Freaky, Sexy Lips: 5 Questions With the Flaming Lips

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Since the inception of the Flaming Lips in 1983, frontman Wayne Coyne has been considered somewhat of an enigmatic character, even within the world of psychedelic rock. An oddball musician with a knack for novelty, Coyne has remained faithful to his early rock following while also exploring advancements in the world of music production. This methodology of blending psychedelic rock with experimental electro is one that helped the Lips snag three Grammys in the past 10 years.

In summer 2012 Coyne gave his freak fandom more of the stuff they craved with the release of “Heady Fwends,” a collaborative album that featured tracks with Ke$ha, Bon Iver and Yoko Ono. With their 13th studio album, “The Terror,” released this past April, Coyne is insistent that the band opts out of any kind of formulaic attitude when it comes to producing new records and instead focuses on experimenting with new sounds and methods.

5 The Terror

Image credit Wikipedia

TOP5: What was the creative process like going from “Embryonic” to “The Terror?” Did collaborating with a myriad of different artists on “Heady Fwends” in between the two change the way you approached this new record?

Wayne: We try not to have a way that we do stuff. I think that we work so intensely that you kind of find a way to make records. The middle 90s—1995, 1996—we began working in a kind of more modern way, working in the computer, using Pro Tools and things like that. And that really opened up a whole different world to us. Previous to that, we would’ve been more like a normal rock group where we play some music and then we do a few overdubs on top of that, but it would still be based around a song or something that we would play. As we got into that period, we would sometimes not really ever be playing music together—It would simply just be music that we would be building on the computer. We did that for a couple records. I think we find that if we do something for a couple years, we get pretty sick of it and we’re glad to move on and discover something new. That doesn’t mean that we know what we’re doing. It’s just… I think sometimes when you’re experiencing something that is fresh, it may not be fresh to the world, but it’s fresh to you. That really pushes it along.

The way that we recorded it on “Embryonic” was a more freaky, wide-open kind of sound. We would record things just as primitively as we could, take them into the computer and then add—sometimes elaborately—over these more primitive things. But I think we found that, when we started to do the next record, we did a little bit of that but we got kind of bored with that. We didn’t think we should make another kind of record like that. We have a certain resistance to settling in and doing the same thing over and over… I think we’re always sick of the old way and whatever the new way will be, let’s do that.

4 Skulls and Blood Vinyls

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TOP5: First you came up with the gummy fetus/skull USBs, then 7 Skies H3 in actual human skulls, and then more recently the “Heady Fwends” blood vinyl. It feels like there’s a progression happening here. Do you plan on topping these release methods? If so, how?

Wayne: [Laughs] I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to top those. The reason we were able to do those and the reason they were done at such an accelerated pace was that, at the end of the year 2010, we were going to be out of our contract with the mega-corporation Warner Brothers. It wasn’t that we were wanting to; it was just the way that our contract worked. We knew we were going to be about a year and a half outside of—not the restrictions, but you know—having to have Warner Brothers do everything with us. And they encouraged us: ‘I want you guys to think of the f#@king freakiest thing you can think of, we’ll help you do them, we just won’t help you do them as Warner Brothers.’ Warner Brothers as a company could never put out music inside of an actual human skull. That is just illegal almost anywhere in the world. That is just detestable for anybody to do. So I did that, and I knew that some of our fans would really like it. No company in the world is ever going to put out vinyl that has actual human blood in it. That’s just, frankly, always going to be illegal—now until the end of time. So in this time that I was allowed to do whatever I wanted, I did those types of things that I knew we would not want to do when we were back on Warner Brothers.

3 Lip$ha

Image credit PopCrush

TOP5: The collaboration with Ke$ha on “Heady Fwends” was sonically abrasive, yet poppy, and really beautiful at parts. Can we expect similar direction from “Lipsha?” And when do you hope to release it?

Wayne: I don’t really know. In the beginning of doing just the track that was on “Heady Fwends,” we only had like an afternoon and a night together. I have to say, she’s just so crazy. It’s very easy and fun to just make up things… One of the songs that we worked on then—I don’t think it ended up on her American release; I think it’s a song that’s like a B-side or something— is just a great, great song. For me, I feel like—I’m not speaking for her or her producers, it’s just my feeling about it—she has this side to her that is not always trying to play some exaggerated, sophomoric, sexist joke. I’m not saying that she’s not that, but still. It’s f#@ing cool music stuff we would do that we wouldn’t necessarily think of as being Ke$ha-esque. I just like the way she sang and the way she is. We start to make just cool music, and it was solely because the music is so cool that I think we consistently say, ‘Let’s keep trying to put this out.’

