Mike Greenfield Discusses His Beginnings & Influences, Plus Reveals Winter Lotus Plans | Video Interview
December 2nd, 2014
by Kyle Taylor
Lotus recently took the stage at beautiful Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado for a two-night run. It's an exciting time for Lotus listeners, from the band's newest record, "Gilded Age", to a New Year's run announcement including dates in Richmond, Virginia and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
What an opportune time this made for catching up with Lotus percussionist, Mike Greenfield. With so much excitement and activity going on around Lotus, we had plenty to discuss with the Philadelphia native.
Like any great musician, Greenfield's career has been long and diverse. His musicianship demonstrates an adept ability to experiment with different styles of drumming effectively. As he tells us in the interview, the diversity of older and newer Lotus songs reflect different musical influences and styles.
Greenfield takes us all the way through his career, from his beginnings with the drums to his various projects prior to Lotus, and up to his current years. We talk about his own personal influences, as well as the influence Lotus has had on his playing on his drummer. And of course, we discuss what plans Lotus has cooking up for the future!
Transcribed interview below -- Shot and edited by Ray Ermel/Ray Ermel Photography
Special thanks to Red Wood Gallery & The Shop for the gorgeous location!
Funkadelphia: "When did you first start playing drums?"
Mike Greenfield: "I was- I started taking lessons when I was nine. I would mess around before that, you know. My parents bought me one of those little toy drum sets, and I would just smash on it and run away. My dad played bass; he played in rock bands and stuff. I wanted to play with him, you know, and just I was influenced by him musically. And so when I was in fourth grade, the elementary school I went to had a really active music program. So I was in that, and it was time to decide and picked drums. I had a neighbor that was really into drumming and kind of looked up to him. So yeah, quite a while now."
Funkadelphia: "Was there anything in particular that attracted
you to drums more so than any other instrument?"
Mike Greenfield: "Yeah, like I said it was my neighbor that played drums; I always looked up to him, and I thought it was just really cool what he was doing. But, whenever I listen to music, I found myself being drawn to the drums. I think I listen to that more than anything. It just felt really natural when I started lessons on it. I never really had to work that hard; it just came to me pretty easy, so stuck with it."
Funkadelphia: "Have you been a part of any other major projects besides Lotus?"
Mike Greenfield: "Yeah well all throughout my thirties, I pretty much made my living by playing music- half from teaching, half from playing. But I was more of like a hired gun type of thing, you know, so I played in a lot of weird bands. Even when I was in college I played in a wedding band- I played in a Filipino wedding band. And then after that I played in a lot of salsa bands; I found myself in that circuit, somehow. I played in this band, a twelve piece salsa band called the NuYorican Salsa Boys that I played with for a while. I played with this blues guy named Rhett Tyler. And then after that, when I moved to Philly in the late nineties I hooked up with a band called The Ally, and that was the first band that I started playing that was like in the electronica vein. And I was just starting to get into that side of things; I was never really into it too much before. And then from there, that's where I met the guys in the [Disco] Biscuits, you know 'cause they were from Philly too, and it just took off from there from that side. And then after The Ally, I played with this guy, he had a band called Dispatch; his name was Chad. When they broke up he started this band called State Radio, so I played with them for- yeah my career's all over the place; like half a year I played with him. So it's been a wild ride. Especially when I was doing the side man sort of thing, like every six months I'd find myself in this new genre of music."
Funkadelphia: "Do you feel those projects have influenced your playing in Lotus?"
Mike Greenfield: "Yeah, majorly. Times were a little different when I was younger. I think, you know like when I was taking lessons, in order to make a living as a drummer, they kind of grew me to be a side man, so I had to learn a lot of different styles. I had to be comfortable playing a lot of different people, playing in weddings with different ethnicities. That doesn't really happen anymore, just 'cause the music industry is so different- if the music industry can still be considered to be alive, which I may argue that it's dead. But, from that, you know, I feel it's easy just to be a rock drummer, or just to be a jazz drummer, but I felt like I was able to take a lot of these influences and kind of meld them together. Even though I'm not conscious of it, I think it kind of shines through when I'm playing."
Funkadelphia: "Do you prefer playing in the jam format that Lotus uses,
or a more structured studio recording style of playing?"
Mike Greenfield: "Right. Each one has positive and negative things to it. I really like the improv, the spontaneity of it, and just being creative on the spot- being influenced by the size of the room that I'm playing, who's watching, how the band's feeling that night. So watching all that unfold like live, real time, here it is, is a really magical thing; and sometimes, it doesn't work, and sometimes things kind of fall apart, and it's hard to do that, but it's kind of a price that any improvising musician will be willing to pay. You know, just 'cause, you know, a lot of bands will play the same exact set every single night, and every show's going to be an 8, you know, like it's just going to be good, solid, you know, but they're kind of going through the motions. But with a band like Lotus, sometimes we'll be a 10, and sometimes we'll be a 5, you know. It's a little bit all over the place. I like that better. Even artistically, too, just the fact that we have a hundred songs and Luke writes a setlist, and he can pull any one of those songs any night; it keeps me on my toes, too. I think it keeps things from going stale."
