The ROD (Roy O. Disney Music Hall) at CalArts was packed for David Roitstein’s Jazz Forum at noon on Monday. Open to the community, the audience—a mix of music, animation, film, and art students—were there to hear from Grammy Award-winning electronic music trailblazer and visual artist Flying Lotus.
In lieu of a traditional lecture, Flying Lotus spent nearly two hours answering questions from students. He mentioned to the audience that he had always wanted to apply to CalArts—for film, not music—but missed the deadline. He was already familiar with CalArts, its music scene, and Halloween party because his cousin Ravi Coltrane graduated from the Jazz Program. “When he came out of here, he was a real musician,” Flying Lotus said. “He had the swag.”
He encouraged those in the room to take advantage of the access, collaborators, and community available at CalArts. “You have the potential to meet people who you’ll work with for the rest of your lives.”
Roitstein, director of the Jazz Program at CalArts, started the questions by first asking about the late Alice Coltrane, the pianist, harpist, bandleader, and proponent of spiritual jazz. She was married to saxophonist John Coltrane from 1965 until his death in 1967 and was Flying Lotus’ great aunt. “She was my auntie who had the piano, but she never played it.” It wasn’t until later he saw her perform jazz live and was blown away: “Where did that come from?”
Growing up in a jazz and musical family influenced Flying Lotus’ eclectic tastes and exposed him to a diverse array of artistry. “To me, I always thought of jazz as a mindset … of being open,” he said. But he recounted playing his music for them early on, and, family being family, recalled them saying, “Well, what the f— is that?”
Now a renowned DJ, producer, and founder of the Brainfeeder record label, Flying Lotus has been defying labels and genres since his emergence in the mid-2000s, when he began making music for Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming block. Known for sonic innovation, his discography includes albums such as 1983, Cosmogramma, Los Angeles, and You’re Dead! His collaborations are unparalleled, working with Kendrick Lamar, David Lynch, Solange, Erykah Badu, Thom Yorke, Thundercat, Killer Mike, Mac Miller, among others.
“I’m attracted to all types of sounds,” Flying Lotus said when asked about developing separate processes for his music and sounds. (He keeps those processes separate.) He then took an informal poll of the room, asking those who work with Ableton’s creative music tools to raise their hands. After a number of hands were in the air, he responded, “I know I am amongst my own.”
For the past three years, he’s been working on directing his second feature film, Ash. The sci-fi film stars Aaron Paul and Eiza González and was shot in New Zealand. He’s currently editing the film remotely from Los Angeles, aiming for a release in 2024.
“Music is my spirit, my church, my heart,” he said, responding to a question about shifting focus away from music. “I can always come back to that … I wanted to challenge myself.
“Even if no one ever heard it, I’d still be making music all the time,” he added.
5 Tidbits We Learned from Flying Lotus in Jazz Forum
- Flying Lotus feels really “blessed” to have seen Kendrick Lamar’s work ethic in action. During Kanye West’s 2013 Yeezus Tour, Flying Lotus helped direct the visuals for Lamar, who opened. “He would go from show to studio to bus [to work].” He also noted that Lamar was “so humble in his demeanor and vibe.”
- Speaking of Lamar, Flying Lotus says they first started talking on MySpace.
- On working with the late Mac Miller: “He was one of the boldest people I ever met. He lent his ear to anyone … and opened doors for a lot of people.” Flying Lotus remembered thinking, “This dude has art.”
- When it came to a question of creative inspiration, Flying Lotus named-checked David Lynch, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Thom Yorke, and Kendrick Lamar.
- When working in film, Flying Lotus said, “All I care about is the audience.” But he has a different perspective when it comes to making his music: “I don’t give a f— what people think.”