Oyster #97: The Flaming Lips
Plus listen to The Flaming Lips and Erykah Badu's new track 'Now I Understand'.
For Oyster #97, we caught up with Wayne Coyne of inimitable band The Flaming Lips.
The Flaming Lips are quite an anomaly. They've been around for nearly three decades, despite having only one mainstream hit and that was the novelty song 'She Don't Use Jelly'. Equally adored by fans and critics, their live shows are near-mythical and they even have a street named after them in their hometown, Oklahoma City. Knowing that our friend Dave Rennick, co-frontman for Sydney band Dappled Cities, was a huge fan of the band, we decided we'd ask him to interview the Lips' lead singer, Wayne Coyne.
Dave Rennick: Hi! How're you doing?
Wayne Coyne: Good! You've got a bruise on your arm, man. What's happening there?
It's a mysterious bruise. It just appeared three days ago, but it was a lot worse before. What do you think?
It looks like you've got a Band-Aid on, or something.
It's a bit embarrassing.
I mean, it doesn't look like a drug thing?
No, it's not. I promise! So, I'm not a journalist. I'm a fraud, I was playing earlier.
So, you're a fraud?
Well, I'm a fraud journalist.
Oh well, good enough. What's your group?
Oh, I see. Did you play up over here [points to the main stage]?
Yeah, we played there! So, I wasn't nervous about meeting you, I mean, I'm a big fan ? but I am nervous about being a journalist? We'll just work through it.
Yeah, OK. No worries.
So, I was wondering, as a "musician" [makes air quotes]?
No, no being in a band, that gives you great insight into the things to talk about. A lot of groups don't talk about shit, you know?
Except that Oyster didn't want me to ask any questions about music?
Well, that could be boring.
But I'm going to, anyway. You've been in the band a long time, Flaming Lips, is it's almost?
I'm 50 years old. So, I've been in it since I was 22, and in The Flaming Lips that's a long time.
That's actually, as a musician, the most inspirational thing.
Well, thank you.
That's what I love about Flaming Lips like, the journey; the long journey.
Well, we don't think of it like that. I mean, we just thought we would last, like, a couple of months, and you always think that it's just gonna end at any time, but it just keeps going and it never ends.
Well, that's what I was wondering so, like, I've been in a band for ten years?
That's a good long time. Same group?
Yeah, yeah. When you were in a band for ten years, what were you thinking, at that time?
Well, you go, "Wow, ten years!" You know what I mean? If you're not just some egotistical idiot, you just think that there's no way it can succeed or be good, or if it is good, it's just an accident; or if people like you, it's just an accident. You're always just insecure about this being something you're going to make money with and do your whole life. There is just no way. Unless you're just like I said, you're just a fool and you think, "Fuck, I'm just the greatest thing ever," [laughs]. You know? I've run into other bands my whole life: even bands that are successful for a while, I run into them later and they're not successful.
And this idea that you think you're just gonna say, "Oh, we're gonna be a band forever and people are gonna love us" you know, nobody thinks that. I still run into Chris Martin from Coldplay, and he's still like, "I hope, I hope it works." Even the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and they have been around for 30 years.
Yeah. But then you've got to keep active that whole time, don't you?
You have to think that it's about ideas and about expression and all those things that are just impossible, you know? And I think that the audience can tell when you're not trying. But I think it's mostly luck. We are very lucky that we get to do this crazy shit and we have an audience.
Totally. You are lucky! How did you do it? You spun that, somehow [laughs].
No, it's true. I mean, it's a lot of work and everything, but a lot of people work hard and it doesn't always work, you know? And I think that sometimes you just get lucky, this thing that you do? people like it and you go, "Great!"
So, you don't have a day job?
No. I sometimes wish I did, because it would be a relief just to not have to? But I'm surrounded by people all the time that are just pushing us ? saying, "Wayne, we need to do this, we need to do that. We can do this in the morning, and that in the afternoon." Sometimes I work, like, 18 hours in the day ? do a song in the morning, do a video in the afternoon, we design a t-shirt?
Yeah! You have to, you know? You have to.
It sounds like so much fun.
It can be [laughs].
[Laughs] I mean, I get distracted by having to make money, of course.
No, no but that's all part of it. You know, if you're lucky enough to make money, you pay people and..
Exactly. I'm lucky I can be generous to people. It's cool.
With your show? I mean, Flaming Lips is just spectacular, obviously?
