On Saturday January 21, 2023, Lotus began their 2023 winter tour with a hometown show at Union Transfer in Philadelphia, PA. I was able to chat with Mike Greenfield, the drummer for Lotus about the highlights for him from 2022 and what lies ahead for Lotus in 2023.
CP: Thank you Mike for your time today, can you tell me a little about how your holidays were and how you enjoy spending your off time when not touring with Lotus?
Most of my time has been spent working on my house. We bought a fixer-upper in New Jersey, so I have been putting a lot of my time into that. Between that and having 2 young kids, it’s been keeping us really busy. Stayed local for the holidays, had some friends and family here, it’s been pretty fun getting things ready for tour.
CP: Do you have any hobbies, anything you enjoy doing besides fixing up your house during your off time?
We are really nature based. One of the reasons why we moved to this house in NJ is that it backs up to a nature preserve so we really enjoy going out to the woods and hiking and I have dogs. In the summer anything beach related, but with my kids being young, they take up most of my time. I like hitting the gym and reading too.
CP: Jersey is really a great place for all of those activities…
Yeah, we are really liking it so far.
CP: What were some of the highlights for you and Lotus in 2022?
There were a few, the first is that we recently got a new guitar player, he came on September of last year and has been with us for about a year and a half now. He’s just doing great, and it has been awesome every show to watch him get more comfortable with the music and us getting more comfortable with him. Watching that evolve over the year has honestly been my highlight. We also went back to some of my favorite venues, probably my favorite is Red Rocks in Colorado. We were able to do that again and I think that was actually my 15th time there which is beyond a dream come true. With that and the fun festivals, I was able to bring my family to festivals over the summer and that was really cool.
CP: To me the side walls at Red Rocks look like thick slab bacon, what do you think?
(laughing): That’s funny, now I won’t be able to unsee it!
CP: Speaking of your new guitarist, Tim Palmieri, I’m a big fan of Tim’s, having been seeing him since the early 2000’s with the Breakfast and later Kung Fu, it was really exciting when he joined the band. Can you talk more about the influence he has had and the process of bringing him into Lotus and how this has affected the band?
Yeah sure, it’s funny because I actually met Tim around the same time you did, it was in the early 2000’s. I was with a band called the Ally and we did some shows together and I remember seeing him for the first time and just my mind was blown between him and Adrian (Tramontano) on drums. I was like, oh my god who are these guys?! Then we were able to stay in touch through the years and we’ve done a lot of shows together, playing together and also when the Breakfast and Lotus were either at a festival together and they did some runs where they were opening for us, we’ve always been able to keep in touch. When Mike (Rempel) told Lotus he wanted to leave he was gracious enough to give us like a year’s notice, so we had a lot of time to think about it. Tim was one of the first names that popped into my head so I reached out to him and he sent in an audition tape, and he just nailed it. We brought him down and he was the only guitarist that we actually auditioned in person. We were just playing, and I was thinking that we couldn’t really get any better. There have been some adjustments with him, the style of music that he plays is a little different. He’s more along the prog/prague line and Lotus is a little bit more minimalist, a little more electronic, so he had to make some adjustments in his playing, and he had to change some of his peddles and he changed his guitar, but I think he really enjoyed it. He is such an incredible musician that he is basically able to do anything. As time goes on, he is able to adsorb the sound more. It’s tricky coming with a guitarist who has been with a band for over 20 years, we want to pay respect to him, but also bring his own sound in. That’s what Tim has been doing. He affects Lotus just with the energy. Our old guitarist Mike, I love him with all my heart, he was a little more reserved on stage, he kind of got in his Zen place. Tim’s a rocker and he’s smiling, he is engaging with the audience, engaging with the fans and I think it really lite a fire with us! It’s been a great experience in every aspect, so we are really happy.
CP: Can you talk in more detail about the process of bringing Tim into the fold of the band regarding re-working older songs, but also the collaborative process of coming up with new songs and new ways to play your songs?
