Steven Ellison, aka Flying Lotus, is one of the more forward-thinking producers working today, melding genres like jazz, dubstep, hip-hop, IDM and more into a sound that’s completely his own. Could you expect anything else but idiosyncrasy from the great-nephew of jazz legend Alice Coltrane? We caught up with him at the Pitchfork Music Festival to discuss working with Erykah Badu, going gray at an early age, and which ’90s pop star he’d marry.
So are you working on a new record then?
Yeah, I just finished a record, it’s coming out in October. It’s called Until the Quiet Comes on Warp Records. Yeah, it’s gonna be pretty dope, I think. We’ve got some really good features, some really good guests on it. It’s probably the best stuff I’ve done, for sure.
Have you experimented with new sounds?
I’ve figured out a good balance this time. Maybe last time some parts might have been too intense or too jarring for people to experience, but I feel like this is a good balance and a really honest and intimate sounding thing among the albums I’ve done.
Do you have any collaborations on it?
Yeah, yeah. Erykah Badu, Thom Yorke, Thundercat. Some of the people I’ve already worked with, as well.
What’s it like working in the studio with Erykah Badu?
Erykah is great. It was really intimidating at first because she reminds me of my mom. It was hard to work with that energy. But she’s amazing, she’s the real deal. Every take that she did I fell in love with, pretty much. So it was a great experience, and hopefully we can continue to work together. So what was your name again?
How old are you?
You got the young gray. I’ve got the grays comin’ in too, man. I think it’s cool actually, though.
I’m told it gives me an intelligent look.
You’ve got the Harry Potter glasses, too, man.
I’m trying to complete the whole look. So yeah, the festival. Is there anyone here you’re trying to see?
I wanna see Schoolboy Q and Danny Brown. I’m a friend of Mr. Q and I’m really curious about how he does his show. I’ve never seen it.
Have you ever thought about trying to collaborate with him?
Yeah, I think we are. We’ve done something, but I don’t know if it’s ever coming out.
I told my friend I was interviewing you, and she was like “Flying Lotus? Is he that dubstep musician?” Which I wouldn’t call you exactly that.
I wouldn’t say that either.
It got me thinking, a couple years ago when your record came out, dubstep and dance didn’t have the surge of popularity that they have now. Do you have any thoughts about that, the whole movement?
Honestly, I don’t know how I feel about it as a whole. There’s things I like, there’s things I don’t. I’m pretty open. I’m down for whatever. I don’t really care for the titles or genres or names or whatever, if it’s good I like it. I don’t care if it wobbles or has smooth bass lines or is minimal. If it’s good, it’s good.
Have you been following any of the Chicago rap scene lately? Like Chief Keef?
People keep asking me about him. Is he really good or something?
He’s like, a teenager in Chicago, coming out of public school. I mean, he just signed to Interscope so it’s happening, at least.
Is it good?
Yeah, he’s alright. He sort of sounds like Waka Flocka Flame only less energetic. That sort of clipped flow.
I haven’t listened. He’s playin’?
Uh, no. He isn’t. But uh, apparently he’s supposed to be around. So you’ve played festivals before, right?
So how do you approach playing in a festival versus playing in a club?
It’s all about energy. If the energy is intense then I try to keep it up. If the energy is minimal or kinda low-key, then I try to build it up. I don’t know what’s going to happen today. I would like to try and play other things that I normally wouldn’t play at a festival, because I know Chicago people are really open. I really want it to be more than just like, a party-party thing. I would like to go a little left-field. If I don’t get to, though, it’s cool, ‘cause I’ll go a little left-field at the afterparty.
If you were casting a movie about Flying Lotus, who would you cast as yourself?
You know what, it’s so funny you say that because I’ve actually thought about it. There’s this movie called…the something…[Boys & Girl’s] Guide to Getting Down. There was an actor in there that kind of looked like me, so I thought it’d be funny. But if it had to be an actor-actor…I don’t know man. That’s a weird question [laughs].
Do you root for Alien or Predator?
Um…in the movies I’d root for Predator because the storyline was more interesting and the characters were more interesting. But I love the alien. I love the whole mythology behind it. Prometheus was really cool, I liked it. But I think the Predator is really complex, and the weapons and their story is really cool, too.
If you could marry any ’90s pop star or rapper, who would it be?
But they’d be the same age today?
They’d be the same age today that they were back then.
Aaliyah! Aaliyah or Mariah.