Flying Lotus Fans The Flames With Surrealist Creativity

The genre-bending producer shares insight he received from Solange while working on his album Flamagra.

Flying Lotus is all about what he calls the “nerdy details.”  

His album, Flamagra, is based around a tightly-woven series of concepts. Touching on some of the specific connections causes him to explode in laughter, as if he’s surprised anyone else can decipher his inner workings. The producer speaks slowly, almost as if he’s too distracted by other deep thoughts. When a subject that excites him comes up, though, he snaps to attention, talking a mile a minute and cracking jokes.  

Flamagra is based around the concept of an eternal flame suddenly springing up on a hill in Los Angeles, the project opening and closing with its crackling, creating a perfect loop. Lotus says each track on the album is meant to be someone’s different experience or reaction to that fire. “I always thought that I’d be conflicted,” he says looking back on the album. “I would love it and hate it depending on the day.” 

Most tracks on Flamagra come with their own specific and twisted backstory, despite the often surreal, playful vocals and humorous track titles. “Debbie Is Depressed” seems upbeat on the surface, but comes from a much deeper place. “I think of it from the perspective of the other person who’s not depressed,” he says. “It’s that person who, when you’re feeling shitty, is kind of annoying. They’re like, ‘Sorry your cousin died, everything’s going to be okay, they’re in a better place,’ Like, fuck you. You might be right, but don’t nobody wanna hear that shit right now. That’s what that track is.” 

“Heroes in a Half Shell,” though, is about “fuckin’ Ninja Turtles. It’s stupid,” says FlyLo in hysterics. “So stupid.” This blend of serious topics with the absurdly humorous brings to mind the work of the producer’s close friend and frequent collaborator Thundercat, a bassist who leant his talents on most of Flamagra. Lotus says the best parts of the album were born out of the spontaneity of making music while “hanging out with your best friend.”  “When we work together, it feels special,” he says. “Sometimes you want to play video games, and sometimes he’s like, ‘Let’s make some shit,’ and you don’t really have to say nothing. It’s a beautiful thing. I don’t have that kind of relationship with anybody else.” 

Lotus and Thundercat had another frequent collaborator in common – the late Mac Miller, who played a big role in shaping the project long after he was gone. Lotus dedicated two tracks, including “Thank U Malcolm,” to Miller. 

“His humanity influenced me,” he says. “Me and Thundercat didn’t even plan on having time to work together, and we were like, ‘What would Mac want us to do? He’d want us to go super hard on this music right now.’ So that’s what we did. We spent days at my house, just locked in.” 

The many nights spent together trying to talk through their pain gave Lotus the inspiration he needed to keep pushing forward. “In all the sadness, all these good things started happening, too. Life started turning around a bit and I found myself being more inspired than I had been, and I owed a lot of that, unfortunately, to his passing.” 

Flying Lotus recorded every feature but one in his own home studio, a place which he says throws people off at first before the “relaxed atmosphere” of a home calms them down and gets them in a mindset to be their most creative selves. Sometimes, they even teach him something in return. Lotus recalls Solange tipping him onto a technique where she often likes to record her vocals with the worst microphone she can find, in order to feel more absorbed in the surrounding instrumentals. “You get weird lessons from people. Like Solange, I’ll never forget her. She changed my process in a weird way.”

The article was originally published in the print edition of BeatRoute in June 2019.