By Nicolas Grizzle
As the drummer for 20-year-old jam band Lotus, Mike Greenfield is an expert at getting a crowd to dance. The band’s 10th studio album, Free Swim, was released last month, and in this video Greenfield breaks down how he incorporated Afrobeat rhythms and other world music patterns into the song “Snake Island.”
The influence for the pattern, he says, came from drummer Tony Allen, who invented the Afrobeat genre with Fela Kuti in the 1970s. “For me, the drumming of Tony Allen embodies an incredible amount of syncopation and finesse, which is similar to what Clyde Stubblefield and Jabo Starks were doing with James Brown during the same time in the ‘60s,” Greenfield said in an email to Drum! magazine. “However, Tony Allen and Afrobeat drumming comes at that sound from a different perspective… The phrasing can be very foreign to American drummers and embracing it can lead to some very unique rhythms in your own playing.”
Lotus is a band known for incorporating many styles into its music, including dance, pop, electronica, jazz, funk, and rock, combined with rhythms from around world. “There are so many drummers who just concentrate on one style of music,” said Greenfield. “Even if you primarily play rock music, your palate can be greatly expanded by listening to and playing other styles.”
The new album, he says, is a “natural progression” from their previous studio album, Frames Per Second. “Free Swim expanded upon this emotionally and stylistically. In addition to our dance songs, it also incorporates drum and bass, Afrobeat, and several slower impassioned ballads.”
It helps that he is allowed the creative freedom to create his own grooves and drum parts on his hybrid drum set. For “Snake Island,” he felt an Afrobeat influence on the demo and ran with it. The main beat he came up with starts with two eighth-note snare hits in the beginning and sounds like a rock beat flipped on its head.
Under the guitar solo, he plays a disco-y pea soup beat. Then, in the second half of the song he plays a soca beat from Trinidad mixed with part of an Afro-Cuban cascara rhythm. The result is a song that’s hard to resist dancing to.
Such a big part of Lotus’ energy is about playing live shows, something they haven’t been able to do since March thanks to the pandemic shutdown. But the band did get to take part in an interesting live, in-person concert earlier this month when they performed as part of the 12-concert Live-in/Drive-in series at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia—well, at the parking lot adjacent to the park, technically.
“To be honest, I was a little apprehensive when I was first told about the drive-in show. I thought that it would be strange to play to people in cars spread throughout a large parking lot without a PA on stage,” said Greenfield. “While the experience was a bit odd, it was so incredible to play live music again with the boys!”
Another aspect was specific to Lotus’ genre, which practically requires dancing as part of the experience. “Sometimes jam band audiences can be very particular with live concerts, but everyone was so happy to actually be at a show again that some of the problematic aspects of being at a drive-in show were ignored and everyone had a great time,” said Greenfield. “I had a lot of fans reach out after the show to tell me how much it meant to them.”