Steven Drozd of the Flaming Lips talks Music, Maynard James Keenan, and the Flaming Lips

Steven Drozd (middle) with the rest of the Flaming Lips
Steven Drozd (middle) with the rest of the Flaming Lips

Being as how you're visiting Up on the Sun, a music blog, it's probably a pretty safe bet to assume that you like music. But, have you ever stopped and asked yourself the question: What is music? It's a pretty deep question and it also happens to be the subject of the documentary The Heart Is a Drum Machine.

Arizona filmmakers Christopher Pomerenke and Ryan Page, the duo behind the Maynard James Keenan wine making documentary Blood Into Wine, interviewed everyone from musicians, actors and scientists to find out what music is. The answer? Well, as it turns out everyone seems to have a different take on what exactly music is.

For a film about music it usually helps if the music featured in the film is good. For this task the film makers turned to the Flaming Lips' Steven Drozd to create the soundtrack. We recently caught up with Steven to talk about his take on what music means to him, the Flaming Lips, and more.

The film The Heart Is a Drum Machine is out now on DVD. You can see a trailer for the film after the break.

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Up on the Sun: The question that everyone was asked in the film was, "what is music?" How would you answer that question?

Steven Drozd: They talked about having me do a scene in the movie and we never got to but it's like I don't know where to start. No one really answers the question, I mean who could answer the question, you know. But I do feel like there is some deep...there must be some evolutionary primordial connection between vibration and rhythm and human beings. There's got to be.

Everything has rhythms to it, the rotation of the earth, the days, the hours of the day, everything. Life and death all have rhythm and stuff, so I think it's just something that has evolved over millions of years. I guess the complicated thing is how it affects people differently, like a melody could mean nothing to one person and make another person cry. I don't know, to say what is music, you can't really answer it in a quick sentence, I wish I knew a good answer.

There's some connection with hearing and like I said, vibrations, and how our bodies react to it. I wish I knew what it all meant. I'm not a spiritual person but I feel like there is some deep, deep connection between rhythm and vibrations and human beings. Not just human beings but all animals, all living things and then we've just evolved and progressed over the last several million years and music itself in the last one thousand years.

Where it came from and where it is now. So it's a pretty incredible thing really. I thought it was a pretty gargantuan task for them to try to pin it down in an eighty-minute, ninety-minute documentary.

UOTS: As a musician does music have a special meaning for you?

SD: Yeah, I think I'm probably more sensitive to it than most people. I think for most people, you go into a Walgreens or something there is music playing they just block it out or tune it out. It can actually put me in a better mood or put me in a worse mood depending on what's going on so I'm probably a little more sensitive than most people.

As I'm sure most music people or musicians are. And again, like I said, melody can make me cry, all those hokey things. I've been playing music all my life so I'm kinda trained to hear it and listen to it.

UOTS: How did you get involved with making the soundtrack?

SD: I think Ryan and Christopher, the guys that did the film basically, I know they're long time Flaming Lips fans and they sent me an e-mail. This would've been towards the end of 2007, before they started shooting anything, they sent me an e-mail and said, "we're working on this project and we don't have a lot of money but would you be interested in doing some music for it or sending us a couple of pieces of music based on what we tell you about the film and we can go from there?" And I was excited from the get go.

And they sent me an e-mail with the basic idea of what they were going to try to do with the film and I quickly did a couple of pieces of music in my little home studio. I sketched out some ideas and recorded them very quickly and I sent it to them and they liked what I did from the very beginning.

The very first thing I sent to them, I think it's the first track on the disc, it's called "Born," and it just went from there. They said they loved it and they wanted to use it for the film. I used that song and based everything else I did based on some of the sounds in that song. If you listen to the whole soundtrack a couple of songs seem like they don't fit with the rest of them but for the most part they all kind of uniformly kind of sound like the same trip I think.

And it just kind of went from there, they would shoot some stuff and send me a little scene and show me what they were doing and say, 'oh I should try to do a piece of music for this scene.' Not everything worked out like I thought it would but it worked even better in some ways. I think I finished all the music for it by late spring '08 and it was just done and it was up to them to finish the film and put the music where they want it. It was really just a lot of fun; I'd like to do something like that again in the future.


