Published Apr 23, 2010This story of Flying Lotus is uplifting. FlyLo, aka Stephen Ellison, is proof of how a community can lay a foundation for artists to develop and succeed on the strength of individual brilliance. With his highly anticipated third album, Cosmogramma, Ellison has blasted off into a far-out sonic universe. Though it is the most abstract work of his career, he will reach more fans than ever thanks in part to fellow cosmic traveller Thom Yorke, who turns in a brilliant guest vocal on "...And The World Laughs With You."
"I think that's a natural way for it all to blossom," Ellison says. "I've never really sat to analyze other people's communities to see how they all boomed, but that's how ours started. Good local support; picked up some steam internationally. I think what we're doing as far as the community goes is truly unique. People are truly and genuinely supportive of each other."
Ellison started putting beats together on computer in the early part of last decade, then fell in with fellow Los Angeles avant-rhythm purveyors such as Dublab, Plug Research and Stones Throw, at which he interned. Once identified with warped hip-hop production in the tradition of J Dilla and Madlib, Ellison has alchemized his influences into the multi-dimensional electronic music in which he and his Brainfeeder crew (the Gaslamp Killer, Samiyam, among others) specialize.
This community support has been a launching pad for his intensely personal musical vision. He speaks almost poetically about out-of-body experiences and theories of complete musical freedom. "We're capable of creating a new universe with sound," he exclaims, which could be his mission statement. "It doesn't have to be based with anything we've heard before; it can be based on whatever we want! We're free! There are no rules. There don't have to be patterns. It can be a gateway into my imagination, to some honesty."
Incorporating live strings, bass, harp, Cosmogramma lurches from off-kilter 8-bit loops to deep space jazz. Ellison's sound world is extremely broad, which would do his aunt, the late harpist Alice Coltrane, proud. He is inspired by her music (check out the tribute "Auntie's Harp") not only for its simpatico blend of freedom and grooves, but "more than anything it's the sound of a seeker. An emotional sound. Someone who's trying to make sense of this experience through music."
As for his own experiences, his collaboration with Yorke ranks as a profound one. Though Ellison has produced many other vocalists, this "was more natural than a lot of other things I've done," he enthuses. "It came around really fast and really simple, out of mutual respect. It was a real honour to work with him. He doesn't share his musical universe with a lot of people."
Ellison is awed to have played shows with Radiohead, and about his success in general: "I was that kid in line trying to see Radiohead; I'm one of the kids he inspired, that he moved. Now, I'm glad to be one of the messengers of whatever it is. It's interesting to watch it as a spectator and as a fan to see where it's all going." For someone so preoccupied with ascending to astral planes, Flying Lotus keeps his feet firmly on the ground.