Steven Ellison, aka Flying Lotus, got a kick out of it when I suggested that Until the Quiet Comes, the title of his fourth album, might refer to his wish that the seemingly endless rounds of press he’s recently been doing—“weeks” of it, he says—finally come to an end. But wearying as the fusillade of interviews might be, having people interested isn’t a bad thing, and the level of interest in the new release has a lot to do with the global glory afforded FlyLo’s last one: the thrilling, hypnotic Cosmogramma. Its synthesis of futurist electronics and hip hop and jazz sensibilities cemented Ellison’s standing (following the earlier 1983 and Los Angeles) as one of the most utterly modern artists on the planet.
On Until the Quiet Comes, you can add lounge and even children’s music to the mix of flavors at play. While it’s still fundamentally an electronic record, it’s got more of a lush, enveloping and organic feel than we’ve heard from FlyLo. Vocals are more featured, though still only a texture, provided by mainstays Niki Randa and Laura Darlington. Thom Yorke, who guested on Cosmogramma, makes a return appearance, and the sublime Erykah Badu appears on “See Thru to U”. What Ellison looks for in a singer is just one of the topics we got into, as well two bands that impacted the record, the importance of “magic” in music and in life, and why President Obama seems to have lost some of his.
Cosmogramma got so much attention and acclaim that I have to wonder if you were able to put all of that out of your head and not worry about “topping” that album.
Yeah, when I was finishing Cosmogramma, I was really optimistic about the way it would come out. Because I felt like the timing, and the story, and a lot of factors really made that a special album. And it really resonated with a lot of people. It was the first thing that I had done that really you know felt like it broke some ground in more of a mainstream way, too. So in the making of this one, when I first sat down and started working on this thing, I already had a really pessimistic view, like, “They’re gonna hate it, no matter what I do.” You know, “everyone’s gonna turn their back on me, they’re gonna hate it, because the story and the timing are just so different.” So I felt really weird about it initially, but then I learned that’s all part of the process. As long as we stay true to what we believe in, stay true to our creative space, then everything should be fine.
I don’t want to oversimplify, but if I had to choose one word, I would say this is the warmest Flying Lotus record yet.
I agree. I spent a lot of time trying to get the sound richer and fuller and more dynamic. So I consider that a compliment because I did spend a lot of time trying to get it to be warm, and more organic feeling, and not feel like computer music the whole time. There are obvious odes to computer music on the album, but I wanted it to feel like there was a human behind the making of it.
Watch the video for “Putty Boy Strut”:
I’ve read a fair amount how dreams or meditation or maybe even a lullaby was at least initially the idea, and I would say especially the first half of the record does have this fantastical, wide-eyed thing, a song like “Getting There” [featuring Niki Randa] for instance. What appealed to you about that kind of feeling?
I think what I was drawn to was just the melodies. I was writing this time a lot more on the piano, and I would just be playing these melodies that felt very childlike and innocent. And I don’t know, there’s something about capturing that essence in the music that I really like. Because I feel like, as we get older there’s less magic. Even young kids today, they don’t believe in magic anymore. I like to play in things that feel magical, because there’s not much left.
You’ve got Niki and Laura back on vocals, Thom Yorke makes a return appearance and Erykah Badu is on there. Obviously these are people you continue to work with and you must know that they’re gonna bring the right thing. But is there any particular quality you look for or need in a vocalist?
I like a vocalist who has a respect for the track, you know? They know their place in the music, and they don’t try to overstep it. They respect it as a song before they sing on it. They don’t say “Oh OK, I’m gonna turn this into a song now!” They know it’s a song and that they’re just gonna add to it. There’s a big difference.
Do you have in your mind other singers that you would like to work with either on a Flying Lotus record, or just in general?
“As we get older there’s less magic. Even young kids today, they don’t believe in magic anymore. I like to play in things that feel magical, because there’s not much left.”
Have you been approached by a lot of people to collaborate with?
I’ve been approached by some people, yeah. And I’ve had to learn how to say no. And sometimes I feel bad because there are a lot of people that I would really like to work with. But sometimes the meetings don’t happen the way we all want them to, you know? It’s just chance, you know? You can’t fake the fire. It has to be there.
And I would imagine you have been approached by some people who could wave a pretty sizable paycheck in your direction, if that’s what you were interested in.
Definitely, but I do OK, you know.
I’m sure you do more than OK, I just wonder if that’s something that factors into things.
Yeah, I mean, I get tempted just like anybody would to do stuff for money, do music for money. But I’ve learned that at this point I can be myself, do all the things I want to do, and I don’t have to play on anybody’s level.
What are the ways you think you’ve grown the most since those first couple of records? I don’t know how much you would go back and listen to [FlyLo’s 2006 debut album] 1983. But if you did, would you feel like “I wish I could go back and do this part differently” or maybe, “That’s just not something I would do today”?
Yeah, especially in the mixing. I’ve learned so much about how to make tracks sound bigger and fuller, so in the mixing I think, “Ooh, I wish I could do this or that”. But I’m happy with my stuff. I feel like all the stuff I’ve put out I’ve been honest with and excited about, and it meant something to me. It wasn’t just about trying to get a hit song or whatever.
Are you engaged with this upcoming presidential election?
I’m definitely aware of everything, but I feel like this election specifically, I’m not excited about either side, to be honest. I mean I obviously definitely still prefer Obama, but I don’t think I’ve really seen anything that’s gotten me stoked on the situation.
Has he disappointed you in some ways?
I feel like he’s done what he can. We put a lot on him, to do everything, and he’s doing what he can, and maybe he can do in four more years. And a lot of my friends still can’t get jobs, it’s not his fault. But it’s like, what are we gonna do now?
Until the Quiet Comes is out October 2 on Warp. Stream it below: