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Race for the Prize

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WC: It isn't a drive, because we always just do what we like. I'm always surprised that it comes across as more than what the next guy wants to do. I don't go out and gauge, oh, those guys are running three miles, we'll run 10! It is a lot of work, but I've done this a long time and I can organize people and money and schedules and stuff so it looks impressive if you've just got off work and come to the show. It'll look like we know what we're doing! And we've always worked hard at it.

Even back in the early days, we'd show up early and set up the lights and things. It just makes it a special night for everybody. In a way it's like vaudeville -- the Flaming Lips tradition, another form of the Greatest Show on Earth: if you saw us play two years ago, you must come back, because we're doing a different show.

We're not exclusively the only band that could do records like we've done. But I feel like not everybody could do it because it costs a lot of money to make; there's a big hassle to get it released, have distributors pick it up and have stores actually sell it. You don't realize how hard that is because these days there are so many records available. But we were able to do it. We simply pursued the ideas that we had at the time; it wasn't as though I thought, "Wouldn't it be perfect to put out a four-CD record, do this, do that." The "accidental career" is still happening. [laughing] It hasn't ended.

NT: If the Flaming Lips were a brand-new band, do you think you could get signed? Sometimes it seems like you slipped through the industry window just before it shut.

WC: Oh yeah! I say that exact thing to people -- "The door was shutting. Some people thought it was opening, but it was shutting. And shutting hard right behind us! And we got in, and I didn't realize what it was like until we got in there, how hard it is. We thought everybody was getting in with us. We barely got in, through our ignorance and bravery. We didn't know what was at stake. Then we got lucky, because "She Don't Use Jelly" sold a bunch of records, and we got on the Batman soundtrack. Just through truly arbitrary good luck, there are weeks that come up for bands that haven't sold any records. One of those weeks came up for us around the time of "She Don't Use Jelly." And we're always a week away from being dropped, then we'll sell a bunch of records and suddenly we're back on the A-list.

NT: How has Bulletin done so far, sales-wise? It's certainly getting the critical accolades.

WC: I think it's Sound Scanned 100,000 worldwide so far (Editor's Note: The Soft Bulletin is closing in on the 200,000 sales mark worldwide). And it's still fairly early. I think this record has some longevity to it, so it's not like it comes out and we have six weeks to make it with it or it stops. We can keep going out and playing this record. And we fully intend to give it the best shot we can. That's what you do: you put out a record and try to draw attention to it. The best way is to go out and perform the songs, and to go out and talk about the record. You just try little by little to gain an audience for your record. It's not unlike being a politician: you have to go out and get elected in some way. I just feel like if our record is important enough to me, then I'll go out and talk about it endlessly if I have to. We don't have a plan for another record right now; making Zaireeka and then Soft Bulletin sort of back-to-back, it was a long couple of years.

NT: While making The Soft Bulletin, was there ever a moment when you looked around the studio at the other guys and the light bulb went on: "Hey, I think we have something really special here!"

WC: No, it never occurred to us, and I don't think it ever can. I don't think we can ever be "in the audience" listening to one of our records -- we don't look at what we're doing and go, "Oh, this is unique." We simply try to do what we like, and that's the hardest part of making records, to actually know what you like and then do it. Ideas and all that are so nebulous in your mind, and to do something that's original and unique, that's an impossibility. If it ends up being unique and special, it really is a by-product of us pursuing our own trip, you know?

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Fred Mills

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