Flying Lotus – aka Steven Ellison – is about to release one of the most anticipated records of 2010. Cosmogramma, the follow up to the much-vaulted Los Angeles LP, is “more dynamic, bigger in scope and more textured” than his previous work, according to the man himself.
The Warp-signed producer grew up in auspicious musical surroundings – his great aunt was Alice Coltrane, the acclaimed pianist and composer, who he cites as his biggest inspiration. As such he brings a fluid, jazz-like style to his futuristic hip-hop tinged electronica – an incredibly unique and fascinating combination. Juno Plus caught up with Ellison during a recent visit to London for the Red Bull Music Academy.
How are you enjoying your stay in London? You were a participant at the Red Bull Music Academy 2006 in Melbourne is that right?
Yeah I gave a lecture this time, I think it was great fun. I can only hope people were able to take something out of what I had to say. I’m just surprised that people even care (laughs), but I’m really honoured if people do learn something.
There are many people here who look up to you in the UK, especially the dubstep scene. How closely tied do you feel to that?
London really feels like a second home. I’ve put a lot of time and a lot of work in over here, and built some good relationships. With dubstep, I don’t really know where it’s all going at the moment, and I have to admit I haven’t been keeping really close tabs on it, but I definitely respect the underground scene here. It’s ridiculously good.
I looked into it and cosmogramma is actually a word, it’s basically a map of the universe, and that is very much in keeping with what I wanted to do for this record.
And there’s a lot of excitement about around your new album, let’s talk about that. Where does the name Cosmogramma come from?
Ha! That was a name that haunted me for a long time. It’s something that I thought I heard when I was listening to a tape of my aunt Alice (Coltrane) speaking. She was speaking about planets, and saying people don’t realise they are all playing a game. She called it a ‘cosmic drama’. But she said it under her breath so I thought she said “Cosmogramma”. I looked into it and cosmogramma is actually a word, it’s basically a map of the universe, and that is very much in keeping with what I wanted to do for this record.
You’ve said in the past that your aunt Alice is a big source of inspiration. Was that the case for this record?
The whole record is basically an ode to my aunt. I’ve been super inspired by her for the past two years, more so than at any other point in my life. I grew up listening to her all the time, but it never really registered in the same way as it does now. I love the harp and strings and I want people to feel that same emotion that I do.
How does Cosmogramma differ from your previous work?
Well it’s way more dynamic, bigger in scope and more textured. There’s more live instrumentation too, so I’ve been expanding my universe. I think it ‘s bigger and better than anything I’ve done before.
How did the Thom Yorke collaboration come about?
That came through Mary Anne Hobbs. She knew that I was into him, and that I am a big fan of his work, and she wanted to make something happen. So she got in touch with him and said he should listen to some of my stuff. He got in touch the next day and was like, ‘what’s up’? I sent him over a few things and he told me he was really busy and might not have time to do anything. Anyway two days later he sends me these files through email and they were all done! I was surprised but very excited,
Sounds like it worked out perfectly…
It was a super easy process. He doesn’t say much, but when he says something you get it and when he doesn’t say anything at all you get it (laughs). He’s very cool, and it was so much fun playing with the track, arranging it. It’s definitely one of the highlights of my career so far.
You said the Los Angeles album was made for headphone listening and not clubbing … is that still the case with your new record?
Cosmogramma occupies the same space. I feel my music is made for you to think about. I hope the record will be something for people to listen to at home, with your headphones on. I think I’ve taken things a lot further this time. I think you’d need the best damn soundsystem money can buy to get the most out of this one, with all the details and nuances!
You are part of the so-called Nintendo generation, with an obvious penchant for bleeps and squeaks. Is that quirkiness still an important part of your music?
That is definitely still in there. Overall it’s deeper but there are silly moments, and moments of pure joy. But I think even the serious stuff has a sense of humour, or at least that’s how I see it.
I had to journey deep within myself and I learned a lot about life. I’ve been through a lot since the last album and I think that is reflected on Cosmogramma.
Do you feel this album reflects an important time in your life?
Yes, more so than with any other record. I had to journey deep within myself and I learned a lot about life. I’ve been through a lot since the last album and I think that is reflected on Cosmogramma.
Tell me about your collaboration with Jose James – your production work for him sounds brilliant…
Jose is really good, he’s not one of those guys who needs help. Sometime it seems like it’s my job to make the singer’s voice sound better, but Jose is good right out of the gate every time, pitch perfect. He’s a master at what he does, and I wish we had more time to work together.
Are there any other collaborations we should know about?
I’ve got one with Mad Lib and Jay Electronica, and I’m doing more work with Massive Attack. There are also a few others that I probably shouldn’t mention right now!
What does the rest of 2010 hold in store?
There will be a lot of promo for this album, making sure the word gets out. I’m also working on a film, so it will be good to get behind the camera again. I’m looking to get back into that again, I would like to do some commercials or something. I’m working on a documentary about my aunt Alice which has been going on for some time. I’m also working on my live AV show, which I’ve been touring already but I think will be ready in another six months.
What’s your vision for the live show?
It’s an assault. An assault of imagery and noise, I’ll use music videos and I’ll be fucking around with a lot of things live, manipulating different things.
And how is your Brainfeeder label going?
Stronger than ever, we’ve just secured our physical distribution through Ninja Tune so we will be reaching people all over the world now.
In terms of the day-to-day running of the label, do you get your hands dirty?
I definitely get dirty man, there’s a lot of that (laughs). It’s been an exciting thing for me, it’s very rewarding. We’ve got the Daedelus album coming out this month, and also an album from Lorn called Nothing Else. It’s really dark electronica, like a mix between Nine Inch Nails and Nosaj Thing.
Interview: Aaron Coultate