-hop and electronica music and that’s been huge for us. BUT, we also all love our rock-n-roll. And not just classic rock and jambands but again, being a child of the 90’s, our grunge rock music…Nirvana, Weezer and Smashing Pumpkins and all of that stuff…. and I think finally, all of those influences, all of those factors are finally beginning to come together to form the sound we have on this album.

Johnny: It’s ironic you mentioned you guys were ‘Children of the 90’s’ because a lot of the sounds coming off this new album is almost from the 80’s. The combination of the electro and synth-sounds just brings me back to when new-wave was really popular.

Evan: Yeah, it’s funny. I thought “Ghosts & Killers” came out sounding like the 80’s too. So, I guess, you’re right, it’d be fair to say we’re products of our generation, whether it be the 90’s or the 80’s. Music on the radio, commercials on t.v., movie soundtracks, c.d.’s, etc…whatever it was, it apparently influenced us and how we’re making music.

Johnny: So, there’s a track on your new album “Die Digital” called “Night Shade.” I fell in love with this track and the more I listened to the new album again and again in preparation to speak with you, I found myself going back again and again to this track “Night Shade” with its very infectious rhythm.

Evan: So, the song is sort about ‘working through hard times and everything turning out all right in the end.’…and now that I’m saying that, I’m realizing I end up writing about that an awful lot. (laughs out loud). The synth hook was written and then the bass line came around and it took me a while to write some lyrics to it because I didn’t want to fuck it up. The track is so epic and fun to begin with so I wanted the hook to be fun and “We don’t give a shit” and not to be too serious.

Johnny: So, let’s turn the attention to your upcoming tour, your travels in New York and what’s immediately ahead for Jimkata.

Evan: We have like 10 straight weeks of touring. We’re going, pretty much everywhere but all the way to the west coast. We’re going out to Colorado again, the south. We’re hitting the Midwest and up to Minnesota so we’re basically hitting up everywhere. Finding a gig is not that hard anymore and we’re super thankful for all the work our new agent has put in to get us into some bigger festivals.

Johnny: So, the new album Die Digital is about to be released. Tell readers how they can listen to this new Jimkata album.

Evan: It comes out September 18th. A lot of people who donated are going to get a copy in advance. We’re going to have it on our website and I-tunes. I also think we’re going to have it streaming so I know it’s going to be around. We’re just about to head into album promotion mode now as a band.

Catch Jimkata when they come through Upstate New York over the next three months.

Thurs. 9/20 – Albany, NY – Red Square
Fri. 9/21 – Ithaca, NY – The Haunt, with Manhattan Project
Sat. 9/22 – Rochester, NY – Lovapalooza, with Lovin Cup
Tues. 9/25 – Buffalo, NY – The Tralf, with Papadosio
Fri. 10/26 – Jamestown, NY – MoJo’s
Weds. 10/31 – Syracuse, NY – The Westcott Theater
Thurs. 11/1 – Burlington, VT – Nectar’s
Sat. 11/3 – New York, NY – Sullivan Hall