Chatting with dance-jam band Lotus 

Considering that dancing was barred as late as the 1980s at Goshen, Ind.'s Goshen College, it's unusual that one of the most progressively rhythmic rock bands of modern times, Lotus, originated there.

On their third studio album, Hammerstrike, Lotus weave cinematic rock into a heady, dance-inducing flourish. It also has the quintet incorporating more electronic influences than ever.

"We've always had a leaning toward dance-friendly music," says bassist Jesse Miller. "But when we first started playing, it leaned more toward funk. I would say we were more of a traditional jam band before we got going."

Everyone in the group except percussionist Chuck Morris (including drummer Steve Clemons, guitarist and Jesse's brother Luke, and guitarist Mike Rempel) knew each other before Goshen. But it was at the Mennonite school where Lotus got its start.

At first their motif favored improvisation over composition. Then they added beats and effects crucial to electronic music, particularly drum-n-bass.

"At first I saw more of a dichotomy between rock and electronic music," Miller says. "The further along I go, I see them more as essentially the same thing."

The shows at Goshen always drew good crowds. In something akin to the movie Footloose, Lotus even came to be accepted by the college administration after initial scorn.

In 2002, after band members graduated from college, Lotus relocated to Philadelphia.

Lotus still pushes genre boundaries with their music, but their approach in producing Hammerstrike was time-tested. For the first time they recorded most of the basic tracks for an album together in one room using analog tape.

"We definitely wanted to capture more of that live rock sound," Miller says. "There still are overdubs, but the majority of backing tracks were live takes — straight to tape in one room. I really enjoyed it. I want to keep doing that whenever possible. We missed the days where your only choice was working on tape. Now digital is always going to be part of it — even for the biggest purist."

If there's any flaws to their method, it's that Lotus are a little too free-form, even if their sound is more organized than ever. They've moved beyond the jam-band realm, but still don't fit neatly into any one style. Miller says even satellite radio has a tough time trying to categorize them.

"In a lot of ways, we're outside those genre distinctions, for better or worse," he says.

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