Secrets of the universe revealed by the Flaming Lips
CoyneÕs on a roll, and apparently enjoying the hell out of it. The
choirboyish singer and guiding light behind the Flaming Lips Ņ crafters of
perhaps the most smartly melodic, sonically fetching and not coincidentally
most keenly heartbreaking pop music on the planet Ņ is frenziedly and
happily trying to keep up with the demands for his bandÕs services. One of
the early-Õ90s major-label alterna signings (Sonic Youth, Butthole
Surfers), the Oklahoma-based Lips have resided in the Warner Bros. stable
since 1992, having spent close to 20 years hashing out a peculiarly skewed
and psychedelic form of sort-of punk rock, never doing anything too obvious
and boosted by the feverishly creative CoyneÕs ongoing interest in just
about everything. The Lips gained tenure when their 1993 indie hit ŌShe
DonÕt Use JellyĶ continued to sell in decent numbers, which allowed them to
scam Warner Bros. into releasing the 1997 Zaireeka, four CDs meant to be played
simultaneously. (That one sold decently, too.)
It was with 1999Õs
startlingly poignant and decidedly non-aggressive The Soft Bulletin, however, that the Lips
painted their masterpiece. Coyne Ņ aided by geniuslike
multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd and bassist/sound-tech ace Michael
Ivins, along with indie rockÕs Phil Spectorish producer Dave Fridmann
(Mercury Rev) Ņ deemed it time to grow up, drop the cleverness and
obscurity, and deal head-on with life, death and (gulp) sweet, sweet love.
The recent Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, like Soft Bulletin engorged with sublime
melodies awash in American roots music, quasi-hip-hop beats, Mellotronic
silver linings and surprising electronic filaments, further pursues the
perfect, pleasing, progressive pop thatÕs relevant to the brain and the heart, and most
especially to the bandÕs ever-growing legion of fans.
taking a break from writing liner notes for a planned Lips DVD project, as
well as from his long-gestating film project Christmas on Mars, is gearing up for yet another
Flaming Lips tour. Following up on MarchÕs rather oil-and-watery stint as
backing band for Beck, the group play L.A. this week. The forthright and
folksy CoyneÕs a plainspoken kinda guy, so letÕs hear it now straight from
the horseÕs lips:
always biting off more than I can chew. People love liner notes, you know,
so I thought, Oh, IÕll do liner notes for every song. Well, you get these
DVDs, and you can just put tons of things on there Ņ IÕm a hundred into
this thing, and IÕm still doinÕ liner notes. Trying to be clever but
precise, you know. ItÕs tough.
BLUEFAT:I was reading your notes
and you actually seem to be able to put your heart into stuff like this.
I know how much I like it when you get a presentation from a band, and they
tell you the absolute truth, things that are interesting, things you
wouldnÕt know. And I always forget how much work it is until youÕre
actually doing it. It must be like raising your kids or something; you
know, you think theyÕre gonna be successful and gorgeous Ņ and then they
become drug addicts and beat you up!<
like the good old days when you got an album and you got a lot to sit there
and look at and read.
IÕll hear a song, and I wonÕt be moved by it significantly one way or the
other, but then IÕll read something about what itÕs supposed to mean or
what itÕs saying, and then suddenly itÕs like, Oh, I really love that song
your bandÕs long-standing fascination with warping the way we hear pop
music, like with the multiple-disc Zaireeka, it makes sense that Flaming Lips
should try their stuff in DVD 5.1 multichannel format.
really is pretty fascinating to sit in the middle of all these speakers
while all the songs are kind of moving in and above and around you and
stuff. We have things hitting you in the head, whereas with a lot of these
things it just changes speakers here and there. LetÕs see what the
possibilities are. That doesnÕt mean that the old stuff is ever made worse
by the invention of the new stuff, itÕs just that if you donÕt embrace the
new stuff, youÕre missing all the fun.
planning to put your film Christmas on Mars on a DVD, right?
donÕt really see that it would ever be a film that could just be played in
movie theaters. It would be a DVD that you would buy at the store and go
home and play, or that I would bring around [on tour] and sort of play in a
mega-movie way, where the Flaming Lips bring their own sound system and
snow machines. You know, we could make it loud and you could smoke and get
drunk if you want.
Lips records arrive like special gifts every other year or so.
youÕre lucky, your record keeps sort of being accepted, and itÕs going on a
year now, weÕre still releasing singles and playing shows. So I imagine
itÕll probably go on for at least another eight months or so, till I stop
and say, Okay, that was that record, and then begin the next thing, which
will be the Christmas on Mars movie. I judge when things should be released by when I
think the audience will be interested again. Our audience really gets a lot
out of our records; theyÕll sit there and listen to them and analyze them,
and I like that thereÕs some time in between where you just leave them
alone. I think every artist runs into that; itÕs like you overstay your
welcome at the party. For a while youÕre the life of the party, you keep
tellinÕ jokes, but everybodyÕs just tired of it now.
never get tired of hearing The Soft Bulletin, or Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Where did
they come from?
The Soft Bulletin, there was sort of a confrontational aspect of us that I
didnÕt notice; we wanted to push peopleÕs buttons. The Soft Bulletin was the first time that we
thought, LetÕs just quit fuckinÕ with people. Why donÕt we sing songs to
them, like the way that, when we listen to music, we love it? In some ways,
to let the music be beautiful was the bravest thing that we ever did.
albums have an almost miraculous balance about them, the way youÕre dealing
musically and lyrically with lightness and darkness.
luckily, people have given me a kind of platform, because IÕm an older guy
and I sing about things and they hear it as being a voice of experience.
When youÕre 42 years old and youÕre wondering, What does death mean?, itÕs
because youÕve experienced it, you start feeling it. I think it has a
little more power because of that.
in the moment is a running theme in your songs.
the moment you realize youÕre living in the moment, you canÕt do it. In
moments of sheer panic, when you think youÕre gonna die, suddenly youÕre
living in the moment. But itÕs terrifying.
the best compliment I could pay you is that your music always suggests
because I see that thatÕs a real way Ņ it isnÕt some fake metaphor thatÕs
supposed to cheer you up. Maybe IÕm retarded in that way, but I truly
believe it. Life has so many horrible, evil things that are gonna come your
way just by virtue of you being alive that you have to see new ways that
you canÕt see now.
can seriously say your music has improved the quality of my life.
itÕs like, if you came to my house and I cooked you a baked potata, and you
said, Damn, Wayne, thatÕs the best baked potata I ever ate Ņ you know, at
the end of the day itÕs the potata, really, thatÕs doing most of the work.
I just grabbed it at the store and cooked it, you know?
last year and the year before have been like the Golden Age of Flaming
Lips. YouÕre touring a lot, and getting a lot of critical acclaim; you even
won a Grammy. IÕm impressed by how much you appear to be enjoying it all,
after these 20 long years. And those shows of yours Ņ down-home
medium-low-tech videos, balloons, confetti, people parading around in
animal costumes, and of course the nightly ŌHappy BirthdayĶ song Ņ well,
itÕs all about a kind of funÉisnÕt it?
in our live sets, weÕre mostly singing about death. So it only makes sense that
our show should look like a birthday party. WeÕre celebrating being born and
weÕre celebrating dying, and all we have is this ship thatÕs in the middle
and we may as well make the best of it.
audience is giving me this great life, because they believed in me. Our
audience is not coming to a Flaming Lips show thinking theyÕre gonna see
the greatest entertainers of all time; theyÕre thinking, IÕm gonna see the
Flaming Lips from Oklahoma, and IÕm gonna see something IÕve never seen