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There’s never a dull moment when it comes to The Flaming Lips. Even in a brief interview with the band’s lead singer Wayne Coyne, numerous details come to light. The band just finished a stunt to break the Guinness World Record for the most concerts in multiple cities in 24 hours, just following the release of their album, The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends, which collected the best tracks from a two-year series of collaborative EPs they did with everyone from Bon Iver to Lightning Bolt. In our short talk Wayne Coyne spoke candidly about their new album currently called The Terror, using drugs as inspiration for the new album, a forthcoming cover album for King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King and the current status of his work with Ke$ha.
All photos by Adam Baker
For the last year and a half or so you’ve been working on a nonstop barrage of guests and friends on mini-EPs. Will you be working with more collaborators and continue putting out more limited edition EPs or will you be stopping that?
No, I think the thing we did on Record Store Day, the Heady Fwends collection, really was, in a sense the culmination of all that. That was a few of things that we did during 2011 and quite a few things that were gathered at the beginning of 2012 here. Also, our contract with Warner Bros that was signed in 1990, it had run out at the end of 2010. That’s a long contract, and we knew that we were going to re-sign with them but we were all curious what it was that we were going to do. This idea of what a new contract is with a major label—and we’re not like a mega band. We’re established enough, but we’re not selling five million records. We’re one of those groups that gets to do its own thing, but wants some of the advantages of being on a major label at the same time. I think that was part of why we wanted to do our own thing for a bit, because we didn’t know what our contract would be, and doing all those things, doing it absolutely on our own. A lot of the things we did we could not have done with Warner Brothers. I would say for certain, making the blood vinyl that we did, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that?
It’s pretty uncanny. These are things that you would not be able to do legally with a giant corporation like Warner Brothers having to answer for it. That was part of what we wanted, was to be kind of like, “Let’s push the boundaries of what we want to do.” And then maybe as we go into these things that we want to do, that they would say, “Okay you guys do that,” then things that we want them to do. You know, just kind of feeling it out? Just trying to understand “our way” instead of “the way.”
So you think for the time being you’ve done that, you’re pretty good with that. It’s not like you feel like you have to do more of those collaborations? You’ve had a chance to experiment for a while.
Well… I think we’re probably of the state of mind, anything that comes along if we think it’s interesting, we’ll do it. We didn’t really know what we were doing for this whole year. We didn’t really have a grand plan that was all going to come together on Record Store Day. That only really started to seem possible, once we were able to collect the last batch of groups, the artist that we had. So I don’t know. I don’t really have a plan, other than I know we already have a record that’s going to come out in January that we already recorded and we think is pretty well finished, and all that, I didn’t think we knew we were going to do that either. These things kind of happen. As you’re in the middle of doing shit, I think sometimes you get very lucky that music erupts and things are inspired or whatever. I don’t know. We started to hear this other way of making music that was interesting and new to us, so we went with it.
So your next album is already finished?
It is. I mean I don’t believe that we want to change our minds about it. There’s part of us, we’re the worst procrastinators and we change our minds all the time. We wanted to kind of just do it. It’s only because we stumbled upon five or six things that were kind of magical, that we weren’t intending to do, and then we went ahead and focused and said, “Let’s see if we can really capture this mood and this atmosphere. Let’s see if we can make a record.” I think we were in this thing all year where we were essentially doing singles. We weren’t really doing singles, but we were doing like three or four songs at a time. Part of it, was that we didn’t know if we were going away from the album, and then we started to make this other thing and it was very much a album. I feel like it’s almost better if you listen to all the songs together instead of just hearing one song. We think it’s very much a collection of songs. You listen to song number one and then listen to song number two and let it do it’s magic to you. I think that surprised us too. All along we’ve been thinking, “Maybe the album is dead? Who gives a shit?” and then here we are making what I think is very much an album.
You mention that there was a specific mood you were trying to capture with the new album. Can I inquire what that was?
