2021 was obviously not the best of years for musicians, venues, or anyone else involved in the live music industry.
So it came as a welcome surprise when, two weeks ago, Red Rocks announced its reopening with a schedule of more than a hundred shows.
Until last year, the legendary amphitheatre had presented full concert seasons every summer since 1947, playing host to The Beatles and serving as the setting for at least a dozen live albums.
The new season will kick off this week with a four-night run by Lotus, the veteran electronic jam band who had headlined Red Rocks each year for the better part of a decade.
In the following interview, Lotus guitarist, keyboardist and Colorado resident Luke Miller discusses the band’s origins, a new EP of tracks that didn’t make it onto their last album, and the concept of playing 12 hours’ worth of songs without repeating any of them.
Indy: A decade ago, it was almost unheard of for an instrumental band to headline Red Rocks, let alone for four nights straight. Why do you think that’s starting to happen now?
Luke Miller: Well, we’ve been headlining Red Rocks for the last, I don’t know, seven or eight years. And there are a few other instrumental bands, like STS9, who’ve done that as well. But yeah, you’re right, there’s not too many.
When did you first find out you’d be opening this year’s Red Rocks season?
It was literally just a couple of weeks ago. We were supposed to play this same date last April, but we ended up being one of the first shows that got canceled. This time, obviously, it’s at a reduced capacity. So four nights is kind of the equivalent of one night.
Except that it’s four times as much work for you.
Yeah, but you know, you can’t really complain about doing four nights at Red Rocks.
How optimistic are you about where all this is going? Is this the Easter miracle we were all promised by Trump last year?
It’s kind of amazing, right? It seemed like all the news was just bad, bad, bad. And now that Biden gets in office, it seems like everything is just speeding up week after week. I got my shot two days ago. And, I don’t know, it just seems that the powers that be are finally taking this seriously and actually want to help the people, instead of just look out for their own self-interests.
I remember an interview where you talked about how you take kind of a working-class approach to writing music, working on songwriting from 9 to 5 instead of just hanging around waiting for inspiration to strike. To what degree were you able to keep that up during a year when you haven’t been able to record or tour?
Well, now I’m in an actual working-class situation, because our income comes from live shows and that was totally gone. So I’ve been working on a gourmet mushroom farm.
Did you originally come from a working-class background? I’m guessing that gourmet mushroom farms weren’t really an option back then.
We [Luke and his brother/bandmate Jesse] actually grew up Mennonite, and my dad was a pastor. We lived on some different farms over the years. And he grew up on a farm, so that kind of was always in the air, you know, getting your hands dirty.
Were your parents supportive of your decision to go into a different line
Oh, they’re very supportive. I think it’s a little bit hard sometimes for people to wrap their mind around this being a career, if they don’t really know anyone personally who does it. So I think they were happily surprised that it worked out.
When was it that you started meeting like-minded musicians?
Well, I went to a very small college. But I did know one other guy I went to college with who’s in The Steel Wheels, which is like an Americana band. But it skewed a little more toward people who wanted to become music teachers.
Did you always take an improvisational approach to your music?
Pretty much. You know, I definitely had a Phish phase, and they were heavily influential when we were starting out. So that was always a big part of Lotus.
Here’s a question that might resonate with you as you start another round of interviews. You know that saying, “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” right?
Oh, yeah. I mean, I think about that constantly.
Any particular reason?
I think it’s just a really pithy phrase that demonstrates our respective bubbles. And, you know, it’s often hard to get yourself out of that.
I only mention it because it seems like, to a music critic, everything sounds like Nirvana. Or, you know, Big Star or Underworld or whoever else they were obsessed with when they first got into music. What’s it feel like when journalists compare you to other acts?
Well, what really annoys me is when they say “describe your music.” I’m like, “I played the music, you’re the one who’s supposed to describe it.” But I don’t really mind comparisons. I mean, if I’m describing something to a friend, it’s an easy way to kind of fish-hook them, like yeah, it sounds like if Four Tet was played by a band or something. And I don’t know, I think those heuristics are useful. I mean, they can be. They can be limiting, but I think there’s a value to them.
The tracks on the Citrus EP are more downtempo than most of what made it onto Free Swim. Which of them do you think will work best live?
I think maybe “Citrus,” “Year of the Jaguar,” “Condor” — those have like a little more room to kind of stretch out. And our fans always like it, especially in the live environment, when we do the jam thing and kind of push the boundaries.
How long will you be stretching them out?
I don’t know. We haven’t really rehearsed them yet, so we’ll find out. But we’re used to doing two sets a night that are about an hour and a half each. This will be four nights, and we don’t like to repeat songs.
So you’ll need 12 hours of mostly different material. How is that even possible?
Well, we’ve been playing for over 20 years. So, you know, we just reach into the bag.