The fact he brings up Thom Yorke crosses off one further question from my list.
Yorke returns on this new album, although his instantly recognisable warble as found on ‘Cosmogramma’’s ‘…And The World Laughs With You’ is replaced by a distorted, flattened and almost unrecognisable Thom, almost as though if he is going to appear he is going to appear as Flying Lotus wants him to. “Exactly!” says Steven. “I think that’s part of the reason he fucks with me, because he knows that I’m going to do what I want with it and he knows that I’m not all about his name and trying to make a hit out of his name. It’s not really what I’m about.”
To reinforce this point, you only have to read Steven’s almost moving account of his first experience of the psychedelic drug DMT (Dimethyltryptamine) whilst choosing to listen to ‘Pyramid Song’. “An amazing roller coaster of images, patterns, and geometry,” he remembers. “It seemed at one point I felt the presence of beings communicating with me, in the same way I’d feel it in sleep paralysis states. I asked, ‘what are you saying?’. ‘What are you trying to tell me?’. It was all moving so fast, too fast to grasp. Any worries or fears that I had about anything would quickly be replaced with overwhelming feelings of love and warmth. It felt like the universe hugged me and held me tight. Despite the chaos, there was nothing to fear, this is a place of loving energy. The curtain pulled back slowly into some kind of crazy cartoon world that was just so vibrant and wacky, colours swirling, inkblot world, crazy colour pattern world, bright colour dot world. Bugs bunny could live here…
I’d get little doses of the real world, the music would come in and out, Thom Yorke’s voice and the strings of ‘Pyramid Song’ would come through brilliantly and heavily reverberated. The familiar sounds helped me come back to this plane.”
An unforgettable experience by the sounds of it. Is it something Steven has shared with Yorke?
“Hahaha… I remember specifically writing him an email about it and asking him what it really meant to him but I never got an email back. I always forget to ask him things like that when we’re in the same room together, I always forget to geek out and ask him nerdy questions and then whenever he leaves I’m always like, ‘ah shit, I should have asked him about this. Fuck!’ But it’s cool, man. There needs to be some magic left in the world.”
Although an experimenter of drugs, it’s something Steven cannot ingrain into the working process. “Hell no,” he shakes. “I take that stuff as a means of inspiration in terms of asking questions, being able to ask questions and then more questions… I like to listen to my music on weed but not when making it and that’s pretty much as far as that goes, even drinking and making music doesn’t really work for me that well.”
A one time filmmaker, Steven has a highly visual sense for other artists’ music, but not necessarily for his own. “I work more on feelings than I do in a visual sense,” he explains. “I love visualising other people’s music but for me when I visualise my own, I see the works, I see the grid, I see the visual grid of what I’m creating, I can see it like a matrix almost. I don’t think I get to enjoy it like everybody else.” In respect to his stage performances, he continues, “I feel the same way in a live show. I wonder what it must be like to see my show because I will never be able to connect with it the way someone else will. When I hear [my] music, I can hear the sentiment, I can hear the memory and I can see the time that I made it.”
One area that it soon transpires has been on Steven’s mind when making this record though is death. “In my life in the past five years, I’ve lost so many people and I’ve been trying to find a way of coping with that and expressing the feelings that that leaves behind,” he says. “But then it reignites my feeling of purpose, it makes you evaluate where you stand with things. It makes you ask questions about your own worth, your own time on earth, the things we put forward and this existence.” He wraps up – as he almost does constantly today – in a musing, almost philosophical and extracting manner. “I feel I’ve been able to build my sense of faith in the beyond through death, but do I know the answers? No. But I feel a little bit closer to the source than I’ve ever been.”
Even in regards to going through a difficult period, suffering both depression and bereavement, Steven looks forward fondly. He says: “Thankfully my life is so chaotic that I can never stay in one vibe for too long. If I’m at home and I’m all depressed and I get called out on tour I have to experience different things and different people and then that changes the mind-set and then I get so inspired for when I get back home to make things. I get that inspiration because of how chaotic things can be at times, because my life always changes.
“I feel like no-one can get in my brain,” he says. “I feel like the well will never run dry as long as I keep doing what I’m supposed to be doing. Which is to stay inspired at all costs”.
The one question that begins to become inevitable and unshakeable as our conversation traverses on, is how has Steven Ellison remained so grounded? Still only 28 and heralded by many fans of electronic music as one of the most pioneering and ground-breaking artists to have emerged in recent years, and yet his greatest personal quests still remain deeply rooted principally in music and philosophical-based self discovery, he responds in true meek form.
“I think at the end of the day I have a lot of people around me who are genius talents, so I just feel like I’m glad I can sit at the table,” he says gently.
“Shortly after ‘Cosomogramma’ came out and I started hanging out with all these people I looked up to, it definitely had an effect on me. Seeing pop star fame from people who are in the same room as me, these guys making millions of dollars by making songs that I feel I could make and all that stuff, that affects you. But at the end of the day I get reminded, I get reminded of the mission. I think I’ve seen enough to know that I don’t really want to be a part of that world, but if I can make my world and people will treat it as that, then I’m going to win, you know? I’m not changing my shit. If they like it then they’re going to play on my playing field.”
Our conversation winds down and knowing that I am the last interviewer of a day that has involved Steven doing nothing but press, I apologise if I’ve bored him rigid and asked him the same questions he’s had all day long. Even when the interview is over he can’t help but be a gentleman. “Despite what you may think, you actually asked some very thoughtful questions and I’m very grateful for that, thank you.”
It’s rare that inquisitiveness, humility and talent can all be expelled with equal force, but then, have you ever listened to Flying Lotus’ music?
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