Interview: Wayne Coyne (of The Flaming Lips)

on June 09, 2011, 10:15am
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2011 06june 06 waynecoyne 260x260 Interview: Wayne Coyne (of The Flaming Lips)The Flaming Lips have been ruling festivals for at least the last two years now, and while one might think that the band could get sick of delivering the spectacles they call their live show day in and out, just 20 minutes with the Lips’ charismatic frontman Wayne Coyne is a pleasant reminder that every day is an adventure for the band, which has now been around for the better part of three decades.

CoS recently caught up with the 50-year-old Oklahoma native and hit upon topics like the band’s upcoming appearance at Moogfest, being a Twitter-powered Flaming Lips news outlet, and what kind of surprises they have in store for their fans (a potential Nick Cave collab included). He also told us when we can finally get our hands on the Soft Bulletin live album, and we even got him to talk about that gummy fetus.

Despite fronting one of the most popular bands of our generation, Coyne took his time to thoughtfully answer every question with focus and earnest, which is impressive considering he found time to complete this psychedelic doodle while we were on the phone.

Hey Wayne. How’s it going?

Hey Ray. I am just getting in some hotel outside of the Newark airport. We have a couple more hours; then we fly to Dublin! We’ll be out of the country until Sunday.

It’s safe to say that you guys pretty much rule the festival circuit, but where do you go from here, performance wise? Even with a stage spectacle like yours, audiences sometimes get spoiled and always want more. How do you continue to connect with audiences after you’ve already done all this awesome stuff?

I really don’t know. I try not to worry about it that way. Sometimes it’s really so easy to be there and be in the moment, and frankly if the audience likes you and you’ve even tried at all, it seems like it always works. The forces of the world approach and you go out there and try to make a product that you like. I don’t know. I think we have a fucking cool audience that has a good attitude about things.

gummy fetus Interview: Wayne Coyne (of The Flaming Lips)You mentioned that force of the world, and I’d like to know where it’s pulling the band lately. Can you confirm or deny the fetus gummy? I know it’s controversial…

(Laughs) Well, I’m hoping it’s controversial, and until I have the fetuses and can send them out, I wouldn’t say for sure. It is just some gummy, so I like how it gained some importance there.

We like doing different sorts of things. We love doing this sort of stuff. I wish we could have done things like this all along. It’s the perfect time to do all of this. I mean, all of this music that we’re putting out essentially becomes available for free automatically.

I think people want a reason to own something. You know, I’m not saying that owning a CD is still not worth it – I still own CDs. But I forget now because it becomes such a habit to transfer it to your iPod. I like that there is an experience involved in having the music and getting the music, and carrying it around.

So it’s the physical connection with a band in a world where an album can accidentally leak and be placed on thousands of hard drives in no time.

Totally, and speaking of that – the last Radiohead record. I remember that it was leaked early or whatever, and you know, I got home and we downloaded it and listened to it, but I don’t think that it ever crossed anybody’s mind that “Hey, we’re gonna buy it.” We just wanted to hear it, we did, and that was the end of it.

There’s another form of the experience connected to having the music. It’s something that’s interesting. I don’t want to hassle people. I don’t want them to be like “Oh, I have to get this stupid gummy thing before I can get to the music.” I think it’s made for people who like this sort of thing. You know, it’s not for everybody. Especially something like the gummy skull – it’s $150 dollars. Some people just simply don’t have the money, which is something I can understand. I mean if you want the music, the music is virtually almost always available. But if you want these things, these things are, you know, strange art objects, and they cost some money. Some of them, like the 12” singles, they’re not that much, and others are more useful if you’re a weird collector.

lips 7 Interview: Wayne Coyne (of The Flaming Lips)

The Flaming Lips perform The Soft Bulletin at Sasquatch ’11 // Photo by Heather Kaplan

Yeah, this is life. Not everybody can just up and buy a plane ticket to go to a music festival like Primavera whenever they want. You get what you can and you have to be happy with what you have.

(Laughs) Yeah, exactly. That’s the simple truth.

We’re talking about material things right now, and I don’t want to get too far away from that, but you’re going to play Moogfest in October. I know you’ve said that you’re not a very good musician, but you have to remember your first Moog?

