Flaming Lips formed in Oklahoma in 1983. In a career that has spanned more than 20 years, frontman and founder Wayne Coyne has become an expert in musical experimentation.
When you read about Flaming Lips, the word ‘weird’ comes up often. You’ll even read Coyne using it himself in this interview. What is weird is some is innovative to others and Flaming Lips are certainly innovative.
Wayne Coyne spoke to Paul Cashmere.
Paul Cashmere: The Flaming Lips have gone hi-tech with a DVD-a version of Fight Test. The Flaming Lips are constantly evolving with new technology. When will it end?
Wayne Coyne: Let’s hope it never does because there is still a thrill in doing new things just because you can. That is part and partial of what The Flaming Lips are all about. I don’t think it is better than before, they are just new possibilities.
PC: Does it change the dynamics of what an album is all about as a performer? With vinyl you had 40 minutes to play with. With CD you have 80 minutes to play with and now with DVD you have an unlimited scope. When is an album complete?
WC: I can see that if this was an album done 10 or 15 years ago we could see we were moving on to some place else. In this case, it is eight months after we finished the album anyway. It isn’t that much of a departure. We have just revisited it and added to it. You shouldn’t fight against these things, you should embrace them.
PC: If da Vinci was around today it would be interesting if he would do various versions of the Mona Lisa.
WC: I think he would like it instead of thinking it was overwhelming him. Most artists I run into aren’t that thrilled with what they do anyway. They are glad to have different versions out there to see which one the audience likes the best. That’s where I fall in. I am not that thrilled about the way our records sound anyway. Don’t get me wrong, I work hard on them and I want them to sound fantastic but I’m happy to have another interpretation of them anyway.
PC: Flaming Lips have always been a band who thinks outside the box. Point in question the Zaireeka album. That was an interesting concept. (Zaireeka was a 4CD set featuring each member playing their part on a separate disc and you had to play all four discs simultaneously to hear the complete band).
WC: Exactly. Within the realm of rock and roll, I’m, surprised more people don’t do freaky shit like that all the time. I wanted to do it. I’ve been making records for 20 years now and just thought if anyway was going to do it, I had to do it. Not because the world needs these things. I just think they are kind of interesting. 5:1 has the same possibilities. Who knows what you can do with it. It is all still music in the end.
PC: What did you personally get out of Zaireeka?
WC: When we started there was this element of these experiments we were doing where we weren’t really sure how the music would play out because the music was all on different players. We made music that wouldn’t be in synch. Most music that you hear is in synch with itself. We were experimenting with the music falling out of synch with itself and even though it is out of synch you mind can still understand what it is meant to be doing. In this gap where your mind is stretching itself to keep the music going it hits you as a new music experience. We were excited about it. We never thought it would be something everyone would listen to. We never thought people who listen to Britney Spears would run to listen to it. It was intended for people on the fanatical side of production and hi-fi.
PC: The other cutting edge thing you are working on right now is the film Christmas On Mars.
WC: I do kind of have a great spot that I’m in. People have given me the freedom and believe in me enough to say if I want to do these things that I will find a way to make it work. I don’t know if they think I’m crazy, drug damaged or just an old weirdo. About three years ago I started to work on this movie ‘Christmas On Mars’. The Flaming Lips are in it, we do the music and I direct it and I actually have some of the sets in my house. It really is no different in the way that we make records and shoot music videos. I don’t think of the movie as being a great leap out of my current profession.
PC: Flaming Lips covering Kylie went down extremely well in this country.
WC: I didn’t know how popular that song or she was. I knew she was from Australia and I knew that is where she started but I didn’t know if she was still popular there. I hope people understand we aren’t making fun of Kylie. When we went to cover it I thought we would change it to a song of loving and longing instead of the sex machine song Kylie turned it into. I’ve met Kylie and told her we were covering her song and she was pleased.
PC: Someone who wasn’t as pleased with you “covering” a song was Cat Stevens. (Flaming Lips ‘Fight Test’ was proven to sound like Cat Stevens ‘Father and Son’).
WC: I don’t know if he was pleased or not pleased. I was in England and I know Cat Stevens told some journalists that he loved our song and was honoured that people compared our song to his song. Even in the beginning, when we knew there was a legal argument about how much our song sounds like his song, as one songwriter to another, I wasn’t sure that Cat Stevens would take that as bad. If I heard a song that sounded like one of mine I wouldn’t be too much on the defence because I know how songs are written. There is a lot of melody and things that sound familiar in hundreds of songs. I’m sure Cat Stevens would have forgiven me for my song sounding like his.
PC: When were you first made aware of the similarities?
WC: I knew from the get go that there were some similarities. We actually changed it while we were making the song. That’s where I made the mistake. If you have a song that you think sounds like another song you should contact the publishing company and say I have a song here, let’s cut a deal that lets everyone walk away feeling good. Because I didn’t do that and it was released there was no leg for me to stand on. I wished I had done it in a different way. I thought it was kind of funny in a way. Even if Cat Stevens wanted me to take it off the record I would have said sure. I didn’t think it was the best song we had ever written. I didn’t have that bad of a time about it.
PC: Congratulations of being nominated for a Grammy Award for an album that is actually an EP.
WC: I know, I was as shocked as anyone, Paul. We started to get the calls. Me and my wife were driving out to San Francisco and friends called to say they saw on CNN were had been nominated for a Grammy. We won a Grammy last year and here we are this year nominated for an EP. In a way I hope we don’t win because there are some fantastic records in the same category like Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Radiohead and White Stripes. Our contender is a pretty flimsy EP with a couple of new songs and two or three remixes. I hope they don’t pay too much attention to us.
PC: What’s it like winning a Grammy?
WC: We went to this thing with the intention of losing but going to all of the parties. We knew even if we lost we were going to have a great time. That’s how you have got to approach life. Just approach it with the attitude “fuck it” and have a good time with your friends. When they called our name we were already at the end of our joy. Then you get up on stage and go backstage with all of the media people taking your picture and TV people taking to you. Our publicist at Warner Brothers is a young guy who has worked so hard for seven years with us and when we saw him backstage he broke down and cried. He couldn’t believe it happened. It was seeing him so overcome when we realised how much it really meant. I don’t follow the Grammy’s and think this artist won a Grammy and must be important. I remember watching the Grammy Awards when I was nine years old and The Beatles were up for a Grammy for ‘Let It Be’. I’m 42 years old. Their competition was a band called Three Dog Night with the song ‘Joy To The World’ and I don’t know much but I thought surely The Beatles should win over Three Dog Night but they didn’t. The Three Dog Night won the Grammy and The Beatles got nothing. Since then, Paul, I’ve learned that it means different things to different people. To the people it means something to I am glad that we won it and to the people it means nothing to I’m sure they aren’t even aware that we did win.
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