The other writer in the band Steven [Drozd], we were lucky that were working so… I say frantic, I don’t want to make it seem like we didn’t know what we were doing. We were doing things in quite a hurry. We didn’t always know when music would come in. So sometimes we’d be working on a track say with Chris Martin, and then that afternoon we get another track back from Bon Iver and we would switch gears. But luckily we were working in two studios. So, one studio obviously mixing with our producer Dave Friedman, and other times another studio would be open and Steven would just record in there. And I know that he was…. We don’t have to talk about this too openly, but I know that he was struggling with yet another layer of a drug addiction that he’s since gotten over. We don’t need to talk about it, and I knew that he was finding very little comfort in music other than this very thin thread that was I think somehow related to this state of mind he was in. It sort of seemed like that every time I would go down there, there would be another version of this thing. Though it would be different, felt completely unique. Felt as though as he got this thin thread of something that’s able to work his consciousness through this pain or through this uncertainty or whatever it was. And it was bizarre to me. I thought, “What is this music? I don’t know what it is.” I don’t think we’ve heard this; we haven’t done this type of music before. I mean a lot of times our music is, I don’t know…. So driven by me. I think it would be very optimistic, and I was trying to see if we could make music more driven by Steven. By Steven’s creations anyway, even if it’s not him that’s driving it all the way. It would be driven by, his design of what the music could be, and I was lucky enough I would add things to do it as opposed to a lot of other times, it would be my creation and he would add things to it. I think we’re always working at a little bit of a 60/40 percent sort of thing. But I encouraged him to stay on this thread and think, “Funnily Steve we can get another two or three tracks in this way.” We came back from home from the studio and convened for about four or five days, we got a really, really great four or five days I felt like we really were able to crystallize what we thought this stuff was. That turned into I think seven or eight songs. We had some other things that we did that pushed them along, and before we knew it we had nine songs and a lot of great things in the middle. “Fuck, this sounds like a record.” It doesn’t like any record that we’ve ever done. To me, I would almost venture to say it’s the best Flaming Lips record we’ve ever made, because it’s so unique. I think stands in space and time as it’s own thing. I can’t think that there, for me there’s not an easy reference to music out there that you can say is like this.
That’s exciting. Does the album have a name?
The name is that we’re using so far is a little bit misleading. It’s called The Terror. There’s a specific mindset that we’re talking about when we talk about The Terror. When you hear the record it plays into this understated, but very intense thing that we’re calling The Terror. Exploring the terror of curiosity, the terror of living, the terror of love. All of these things that are a in certain state of mind, you have to embrace them, knowing that there is also the more intense the joy is, the more intense the pain is and you stand at the threshold and say, “Well do we go in the joy and also go in the pain? Or do we stand on the outside of it and not try?” That’s what we’re calling The Terror. What do we do now that we have this?
Are there any song titles that you can reveal right now?
The very first song on it is called, “Look the Sun is Rising,” and I think this hints at again this…. this thing. I think this is the first record we’ve ever made where I’ve done drugs. I don’t mean that in like a silly way. Previous to this I’ve really never done any kind of things where I felt like my mind and my outlook on the world had been changed so much by of the drugs I’d done. But in the past couple of years, since we made Embryonic, I think I’ve done other things, and thought it was kind of fun to have a different state of mind, instead of just grinding away in the same pattern I’ve been. Not my whole life, I’ve had a real dynamic life with changes anyway. I would think it’s the first really drug record for us, because it’s me on the drugs instead of Steven.
I know. I don’t know if that’s going to be good or not. Maybe that’s why I think it’s so good, because I’m fucked up. [Laughs] Not really, I don’t mean it that way. I just mean, that might be something that people notice, “That’s got a new twist to it.” Which was what we want. We’ve made 16 records. It’s just not important to us to make another Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Which I don’t think we could if we wanted to. That’s just not part of what we want.
