An Interview With The Rhythmic Backbone Of Lotus: Mike Greenfield & Chuck Morris
Zachary Franck interviewing Mike Greenfield (MG) and Chuck Morris (CM)
1.Did you study music when you were younger and if so where?
MG-The school district that I went to had an excellent music program and I was heavily involved in it from 4th-12th grade. Some of my best friends and fondest memories were formed there. I also took private lessons from ages 9-16 mainly from local legends Pete Heywood and Dom Famularo. Finally, when I was 20 I took a 10 week course at the Drummers Collective in NYC.
CM-I took drum lessons from 6th grade on and studied music at Indiana University so there is a certain hybrid of tradition and self-teaching there. You may notice that in a Lotus performance I am still always trying to learn and flow with whatever the night or moment may be offering so I use the basics to propel the idea into uncharted territory. This is really why I am attracted to this style of music, it frees you up from the constraints of having to lock into one mindset.
2.As a drummer/percussionist, who are some of your biggest influences?
MG-When I was growing up it was Stewart Copeland, John Bonham, and Tim Alexander. Lately, I have been influenced by Jojo Mayer, Benny Grebb, ?uest Love, and Mark Guiliana.
CM- My big influences that are drummers opened me up to new possibilities. I owe them so much though many of you probably never heard of them. Jeff 'Tain' Watts gave me jazz, Babatunde Olatunji african, Giovanni Hidalgo latin, but I also grew up playing along to Steve Adler and eventually Danny Carey. World music is huge to me and guys like Trilok Gurtu are the best drummers I've ever heard! As far as uber technique goes Marco Minneman is one of my favorites.
3. Mike, how did you end up joining Lotus?
MG- In 2002 I was on a small tour with a band called “The Ally” and we needed to fill in some dates on our way to Chicago. My guitarist Eric somehow linked up with Lotus while they were still students at Goshen College in Indiana. He contacted them and we opened for a local show. We became friends and stayed in touch. When the band moved to Philly we hung out a lot and I played in a few side projects with Jesse. Finally, in 2009 Steve Clemens had a baby and couldn’t tour so the band gave me a call.
4. Chuck, how was it in the early days playing in small town Indiana? Were people receptive of Lotus' music right away or did it take some getting used to?
CM- This small town in Indiana had some really progressive thought so the music was initially interesting to a lot of the locals. I was jamming a bit with Umphrey’s McGee before I committed to Lotus so it is cool to see both bands that came from the same neck of the woods working together even presently.
5. Mike, I know that you were an old school fan of the Disco Biscuits, were you also a fan of Lotus before you joined the band?
MG- I always like the band and their music but only went to 5-10 shows before they asked me to cover for Steve. I had a lot of songs to learn for that first run!
6. What are a few of your personal favorite songs to pIay with Lotus? Chuck, I know you probably love to play Flower Sermon for obvious reasons...
CM- Yes, I take a free form vibraphone solo in FS… Caywood is great for this reason too. Orchids is a lot of fun for me. Intro to a Cell. Kodiak and Ashcon are fun because I play the same part every time so I can sort of mentally check out from thinking about parts like I used to do in drum corps when I didn’t even think about what I played anymore. In an Outline has everything a drummer needs: triple meter and polyrhythms for days.
MG- I enjoy playing most of the songs but “In an Outline” usually stands out for me.
7. Mike, you've played with multiple bands over the years and still do, what makes playing with Lotus so special to you?
MG-I have played more shows with Lotus than any other band so I feel like I have fully internalized the musical vocabulary of the individual members. Because of this I know how to react to them in an intuitive nature. For example, I will often spontaneously play a fill that uncannily syncs up with Rempel. I know Jesse’s body language when he wants to push the tempo. Even our monitor engineer knows exactly how I like my mix. There are just a lot of positive benefits from playing so many shows over the last five years. It’s similar to being in a long-term relationship where you can deduce your partner’s emotional state just from a simple glance. I also enjoy the diversity of the music and the breadth of the Lotus catalog. Even though Lotus has changed stylistically over the years, there is still a strong common thread that prevails through the set-lists. Finally, the Millers are very prolific songwriters and always challenge me to learn new material and try out new concepts.
8. Chuck, you guys have obviously paid your dues and have worked extremely hard your entire career. Lotus now has one of the fastest growing fan bases in the Live music scene right now, how do you feel about that?
