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Flying Lotus’ new album You’re Dead! is set to be a turning point for the Los Angeles based producer, rapper, and Brainfeeder founder. His four albums as Flying Lotus have been met with critical acclaim, and his rap project Captain Murphy further cemented his status as a cult hero, but for all the success he’s had, there is still the sense that Steven Ellison is somewhat of an underground phenomenon.
Could that all be changing? With West Coast hero Snoop Dogg and man of the moment Kendrick Lamar, not to mention the legendary Herbie Hancock, all appearing on his new album, it certainly seems like it. Flying Lotus doesn’t need wider acclaim, but he certainly deserves it. With a burgeoning musical relationship with Kendrick, artists like Pharrell paying attention, and a unique sound and style, we can’t wait to see what the next few years hold for FlyLo.
For the time being, though, we’re excited for the world to experience You’re Dead, out October 7. We talked to Flying Lotus about life, death, and motivational phone calls with Pharrell.
What’s your earliest memory of music?
I just remember listening to a lot of Stevie Wonder.
The album art for You’re Dead! is powerful. Is that Austin Peralta? How much did his passing affect the making of this album?
Yeah, that is Austin on the cover. The thing about Austin is he was so young and no one ever expected that. But at the same time it made so much sense when he did pass. There’s something weird about it, like, of course it would be Austin, of course he would be that guy. It was so heartbreaking. He was extremely talented. He wasn’t really able to make the statement that he was put here to make musically. I felt it throughout the making of it. You feel your friends who passed, you feel the close ones near to you. I felt such a void because he’s the guy who sometimes plays keys on my records. I definitely felt that loss. We got Herbie on some stuff so I think Austin would approve.
What compelled you to work with Dirty Projectors’ Angel Deradoorian?
I linked up with her through Niki Randa. She and Niki are really good friends. I like Angel’s singing. It’s a more technical, abrasive sound. I haven’t really worked with a vocalist like that before, someone who likes to cut through sound. Instead of the more textural, I wanted someone more mighty. I really liked that.
The Kendrick collaboration is heat. A lot of kids on the internet are calling for a FlyDot album. What other rappers would you like to work with?
That’d be nice. I work with Earl Sweatshirt a bunch. I work with a whole bunch of different MCs. But me and Kendrick are just beginning our musical relationship. We have a lot more to do. I’d love to do a project with him if he were up to it. He can work with anybody, you know, so I’m glad he digs what I do.
Pharrell was originally supposed to be on “Siren Song” but he wasn’t into the death concept. What happened?
He really wanted to be a part of it. He actually recorded a verse for “Never Catch Me.” I knew that was supposed to be for Kendrick. I felt it just couldn’t work. I didn’t end up using it. He did want to do it and he tried to set time aside to do it. We just couldn’t get him to the song I was doing. I think the concept of the whole thing threw him a little bit as well.
[Pharrell] really just motivated me. He’d call me up and say really nice things about what I was doing. He was talking about me signing to a major. He wanted me to sign with the same label that puts his stuff out.
What kind of conversations did the two of you have?
He really just motivated me. He’d call me up and say really nice things about what I was doing. He was talking about me signing to a major. He wanted me to sign with the same label that puts his stuff out. He wanted to try and give me that push. I was very flattered by that. You know, hopefully we do something in the future. He’s a really nice guy. He’s what I would hope for when you meet someone who’s at that level. You hope that they’re cool and about all the things they say they are. I think he is. Maybe the concept threw him a little bit… and obviously he’s running around the world, being the most interesting man in the world.
What’s your favorite song on the album and why?
I go through moments. I like “Coronus” and “The Terminator” a lot. I sing that one in my head a bunch. That song is the direction where I’m headed in for the next project, more songs that kind of feel like that world.
For me, it’s like, “Oh, alright, you want me to do that? Okay. Let me try and take that shit further.”
This album has some similarities to Cosmogramma, did you use that as a reference point? Is there an intentional link between the two?
It’s funny, because people will say things like, “Man, Cosmogramma is the best record you made.” For me, it’s like, “Oh, alright, you want me to do that? Okay. Let me try and take that shit further.” It’s definitely related to that world. I don’t like the idea of doing a sequel, and I tried to change the musical palette of sounds and bring some new things in and switch some old things out as well.
What do you personally think about death? Do you fear it?
I fear it as much as the next man. I know it’s real. I think that I have a different connection with it because I think it’s a lot more real to me than it is to other people, just based on my experiences with it. Lots of people have passed away in my life. I have a different understanding of it, maybe?
I do believe it’s a beginning. It’s a beginning of another experience that we’ll be just as confused by and have to learn all the rules to again. I feel like nothing ever dies just like Pharrell says. At the end of the record there’s a chant that says, “we live on forever.” That’s what I wanted to leave this whole thing with. The influence we leave lives on forever. The love we leave lives on forever.
The influence we leave lives on forever. The love we leave lives on forever.
I think the most impactful death to me was when a friend of mine from high school passed away. His name was Nick. He died a very horrible death. It was very, very fucked up. He was just a kid. He and I didn’t have the best relationship. Before he passed away, we almost got into a fight. I think about that quite a bit, that last impression I had. I hated that. That that was how we left things. It definitely impacted me. A lot of people around me who knew him were really affected by it.
A great composer, Gerald Wilson, passed away today (September 8) at 96. How important is legacy to you?
With that generation of artists… there was a time when certain shit was done that wasn’t done before. To be a witness to new ideas is very special. Him along with a lot of other great people that we’ve lost over the last couple years, they’re part of of an era that’s really unique. It’s just like our grandparents, their generation, they live on with us but there’s something that you just won’t ever get again. Musically, it’s the same thing. It was a very unique experience for the people that were here before everything was done already.
It’s hard to picture retirement in the Internet age, especially for artists such as yourself.
I feel like I’ll always be working on stuff. That’s still so much fun to me. I still get the joy of doing it so much that I can’t see myself not doing it—ever. I might expand a little bit. But I’ll be making things as long as I can hear.
I’ll be making things as long as I can hear.
If you could speak to your 21-year-old self today, what would you say?
Man, I… [sigh] I don’t think I would say anything to him. Who knows how things would work out if I knew anything different. I’m really happy with all the lessons I’ve learned, even the shitty ones. I mean, I’m sure you’ve tried to give a friend dating advice. I’m pretty sure you’ve told someone, “Man don’t do that.” Then they go do that shit anyway. And you’re like, “I told you.” But they have to go through that, they have to get that experience for themselves. I’m thankful for that man. It’s made me wiser. I can really feel it.
Your fifth studio album You’re Dead! will be in stores across the United States on your birthday, October 7. How often do you take the time to reflect on your career so far?
I reflect on it all the time. The album release is coming up soon and it’s my birthday as well. It’s a turning point, it’s a new chapter. Who knows, things will probably be a little bit different after this album comes out. I got to be prepared for that. So I think about it all the time not without feeling really good about things or having waves of self-doubt too. It’s everything. I’m glad that it’s coming out on my birthday. There’s more reason for it to resonate.
What are you going to do on your birthday?
I haven’t decided yet. It’d be fun to do something that’s not related to Flying Lotus. I just want to be with my loved ones.