Lotus Flowers with Mike Rempel | 09.2012

 

 

 

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Interview :: Lotus Flowers with Mike Rempel | 09.2012

 

Photo by Jaime Butler

Lotus Flowers with Mike Rempel

By: Jeanne Bettencourt

Lotus lead guitarist Michael Rempel has an easy going personality that belies some of the intense music he delivers on stage. Engage him in conversation and yoga will probably come up at some point, most likely because he’s about to run off and stretch before the night’s show. He’s dedicated toward his performance as an artist but doesn’t take himself too seriously. Rempel, one of the founding members of Lotus, continues to explore new sounds with the group and on his own. In the following conversation he touches on where he’s headed and the band’s current direction as well.

 

Jeanne Bettencourt(JB): This past spring you toured in Japan — from what I’ve heard you have quite a fan base over there. What are the shows like in comparison to shows here?

Mike Rempel(MR): The crowds in Japan are really different in my experience, and our recent tour there was my favorite yet. I feel that the Japanese audience has a reverence for the music that feels very pure. I never had the impression that people were coming out to our shows just to party or get high, which really changes the mood in the room. At several of the shows in Japan, the attention and focus of the audience was so strong you could almost hear a pin drop. It’s kind of intense to experience dead silence in a room with hundreds of people. That’s not to say the fans aren’t expressive – because sometimes they’d just go wild. The energetic relationship between the band and audience was more palpable for me. The people’s attention on the music never seemed distracted….and in my perception that really had an impact on how we as a band played together.

 

JB: Can you describe a most memorable tour experience?

MR: It’s impossible for me to pick a single experience as most memorable. When I look back at the 10 years we’ve been touring, it’s almost disturbing how much it all feels like some kind of vague whirlwind. Since I’m so often on the go, it’s hard to keep hold of any particular memory… it’s just this endless, ever-changing experience and I get this feeling when I look back at it like, “what was that ?” I have really fond memories of touring the west coast back when we were traveling in a van. We used to camp in the Redwoods when we were out there, and we had more liberty to explore different places than we do now, since these days we travel on a bus and the production schedule doesn’t allow as much free time. At that point in my life, it felt like the ultimate adventure, and there was this youthful spirit of the freedom of the road.

 

JB: You’ve said your musical tastes are primarily electronica. Would you say that you prefer Lotus’ older/‘jammier’ sound or the direction you’ve been going in lately?

MR: Stylistically, I tend to prefer our earlier sound. Even though our new material tends to have more electronic elements, I think our style of playing in the early years was more akin to the sort of electronic music that I enjoy today. I think there was a certain innocence or even naiveté in our approach during our early years of touring that created a much different mood than our current sound does. When I listen to music, it’s the mood of the music that matters most because I don’t tend to listen to music in an analytical way. The early material may not have been as cohesive or as tight, and it certainly wasn’t as structured, but the “loose” compositions and the patient, minimalistic approach to improvisation allowed for a more casual listening experience. For me it was more about the vibe than having some kind of intentional musical statement or particular focus.

 

JB: What exactly is your role in the writing process?

MR: Currently I have very little to do with the writing process for Lotus, but it doesn’t mean I don’t have interest in contributing in the future. Since I started learning about electronic music production over the last couple years, I’ve made some efforts to write for the band, however, the style of music I’m producing doesn’t always translate to a five piece live band. It’s been a challenge for me at times knowing where to put my focus as a songwriter…..sometimes I have a strong impulse to bring songs to the Lotus repertoire, because I think my style of writing would differ from the Millers’ writing. But after 14 years of pursuing music in a group setting, it feels really rewarding to create something on my own, and it’s exciting to explore a different musical medium beyond the guitar. But almost all my productions so far still include guitar because it’s the voice with which I’m most expressive.

 

JB: How about a side project or solo album? What are your plans or goals?

MR: I don’t have an official “side project” yet, but over the past few years I’ve been spending time learning how to produce electronic music. I’m just as passionate about making electronic music as I am about playing guitar. Often times, when I’m not on the road with Lotus, I have to force myself to get away from my music software and pick up my guitar just to keep my calluses. I’ve not yet developed enough as a producer to classify my music, but I could list a few words to give you the idea: minimal, atmospheric, melodic, down tempo, and ethereal. It’s a goal of mine to release a solo album eventually, but I’m taking my time with it, and don’t know how many months (or years) it’ll take till I have enough material I’m satisfied with for a full album. I have a meticulous, perfectionist tendency when I’m producing music and the music software is so deep, so it’s still an exploratory and educational process for me. I was recently given the opportunity to do a remix for the Colorado based reggae band Dubskin which will be included on their upcoming remix album. I’m stoked to be included on an album with so many other amazing producers, and Dubskin is super talented so it was a blast working with their material.

 

JB: What are your biggest musical influences as far as guitarists go? What about generally?

MR: Trey Anastasio was my biggest influence in my early years of playing. I also loved Brad Barr’s playing in the earlier years of The Slip. Later on I developed a really deep appreciation for Pat Metheny – I feel like I’m listening to a storyteller when he solos. There’s so much depth and exploration and expressiveness in every facet of his playing. A couple other more recent favorites are Eric Krasno and Steve Kimock. In 2001 I was enamored with STS9 and followed them around a lot – I saw 13 shows that year. I think their music sparked something in me in regards to music being more of a spiritual experience. When I look back, I remember it being a magical time period in my life, which helped to clarify what it was I hoped to do through music.

Over the last 7 or 8 years, the music I’ve been listening to has a less direct influence on my musical approach. While I love all kinds of music, at least 70% of my musical diet is some form of electronic or ambient music which doesn’t exactly translate to guitar playing in terms of technique or style. Ishq and Bluetech are two of my very favorite producers, but I think their influence on me is less about how I approach music than it is about how I perceive and experience the world. It’s as if the music infuses some kind of mystical quality into my life.

 

JB: Lotus’ self-titled album came out less than a year ago, but you’ve debuted several new songs since then. Where do things stand in terms of your next album?

MR: Recently, we’ve just been recording as we go, tracking as much of the new material as possible. It seems to be an ongoing and continuous process no matter when the last record came out.

 

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