Before the critical success of sophomore album "Los Angeles," Flying Lotus was an underground artist crafting off-kilter electronica in his basement. Now the 26-year-old experimental producer is "creating universes" on a space-themed follow-up and enjoying the life of a buzzworthy beatmaker.
"I got a phone call from Erykah Badu the other morning, and a few nights ago I was talking to Beck about real estate," says the artist, whose real name is Steve Ellison. "It's all still surreal to me. I geek out on it every day."
With visual tie-ins, string sections and a guest appearance by Thom Yorke, "Cosmogramma," due May 4 in the United States, uses Ellison's newfound clout to capitalize on an ambitious musical vision. After signing to Warp Records in 2007, Ellison drew upon a mix of hip-hop, jazz and psychedelia for the electronic opus "Los Angeles," which was released the following year.
Ellison has since remixed acts like Radiohead and Kanye West, released dubstep-inflected singles on Hyperdub Records and gathered a roster of like-minded artists on his own imprint, Brainfeeder. Though he stayed busy after the release of "Los Angeles," he says he never stopped working on ideas for a new album. "After being compared with so many other people, I wanted to make something that was just me," he says.
For the new album, Ellison recorded some tracks at his one-bedroom apartment in Central Valley, Calif., and for others he returned to his basement in Echo Park for "a more raw, organic feel." Unlike his previous full-lengths, "Cosmogramma" relies heavily on live instrumentation, with contributions by bassist Thundercat, harpist Rebekah Raff and string arranger Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, who has worked with OutKast and Will.i.am.
A longtime Radiohead fan, Ellison was also thrilled to collaborate with Yorke on the dreamy track ". . . And the World Laughs With You." He first got in touch with Yorke through mutual friend Mary Anne Hobbs and quickly made an impression. "I sent him some tunes, and two days later I had some vocals in my e-mail," Ellison says.
After showcasing his new material at South by Southwest, Ellison opened for Yorke's new side project Atoms for Peace at select shows this month. Warp label manager Priya Dewan sees the tour, as well as his performances with dubstep artist Kode9 and at Coachella, as crucial to expanding his fan base, because "anyone who comes to one of these shows will become interested in hearing more."
Before turning to music, Ellison initially studied film at San Francisco's Academy of Art, and his passion for visual art is now being used to promote "Cosmogramma." Aside from his live show, which has synchronized projected pictures to the music for a slide-show effect, Warp is offering retail posters with different versions of the cover art from "Cosmogramma," as well as limited pressings of the CD with a gold slipcase.
Warp is also dabbling with "augmented reality" for the release, which relies on album artwork to unlock special online content. "We just wanted to have a huge visual element to coincide with how beautiful and immense the album is," Dewan says.