The psychedelic and theatrical harmony of The Flaming Lips has stood the test of time. Since forming in Oklahoma City 30 years ago the band has bridged the generations by appealing to everyone from the counterculture of the past to the rave-heavy subculture of today.
It seems fitting then, that the Flaming Lips are headlining the True Music Festival at Salt River Fields on Saturday, an event aiming for exactly what Flaming Lips has excelled at for three decades: uniting diverse groups through music.
Prior to their headlining performance at the inaugural True Music Festival, Up on the Sun spoke with Flaming Lips musician Steven Drozd about their new album, the TMF experience, never slowing down creatively, and making "freaky" music with Ke$ha.
What keeps the band so productive? I think we're actually doing more now than we were 10 years ago. We use to make a record then tour for a while, then stop for a few months and start over again. The last few years we don't stop ever. I think part of that is how technology makes it so easy. It used to be you'd go to a recording studio and you record some stuff, and then wait around for a couple of days. Now, everything happens so quickly that we're constantly doing stuff. We're either in the studio or on the road working on stuff or I'm at my house doing stuff.
I don't know why we do that. I think Wayne [Coyne] is hell-bent on not getting lazy or complacent. He always wants to do shit. If it was up to me, I'd say "let's take six months off and do nothing," but he's good at driving us to do more stuff. Maybe we do it to prove to the young punks out there to not write us off just yet. [Laughs]
How do you feel about the fan and critic reception of your new album, The Terror? I was happy with everything. It's one of my favorite that we've done, ever; certainly my favorite in many years. Critically, everyone had the same thing to say that it was this dark record. That was probably because Wayne said that in the beginning, but I don't think some people listened to it on their own terms. It was already perceived as a heavy dark record, and if you didn't like that kind of music then you wouldn't like the record. So, I feel like it wasn't really given a fair shot in some ways. I think a lot of our fans that love The Flaming Lips and listen deeply to our stuff seem to love the record.
What is your favorite track on the album? I haven't listened to it in a couple of months now. I think my favorite song on there, and it has been for a while, is "The Terror". I really like that track a lot. That song was almost like an accident. Whatever we did on that; the combination of the voices and the drum machine and the creepy choir keyboards, I think we got something kind of special with it.
With so many songs in The Flaming Lips catalog, do you have a favorite one to play live? Well, it changes all the time, because we change our set on a fairly regular basis. It's been really fun to play "The W.A.N.D." lately, and we play "Do You Realize" every night. But I'd have to pick "The W.A.N.D." right now. I play guitar on that one and it's a heavy kind of rock tune.
It was 10 years ago now that you won your first of three Grammy awards. Did that change your career from that point on? I guess it did in some ways. The easy answer would be, "it didn't change us." But I think even in little ways of stuff, like my dad--he's always been a fan of me, but he's always secretly been like, "what's he doing in this band?" When we won that Grammy, to him it almost legitimized us to him. [Laughs] I don't know if it really changed things for us, but I think it did change a lot of people's perception of the validity of the band.
Even the squares in Oklahoma City start to look at us differently. That's just one of those standards for people who don't know anything about music, but if you've won a Grammy they think, "Oh, well then they must be good." In some ways I think it's just bullshit--not in all ways, but some. I think it did open up a few doors for us that may not have otherwise opened, because people view you in a different light. It definitely helped us; it didn't hurt.
For the True Music Festival, what can fans expect? We're not doing the costumes right now, and Wayne has retired the space bubble, for at least right now. Now other people are doing it, so he felt like it was time to hang it up. When Sugarland is doing it, then it's time to quit.
It's a very visual show, and has a very intense light show. It's kind of a darker atmosphere-- it's still a party atmosphere. [For instance] we still have confetti, but now it's black confetti, and it's red lights now. We're trying to change the light show for the songs we're playing off of the new record. It will definitely be a very intense, visual show.
Does the band aim for perfection or imperfection in your live show? I worry too much about the music, when in some ways it doesn't really matter. I think if you're just trying to get the maximum exchange of energy between you and the audience, and you're trying to be technically perfect, [then] it's not going to work out.
I try to get caught up in the energy of the whole thing instead of worrying about a bum note. It's hard for me to do that, since I'm a musician and have been playing music since I was a little kid when it was frowned upon if you played a bad note. I think we've all come around to where we really try to just focus on the energy between the crowd and the band to take us to some higher plane. I would say we strive for imperfection of performance, but perfection of audience enjoyment.
Do you keep any projects on the side going? I usually have a couple of things going, but not so much right now. We just finished an EP of the new music that [came out on] a movie called Ender's Game. We're touring, plus I'm in the process of moving my family across town. In the spring, Wayne and I are talking about a band we would like to get going called the Electric Worms.
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Are you doing a collaboration album with Ke$ha? Yeah, but that's kind of been put on hold for the moment. I think that will start happening again in early spring. It started when Wayne tweeted something to her a couple of years ago, and she tweeted back to him and he was surprised. I think he was just trying to call her bluff by telling her to come to the studio and record stuff together.
Then she said she'd do it, so we ended up going into the studio with her and she's really great. She works really hard and is talented. I think she wants to do some freaky music, and she thinks we can help her do that, so we want to do that with her.
The Flaming Lips have been described as creating Space Opera music, what is that and do you agree or disagree? Space Opera, hmmm, well whatever that is, that sounds like something we'd be way into, yeah. It sounds like some music critic made up a term to describe our music. I like the way it sounds, because there are some elements of our music that are very dramatic, like opera music.
Then, I can see the connection to space, since The Flaming Lips have been singing about space for over 20 years now. I can see how it would be thrown together. I would say we are the leading lights of Space Opera music.