Lotus has a really large catalog, so the way Jesse and Luke, Jesse and Luke Miller are the leaders of the band, they write all the music and the way they been handling it, they have, over time, been giving Tim more songs. So now that he has been with us for a year and a half, he has all of our main songs down and now we are starting to dig into some of the older catalog, some newer things that we just haven’t been playing. As time goes on, he’s getting more under his belt. With the writing of the songs, again it’s really Luke and Jesse’s thing, but he does make suggestions and they do listen to those suggestions and just his interpretations are going to be different and that affects what we do also. It's a process and we’re going way better than I thought it would.
CP: How does playing with Tim affect your process?
It’s really cool for me because he has such a large musical vocabulary and I really listen when I am playing with guitarists soloing. After you play with someone for a while you start learning some of their soft licks and I can react off them and I kind of get a feel for what they’re doing. Tim’s vocabulary is almost infinite, it really keeps me on my toes (laughs)! It’s not like every show, I’m like okay he’s doing this, and I can react to it. It’s like wow, I’ve never heard this before, I love the way he is interpreting this, I’m going to try to react in that way, so it’s been a challenge for me in the best possible way to really keep up with him. It’s really nice having someone so well studied. He’s also been teaching for the last 20 years so his foundation of music theory is very deep. His sense of rhythm is much more developed than most guitarists and it’s just been really fun to play off him. That’s why I am really excited now for these 4 weeks of shows because we never had that, we’ll go and play for a weekend and then we’ll have a week or 2 off, we’ve never just been able to hit it 5 nights in a row and do that for 4 or 5 weeks, so I feel the band is just going to grow leaps and bounds because of this.
CP: One of the exciting things I noticed with the setlists from 2022 was a lot of new covers including the Bee Gees, during the Halloween show and the 4 new covers performed during the New Year’s Eve show. Can you talk about the process used to decide those covers?
Luke and Jesse came up with the idea to do the Bee Gees for Halloween and they hit really hard, everyone loved them. Unfortunately, for the Halloween show half the show’s audio was lost, but we’ve been throwing those songs in, which is great because you spend a lot of time learning them and they sound good and of course we put our spin on them. It’s nice that is not just a one and done sort of thing with those songs. Then it also made me appreciate them more as well, of course I’ve heard the Bee Gees all my life, it’s just kind of something on the radio I don’t take so seriously, but they’re incredible song writers! The songs are just unbelievable with the hooks and just structure, so it gave me a new appreciation for them also. We’ve incorporated a few new electronic songs that we brought in for New Years and hopefully they get added to the mix. I know we are talking about bringing in some more for this run. It’s nice, the covers keep things a little fresh. After a while, you almost feel like they become our own. It’s fun to see that unfold also.
CP: Can you talk about the recording process for the recent Bloom and Recede album released in 2022?
We recorded most of that right in Philadelphia. Jesse and Luke go back and forward for months and months fine tuning all of the songs and send it out to us. We learn them, get together run them a few times and that’s where we can add our input. We went it and knocked it out. We’re pretty good at recording quickly. We decided to do videos also this time while recording. Jesse programmed a really cool light show that went along with the songs that we filmed in the attic of our rehearsal warehouse. That’s pretty cool, I recommend for people to check that out.
CP: What is the role of studio recordings in the history of Lotus? What do the studio recordings mean to you?
It’s really cool because of course especially being a jam band we are known for the live shows, but the studio is where we can step out of that and just really look at everything we are doing under a microscope and try to make sure everything is perfect. It allows us to bring these ideas that we have and turn them into songs that we can later stretch out in the live shows. Even though we are known for the live shows the backbone for everything that we do are all these songs that we’re recording in the studio. It’s a really nice way to change, at least my take on the music where it is a whole different approach for me in the studio. It’s a lot of fun, I actually really enjoy it.
CP: What are some of those differences?
It’s almost that when live, things don’t really matter that much, if I hit a cymbal on measure 4 instead of measure 8. It’s more about the energy going out and the details don’t matter so much. In the studio, every little thing really matters. This is what is getting thrown down on tape forever and we want to make sure it’s exactly where we want it to be. Just performing without an audience makes you play different too, it gets you inside your head a little bit more. It’s not just about the whole live show, it’s really about focusing in on what I am doing as a musician and there is no external input really besides the other 4 guys in the room. It’s a really cool experience, very different. It’s almost like playing a different instrument (laughs) when I am in the studio compared to playing live.