Um, we love the idea that there is this festival celebrating Robert Moog’s way of being. I don’t remember if we ever really owned a Moog back in the day. I mean I remember seeing ads in my brother’s old Rolling Stone magazine. You know, you have to remember that synthesizers and funky old keyboards, they’ve recently become more…you know everybody has these things now. Back in the day, they were [more] expensive.

I can’t remember. I mean we have so much junk now. I don’t know specifically, so I don’t know if I can help you in this area.

Feature photo by Heather Kaplan.

flaming2 260x234 Interview: Wayne Coyne (of The Flaming Lips)Does putting together the live album seem blasé when you hold it next to the gummy skulls, sweet vinyl, etc.?

No, no. You know, we’re kind of releasing it special for that cemetery show. You can only get it by buying a special ticket, so it wasn’t as if we ever felt like we need to release The Soft Bulletin: Live. It was in conjunction with these special shows, and in that way we really didn’t think about it that much.

But I think that when we originally recorded The Soft Bulletin, I don’t think that we ever imagined that we could play it live. I mean, it was like the Beach Boys doing Pet Sounds. It was a studio creation. We could never really play it. But as the years have gone by, we’ve really just figured out that “‘Well, here’s how we can play this, play that.”

We became less precious about the exact sound. You know, we made The Soft Bulletin using all this big orchestration. You know, sort of organic, epic sounds. That was what the record was about – a bunch of things going on. We don’t have to repeat those exact sounds, and it still evokes the same sort of momentum and inertia as the record goes along.

How does it feel to be your own Flaming Lips news outlet, thanks to Twitter? It seems like I get all my Lips news through your feed. Do you ever feel any pressure to keep up fans up to date through Twitter?

No, I wouldn’t say it’s pressure. I would say that it’s more about remembering that you have the cool opportunity to say something, you know? I mean, I caught a lot of flack the other night when we saw that puppy get run over. It was horrible, but I try to remain like, this is just happening. I’m not doing it to shock you, I’m just doing it to say “This is what happened to us.” It was a moment in our lives, and we took a picture of it, and it fucked with us.

flaming lips gummy 260x260 Interview: Wayne Coyne (of The Flaming Lips)

Then you found a frog a little bit later.

And then I found a frog two hours later [laughs].

This is just life, and this is how it is.

And I agree, and I can’t remember who I was reading about. I was reading an article in some local thing where they were talking about something, and they didn’t actually talk to the person. But they were doing like you did, and said “Well, according to their Twitter..,” and I was like “Wow, people could know what we’re doing without having to interview us,” and to me it was the best thing I ever read.

Like I’m going to Dublin to play this show, and I might run into whatever bands are playing, and we might think we’re going to do a collaboration, and in real time – after reading six or seven of my tweets – people can go, “I know what’s going on with Wayne and the fellas.” That changed everything for me. People can see the process and see how we do things, and how some things don’t work out, and how some things are a surprise.

To me, that’s why it’s so interesting. The idea that we would try to market our music or activities to an audience. We don’t do that. We’re just making this shit. If you could see how we make it– I mean, I’m not saying it makes it fantastical, but it makes it more real, and when things are fantastical, you go “Wow, I saw that thing develop.” It’s more interesting that way, and that part of it, for me, I hope it never ends. I hope it remains interesting, and I hope people remain interested in it forever.

I’m not sure that interest in your band will drop. It seems like everyone always wants to know what’s coming next from you guys. It’s not like the old days when bands had to plan their releases a year in advance.  You guys can come up with an idea and have it out within weeks.

Yeah, I mean, I don’t know if every group could, but I think we can. And of course if we were just putting these things out online it would be more simple – you could just put it out there. But to organize these big 12” records, and you know to organize all these collaborations, and the gummy skulls, and all the other stuff that we’re doing, there’s a lot of stuff that you have to do, and that’s why I’ve been showing everybody the process of this stompbox that we’re making.

We want to do it, and we think we can, but you run into difficulties, and sometimes you make progress and it’s surprising.  Some days it looks like it’s really gonna be great.

2011 06june lipsstompbox Interview: Wayne Coyne (of The Flaming Lips)

Yeah, there are a lot of knobs on that thing. It looks like it’s gonna be complicated.

