Critical Questions: Wayne CoyneBy Laura Smith
A heady trip inside music's mad scientist.
The Flaming Lips seem to occupy their own special space in music. Immune to finicky tastes, band politics, and a constantly shifting industry, they appear to float above it all, encased in one of their oversized plastic bubbles. Fourteen albums, a Guinness World Record, and nearly 30 years later, these Oklahoma boys still manage to keep testing the limits of their audience, their peers, and their major record label.
With a new stage musical production, a newly released collaborative album, and another one on the way, the Lips and their fuzzy-haired frontman, Wayne Coyne, continue to spin their manic energy into an impressive musical output. I had a chance to speak with Mr.Coyne about his controversial video with Erykah Badu, his otherworldly aspirations, and why his own music disturbs him.
I heard you were remaking the video for "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" with Amanda Palmer. Is this going to be a complete reworking of the song and video?
It was something I suggested, and she said let's do it. She's recorded it, and it's definitely Amanda's take on it, which is great. I don't want anybody to think we're doing anything against Erykah [Badu], we just think it's a great song and we did think it was a great video -- a lot of people are still curious about what the video is since it was taken down. It's more of a "let's try this, it's interesting."
She's definitely one of those musicians that seems pretty game for anything. If you did another collaborative album like Heady Fwends, what other artists would be on it?
There are endless people, you hear music and you think that'd be cool, luckily I get to do a lot of things and run into a lot of people. Recently I saw Polica, I saw them play -- and that woman is just an amazing fucking singer. She's a cool performer, I'd heard their music, but sometimes you see people and it really crystallizes in your mind: fuck, I'd love to have her sing and create something together. There are endless people you could feed off their energy and they feed off yours and you hope that something cool happens. A lot of people just want to get in their own heads to create, but for me I think it's a lot more interesting and dynamic to collaborate, a different energy is going to happen.
So you are an official world-record holder for having played the most concerts in 24 hours. How did this particular feat come about? Are you that ambitious or do you just hate sleep?
I love sleeping occasionally, but I don't trade sleep for another experience. It was mostly MTV's idea to put together something for their awards ceremony. The world record isn't about music -- it's about how many shows you play, and it doesn't matter if those shows were great or shit or whatever. But, for us, it mattered immensely. We wanted it to be special, we didn't want to just go through the motions and say here were are in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, but we don't give a shit cause it's 7 o'clock in the morning. We were confronted with people literally crying, overwhelmed that you're playing music in their little part of the world they want to hug you. That energy changes you.
You managed to record another studio album during all this madness. Any clues as to what it'll sound like? Will it be a complete departure or a signature Lips album?
I'm warning you, I'm making this up for the first time. To me it sounds like these distorted transmissions of these very religious songs. They're these songs that have been beamed back to us from a future civilization that has absolutely found the answer to life. Whatever we feel like we're searching for, they have already found it. And it doesn't work. It's a strange record, in some ways part of it is depressing and part of it is really powerful. It gets kind of quiet, low-key, it's distorted, there are elements of rock on it, but it's not a rock record. It sounds like music you would make up for a funeral in outer space. I don't know if you take drugs and stay up all night very often.
It's been a while.
I do it sometimes, and there is a moment where you're so oblivious to the world, and you know you're in your own world now, cause it's 6 o'clock in the morning and you've escaped into another dimension. But, you know the sun is coming up and you have to go back to the real world. And a lot of the songs are singing about that moment. We've never really sung about that before -- I hear it sometimes, it disturbs me, and I like that.
It almost sounds like it should come with an operating manual. Follow steps one through three before listening to this record.
I think that's a given.
What motivated you to bring Yoshimi to the stage as a musical? Have you worked with any productions like this in the past?
Not really, I've seen a couple of Des McAnuff's, the director, past productions, I can see he understands how that shit works and it's well done. And in the beginning I would think, well, do I really want Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots to be successful? Something like that could even overshadow what we are. "I've heard 'Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,' but who the fuck are The Flaming Lips?" And I'm wrong about that, I treated YBTPR as this very precious thing and nobody should fuck with it. But he [McAnuff] is convincing -- the story he wanted to do dealt with his wife's father dying of cancer when he heard YBTPR. So, our music entered a very powerful moment in his life, which is why he wanted to tell the story the way it is. And he loves our music, and so that changes everything. If it's successful, good for me, I'll make a billion dollars. If it sucks, it doesn't matter to me, cause I have Des. It's impossible to know if something's going to be successful, but it's not impossible to do things with love and care. So I'm glad it's taken seven years, I'll probably know him and he'll know me for our whole lives. It couldn't be in better hands.
You guys are edging up on your 30th birthday -- think you could come full circle and make an appearance on 90210? Since you seem to be steadily checking things off the list.
I don't know if that show has the same cultural meaning now. It was an absurd episode in our life and a weird episode on the show. But if it was the right timing and someone asked us to, I'd say: sure, fuck, why not?
On a complete side note, I had a weird dream last night that this interview already happened, but it occurred on a ski lift in California and you knit me an afghan. So this might be slightly disappointing in comparison, but pretty good, nonetheless.
I like your dream better than what we actually did, next time for sure. I've never knitted before, but I'll work on that.
|The Flaming Lips - Do You Realize (New Orleans)|
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