From stoner-influenced instrumental hip-hop, Flying Lotus (Steven Ellison) has made the slow evolution to a more expansive sound that draws on his background of jazz, funk and so-called intelligent dance music. And now with Until the Quiet Comes, just out on Warp Records, Ellison uses his cinematic training to create an ambitious, theme-like narrative on record.
"More than anything, I wanted to make a body of work that feels like it was one solid piece of music, as opposed to a collage of all the random things I was fascinated with," Ellison tells Rolling Stone. "I wanted to make an experience that really captivated people, and allowed them to come up with their own stories."
In crafting the arc to this album, Ellison drew on the scholar Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey, a literary theory on the formation of stories throughout history, from Jesus Christ to the original Star Wars trilogy.
"The whole story is based around these ideas," Ellison says about Campbell's theory. "The Hero's Journey – where you introduce a world, and introduce a character and situations, and how the character deals with it."
The 18 tracks transition seamlessly, from the glitch-y tapestry of "Until the Colours Come" to the spacious exodus of "Dream to Me." And like Campbell's archetypes, Until the Quiet Comes is graced along the way by such wise men (and women) and shapeshifters as Erykah Badu and Thom Yorke – the latter of whom Ellison has worked with numerous times, on both Flying Lotus and Radiohead projects.
"He said he wanted to be involved with the album. I was surprised," Ellison says. "I thought he might've been done with me – over it. Hopefully I'll still work with him. He's kind of mysterious. I don't like to badger him."
Ellison also had some luck when he found something in the vault from his sessions with Badu. "She was coming out to L.A. and we were recording demos," Ellison says. "That track ["See Thru to U"] was the one that we held on to. Some time passed and I was like, 'Yo man, I wanna use this shit.' She was like, 'All right. But I'm gonna use it too.'"
The guest vocalists do not dominate their tracks but float into Ellison's realm like visitors, just as fragile and malleable as the other elements he employs. This reiterates the album's feel as one complete story, instead of disparate songs. And that's how Ellison wants it experienced: in one full listen.
"That's the ideal for me, man – take out the 40 minutes that the record requires," Ellison says. "When the time is right. Don't just buy it and, like, skim through it. Just wait. At least just listen to the shit when you can."
In addition to the new album, Ellison has been busy collaborating with rappers including Earl Sweatshirt and Ab-Soul, scoring films, partying with Venus Williams and, of course, producing for artists like Thundercat on his Brainfeeder label. He may be on the creative streak of his early career; he's just too busy to realize it.
"I feel like there's still so much to do," Ellison says. "I can't really sit around and think about how awesome everything is, because I gotta work on music tonight."