You mention Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. You did a bunch of shows in the last year or two doing Dark Side of the Moon or The Soft Bulletin. Is there any chance you might try to do Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots in its entirety at a concert?
Yeah, we feel like it’s probably inevitable. Especially these things that are very popular in our catalog. It’s mostly because talking to the fans they say, “Wouldn’t this be great to the hear the songs in that order?” and that stuff is always a little bit of a commitment. As much as we like doing that, we don’t really think that records are that great in a performance. They’re meant to be something you listen to while you’re sitting on a couch or driving in a car when your friends are there, and a performance is meant to be full bore pay attention to every moment, blam, blam, blam, dynamic thing. But, I also allow that it doesn’t have to be the greatest, most seamless thing ever. I think sometimes, “This can’t be that.” But that’s fine. We’ve done music and done things for a long, long time. So I don’t always feel like, “If it’s not going to be the greatest thing ever I don’t want to be involved.” There’s a little bit of that, yeah.
Last night you tweeted a few things, video clips of recording sessions. One was of Linear Downfall doing “21st Century Schizoid Man” and the other one was Stardeath and the White Dwarves doing “In the Court of the Crimson King.” Like you did with Dark Side of the Moon, are you doing a cover album of In the Court of the Crimson King?
Well while we were on tour at the end of last week, we started winding down the things we were doing, and these four groups Stardeath and the White Dwarves, Linear Downfall, New Fumes a friend of ours from Texas and a new group that’s formed in Memphis, called Space Face, were all putting together this little mini psychedelic tour, where they rolled to these five or six cities and all played together. Linear Downfall when they were in my studio about six months ago and done a version of “21st Century Schizoid Man,” and we hinted around that we should just do the whole record kind of like we did with Dark Side of the Moon, with a variety of groups. This started to happen, I thought, “Why don’t we do it with these groups? All these groups are good and they can all add something to it, and they all like that record.” Yeah, that’s exactly what’s happening. There’s only five songs on the record so it’s not an inconceivable amount of material. I think part of the next couple of things we’ll have some from New Fumes and Space Face as well. I can’t wait. I don’t really know how we’re going to do it. You know, we’ll probably somehow put this out on Soundcloud and a couple of things where you can just have it. I don’t really know yet. It’s interesting, I get so many groups coming through my studio, and sometimes, obviously they’re doing their own music, finding their own path, but I’m going to try every time someone comes in to try to capture yet another type of record. That we can use as maybe a compilation, “Here’s these groups all doing,” I don’t know, “doing a Radiohead album.” Just another layer of saying, “Music is interesting.” When other people do interesting music that’s not even their own, it becomes… yeah. The way that we did that Pink Floyd record was just so off the cuff and so fun and spontaneous. I think that’s why it turned out so good. I try to do that with these groups, instead of thinking, “You’ve gotta make this perfect. Just fucking do it and let’s see what happens.”
Last question. What are you up to with Ke$ha right now?
Well… we did a series of sessions, even though it looks like I’m with her all the time, I’ve only really had two days with her. She has such an insane schedule because she’s about finished with her record, and they’ve got a pretty intense production thing going, and Kesha’s involvement with us, I think is a way of her seeing what she’s going to do next, instead of what she’s doing right now. And I’m not speaking for her, I’m just speaking what I think could be her mindset. I think the way that she’s into this production with Dr. Luke which everybody knows is as successful as anything has ever been. I think she wants that to work, but she’s also exploring other ways, “How can I make other music?” and still other ways to work with The Flaming Lips and myself, write songs together and see what comes of it. I think at the moment, I think there’s one pretty stellar track. It’s her song, but where we’ve done some production. I think on the 21st of this month we’re going in with Ben Folds, between us all we’re coming up with a giant string arrangement that’s going to go on that, we’re going to record that.
What’s the name of that stellar song?
It is called, I think at the moment it’s called “Past Life.”
All photos by Adam Baker