What’s Good in the Music Scene? #7 – Mike Greenfield (Lotus)
Mike, thanks for taking some time to speak with us today!
Q1: When did you first start playing the drums?
My parents first bought me a toy drum set when I was about six years old. I was a pretty hyper kid and my father tells stories of me running through the house, grabbing drum sticks and wailing away for thirty seconds, then getting up and running around again. When I was nine, I started to get serious with the instrument and joined the school band. I also took weekly private lessons. The music program was exceptional in my school district, and I feel this helped me to progress through the years. I played in band from 4th to 12th grade and I have amazing memories from it- I still smile when I think of all my friends meeting at Friendly’s for ice cream after our concerts.
Q2: What are some of the bands that you have played in, either full-time or for a couple shows?
I have been full time with Lotus for almost three years now, and in 2010 the Millers and I started the (now defunct) side project Ghost Stepper. I have always played in Disco Biscuit side projects, and last year I played almost forty shows with Conspirator. In the spring, I was also lucky enough to play a full show with the New Deal, which was definitely a highlight. Dan and Jamie are master improvisers and it was an honor to play with them. It’s a shame no one recorded that show!
Before Lotus I was in a great project called Xylos. They are still together and they are killing it. I also played in The Ally for several years as well as State Radio with Chad from Dispatch. I also have played with Pet Cemetery featuring members of Brothers Past and Sonic Spank. When I was younger I was more of a gun for hire, and one of my favorite projects was a twelve piece Salsa band called the “NuYorican Salsa Boys.” I also played in a lot of funk bands (Chancey Nedd and Sidney Hendrix).
Q3: A lot of people have always found it amazing that you are able to sit in with a number of different bands on any given night and make incredible music that sounds like you’ve been playing together for years. How difficult is it playing with different bands at the same time?
When I was studying drums, it was always important to be able to play in many different styles. I went to Drummers Collective and I had to be able to play in over twenty-five different styles of music to graduate from their program! When I was in college, I played in a lot of wedding bands that had very large catalogs, so I learned to pick up songs pretty quickly and I prided myself on being able to sit in with a variety of bands and make it feel comfortable.
I think the key to sitting in with other musicians is to know my role as a drummer, which is to simply provide a foundation for the other musicians to build on. I think drummers have a hard time with that, especially when they are young. They have spent a lot of time developing technique and want to show that off at gigs, but the end result is usually disastrous. I feel that there is always a mental “inner game” going on when playing music and its important to analyze what you are thinking about when playing. With a lot of musicians, their inner voice is constantly saying, “Look at me! Check out this crazy lick I learned in my basement. Aren’t I cute?” I can tell in a second when a musician thinks this way. But no one really gives a shit if you can play paradiddles at 240bpm except the other drum dorks who are also not developed as musicians. My goal is to focus on enabling the band to sound it’s best and to make the kids in the front row connect with us and dance their hearts out.
Q4: What have been some of your memorable moments playing with Lotus?
My first shows with Lotus were in Japan, and the second show over there was in front of a crowd of about 10,000 people. We had a very late time slot and the sun rose while we were playing. There were beautiful mountains in the background and the air was foggy, which it made the entire experience very surreal. We were playing “Behind Midwest Storefronts” when the sun rose, and now every time we play that song I am instantly transported to that show.
Playing the larger festivals is incredible, such as All Good in 2010 when we played to about 25,000 people. Red Rocks stands out of course. It is the best outdoor music venue in the country and I’m incredibly psyched to headline there again in September.
Q5: Last year, Lotus played a significant amount of festivals around the US. What were some of the highlights from those shows?
Festival season can be so hectic- I remember a few occasions where we would play three different festivals in a weekend! Sometimes festivals can be quite stressful on the production side as well. Normally when we have a club show, we load in at two pm and have several hours to set everything up, line check, sound check, etc. At a festival we only usually have a half an hour to get everything ready and we often times are playing on rented equipment. But playing in front of large audiences can be so exhilarating, especially when many people there are seeing us for the first time.
Several festivals have similar lineups, and its great hanging with musicians that we would normally not bump into too often. Last summer, Big Gigantic played on almost every bill that we were on, and I love Dom and Jeremy so that was a treat. Summerdance has always been my favorite festival though; it is the perfect size where there are enough people to give it a lot of energy but it still retains an intimate quality to it. The grounds are beautiful and everyone there is incredibly friendly.
Q6: Who are some of your inspirations behind the drum kit?
