Since 1983, The Flaming Lips have wowed fans with their psychedelic rock songs that swirl heads with clever, unusual, and intriguing lyrics. From giant pink robots and inflatable unicorns to mountains of colorful confetti raining down, their live shows are mind-melding journeys that unite band and audience for a sonically-driven, senses-stimulating extravaganza.
Wayne Coyne took over the lead vocal duties after the band’s first year in action, when his brother Mark decided to call it quits. Since then, the band has released 14 studio albums, a holiday soundtrack, and numerous recordings with pals, from Henry Rollins to Miley Cyrus.
The band is touring in support of their latest release, Oczy Mlody, and stopping in downtown Phoenix for a show on Thursday, October 5, at Comerica Theatre. We chatted with frontman Coyne about things he and Miley gab about, what happens when you cover Pink Floyd, and how much the band loves its fans.
Phoenix New Times: What’s going on, Wayne Coyne?
Wayne Coyne: I'm sitting in my car at my house, in my driveway — my car acts like a giant phone charger. My house sometimes is so busy, this is the quietest place I can be. We just got through rehearsing and the guys are packing up all the gear that we have to fly with tomorrow. There's dogs in the house. My car is like a private little space. Luckily, it’s the best Wi-Fi spot in the house, too.
Doing what you do for so long now, how do you feel about interviews?
I just approach each one like this is the first time I'm talking to you, specifically, and it's gonna be great. I don't think of it how some people do — they get tired of answering the same questions. Any questions you ask me today, I’ve never had asked by you before, so you don’t know the answer of if I’ve already been asked it 20 times. I like that I get to consider what am I gonna say about this thing. You'd be surprised — the thing I may have said about something a month may change after I've done 100 interviews. I'll finally say something fucking amazing about something I’ve been chatting about little by little, which makes me think about it.
Every time is another chance to work through your own feelings about something.
Yeah, and I always try to remind people that articulating is different. It's a mechanism; it's not like thinking or writing, 'cause both of those things can stay slightly internal and this thing that I'm doing now, trying not to think about it, talking faster than you're actually thinking about it. The talking is racing ahead of what you're actually going to say. Sometimes you say something so amazing you must stop and say, “Oh shit, wow, you're right, that was cool,” to yourself. Miley and I talk about that a lot.
Of course, you mean your pal and collaborator Miley Cyrus?
Yeah. She's the same as me, she'll do 100 interviews and get to talk about her music or something she’s doing and then something she says hits her. She’s told me, “Man, I will just something blurt out the coolest shit that I didn't even know I was gonna say.” The person — the interviewer — you're talking to is gonna help you say these things, too. For me though, I think I've done it for so long with the Flaming Lips, and unlike Miley, I'm never talking to people that don't like my music. No one is ever trying to put me down. Most of the people I talk to are fans.
Yeah, she certainly generates a range of opinions. So, that was an interesting union with your band and Miley. Do you think it was weird for fans on either side?
Flaming Lips fans fall into about three categories. There’s the very open-minded wonderful fans that love all music; they dig us and Miley. Then, there’s another category of diehard Lips fans that probably, at some point in time, may have seen the relationship as some kind of blasphemy. And there’s probably a group of people who don’t even think about it at all — people who don’t know that much about either of us and think the music is just all-right. You know, there’s always people that have a hard time with things. We did that Pink Floyd cover album — that’s when you get the people that want to come to your house and kill you. [laughs]
Don't fuck with Floyd fans!
Yeah, they get so riled up about it. And Miley she brings that out in people, too.
She seems like she has a good constitution for handling the haters.
Totally. She absolutely does. And though she's sensitive and all that, she's strong. Especially if people really, really jump on her — she laughs. She remembers how absurd it is and wonders why they care so much. It's easy for us to say that if you don't like us, don't listen to our music and don't follow us on social media and don't come to the shows, it makes perfect sense but a lot of people love to stick around to be hateful. Their favorite thing is to show up and tell you they hate you. What can you do?
Do you get involved in a lot of social media activity?
Not a lot. The reason the Flaming Lips use it is because I [and we] get to do my music, my art, and live my life because of our audience. I live a very privileged life. I wouldn’t have my life it wasn’t for them. I live a very privileged life. I get to do my music, my art, live my life because of the FL audience. It’s like when people own stock in a company — I'm answering to them every day. I get up and remember that you guys allow me to do this and I do as much as I can every day and I show people, here's what I'm working on or here's how an idea is going. In the beginning of working on a song, we can share recordings. That's my justification of it, and a lot of it is a chance to show us being silly. Show what we're eating, things like that. The audience has given me this great life and I feel obligated to not waste it. I'm not just sitting here doing nothing. I'm using this energy and freedom to make another cool Flaming Lips thing.
