Lotus: Exploring the Science of the Live Jam
Matt Mullet
A new style of funk music is emerging from many young people and bands all over the United States. Lotus, a local "Jam Band," is trying to get off the ground with funk-filled live shows and their first well-done, independent recording. The "Jam Band" style presents a window of opportunity in each song for improvisation from each of the band's members. Lotus plays in venues all over the Goshen area, but is ready to take their gigs to the next level. With optimistic music that gets you dancing they could well be on their way.
Luke Miller, Mike Rempel, and Steve Clemens have jammed with Lotus since its beginning in the fall of 1998. Luke and Mike spotted a Phish bumper sticker and thought they should try to cater their musical abilities to people that liked to dance and enjoyed live music. Phish became widely recognized as one of the original jam bands and has influenced every member of Lotus. With Luke and Mike sharing lead guitar roles and Steve on the drums, Lotus had almost all the needed elements to form the core of a band. The addition of Luke's twin brother Jesse on electric bass completed the group in June of 1998. Now the band gets together and jams continuously, creating new and fresh beats and adding lyrics to their songs.
Luke Miller describes Lotus's sound by saying, "We try to play music that brings people up…something that people can dance to and have fun with." It's that mentality that guides the Lotus faithful to every concert they give. Students piled in vans and drove out to the country to Tonya Swartzentruber's barn to dance and raise money for Turkey. Looking out over a bunch of Lotus fans reveals that nobody concerns themselves with their brand of sweater, where their going to get the money to make a down payment, or what Vic Koop assigned in Gen Psych that morning. Lotus reminds Goshen College students that life takes place in the present and it doesn't take music theory to understand how to groove to music.
Lotus started very small, playing wherever they could, and are now booked for the remainder of the school year. They plan to open up for Umphrey's McGee in South Bend on May 6. Vying for a position in the music world requires opening up for larger bands in order to get the word out. The Lotus boys plan to develop a solid fan base in order to establish themselves so they can stick around for a while. Many bands "peak" en route to the top and tumble helplessly back down the musical hill into obscurity. With a soaring population of internet users taking advantage of vast musical resources and songs in MP3 form (condensed musical files that can be downloaded quickly and played directly via computer), the Lotus web-page includes group pictures, biographies, and sample songs that any person surfing the internet can tap into. Their site at Juno.com even won website of the week honors the first time they gave they singled out an outstanding website.
Lotus's live shows have a large element of "improv", as is the style with many jam bands. A majority of their live music is invented on the spot, following certain patterns they've created with each song. Because each concert is different than the last, Lotus can adjust their music to fit the way they feel at the moment. This allows Lotus to have the freedom to adapt to different playing atmospheres, and different crowds. A concert given in a smoky bar with a dance floor may give the band a different feeling than a bright coffee house with only seating.
Luke and Jesse write most of the music that Lotus plays by finding chord progressions or funky guitar passages that they think have potential. The inspiration for their riffs is derived from every day experience. The ability to blend the sound with their feelings can only come from hours of practice in the Luke labeled "drum room" beneath our very own Leaf Raker. Lotus practices for two hours nearly every in order to make their songs malleable and funky. In the process, they scrap certain passages, come up with new beats, and work at gelling the sound into one unit. Sometimes Lotus may spend the better portion of an hour just improvising on one song. With that kind of flexibility in each song it's no wonder that die-hard Lotus fans will travel anywhere to find themselves amid the music.
After much work and many hours of practice, Lotus is poised to make their mark in the music world. As Luke Miller points out, "It's almost impossible to go anywhere without getting the music out to new people who can fall in love with the sound of a particular band." As much as students at Goshen College enjoy grooving to Lotus, their future depends on where they find the proper musical vein to tap. The East Coast presents many bands with a lot of talent in bars and larger venues. Lotus could also end up in the music scene out west in Colorado where Jesse and Luke grew up.
It's another Friday night and Lotus loads their amps, guitars, and drum set into a van and heads for the "Higher Grounds" coffee shop on Michigan Avenue in South Bend. None of the members have been there before. The only request is that they fill two hours of music. Invariably, the band will be asked to come back (no venue has ever heard the sound and not inquired about a return visit). Showing up about two hours early allows them to test all the microphones and tune the guitars. At about seven forty-five Luke strums the first chord, Steve establishes the beat, Jesse chimes in on the bass, and Mike moves his fingers up and down the neck of his electric lead with ease. At ten o'clock they rap things up. Next week is the Goshen Pub and a St. Patrick's Day jam. Lotus somehow manages to keep their up-beat sound and vivacity through every show and every frustrating practice. Quite simply, they love what they do.
Although the future is not completely certain, Lotus continues to practice nonstop and will continue to play live shows to develop a large fan base. In the end, each member would love nothing more than to let music move them on stage for thousands of adoring fans. Luke Miller summed it up best when he said, "I couldn't complain if I woke up every morning and made music." With a larger public following and a few well-deserved breaks, Lotus could be delivering their brand of soul music to the masses and Luke just may get that opportunity.

Luke Miller and his musical tool of choice