I really like Benny Greb. He represents an amalgamation of everything I like to hear in a drummer. I love listening to Vinnie Colaiuta, Mark Guiliana, Jojo Mayer, ?uest Love, and Tony Williams. Philly has some great drummers like Spanky (who is out with Lady Gaga now) and jazz master Joe Truglio. I’m also lucky to be friends with a lot of amazing drummers that I look up to such as Joe Russo, Allen Aucoin, Sammy Altman, Steve Clemens, Rick Lowenberg, Jeremy Salken, Darren Shearer, KJ Sawka, and Adam Deitch.
Q7: If you had to choose, who would you say are your top 3 drummers of all time?
Its too difficult for me to pick just three, but the previous question gives you an idea of drummers I like.
Q8: How would you describe the music you make with Lotus to someone who had never heard it before?
Instrumental dance rock with a lot of improvisation and electronic influences.
Q9: Are there plans for another album in the works?
Yes, we actually just spent the last three days in the studio recording and we did some recording when we had a few days off last tour. We have recorded enough tracks for almost two albums now…the Millers are very prolific writers. Amongst my favorites of the new songs we have recorded are The Oaks, Middle Road, and Break Build Burn.
Q10: Do you anticipate another tour with Lotus in the near future?
Usually we have four to six week-long tours in the winter, spring and fall, but our manager is having us try something different for the rest of the year. We will just be playing bigger shows on the weekends in large markets. The strategy makes a lot of sense and it will be nice to be home during the week.
Q11: When not playing shows, what are some things you enjoy to do?
I like to travel a lot. I’ve been to over thirty-five countries so far. My fiancé and I just spent a month in India and it was absolutely insane. I’m into photography too and I’ve been messing around with Photoshop quite a bit lately. I also enjoy yoga and hiking with my dogs.
Q12: What do you love about playing music?
I really like the personal development side of it and the process of taking an art form and making myself better at it. There are also those moments when everything is working out at a show, when the planets are properly aligned and it seems that all the musicians on stage are reading each others minds. When this happens, I often get the chills. I also really like connecting to the fans, whether its watching people in the front row going crazy or reading heart-felt emails.
Q13: Do you see yourself performing in other side projects down the line in addition to drumming with Lotus?
I’m sure other things will pop up down the road. Lotus keeps me busy though so I can’t really get serious with too many other projects. I’ve tried to link up several shows with Conspirator this year but our schedules seem to always be conflicting.
FQ1: Mike, I know you enjoy sitting in with other bands from time to time. How are your relationships with other bands on the scene like The Disco Biscuits, Umphrey’s McGee and The New Deal? -Mike Galardi (Wilton, CT)
I’m really tight with the guys in the Biscuits, they took me under their wing over a decade ago and I have some great memories playing with them. I also consider them to be close friends and we have an incredible time hanging out on the road.
I first met the New Deal when The Ally opened for them at the Northstar Bar in 2001. We became friends, and then I played several shows with Jamie in JM2. They are all awesome people and amazing musicians, albeit very very Canadian.
I don’t know the guys from Umphreys as well, but I got to spend some time with Joel last year on Jam Cruise and he is great.
FQ2: Mike, how much fun did you have playing with the Disco Biscuits on 12/27/10?
-Jason Deutsch (Durham, NH)
I got the call from Barber on Christmas. We were joking about how wrong it is that parents lie to their kids about Santa Claus and generally just shooting the shit. After a half hour, he said “Oh by the way, would you be able to play with us in two days at Terminal 5? Allen got sick and can’t make the gig.” The next day Magner sent me about twenty songs to learn, so I spent most of the afternoon charting them out since it would be difficult for me to memorize them all. Then there was that huge blizzard, and NYC was on the verge of declaring an emergency, which would have prevented the Biscuit’s trucks from driving in.
Obviously everything worked out though and the gig was so much fun. When it comes to group improv, the Biscuits are the best in the business in my opinion. I didn’t think I played very well at the show, but I listened back to it about a month ago and was really impressed with the way we were communicating on stage. We had a lot of great moments and I can’t believe I didn’t train wreck anything considering the amount of prep time I had. I can’t say enough nice things about those guys as people and as musicians.
FQ3: What do you think the future of your style will be?
-Will Thresher (Dover, MA)
That’s a great question. Right now I am focusing on some weak spots in my playing- I’m trying to relax more at shows and develop a more fluid sound. It is very easy to fall into a rut of repeating myself so I am working on developing a larger musical vocabulary. I love messing around on Ableton, I just recorded myself for a Youtube video playing Aphex Twins “Flim” (http://youtu.be/_-skOEVVpcI) and had a great time doing it. I don’t have a clear picture of where these improvements will take me or what the end result will sound like, but it’s always a lot of fun to surprise myself by seeing how it all unfolds.
Mike thanks again for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer some questions for us. We look forward to hearing the new CD and catching you guys on the road again very soon!