CP: A lot of Lotus’ studio albums are released onto vinyl. Talk about why vinyl release is important compared to cd or digital?
I don’t even think people really buy cd’s anymore, but having vinyl is really great for people who want to go down that road. With digital music, it’s sometimes intangible, it’s just something that’s on your phone compared to when you actually have that vinyl in front of you, you have it and you’re able to open it up and look at the art and you can feel it. It’s almost like a Japanese tea ceremony (laughing), the whole process of taking it out and putting it on the record player. Also, it sounds better, the music is compressed and especially with an mp3, it’s not going to be as good sound quality. People who are true enthusiasts I think really get the full experience when they do listen to vinyl. It’s a small sub-set of people, but it still is growing, and I think people who are buying records seems to be increasing through the years too.
CP: How is your vinyl collection?
I don’t even have one (laughs). I used to have one before I got married and I moved so much, they were heavy, so when Spotify came out, I got rid of them, and I threw of all my cd’s, which was a horrible feeling. I never touched them, they used to be my most prized possession. I spent all these years curating them and then all of a sudden, they’re worthless. (Laughing) I was tough to throw them out.
CP: Besides the extended tour coming up, are there any other big highlights for 2023 that you are looking forward to?
We are starting to get our summer schedule in, and I’m see these great festivals that I always love playing. For example, Summer Camp right outside of Chicago has an incredible lineup this year and also, we are playing High Sierra out in California which is one of my favorite festivals also. That’s one of the OG festivals that’s been going on forever and that’s always a good time too. Also, we haven’t been out to the west coast for years now and right after this winter tour we have a few weeks off and then we’re going back out for 2 weeks and doing the whole west coast, so it’ll be nice to get out there as well.
CP: One of my favorite festival sets I saw Lotus play was the late-night Red Barn set you played the last time you played Summer Camp, so I was excited to see you are returning there.
Yeah! It’s great, that’s a special one. You know, we are lucky because certain festivals have us back pretty much every other year or every 3 years and it’s great to come back to these well-run festivals and it’s almost like a family reunion with me and a lot of other musicians who I haven’t seen for awhile and I get to be exposed to new music and the whole overall vibe. I’m very lucky to go to as many festivals as I do.
CP: How would you compare the individual Lotus tour like the next few weeks to Lotus at a festival?
It’s almost funny because the festivals usually will be some of the largest audiences we play in front of all year. At those festivals we hardly have anytime to set-up our equipment and hardly have anytime to sound check. Usually we’re just, they call it “throw and go”, we’re up there, we get everything ready and just pray the sound is decent and we just hit it. Sometimes that is in front of 25,000 people (laughs), it can be a little intimidating. Whereas when we are playing club shows usually, we load-in around 2pm, we get everything set-up exactly the way we want it, we sound check for 90 minutes, we have some time off to grab some food, so it’s a whole different process. The festival is also different from club shows because at club shows pretty much everyone there is there just to see us, and they know our material and we can dive a little deeper into our catalog if we want to. Whereas at a festival setting, a good percentage of people in the audience may have never heard of us and are just checking us out. Luke is the one who writes our setlists and I think he takes that into account. Maybe he makes the setlist, he’ll put a little bit more of the bangers in there for the festival and less of the more intricate songs. Usually, they’re outside compared to being inside and that changes things as well. It’s a pretty big difference.
CP: Do you have a preference?
I like to mix them up. I think we will play better in a club just because we have that time to dial every in and the sounds better. People are closer to us, which I like. When we are doing the larger festivals there’s a huge distance in between me and the person in the front row and sometimes, I can feel a little disconnected from that. My problem is my favorite shows are club shows that have about 1,000 to 1,500 capacities. I just feel really connected to everybody, that’s my sweet spot. It’s funny because there is something to be said about playing in front of huge audiences and the big production and everything that goes with that, but now that I have been doing it for all these years it doesn’t really matter to me all that much (laughing), I almost prefer the smaller shows. It’s fun to mix it up though, if I just did those, I would probably be aching to do a large festival slot too. Variety is the spice of life, right?
