Los Angeles-based producer Steven Ellison, aka Flying Lotus, is ostensibly a hip-hop artist, but he draws from such a broad range of influences—free jazz, fusion, drum 'n' bass, psychedelic rock, plus of course the twin pillars of J Dilla and California medical marijuana that form the foundation of his oeuvre—that it's usually impossible to pin him down in one genre. Though he only started attracting serious attention after his 2008 album Los Angeles, he's already begotten a legion of imitators, which includes his fellow travelers in the Brainfeeder crew, bedroom beat makers posting on SoundCloud, and even Radiohead, whose King of Limbs had Ellison's virtual fingerprints all over it. He recently released Until the Quiet Comes, his third LP for respected avant-electronic label Warp; for more on that, see Soundboard.
Interviewing FlyLo for this week's Artist on Artist is Chicago's Chris Shively, otherwise known as Chrissy Murderbot—a musician who's similarly hard to classify. Shively's 2011 album Women's Studies is a full-length dive into Chicago footwork, but his latest single, "Doggy Style"—released on his own Sleazetone label under the name Chris E. Pants—nods at the New York house sound that will be forever associated with the Paradise Garage. And with a long-running ongoing series of genre-specific DJ mixes, he shows off his encyclopedic knowledge of disparate and sometimes arcane styles such as Latin freestyle, digital dancehall, and happy hardcore. —Miles Raymer
The new album, how would you say that it's different than your previous stuff, than Cosmogramma, the stuff before that?
Have you heard it yet?
Yeah. [Publicist] David [Marek] just sent it to me today, so I just heard it today.
Oh, you just heard it? I feel like I've learned a lot in the time between albums. I experimented with things. I didn't want to repeat myself, so I really tried to just make something that was a little bit more dynamic and, you know, a little bit more—trim the fat, in a way. You know, just trim the fat and only have the bare essentials of what I was trying to say. And only try to put forth the tracks that really have some kind of sentimental value to me.
Right. Yeah, yeah. So are you in LA right now, or have you started touring yet? These days are you more in the studio or are you more on tour?
I'm kind of in the lab just 'cause, you know, I've been doing a lot of press stuff. Just kind of working on new music to play out and what not.
Which do you prefer, being in the lab or being out on the road?
Oh yeah, I'm a producer at heart. I've been getting into the kind of head space of being a traveling musician, you know, but I'm definitely a studio guy.
I feel you, I feel you. Yeah, the traveling stuff can be weird, man. As far as . . . what's the weirdest thing that's happened to you or the weirdest place you've been or the most kind of interesting . . . or surprised by a spot or sketched out by a spot? If you have any stories like that about being on the road, let me know, man.
There have been a couple of times when I've been in London where I've been like, "How the hell did I end up in this place?" You know, I don't even want to talk about it, the stuff that I've seen there. You know, just the UK in general. There's definitely some sketchy little roundabouts, as they say.
Yeah, yeah. The UK can get weird sometimes, man. So, as far as studio stuff, do you have any . . . you've done a lot of collaborations with a lot of different people, and one of the things I've noticed is that it . . . you know, a lot of producers are like, "I've done X amount of collaborations with a bunch of MCs. I've done X amount of collaborations with, you know, a bunch of vocalists who kind of do the same stuff." But you, I've noticed, collaborate with people who are different from you stylistically and also different from each other. You know what I'm saying? Are there any people on your radar that you'd like to collaborate with that you haven't gotten around to yet?
Yeah, mostly a lot of the new rappers. I love some of the stuff that I'm hearing lately. There's a lot of good rap coming up from all around. You know, there are groups in New York that are doing dope rap. You know, there's really good stuff coming out of here, out of LA. Actually, the stations . . . it feels good again, rap. Lots of new faces that are kind of killing it right now, and everyone's making trap beats. And it feels . . . it's fun. It's a new time for rap. Lots of young kids. They're the relevant ones that I think, you know . . . a lot of the previous-generation guys, they can't hold a camera to these new guys because of that raging-youth thing that they just, they can't emulate.
A lot of these rappers—some of the older people that you're talking about—are from the very end of when, I guess, getting a major-label record contract actually meant something as far as, you know, a promise that you'd make money off of it or exposure from it. And a lot of these young kids are not only into a different landscape now, but they're young enough that they don't even remember what it was like back when there was a music industry that actually had a lot of leg in the ground, if you know what I'm saying. How do you think . . . 'cause with the Brainfeeder stuff, I'm sure that you see that as well—kind of the label perspective of how hard it is to do things right now. How do you think that's changing the music? Or do you think that's changing the music?
Yeah, I feel like it definitely changes the music a little bit. There's not a lot of resources anymore, for better or worse. Some people use that to their advantage. Other people are having a hard time, you know, figuring out how to make things works for them, and they can't handle being in the situation.
So as far as . . . you're still living in LA, right?
OK. And you know, I know you kind of . . . a lot of business in the family. What were your musical influences growing up?
I was listening to everything, man. We grew up with a lot of soul music. I spent a lot of time with cousins who played jazz music but also, you know, listened to the music of Prince and stuff like that. Also listened to classical music at a young age too.
If you had to say what out of the things that you listened to growing up most translates into the music that you make now . . . you know, I know that everybody has stuff that they love, but then there's stuff you love that has an immediate effect on your music and there's stuff you love that doesn't really have an immediate effect on your music, if you know what I'm saying. So for people who are into you that are trying to figure out, you know, "What should I go listen to that was influential to you in a way that shows a tie to your music?" What would you recommend?
I would just say that between . . . maybe like Aphex Twin and J Dilla. Somewhere in the middle of there.
I like that. And then, let's see. What's next after this album?
I'm going to be producing a new Thundercat album. We already started it.
I don't know. I'm kind of staying open to it. I'm just enjoying producing at the moment and collaborating. I'll find a story soon.
What do you use production-wise?
I use Ableton and Reason. Mostly Reason.
Oh, OK. You running that on a Mac?
Now when you're on the road, do you work on beats on the road, or do you have one and the other and they don't mix, you know?
Yeah, that's how I am. When I'm out on the road, I work on my show and work on playing new stuff for that setting. And the other times, when I'm at home, I'll just be making stuff, not thinking about the live aspect of it.
OK. And then, yeah, it's time for, I guess, the speed round. Boxers or briefs?
Dogs or cats?
Pizza or hot dogs? That's a Chicago question.
OK. Deep dish or New York style?
New York style.
I've never had Chicago deep dish, ever.
What? Next time you're in Chicago, we're going for deep dish.
I know, I know. We gotta do it.