An Interview With Luke Miller: The Mind Behind Lotus
Luke Miller and his band Lotus have continued to redefine themselves, stepping in and out of a multitude of genres over the years. He has remained the main songwriter of the five-piece and has proven himself time and time again as being a master of his craft. From playing small clubs and bars in the Mid West to touring internationally; Luke Miller has found a way to keep an organic balance of new and old songs in the set lists, while always keeping the shows fresh. This is what he loves to do, he feels compelled to deliver his artistic ability to the world. Lotus has a packed summer ahead of them with scheduled sets at some of the biggest festivals in the country. If you get a chance to see them play, don’t miss it; they’re going to throw down some seriously incredible music in the coming months. Time and time again, they continue to prove themselves as being one of the best acts in the circuit. Luke Miller is a major part of why Lotus is where they are; he has given his heart, mind, and soul to his band, and will continue to do so for many years to come.
In the interview below, I had a chance to briefly speak with Luke about himself and Lotus. He touches on the past, the resonance of old songs, their upcoming album and playing with the New Deal. I hope you enjoy it and be sure to keep an eye out for more Lotus coverage on The Passion Collective in the future!
ZF: In high school, what music did you listen to the most - genre wise and specific artists?
LM: Early on in high school I listened to ska and punk rock; groups like The Skattelites and Operation Ivy. Then later in high school I got into Phish, and some of the older jam band groups like the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers.
ZF: At what age did you realize that being a professional musician was your calling?
LM: Probably when I was around 19 years old. My second and third year of college, that's when I decided to major in classical guitar and started diving into writing songs for Lotus.
ZF: Which album do you consider your masterpiece? Or do you feel that you haven’t written it yet?
LM: I feel that we haven't made our best album, I still feel like I am learning and I always want to try and make the next one better.
ZF: During the past year, you brought some older songs back into the mix (Soma, Spiraling Line of Light) and die-hard Lotus fans loved it. Do these songs still resonate with you as much as they did when you originally wrote them?
LM: There is a simplicity and possible naiveté to some of those songs that reminds me of a different time and place. I love that we have a fan base and an archive of music where people can hear what we did at different times, then are excited to hear older stuff live. I think they resonate in a different way to me now - kind of like watching a movie you really loved when you were younger.
ZF: As Lotus’ fan base continues to grow every year, where do you see the band in five years?
LM: I don't picture us playing arenas or anything, but selling out premier theaters around the U.S. would be ideal. I'd also love to get our music into Europe and Australian markets. Those are places that have never connected with bands that jam, although they certainly connect with electronic and indie American music.
ZF: Back in the early days when you guys made the move from Indiana to Philadelphia, what made you guys choose Philly?
LM: We thought Philly would be a good starting point since it was on the East Coast, but much cheaper than NYC. We knew a couple people that had moved out there, but honestly it was kind of a random idea that we just went with. There wasn't any specific reason for going to Philadelphia over somewhere else. We did feel like we needed to get out of the Midwest and be closer to the East Coast.
ZF: Your compositions have always stood out to me; do you believe that songwriting is just as important if not more important than the on-stage improvisation?
LM: I would say composition sets up the improvisation. Stories need a beginning and end; the journey in the middle is action-packed, but if they lack stakes or you don't stick the landing, the circle isn't complete.
ZF: In recent years, is there a specific performance or run of shows that have truly left you feeling elated?
LM: The Talking Heads Deconstructed at Red Rocks stood out to me. And this past spring tour starting in Buffalo and ending in Charlottesville stood out to me because I thought we were pushing into some new improvisational areas while still staying tight and cohesive.
ZF: In the early days of Lotus, you guys would be billed under a band like the New Deal and now they’re opening up for you and playing your festival. How does it feel to have them supporting Lotus? Are you a big fan of them?
LM: I got into the New Deal in college. When they were first starting to come down to the U.S. from Toronto, we would always have them on at house parties and stuff. It's awesome having them play with us because you know they are always going to get people pumped up by just playing keys, bass, and drums. They are true pioneers of the scene and I'm glad they are back playing live after taking 5 or so years off.
ZF: Which young, up and coming bands are carrying the torch that Lotus, tDB, STS9 and tND have kept burning for the past 15+ years?
LM: I don't know, certainly groups like Papadosio and Dopapod are out there touring hard, composing and improvising music. I listen to music mostly outside of the jam band scene. It helps me maintain a wider and more nuanced perspective.
ZF: You’ve played the Gibson ES-135 for years now; I believe that Jon Gutwillig plays the same guitar. Do you ever see yourself switching guitars or is that axe just too perfect?
LM: I've played it for so long that it does feel very comfortable. I could see myself switching to a thinner sounding guitar like a Stratocaster for more of a David Byrne/Nile Rodgers rhythm guitar vibe, but the Gibson works great for being able to change between rhythm and lead parts easily.
ZF: Jesse told me that music was an enormous part of your childhood, which was your main instrument, guitar or piano?
LM: As a child I took piano lessons. I stopped in middle school, then I picked up guitar and taught myself through high school. In college I studied classical guitar and then near the end of college, I got my first synthesizer.
ZF: What is your off stage life like? I know that you live in Colorado; do you do a lot of outdoor activities?
LM: I'm a big biker. I bike all around Denver. I like going on day hikes and gardening as well. When I'm at home I spend most of my time working on new music and various Lotus related projects.
ZF: Your music promotes such a positive message of ideal inspiration and promise, what do you hope to accomplish with Lotus? Do you feel that music is the universal language? After seeing videos of your Japan shows, I’m convinced that this is true.
LM: Bringing joy to people is one of the main goals. Music can span chasms that spoken language cannot. I don't have a specific thing I want to accomplish with Lotus - making art is something I feel compelled to do and I can't really say why. I do it because it makes me feel happy and I find it a constant challenge.
ZF: Can you tell me anything about the upcoming album? An estimate on when it will be released?
LM: We haven't nailed down a release date, but I would say it will be out within the next 9 months. We recorded 17 songs, so more than enough for the album, but we are still finalizing other aspects of the project. I can say that we have only played one song from the album live and that song has been significantly altered, so it will all be completely unheard music when it comes out.