Even if you don’t know Flying Lotus (real name Steven Ellison), you’ve probably heard him. The 33-year-old producer from Los Angeles has made a name for himself over the past decade crafting daringly abstract soundscapes, and working with the likes of Thom Yorke, Herbie Hancock, Kendrick Lamar, and George Clinton. You may have even taken a joyride or two to his radio station on Grand Theft Auto V. But did you know he’s making a horror movie that could be the most grotesque film released all year? In our exclusive Flying Lotus interview, we ask him all about the insanity that is Kuso, the first film he’s written and directed.
“I don’t give a f*ck if no one buys my movie because I can tour it like I would tour a DJ set.”
Kuso is set in Los Angeles after an earthquake, and that is where the familiarity ends. Instead of a linear storyline, Kuso ties together absurdist tales of CGI abortions and Strangers Things-esque tree creatures. Lotus’s wanted the horror of Kuso to hit closer to home than other scary flicks.
“Kuso wasn’t meant to be the grossest, most shocking thing of all time. It’s supposed to show everyone their ugly ass in full HD,” Lotus told Digital Trends. “I was tired of everything being so clean, glossy, and everyone trying to beautify it and make it all pretty, and I thought ‘yo ass ugly.’ That was going to be the name of the movie, Yo Ass Ugly.”
Before Kuso streams into your nightmares on horror streaming service Shudder on July 21, Lotus sat down with us to explain how he got the the godfather of funk George Clinton to play a sordid doctor, what virtual reality game scares him more than horror films, and how Robocop inspired his latest creative effort.
Editor’s note: The following includes explicit subjects and language.
Digital Trends: I just have to say, Kuso is one of the most beautifully grotesque films I have ever seen. I do not think I will ever look at boils the same again. Did you go into the film trying to one up other horror films?
Flying Lotus: I wouldn’t say it like that. I think that I was just tired of people cutting away from the good moments. We’ve been bombarded with PG-13 horror stuff for so long, CGI horror. I was just so tired of it. I wanted to do something that reminded me of my childhood. Those things that get burned in your brain as a kid that you’ll never forget.
For me, it’s the first Robocop. It was hard as fuck. When they killed Murphy in the beginning and they shoot his arms off and all that shit like “Whoaaaaa!” [Laughs and flails arms] I’ll never forget that shit. As a kid, I had nightmares … and I wanted to do that to somebody. [Laughs]
Kuso is being released on horror-film streaming service Shudder and has a limited showing in NYC and LA. Did the graphic nature of the film affect how you released it?
I didn’t concern myself with all of that stuff initially. I was just like “Fuck it. I’m going to do what I need to do. I don’t care about whatever, I’m just going to keep going.” Then as it started to get close to finishing I began to think about that. My initial thought was “I don’t give a fuck. Okay? I don’t give a fuck if no one buys my movie because I can tour it like I would tour a DJ set.” That was my original plan. I was just going to make the movie right after Sundance, go on the road and tour the shit out of it, show it to everybody, and DJ at night. Make my money back. I said that on the internet and the next day I had an offer.
So you tweeted out your plan and the next day Shudder made an offer?
Right after the Sundance screenings and all this talk about walk-outs I thought, “People are talking about it, maybe I won’t sell it. I’ll just keep this motherfucker.” Then the next day there was an offer.
If I sold Kuso direct to YOU the fan. Would u buy it?
— KUSO July 21st! (@flyinglotus) January 26, 2017
I have to ask about George Clinton’s character in Kuso, a deranged pseudo-doctor who cures a man’s strange affliction in an even stranger way. How did you get the Godfather of Funk to play such a grotesque role?
[Laughs] I got a good story about George. We have been working on music for a project of mine and all the while I was thinking I’d get Craig Robinson to play the doctor. We had been talking a bunch and trying to get our schedules in line, but in the back of my mind I thought George would be great. I wrote this stuff already and I was like, “Hey George, what do you think about being in my movie?” He said [high pitched voice] “Alright.” I asked him, “What do you think about showing your butthole on camera?” He looked at me and said “Nah.” [Laughs] So, we had to get a puppet.
