Music From Death's Doorstep Crossing over — musically and metaphysically — has of late consumed the mind of Steven Ellison. He says his new LP as Flying Lotus is "my opportunity to make a film" about the moment of death.

Music From Death's Doorstep: A Conversation With Flying Lotus

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If you haven't heard the music of Flying Lotus - that's the stage name of Stephen Ellison - man, is it hard to describe. I think the only way to do it is to say, it's whatever it needs to be. In trying to evoke the widest range of human feelings, he might reach to hip-hop, jazz, rock, electronic or avante garde sounds the way a painter reaches for different colors.


FLYING LOTUS: (Singing) The days of bitter are coming to an end, so come with me, if you want to leave.

RATH: Flying Lotus calls on all the colors of his musical rainbow on his new album, "You're Dead." It's a concept album that explores what happens to human consciousness when you die.

STEPHEN ELLISON: I wanted to make a record that started at the moment of death - you know, the perceived idea of what death is, you know. And as soon as you hit the play button, you know, it's on.


ELLISON: And then it's the whole journey through the afterlife, you know - through the - kind of, like, "Tibetan Book Of The Dead" idea of what it means to die and to go into different dimensions and the bardos, as they put it.

RATH: Yeah, that's actually in "The Tibetan Book Of The Dead." That's all about that particular moment in consciousness...


RATH: ...When you die, basically. It's supposed to be a guide through that. Is this album like a guide?

ELLISON: I don't know if I would call it a guide. It really just - to me, it's my opportunity to make a film, you know, in a way. It was really - it was really fun. Despite how it might come off morbid or something like that, it was actually - I didn't want it to feel like that. I wanted it to feel maybe, at times, confusing...


ELLISON: Sometimes, it's beautiful. Sometimes, you know. You have this kind of grasp on where you're at. You know what this all means, you know. And then it changes into something else, and that - that's kind of what I think the next place might be like.


RATH: Boy, it covers a lot of textures, would you say? I guess what that end-of-life moment is supposed to be like. You sort of reflect through everything. There's anger here. There's happiness. There's confusion.

ELLISON: Yeah. It's funny, man, 'cause, you know, (laughter) a lot of times I think about what it must have been like for Michael Jackson to die. I don't know why, but that - I always think about that. I always wonder.

RATH: The moment is particularly like that, when...

ELLISON: Yeah. The crossing over moment - what that must've been like for him 'cause I really - I really feel like there's a part of him that must have been like, no, man, I'm Michael Jackson. You know? But you can't go on forever. You know, maybe that made it easier or something. Who knows? But I always - I was wonder what it must've been like.


RATH: And you had fun with some amazing collaborators, too.

ELLISON: Yeah, absolutely.

RATH: The first one I want to talk about is Herbie Hancock...


RATH: ...The amazing pianist - well, I should say keyboardist because...

ELLISON: Right. (Laughter).

RATH: And I can see the affinity here. He was one of the first jazz of that generation to really embrace electronics.

ELLISON: Really bring it in - bring it into the fold. Yeah, absolutely. Working with him was so cool because trying to do a jazz record, for me - like, starting off as a jazz record - starting from that place - it's not necessarily my first language, you know? So it...

RATH: What would be your first language because you've got a lot of different languages you speak?

ELLISON: I think I come from hip-hop.

RATH: Yeah.

ELLISON: I come from that. That's where I started. I started on four-bar loops with samples and stuff. But, you know, having Herbie Hancock - his interest and his involvement and his support - it really just gave me a lot of confidence to pursue the concept and pursue the record. You know, there's a bit of me that was just, like, a little worried that - oh, man, what if I won't be able to get my ideas across? What if he thinks I'm an idiot? Because there were plenty of times where I was like, man, am I just going little too far down the deep end with this concept thing? Like...

RATH: So was Herbie Hancock there saying, yeah, go deeper, yeah.

ELLISON: Yeah, he - yeah - well, you know, I'm playing him stuff, and he just made these crazy faces. And he's like, yeah, I get it. You know, like, yeah, yeah, that's it. That's it, and - yes. (Laughter).


RATH: Speaking with Flying Lotus about his new album. It's called "You're Dead." Let's talk about the hip-hop side of things.


RATH: You have Snoop Dogg on this album.

ELLISON: Yeah. It's kind of funny. You know, I think to anyone who doesn't really know about me or know my history, it might come off as a little weird. But Snoop - his music was the first music I genuinely fell in love with as a kid, as a teenager. I heard the "Doggystyle" album. And I was 10 years old, and, you know, that was like I was perfectly primed for that album. I was, like, starting to be rebellious. I was starting to hate everything, you know.

RATH: (Laughter).

ELLISON: You know, I started to see the dark side of the world. And then there's this guy from L.A. with these beats that sound like L.A., and it just - it was just perfect. And it changed me, man. I always wanted to make music after that. And to have Snoop on there in the way that he's on the album - he's like a gatekeeper, you know. He's...

RATH: One of the bardos? One the - that states...

ELLISON: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

RATH: He's a bardo demon?

ELLISON: Yeah, exactly.

RATH: Snoop Dogg?

ELLISON: Yeah, he's like that. And it's just perfect. It's perfect that it's him.


SNOOP DOGG: (Singing) Nickel-plated dimes. Bang, bang - blow your mind. Beep, beep - flatline. Gotta get yours. I been - had mine. Hold my hand, laying in the bed. Family crying. They think he dead. No jokes. No hoax. Felt his palm. He had no pulse. Could've been the drink...

RATH: We should talk about the ending of this album.


RATH: Are these the voices of the dead that we're hearing?

ELLISON: Yeah. Yeah, they are.


ELLISON: What I wanted to have at the ending was kind of, like, the protest against the notion that we're dead. This isn't the end. Our shell is dead, but we live forever. All of our influence lives on forever.

You know, and that's something that I always have to remind myself, too. You know, when I lost my mother, it - you know, it affected me heavily, you know. And I - I was so broken by it, but, you know, I have a little sister. And, you know, she's grown up to be just like my mother in so many ways - in ways that kind of freak me out a little bit because, you know - how did she develop that? But, you know, it's like my mom - she lives on through my sister. That's just how it is. That's - I don't ever feel like it's the end anymore.


RATH: That's Flying Lotus. His new album...

ELLISON: (Laughter) Good way to end it, huh?


RATH: The album is called "You're Dead." It's been a real pleasure speaking with you. Thank you so much.

ELLISON: Oh, thank you, man. Thank you.

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