[Laughs] Well…I’m not sure what all of them do. I remember we kept over-designing it like three months ago. I’m not sure. I love all those fragile little wires on the bottom of that thing. And we’re kind of designing it…you know, this isn’t gonna be a stompbox that is going to be predictable. I mean, it’s going to get fucked up. Those wires, they’re the most fragile fucking wires that you could ever buy, and they’re gonna get fucked up, and where it plugs in is gonna get fucked up.

I think everybody’s box, everybody who gets ones, the effects that you actually use will be different. Because it will also be a vehicle that allows you to play our songs. It’s a strange device. But it’ll get fucked up. There’s a couple of knobs on there – and it’s designed this way – if you keep turning them the wrong way, or turn them in conjunction, if you turn them a certain way, it’ll fuck ‘em up. I’m not saying it’ll ruin the whole thing, but it’s made to be a kind of a Tetris, electronic gadget, you know, and you’re not really sure what’s gonna happen.

lips 21 Interview: Wayne Coyne (of The Flaming Lips)You won’t ruin your computers or guitars or anything, but yeah, it’s meant to have a mind of its own. I can say for sure, those ideas come from some of the boxes I have at my house, but [long-time Flaming Lips producer] Dave Friddman is the master of that. Up at the studio, he has all kinds of little gadgets that– the reason he has them and keeps them is because they’re broke. They’re broke and they do something spectacular that no other machine would ever do. And the reason it’s doing that is because it’s broke.

You know, there’s a compressor. It’s an expensive, old compressor that Dave uses. He’s used it since he started his studio. And it’s broke, and it’s fucked up, but he uses it on virtually every record, and he knows what he likes. Someone came in and wanted to fix it, and he’s like “Don’t fuck that up – it’s doing something uniquely fantastic.” Because it’s broke.

So we’re embracing this mentality, and we also know there’s thousands of stompboxes being made everyday by people who actually know what they’re doing, so we’re not saying that our stompboxes are superior. We’re just saying that our stompboxes are objects, like us. We’re making it to be a Flaming Lips thing. Some of them are gonna be better than we can ever make them, and some of them are going to be a mess, but I think they’ll all be worthy of having for sure.

That’s awesome. Do you know how many you’re planning on producing?

George said yesterday, since they’re going to be doing all the soldering themselves, that he was hoping that it would be limited to like 200 or something like that. I don’t think that it’ll be cheap; this will probably be another hundred dollar item or something like that. But I don’t know. We’re not really making it to make a bunch of money and spread it around the world. I think that the idea that we put out something every month is already overwhelming – I mean, it’s too much shit to keep up with already.

And we know that we’re gonna compile it all next February or March, and I want people to know that too. I don’t want them to think, “Well if I don’t get it now, then I’m never going to get it.” But some of these things will never be available again, and I think the stompbox will probably be like that – once we make them. I don’t imagine that we’re gonna go out there and remake and remake them. It will be unique.

I think we’ll probably continue to do this type of stuff – I don’t know if we’d continue to do this a release every month – but the more I’m doing it now, the more I see that I can find a lot of ways to do things if I wasn’t restricted to doing something every month. Running and scrambling to do these things, but I have to say it’s really a joy to be in such a panic all the time. To be forced, and to be always urged to make music, and to think, “Fuck. Who are we gonna do this with? Who’s available, and who can do it?”  I mean, I’m talking still with the guy from Lightning Bolt who are making a record themselves, and we’re still fucking with this collaboration. So it’s interesting. I talked to Nick Cave last week, I talked to the guys in No Age last week, I talked to Reggie Watts about doing some tracks.

2011 06june 06 coynecave Interview: Wayne Coyne (of The Flaming Lips)

You know, like most everybody I see who I think is doing something really interesting right now, I want to grab a moment of their creativity, their energy. I feed off of that. People that are into what they’re doing, and they have energy, they’re optimistic, it makes me that way. So I don’t wanna be around people who aren’t like that because I feed off of that as well. When I’m around people who aren’t interesting, they’re a bummer, and they naysay everything– that’s contagious too. I don’t like that.

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