Yeah! well, we hope so!
Everything about it, from the recordings to the live show to the videos and whatever, but there is obviously a band under there.
Totally. It's all about music.
And it's just you guys jamming and that's what I love about it.
But is there, like, an HR element? Like, what happens in rehearsal? Are you guys still at the point where you have to learn songs?
Well, the band is a strange mixture. We have these master musicians; Steven is one of the top musicians of the world, you know what I mean? And Kliph is one of the top drummers in the world and [guitarist] Derek is our newest guy, he has been with us a couple of years now, They could play anything. They could play John Coltrane; they could play Thelonious Monk; they are so good. And then myself and [bassist] Michael, we are really, like, punk-rock musicians. We can't play shit, but we like to fuck around with sounds. And that combination of them being these master musicians and us being, like, these fuckin' total creative freaks, I think it's a good combination.
I get a lot of adrenaline - when I watched today, for instance, you did your collaboration with Lightning Bolt?
Fucking A! Yeah, it's cool.
Yeah, it's very cool - and it's almost horror, in a way; it's almost scary. Some of the imagery is so visceral?
Yeah, totally well, we're not restricted. We just do whatever we want.
Do you like getting that kind of reaction from people?
Yeah, totally! I mean, we never run into really scary people. If you like music and art then you're not really scary.
But yeah, I like the idea that there are no rules. There are no laws. If you can think of it and you can do it you should do it, you know? If no animals or people are hurt, fucking go for it [laughs].
So, what's the thing that you feel like you haven't done yet?
Well, people ask me that a lot. We always put ourselves out there as we want to be the first band that plays in outer space.
And I don't know if they'll ever finish this International Space Station. NASA is not a very stable workplace anymore ? we know a couple of people that work there, so we're always like, "Hey man, in fuckin' twelve years when that thing's finished, you've gotta shoot us up there with some equipment and we've gotta play a couple of songs."
That would be kind of cool.
That would be insane, yeah. I would fuckin'? I would hate it, but I would love it at the same time, you know?
You'd need months of training.
I know! I hate flying! It would just be fuckin' horrible, yeah to think you've got to go up there and shit in some bag and you've got an oxygen tank?
Richard Branson did that competition where he was giving away a free flight into space with Virgin?
Yeah, I know a lot of people that would do it. I wouldn't do it.
Well, the competition winner decided to take the bogey prize, which was free flights around the world for her entire life.
Well, that's fuckin' boring.
[Laughs] So, you would take the space flight?
Well, I wouldn't join the competition, but I would say one of my friends was going to go into space. I know so many people that would love that, it's insane.
Um? What else do you want me to ask you? What kind of car do you drive?
I have an electric car. One of those? is it a Toyota Prius? It's awesome. And I have a big pick-up truck, so I'm, like, the worst of both. I'm green on one side and the fuckin' biggest waster on the other.
Really? I guess that balances it out.
I know, but those trucks, man? I've got a whole lot of shit sometimes, and in Oklahoma it gets fuckin' hot so I use the air conditioner. Hey, I'm not proud of it, but what do you do [laughs]? But I'm lucky to have cars and things. Lots of people don't even have a car.
No. That's true.
So, how's your band coming along?
It's good. We just finished our fourth record; we've been kicking around for a while.
Good. You think it's gonna work out? You think this is what you're going to do?
Yeah, we're in for the long haul. The whole thing is a learning experience.
It is, yeah - if you're lucky.
I'm looking forward to a long career of songwriting.
Well, lucky for you! It looks like it's going your way if you've already made four records.
I guess so.
How old are you now?
Oh damn, man! You've got your whole life going!
Yeah, you too.
Well, yeah! I mean, I've already done my whole life. Now it's like extra for me.
[Laughs] Alright, excellent. It was a pleasure.
See ya, man.
Call it a coincidence or call it fate, The Flaming Lips have just released a collaborative track over the weekend with Erykah Badu, who we ALSO featured in Oyster #97. The track, 'Now I Understand', was released on The Flaming Lips' SoundCloud, where Coyne explains "life is beautiful. Music gets you high." The song, which samples both Apple's Siri software and Biz Markie backwards, will appear on the band's upcoming collaborative album, also featuring Nick Cave, Yoko Ono, Neon Indian, Bon Iver, Lykke Li and Ke$ha, set for release on April 21.
Interview: Dave Rennick
Photography: James Nelson