Flying Lotus is a native of Los Angeles, but his music seems to come from a place much stranger than that, a hazy plane of existence somewhere between dreams and waking. His productions take in sounds from sources as diverse as jazz, hip hop and 8-bit video game soundtracks, then twist and contort them into new and unexpected shapes. His fourth album, Until The Quiet Comes, arrives this month on the legendary Warp Records, and it’s as lush and surreal as ever. “I wanted to build this world that had a feeling of nocturnal innocence about it,” Flying Lotus, otherwise known as beat-maker Steven Ellison, tells me about the record. “I hadn’t listened all the way through on headphones before, and I’m glad I did that, because doing it that way, I really found myself drawn into this whole other world. It was cool. I wanted to lead people into this night-time world where they’re seeing things for the first time, this mysterious, nocturnal world. Today, I listened to my album on headphones for the first time.”
The idea of innocence is a source of ongoing fascination for Ellison – in part, he says, because it’s one of the most difficult things to hold on to as we get older. “It’s a big, inspiring thing,” he says, “a powerful force. The more we get into this industry and try to sell our work, we lose our innocence. The more we travel, the more we have crazy experiences on the road, we lose our innocence. I think it’s something we take for granted, almost, because there’s nothing like hearing and seeing things for the first time, and I really try and explore that notion in my work.” The popularity of Flying Lotus has drawn the shy and reclusive Ellison right out into the spotlight, and reading between the lines, it’s easy to see why the idea of retreating to a simpler place might be on his mind.
Until The Quiet Comes has more of an emphasis on guest vocals than any Flying Lotus album before it – frequent collaborators Laura Darlington and Thundercat show up again, joined by Niki Randa and R&B legend Erykah Badu. Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, who first appeared on Cosmogramma, shows up again on the track ‘Electric Candyman’. “It was really easy, man,” Ellison says of their collaboration. “I’d send him music of mine that I was working on just so he could hear it, and he’d send back stuff of his. One time, I sent him something and he replied and asked me what I was planning on doing with it – I told him I didn’t know, that it was probably going on the album, and then he decided he wanted to do something with it. That’s really how it started. I mean, I’m a guy, he’s a guy … we do what we can.”
Erykah Badu lends her distinctive vocals to the track See Thru To U – she and Flying Lotus make for an inspired pairing, and indeed, in the past, there has been talk of an entire collaborative album between them. I ask Ellison if this is still a possibility, but he seems unsure. “I don’t know man, it’s really on her. I told her I’m up for it if she wants to do it, but at the moment, I don’t know. We keep in contact, but it’s been a lot less lately, because she’s been super busy and so have I, so we’ll see.” A short while ago, Ellison was talking about a collaboration he recorded with singer/songwriter Beck – many were hoping this would make its way onto the new Flying Lotus album, but likewise, this never happened. Curious to know what happened there, I ask Ellison if he still has the song in the vault, waiting for the right time to put it out there. “I don’t know, I honestly don’t know with that one,” he says. “It still needs to be mixed, so maybe one day.”
In late September, Ellison himself leaked a new track onto the internet – a remix of Frank Ocean’s Thinkin Bout You, renamed Binge Eating Without You – although he’s similarly noncommittal as to whether this will ever see an official release. “Oh, that Frank Ocean shit?” he says when I bring it up. “I just got drunk and fucked around and made it – it’s not really anything for real; it was just done for fun.”
As our interview is winding up, I mention offhandedly that I’ve recently been playing a lot of the Hong Kong-set crime thriller Sleeping Dogs, and that two of Ellison’s own Flying Lotus tracks appear on the soundtrack. “Yeah, I knew about that,” he says. “I was told like a year ago it would be happening, and now it’s just coming out.” The game itself is pretty great, and I ask Ellison if he’s had the chance to play it yet. “Yeah, I did,” he says, “but I had to buy my own copy, they wouldn’t send me one.”
“That’s a bit rough,” I say, taken aback.
“Yeah, what the hell?” he replies with a flicker of a laugh, the one and only time he does this in our interview. There’s something a little incongruous about the mental image of Flying Lotus sitting on the couch, controller-in-hand, beating up thugs and racing cars around Hong Kong, but I think I like it all the same.
BY ALASDAIR DUNCAN
Until The Quiet Comes is out now on Warp through Inertia. Flying Lotus [USA] plays Let Them Eat Cake on New Year's Day, Tuesday January 1 at Werribee Park alongside Kerri Chandler [USA], Theo Parrish [USA] and many more.