UOTS: What was the biggest different for you in working on this soundtrack vs. something for the Flaming Lips?

SD: Well everything with the Flaming Lips has to go through the Flaming Lips filter, that would be like Wayne [Coyne] and if we're working with Dave Fridmann, we all work together on that stuff. If I bring in something that nobody else likes we're just not going to use it or we just keep tweaking it until it becomes something we can use it as a group.

Whereas the stuff that I did for Christopher and Ryan it was really, I would send them something and they would say, 'oh, we love it' or they'd say 'well, we're not sure if we're going to use it.' And that was it, that would be the end of the track, it's not like I'd have to endlessly go back and forth tweaking stuff. It was like things either worked for them or they didn't work and I would just move on and for me that was great. I think a lot of the tracks are just literally first takes of ideas that I had that I just quickly put down and sent to them and they just used them.

That was a different way for me to work which was great. It was just me trying to please myself and do what I thought was the criteria for what they needed for the film and then it would just go them and they'd use it or not.

UOTS: One of the more interesting tracks on the album is the cover of "Rocket Man" from Maynard. How did that track come about?

SD: It's actually a pretty good story because they were interviewing Maynard for the music documentary but they then they were also doing...I think they did a documentary about him and his wine making. And they were out at his ranch in Arizona and they told him that I was doing the music for the film and he said, "oh, you know, Tool and the Flaming Lips toured years and years ago and me and Steven use to do a version of "Border Song" by Elton John. We should do that for the film." But he was wrong it wasn't "Border Song," we never played "Border Song,"

I love Elton John but I don't really like that song, it was "Rocket Man." If we were playing somewhere and they had a grand piano there in the auditorium or in the concert hall I was always dicking around on them back then and then Maynard would come over and we'd sing a couple of songs of Elton John and other soft-rock '70s stuff.

So the other interesting part was that through e-mails and ichats and everything we communicated. We literally never got together once, we literally never spoke on the phone, it was literally through e-mail and iChat and all virtual. I did the basic tracks,

I sent him a basic mix of it, he imported it into his home studio, did all the vocals and he shipped all the vocals back to me individually and then I put 'em back in the mix and mixed the track and sent him a rough of it to see what he thought of it and we just back and forth over the course of six weeks. So eventually we came to a mix we all liked and Ryan and Christopher liked it and that's definitely one of the highlights for the whole thing for me. I really like that version a lot.


UOTS: You had mentioned this is something you'd like to do more of. Do you have any other projects lined up at the moment?

SD: I'm having Scott Booker, our manager, he's looking around for me right now. I've done a couple of movie score things, I worked on a film years ago with actor Adam Goldberg, he did a film called I Love Your Work, and I spent some time with him out in Los Angeles we watched some of his dailies and scenes and we'd score music together but that was really just me helping him sort of musically recording what he already had in his head it wasn't like I could claim they were my ideas musically, they were really his ideas and I was just helping him technically achieve them just being a musician and that sort of thing.

What I'd like to do is work on a film where I get to watch the scene and I get to create the music that goes with the scene. That's something I really like to do and our manager is putting some feelers out for me right now and maybe something will happen this year. It's something I really, really want to do. You know playing in the Lips and I've always got a couple of different things going on but that's definitely at the top of my list.

UOTS: Speaking of the Flaming Lips, I read recently that you guys are planning on releasing a new song each month this year.

SD: Yeah, we're right in the middle of that now trying to figure out how we're going to do it because I mean honestly making the music would be the easy part. I think all the other stuff that goes along with it is what Wayne and George Salisbury, who does all our video stuff and all our internet content stuff, they have to figure out.

You know we make the song, ok that's fine and then what gets attached to it? Is there a video that goes with it, is there commentary or interviews with the band? How is it exactly going to get released? So that's the thing they're trying to figure out right now. And then obviously musically were in discussion about how it's going to...musically what direction we might be going in.

Sometimes Wayne will just say something in an interview and then we have to make whatever he said a reality, that happens quite a bit. But it should be interesting. Any way to keep people interested in what you're putting out other than just getting the mp3 from somewhere. If we can continue to have people interested in what we're putting would be pretty incredible, because it's pretty hard to do these days. So we'll see how that goes.

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