CM- I feel like we are blessed to have such an appreciation of our original material and style of musicianship. It’s been a steady build for us. I am elated to witness this time period that we have looked forward to as this career becomes viable and affordable. We had discussions about faith since before becoming a touring band and we took the stance that since we were all so hard working and determined to see it succeed it was natural for it to develop and bear fruit. I think our real fans can see that we give back what we can and if that means the budget provides for more lighting tech and crew that we will step up to the challenge and get them the experience they are paying for! I’ll put on record that we certainly have the greatest crew in the industry but that’s probably just like my opinion.
9. Mike, how long did it take you to learn and memorize the majority of Lotus' songs? Did you recently have to learn some of the bust outs or were you already familiar with them?
MG- Memorizing Lotus’ vast catalog was my biggest challenge when I joined the band. I actually used charts for our first tour because Luke would form the set lists by choosing between 80-100 songs. Over time I weaned myself off the charts and developed some memory tricks for learning songs. The bustouts we have been playing this tour are completely new to me.
10. Chuck, do you think that 2014 and 2015 have brought some unforgettable shows so far and which stand out? Also, which was your favorite night of the New Years run?
CM- I think Boston’s show at the House of Blues stands out because it was such a production. We were sort of wired up knowing that it was a high quality live stream going out. The entire New Year’s run was amazing because we brought out the coolest light show we have ever had, now dubbed ‘the Chandelier’ and were coming off of a lengthy time off from the road working on entirely different material in the studio. So we get out there a bit rusty and once you shake off the chills you realize, ‘oh yeah, this is what we are all about’. It’s fantastic that it’s easy to forget what it feels like to perform live in front of an appreciative crowd. I feel really fortunate to play the House of Blues in New Orleans tonight, a very spirit-filled room, so the verdict will be out tomorrow morning on this answer.
11. Mike, many fans think that the last 13 months have held some of the best shows since you've joined the band. Do you think that 2014 and 2015 have brought some unforgettable shows so far and which stand out?
MG- We took a lot of time off in 2014 and I feel it has allowed us to return to the music with fresh ears. It’s difficult for me to pick shows from the last year that stand out, but a lot of people have told me that the Gathering of the Vibes set went over really well. The shows have been consistently good so far in 2015, but I’m especially looking forward to a couple of weeks from now when we are fully in the swing of playing together.
12. How is it playing behind Mike RempeI and the Miller brothers? Are they three of the most hardworking and talented musicians in the scene?
MG- Right, it’s very inspirational to play with the Millers because they are always thinking about and working on music. I have always enjoyed playing with Rempel too; he is a master at his craft and definitely has a unique voice on his instrument.
CM- A number of things impress me about my band mates but in truth you nailed it. Everyone in this organization is hard-working. I am always impressed when we take another step in the right direction. And I don’t know that this can be done without devotion to this craft of music by balancing health, practice, and study. Our guys stay current with technology and it is obvious that in this day and age this improves your sound dramatically. Look into sound design and you will notice there is a plethora of knowledge to be tapped into and it’s fun to check out!
13.Some people consider you two to have some of the best rhythmic chemistry in the scene, how do you feel about that?
MG- It‘s an honor!
CM- It’s Science! Maybe the Myth-busters should do an episode on this. What is it about Lotus’ drum line making people really go ape?
14. What are the biggest differences between your old drummer Steve and Mike GreenfieId, not whose better just what's different?
CM- I’ve learned a lot through this lineup change. Steve brought a slinky funk to this group and enjoyed being taken by the groove, creating a mellow improv that was moving to the soul that found it comforting. I shared this love of laying it back and we worked well together in this way. Greenfield was one of my favorite drummers before Lotus even moved to Philly to became a touring group. He hid his complexity and technical side well with The Ally because it was so moving. It became obvious when we began rehearsals with Greenfield that the band was morphing because he pushed the groove whereas Steve had been settling back on his throne. It took some time for us to get used to but we realize now that for a rock show the energy picks up when the drums are pushing the tempo. It is hard for me to let go of the feeling of letting the groove take you and laying back, especially since I have to join in that tempo push and recognize it immediately. But this is entertainment after all and we aim to please. There are a lot of people with their hands in the air if that explains anything.