Funkadelphia: "Who are some bands and artists you
remember listening to heavily while growing up?"
Mike Greenfield: "So, I grew up in Long Island, which is kind of a cultural wasteland of sorts. But I was lucky enough, when I was thirteen, to really get into two groups that just blew my mind. You know, 'cause before that I was listening to things on the radio, like pop stuff. And then I got into Led Zeppelin, and I got into The Police, which are two kind of polar opposite styles of like the rock world, I guess. Especially with John Bonham, who's just like a big powerful drummer, and Stewart Copeland, who had a lot of finesse. I played along with those records a lot, and I think I tried to pick up the power that Bonham had, the finesse that Stewart had, and really took it from there. I think from that, once I started getting more technical, I was really into drummers that were very like, 'showy,' I guess you could say, like Dave Weckl and Vinnie Colaiuta- just drummers that when you're a teenager really impress you, because you're trying to get faster, and to see these guys just do so much, it really impresses you. As I started getting older, I started appreciating pocket drummers a little bit more, like the drummer from Radiohead. I just watched this great documentary called 'Muscle Shoals', and it was about this little studio. Their drummer, no one knows who he is, and he just had a great pocket, didn't do anything amazing. And now, when I was watching that documentary, I'm like, 'This is one of the greatest drummers ever, how did I never even really know him?' But if I was sixteen, I would have said he was horrible, you know. So your tastes change. I think the fact that I'm older now really changes the way I listen to, and what I appreciate, through musicians. A lot of times when I'm listening to guys play, I'm always thinking, 'What are they thinking about? What's going through their head when they play?' And a lot of times, it's just so apparent, where they're like, "Look at me; look at what I'm doing; look at me.' Maybe what they're doing is impressive, maybe if I watch them it makes me want to practice; but, it never really moves me, you know. With Lotus, I really try to be invisible a little bit more. I try not to stand out so much; I really try to just play for the music. And you know, I'm going on and on about this one question, I'm probably going a little bit off topic."
Funkadelphia: "Can you tell us about your drum setup?"
Mike Greenfield: "Yeah, I mean my kit is fairly standard. It's just a six peice kit. I have some electric drums that I incorporated when Chuck left; but, just the fact that Lotus has a percussionist, who also- Chuck has a pretty big electronic rig, and he uses Abelton Live, so I try not to step on him too much. And honestly I probably never would have gotten my electric pads if he wasn't gone for that year. But, it's more just about the time, especially in the late nineties, when I was listening to a lot of drum & bass and garage and two-step, you know that, just that stylistically how to play that kind of creeps through my playing now."
Funkadelphia: "You've done a lot of sit-ins with different groups. Have any of those been especially enjoyable, where you felt like you melded with other musicians particularly well?"
Mike Greenfield: "Yeah, it's been cool. Especially this year, Lotus decided to not really play too much in the fall. We've just been scaling back a lot this summer, so it really opened up my schedule, so I was able to do a lot of side projects. Philly's a great resource, especially for musicians in the genre that I play in. And just having all the guys in The Biscuits, and Brothers Past, and Steve from Particle up in New York; and, I think over the last few years it's just taking like these eight guys and seeing how many combinations of bands we can make out of them, sometimes bringing Jamie Shields down from Canada. But, all of those guys from The Biscuits and Brothers Past, I've known them for fifteen years now. We've been playing in side projects every year, pretty much, you know. So just to come back and play with them, it's really special. The Electron shows that we just did a few weeks ago were awesome. I also play with this band called Night Moves, and that's really cool. You know, just mixing up all these guys, it's really fun."
Funkadelphia: "Do you have any particular favorite Lotus jams?"
Mike Greenfield: "It's kind of hard to choose. We have a song called 'In an Outline' that I like playing to a lot; it has a lot of like cross-rhythms and a lot of tom work that's going that's pretty fun. But there's not really any that I'm like really psyched to play over others. I like playing- I like that Luke mixes it up with the older material and the new material, because they're very different, and my approach has to be different. If we just did the newer, or the older stuff, I think it'd be easy for me to get bored, but you know, I'm always kind of kept on my toes."
Funkadelphia: "Your New Years Run in Philly and Virginia was recently announced.
Any other Lotus news you can fill us in on?"
Mike Greenfield: "In the studio a lot this fall. We've tracked most of a new album that's going to be released in the winter, and we're going on a fairly large winter tour- I think over two months, starting mid-January, and we're going to be hitting up most of the country. But, really until then, we only have one other show at Holidaze in the Dominican Republic in December. But, besides that, we're not really going to be playing until the winter, and then we're going hard then."