Over the years, your live shows have gotten progressively more theatrical and visually magical. What is this tour going to look like?
Well, I think it's gonna be the most spectacular thing we've ever done. It's all an evolution to us, it's rare that we ever do less. I think the word maximalist, as opposed to minimalist, has applied to us for a little while and because we play a lot, we are always working on honing it. We're able to do more and more and more.
Yes, your different props and setups have proven that!
Sometimes we have so much smoke and confetti and shit flying around, I think people wonder how we can play with all that happening. And if you did just walk in and it was the first time you've seen us, it would overwhelm you. We've just done it for so long and want it to work, so little by little, we add more. It doesn't interfere with the music, it just makes it better. It really does wake people up. We want that adrenaline to be flowing in them, so everything is a little more saturated, it's more emotional, it's louder, it's more fun, it's more intense and that's why we are doing that. We want both us and the audience to feel all of that. We all want to be on the same level and so we immediately go to blammo — let's get jacked up here!
It's a great immersive experience. What new eye-candy might we see?
About a month ago, we got this 20-foot-tall inflatable pink robot so when we do “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,” this giant thing blows up behind me. The first time we did it was at a very windy, rainy day. We were playing an outdoor festival, but we figured we’d try it anyway. They blew it up and because of the wind, the crew thought it'd blow over and knock us out, so two crew members got behind the legs and blew it up at the back of the stage.
They pushed it from behind to move it forward, and the way it ended up looking was like this giant inflatable robot was stomping around trying to crush people. I was talking to people after the show and they loved it, they were saying things like a “Damn, that mechanical fucking robot is crazy!” It's marvelous and it's another little thing that's unique that we had made for our show. It's these little novelties that make the song better, ridiculous on one hand, but better. It makes it memorable. It's not about the music, it's about what the music is doing. We like that.
You’re bringing the songs to live through a multisensory overload.
We are. The secret that people don't realize about why Flaming Lips is that I'm not really the master musician. I'm the guy that gets to stand up there and sing and sort of dictate what's going on. Steven [Drozd], he is a master musician, he absolutely loves KISS from when he was a little kid, and he always dreamed of dressing up and shooting fire and doing crazy shit and so I think a lot of people think it's all me that wants all these extras and effects but that's not it at all. It’s Steven! [laughs] We all love it.
We're all horribly insecure about just standing there and we'd rather be in some giant costumes and have things floating around. Then we feel comfortable like, people aren’t just watching us, they’re watching a show, and we’ll gladly do that show! You know, Beyonce can just show up; even if she didn't sing any songs, she's Beyonce and that's great. We don't like the idea that you're coming to look at us and you’re coming to be with us. We are just the ones who do these songs, it doesn't matter who we are, if that makes sense. That helps us feel more confident and brave about it. We're all extroverts who want to be left alone and do our music and not be out there showing off so much. All this stuff allows us to look like we're putting on a show even though we're scared of the whole thing.
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What do you think some misconceptions about the band are?
I’m sure to some people it looks like we’re not taking the music seriously, and that’s not true at all. We take it as seriously as you can. The oath we keep to ourselves is that we have to do what we love, even if we don’t know how much the audience will love it. And we have an audience that we feel tells us “Do your thing,” “Don’t fuckin’ sell out,” “Don’t be scared.” They’re saying, “We believe in you,” so we listen to them. We want to entertain people and we like being entertained. We love visually interesting experiences. Back in the day when we’d see bands like Black Flag or the Butthole Surfers, it was exciting being part of the whole intense experience as much as it is watching them play.
Oh yes, Butthole Surfers generally offer much to behold!
Yes, if you were there and saw how utterly chaotic and imaginative, it shocked you out of your reality. We played shows together around that time and we were both fascinated by them and scared [laughs]. That had a big influence on us. We loved that, how they'd be just these regular dudes backstage and then hit the stage and become these totally menacing characters.
Yeah, no matter how normal or weird, it’s the sincerity that drives it home. Your fans know they’re getting the real deal, and the real weird deal!
Thanks! When you see performers that are sincere, it’s very evident. Fuck, there's a million bad experiences that turn you off, but then you see those things that you know are from bands’ hearts and minds, and that means everything.
The Flaming Lips are scheduled to perform at 7 p.m. on October 5 at Comerica Theatre, 400 West Washington Street. Tickets are $40 to $50. Call 602-379- 2800 or visit www.comericatheatre.com.