The Flaming Lips are a weird, wonderful rock and roll institution at this point, and kingpin Wayne Coyne has been in the middle of the confetti cloud from the beginning.
From the off-kilter splatter-art hippie-punk of the ‘80s and early ‘90s, to the expansive and futuristic Martian soundscapes we enjoy today, Coyne has kept the Flaming Lips grounded in only one reality: Anything goes.
Speaking with Coyne is like getting to ride a unicorn: You have always wanted to do it, you never thought you could do it, and when it’s over you’re unsure if you actually did do it, but you believe in magic more than ever.
City Pages: I was in college in the mid-90s, when “She Don’t Use Jelly” came out, and I have been fascinated by the Flaming Lips ever since.
Wayne Coyne: Well, thank you. I think some people wonder if we’re embarrassed by it, and no, we absolutely love it. That song, even at the time, it both totally represented what we did on that record, and it also totally didn’t because everybody felt that we were some sort of grunge thing. We were like, “Well, we like some of the grunge bands, but we’re not really like that.” We weren’t angry and feeling sorry for ourselves.
CP: I think at the time, most bands got rolled into grunge whether they wanted to or not.
WC: I think we were quite lucky. When we got signed to Warner Brothers, Jane’s Addiction had become the big, weird alternative group. The word “alternative” was around then more than when the Nirvanas and the Pearl Jams came around. We were brought into Warner Brothers because of them as an alternative group, and then the Nirvanas and the Pearl Jams began to blow up, and people were like, “Well, you’re just like them, too!” That’s not totally untrue. There is a flow of popularity, and if you’re lucky you can go with it as long as it’s working for you, and get out of it when it stops working for you.
CP: Bringing us up to 2017, can you pronounce your most recent album title [Oczy Mlody] for the record?
WC: Well, we say it “Oxy M’loady.” There’s no “e” in “melody.” It’s a lazy “M’loady.” I think that’s part of why we liked it as a title because it didn’t have any particular meaning. I mean, it does have meaning in another language, but as a title it’s sort of, what is that? For us, sometimes the album title is a stressful… You hope you stumble upon one, or there is an obvious song title like “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robot” that shines the way.
CP: You guys, easily, have some of the best titles in history –- “Drug Machine in Heaven,” “Raining Babies”…
WC: [laughing] Well, thank you!
CP: They are awesome titles kind of like the Dead Kennedys, but where do they come from?
WC: [still laughing] Sometimes you’re just lucky. You almost have a title, and you start making some noise and they go together. Or, there’s a “Do You Realize??” song where it’s obvious that’s what it should be called. Other times it is just sheer dumb luck that you are able to put something together that isn’t obvious, it’s not wrong, but it isn’t bad either. Every aspect of presenting your music to the world, to me, is what makes it so much fun. Not just the music, you do the album covers, the music videos, lyrics, and the song titles, the interviews, and the shows. Everything about it something I embrace. When I go into galleries sometimes, and I see some marvelous painting, and it says, “Untitled.” What?! What does it mean? I mean, you gotta fuckin’ say something.
CP: What should the listener get out of that album title, Oczy Mlody? Or, is that something you don’t want to touch?
WC: No, I sometimes go to great lengths to explain what we are thinking while we are making stuff, and how it can morph from what thought we were going to do to what we are doing, and what we accidentally stumbled upon. The very first track on the album is this mellow, I describe it as sort of Tubular Bells meets Dr. Dre or something. It feels like something from another world, and [Lips’ multi-instrumentalist] Steven [Drozd[ and I kept not being satisfied with… what are we gonna do with this? We considered putting words to it, but we always liked the couple of minutes, and how it went by.
I had this paperback book that was written in Polish, and we would just thumb through it, and Steven stumbled onto those words, “oczy mlody,” and he liked how they sounded like, you know, a drug in the future. It was kind of funny, but it struck some meaning for him, and we started calling that track “Oczy Mlody.” It started to open up other possibilities for us. It’s impossible to say if that feeling or meaning will be expressed to the listener or not. I don’t think you can worry about that. You kind of have to say, “I love this, I mean this, and I want this,” and hope that on a subliminal level it gets through.
CP: On the album, there is this great throbbing, menacing track, “There Should be Unicorns.” How did you hook up with Reggie Watts?
WC: I forget what the synthesizer it is. They aren’t even vintage anymore, they’re these old synthesizers that have this great, recordable sound to them. Um, Reggie is someone I ran into maybe 10 years ago at a festival doing his comedy mixed with music routine. We sort of became friends, talked ever since, and I think even on that day we talked about doing music together. I just kept trying. I would send him things. I didn’t think he would do this one, either. He never says no. He just never gets around to it. He’s like a lot of us. We say yes, and then go oh shit, you know? We sent this to him while we were working on it, and then he suddenly sent it back. It’s such a great payoff. It just makes the song kind of different. This voice from above sort of comes in and reiterates what the song, in a haze, is saying.
CP: Is it fair to say there is a dividing line between pre-Soft Bulletin [in 1999] and post-Soft Bulletin in terms of how you do things?
WC: Yeah, for sure. Previous to The Soft Bulletin, we made this break. Steven and I talked about it a lot while we were making [1995’s] Clouds Taste Metallic. We still had [drummer] Ronald Jones in the band. After Clouds Taste Metallic, Ronald Jones left. We were already talking about how he wouldn’t be the drummer. Previously, we would play shows, and he would be the drummer, I would stand up there and play guitar and sing, and then we said, well, let’s not do that. Let’s follow our own trip, and not worry about it much. I think that sort of boldness and braveness, you know, you only get that served probably once to go from the way you were when you were young to where you are going to try and become as you aren’t young anymore.
CP: Was it weird to have “Do You Realize??” named Oklahoma’s official song?
WC: In the big picture, when you think about it, it is very weird, but at the time I knew the governor and the senator that had put it into place, and even though I didn’t expect it to become what it is, I knew they were working on it. It was a two-term governor named Brad Henry, and he was at the very end of his second term. That’s often times when you go, “Fuck everybody, I’m doing something cool.” I would run into him at charity things, and he told me how big of a fan he was. It was definitely still a bizarre thing, but more because of them liking it than the simple power of the song itself.
CP: You’re playing here on Sunday at the Myth Live Entertainment Center, which itself sounds like a Flaming Lips title. Any surprises? T shirt cannons or whatever?
WC: [laughing] We have everything you could ever think of! I think it should be utterly insane. I mean, we have so many things that almost every song has some crazy shit that goes with it. We recently acquired a giant inflatable pink robot. It’s almost twenty feet tall, and the guys blowing it behind me make it look like it’s walking up to crush you. Anything that makes the evening more unique, we’re willing to try, but we don’t do fire. The one thing the Flaming Lips don’t ever do is fire. Because we’re called the Flaming Lips, something bad would probably happen.
The Flaming Lips
With: Mac DeMarco
When: 6:30 p.m. Sun. Sept. 17
Tickets: $39.50; more info here