Music plays a big part in the film and you even tweeted recently that half of your new album is in the film. How did that happen?
I kind of knew the album was going to be in it. I just didn’t want to say it publicly until later on. I didn’t want the focus to be about the album. I think it’s really easy to make it a Flying Lotus thing and a music thing all of the time. I wanted to let the film live as what it is before I started bringing my album into it and then it’s, “Oh, now you’re speaking my language. It’s music? I fuck with you now, man.” I wanted to wait, because I knew it would be a different reaction, initially.
You are the grand nephew of Alice Coltrane, a great jazz composer and wife of jazz legend John Coltrane. Do you think growing up with that kind of pedigree helped shape your creative endeavors? Have you always known you’d be deeply involved with music?
It had a big effect on me. If anything, I just knew you can do anything. If you pursued art in a way that was genuine, passionate, and you really pushed it, you could make something. I have examples of that in my family. That holds people back a lot of times. They don’t have examples to go by. So it seems way less tangible and more of a dream that you can make it in art. But, if you have these people around you, I think it becomes a little bit more of a reality.
I went to see my cousins perform jazz concerts and all this stuff, so I’ve seen it and grew up thinking this can be a real thing if I grind. It was funny, though, because I remember a lot of them as the weirdos, even though they are cosmic jazz motherfuckers. [Laughs]. They’re like, “What the fuck are you making over here?” I’m like, “What the fuck are you making?” So, I’m just glad it all worked out. [Laughs]
You’ve worked with some amazing artists. George Clinton, Thom Yorke, Kendrick Lamar, etc. You even worked on a song with Michael McDonald for Thundercat’s latest album Drunk. Are there any artists you really wish you could do songs with even if they are not in the same genre, per se, as you?
I really would love to do a track with Beyoncé. I don’t know how it would sound. She invited me over before Lemonade came out. She played me the album just as it is now. I was hoping it wasn’t done yet.
She was like [imitates Beyonce’s voice] “If you want to remix this thing, I kind of don’t like the drums.” I was like, “A remix? B, noooooo!” She was like, “You want to do something original, don’t you?” I was like, “Yessssss!” So, we’ll see what happens.
What is your most memorable studio session?
There’s so many good ones. The Kendrick Lamar situation when he worked on my album [You’re Dead] was really special. He came by the house. There was no email shit. He came through in a hoodie, by himself. I played the beat, he wrote the song on my couch.
I was like [gasps], “Oh fuck. That’s where we’re going with it, K?” I’ll never forget it.
“The racial shit is just way too intense. It was a response to a police shooting, but it was too much.”
For such an unabashedly dark film, were there any scenes in Kuso you cut out?
Yeah, there were a couple things. More of the animated stuff. There’s a sequence where it’s about a cop, a really racist cop. A black cop. To me, I didn’t think it was the right thing to say right now, in these times.
The racial shit is just way too intense. It was a response to a police shooting, but it was too much. I was just like, “This ain’t right. I don’t want to be hated by every Black person.”
Kuso is so out there and horrific, I wonder if there are there any horror films that scare you. Are there?
No, the video games do. Resident Evil 7 is the most terrifying shit ever. The VR is crazy. I remember playing and it starts out really beautiful outside. It’s sunny and shit. You go to the house and it’s just a black door. You just have to walk into the darkness. I was like, “Nahhhhh, I’m goooooood.”
Would you ever use virtual reality for anything, music or film-wise?
There’s Kuso VR. We showed it yesterday. It’s still being finished. It’s really cool, though, it’s all interactive. I will tell you one thing, there’s different little mini-games. There’s a part where you can play “midi titties.” Evil titty monsters you slap that go “bum, bum, bum, bum” [Laughs].
Hell yeah. I’m writing a new film right now that is crazy, but it’s not Kuso. It’s nothing like that. But, it’s a bit different. It’s like my Being John Malcovich movie.