CP: What does it mean to you to be returning to Philadelphia and to start winter tour at Union Transfer?
I always love hometown shows, I have a lot of friends that come down that I am able to hang with. We only play here once or twice a year so it’s always a special treat. The venue that we are playing at, Union Transfer, is a great venue, I love it. It maybe a little tricky this year with the Eagles in the playoffs playing the same night we’re playing (laughing), it’ll be tricky, I’m sure there will be a lot of people at the bar watching tv while were playing (still laughing). That’s always great and just being able to drive a ½ hour from my house to play a Lotus show is also a treat. Right after that we are going to be doing rehearsals for pretty much 8 hours a day for 2 days after that and then we hop on the bus and leave for Vermont on January 25, Higher Ground. It’s tricky because we all live in different cities so when we do get together to rehearse, we do very long rehearsals, very no-nonsense rehearsals. Most other bands I play with we rehearse there’s a lot of joking. We play for an hour, grad some food, but this is not that. This is just 8 or 9 hours of knocking stuff out.
CP: Are you an Eagles fan?
I am by default. I don’t really follow sports that much, but I am happy to see them in the playoffs. It means more to a lot of the guys in the crew especially are huge fanatics. I share their excitement, but honestly (laughing) it doesn’t mean that much to me.
CP: Describe the musical relationship Lotus and you have with the light show.
It’s huge, our lighting director is Scott Houston, and he has been with the band pretty much since the beginning when they were in college. He started out with a few can lights, didn’t know what he was doing and just grew with the band. Since he has been with the band for over 20 years a lot of times, he knows the songs better than I do even and it’s funny playing when I’m looking out at the audience, I don’t really see the light show. I see the shadows moving and I know things are happening, but I don’t really see it at all which is weird, but then when I see the video, I’m almost blown away by what’s going on. I think Scott does a great job also being subtle and having the light show support the music. There’s been almost like a cold war (laughing) with a lot of jam bands, especially now with EDM (electronic dance music) acts, they always have to one up each other with their lights. Especially with EDM acts, it’s just one guy with a laptop which is boring, so they need to really step it up with lasers, video walls, and everything else. Now people kind of expect it. When I see bands do that sometimes I think it takes away from the music. The lights are there to support the music and not the other way around. So, I think Scott does a great job of that and we are lucky to have him for all of these years.
CP: How would you describe Lotus to someone who has never heard or seen the band?
The catch phrase a lot of people use is instrumental dance rock with electronic influences and a lot of improvisation (laughs). It’s funny how many people don’t even know about the jam scene. I just had an electrician over today and he was asking me about it since he saw my drums in the basement and you know it’s like in the jam band scene like Phish or the Grateful Dead and he never heard of those bands. You forget that we’re a sub-genre of a sub-genre and people even hear we don’t have a singer, so it doesn't even make sense to them. They didn’t even know that was possible (laughing), it’s pretty funny sometimes to try to describe it so I think people just need to experience one of the shows. It’s nice with Nugs.net that we record every single show and put it on there so if anyone has a subscription, they can check out every live show we ever played. That’s a really great resource.
CP: Is there any else you would like to say to fans coming out to shows on the winter tour?
I’m really excited for everyone to come out, even though it feels like a lifetime ago we are still coming off the heels of the pandemic. You don’t really appreciate live music until it’s taken away from you. Sometimes you kind of forget, it’s like oh man, now I got to go travel and all this stuff and when that was taken away for a year and a half now, I’ll never have anything to complain about again (laughing). I’m really psyched to go out there and I’m excited to see the fans. It’s always great seeing a lot of familiar faces and seeing repeats in the crowd. People who, especially in places where it is easy, like New England, where I will see the same faces every night for like a week in a row or whatever it happens to be, so can’t wait to see everybody!