I really don’t know how we’re going to do it. I think she’s going to give me a secret code at some point and I’m just going to put it out, and I’m going to be the one that gets in trouble for it. But I’ll only do it if they allow me to. I think it would probably be, maybe, within the next year. That’s a long time if you’re waiting for music, but it’s not that long when working with record companies and all that. I listen to the music a lot and I always love it. I talk to her and I’m around her enough to think, ‘I know she’s still crazy. She’d still be into it for sure.’

2 More Albums Played in Full?

Image crdit NPR

TOP5: You guys have previously played “The Soft Bulletin” in full, and this year at SXSW you played “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” in full for what we believe was the first time ever. Will you do that again? If so, any chance of doing this with “At War With The Mystics,” “Embryonic” or “The Terror?”

Wayne: We were doing the show at SXSW. For us, sometimes it just seems kind of boring to do the same show. So, we thought, if we are going to do a couple of shows, let’s do this at that show, that at this show. . . . [With] “The Soft Bulletin,” I think there has been such a demand that we explore that record more and more. When it first came out no one cared about it. It’s only after it’s been out for ten years, sometimes, that people really embrace not just the concept but the order of the songs. People just love that sort of stuff, and I love that sort of stuff. As a dynamic performance, sometimes it’s just not very exciting to stand in front of a group when they’re doing that. Concerts kind of move along and have moments, and it’s not really just about a series of songs.

That being said, we like doing it so I’m sure we will [again]. I don’t know if we would do it for “At War With The Mystics.” It would be with one of the albums, the recent ones anyway. It feels like it’s not necessarily a theme. But I don’t know. We still play a lot of the songs. We play “The W.A.N.D. (The Will Always Negates Defeat)” and we play “Pompeii am Götterdämmerung” and some of those from that record that people really like. But yeah I think that’s part of what we’re all about. Look, when we do, it doesn’t feel as powerful, not like a typical concert where you can pick and choose the dynamics. But yeah, I imagine that we’d eventually end up doing that. Maybe not with all of our records, but with most of them as time goes on. I don’t know if we’d do anything in the next six months.

1 OKC Tornado Relief Show

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TOP5: You’re playing your hometown next week—Oklahoma City. Do homecoming shows tend to be some of your favorites? And is it weird to just return to your bed after playing in front of thousands of freaks?

Wayne: [Laughs] No, It’s not weird to me anymore. I never think of it like that. I mean most of my life is like that. I go from maybe being in front of 10,000 people to maybe being around a bunch of other people. But I don’t think of it like that. The shows are such a big production and all that. I don’t think of it as being surrounded by a bunch of freaks, even though it’s true. No, but my life is like that anyway. It’s only occasionally I’ll find myself in a hotel room by myself and it’ll be very quiet at 4 o’clock in the morning somewhere and I’ll be like, ‘Where is everybody? What the f%@k?’ That happens only really once in a while. Most of my life I have a lot of crazy, wonderful weirdos and dolts running around me all the time, and that’s what I like.

The show that we’re playing next week is a tornado benefit along the lines of the ones that Blake Shelton’s done and the one Toby Keith and Garth [Brooks] did just last weekend. Ours is on a much smaller scale because we’re trying to invite all the weirdos who didn’t want to go out into the 80-degree weather and watch Toby Keith. I understand that. People aren’t aware of this, but Toby Keith is from where the tornados happened. A lot of really great people are going to a lot of effort on behalf of those families, trying to make sure that this little area in Oklahoma is taken care of. And our thing is the same way; it’s a benefit. We have Kings of Leon, Jackson Brown, Built to Spill and Grace Potter is gonna come out and it should be great. I don’t really view it as a Flaming Lips show. We’re just one of the groups for that night and it should be fun.

Alisa Dwyer has been a human since 1991. She enjoys organic 2-for-1 cocktails, the occasional well-made cat sweater and being a generally classy person.

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