15. You guys play really well together, do you feel like you make each other's jobs easier?
MG- I can write pages about this, but it really boils down to Chuck and I understanding what our roles are as musicians in this band. The drums are foundational and the percussion is the icing on the cake (or “the cherry on top of the Cowgirl” in the words of Tom Robbins). We know to leave room for each other.
CM- Absolutely, I think we complement each other very well and create a unified structure that is so easy to dance to. We have times when we simplify to make room for each other.
16. Have you guys learned anything from each other?
MG- Lately we have been geeking out about technique and have been sharing some exercises with each other. It’s like being in a drum-line again.
CM- I would say we are learning more from each other now than yesterday, I look forward to what we can do together as we are on this journey. Something that may be interesting in this regard is the stumbling block of drum notation. I will notate percussion in several ways that don’t resemble a drum kit notation. I’m currently trying out translating it. But we’ve been doing a warmup together that works for us. It is funny that for our jobs, which I consider very different, require different studies of rhythms. I’m getting back into trying new techniques on this tour as is he, so we are talking every day about new ideas.
17. Mike, since you have joined the band, what are some unique moments that have stood out to you over the years? How about when a certain somebody "accidently" unplugged the sound to the entire front of the stage in the late-night tent at Camp Bisco and you guys had to go into a ridiculous improvisational jungle drum solo? Chuck, do any moments stand out to you?
MG- There have been a lot of moments like that where a situation that initially seems to be detrimental turns out to have a positive outcome. The Camp Bisco show you mentioned is one example. Another took place In the Dominican Republic where none of our instruments made it past customs. We had to do a makeshift old school set on borrowed gear and many fans said it was one of the favorite shows they have seen so far. When life gives you lemons, construct a crude electrochemical battery!
CM- I felt that losing backline power didn’t prove to be the most memorable thing but it turned out pretty funny. What was most memorable about that night was KJ Sawka’s ‘Destroid’ set afterwards. One of my favorite drummers in a $90k alien suit playing electronic drums, got weird.
18. Do you prefer to have heavy improvisation in a set or structure?
MG- I actually enjoy the current amount of improv in a set, which is about a third of the show.
CM- I prefer improvisation that delivers by way of peaking moving, breaking, coming back to the head. Ideas can be more powerful than compositions and the moment is very important when we’re talking about a live performance. When you have an idea and you sing it or play it, it comes out emotionally and it can be felt. You are learning in the moment, sharing and gathering in a mutual relationship with the audience. As strong as a composed piece can be, I was interested in this band initially because I wanted to rely on improvisation as a tool for a moving performance. I still feel the same way and often my part of a composition is more of a concept that I work around until it is different than any other time we’ve played the songs.
19. Do you feel a strong connection with crowd? Have you become close with any fans?
MG- Very close! I feel that fan interaction with musicians is much different today because of social media. I also try to say hi after shows fairly often. I just was talking to a fan last week that said he was going to about 30 shows on this winter tour alone! When I see the same faces repeatedly it’s inevitable that I will know who they are.
CM- Oh yes, it is becoming more difficult to remember everyone I meet of course, but I have some strong ties to the community of Lotus supporters and listeners. We’ve always had a good relationship in this way where we try to help out the fans and man, they have some high expectations, which is good for everybody.
20. Chuck, do you still see fans from the early days of touring?
CM- Definitely. I still come into contact with friends and people that were at our first shows. Last night our venue rep said he went to every show of our first residency at Billy’s in Grand Rapids while we were in school. Every Wednesday night for the first month we’d roll up and double our numbers. It was really Lotus’ first success as a market. This is a shining point of this band, our old friends are all still with us and I can’t think of anyone who is disenfranchised.
21. Mike, Where do you see Lotus in five years?
MG- Lotus has been steadily gaining popularity every year. In fact, I’m fairly certain that we have doubled our draw in our main markets since I joined 5 years ago. I feel that this continual grass roots growth is very healthy and the key to longevity. So hopefully in 5 years we will again double in size from where we are now and continue to push ourselves musically.
22. Okay guys last but certainly not least, can you give us any info at all on Summerdance this year? It has been announced that this year will be four nights, does that mean that we may possibly get an extra night of Lotus?
MG- Nice try. Details will be announced soon though
CM- Not really my game releasing info but it should turn out to be the whole ball of wax.