The Flaming Lips have their finger in a lot of different pies these days. Though the Oklahoman trio released its last studio album of originals, the double-disc “Embryonic,” last October, they’ve since released their own rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” digitally, soon out on CD.
Then there’s the series of odd, warped and sometimes off-color music videos behind the songs of “Embryonic,” which the rock group is continuously filming throughout the year.
They’ve announced festival headlining slots – Pitchfork, Coachella, Austin City Limits, the new Nateva and, most recently, at Bonnaroo, where they performed a set of Lips tunes and then “Dark Side” for only the second time ever for a live audience. Read my thoughts on the show from the perspective of a spaceman dancer onstage
“Blastula,” a documentary on the making-of “Embryonic” was just finished, and though “Christmas on Mars” finally got a proper release in 2008, frontman Wayne Coyne is eyeing another film project, to start shooting in October.
From the interview below, Coyne doesn’t make the project sound that large-scale, though, of course, it depends on the backyard (and if he actually manages to rope Justin Timberlake into the project
). He spoke to HitFix at Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tenn., this past weekend. Check out what he had to say of prospective collaborators for the next set, “Dark Side,” Roger Waters and the I.R.S., physical objects, sacred cows and musings on the giant vagina ball of the Lips’ most recent music videos. Weird is the word.
[Full Q&A after the jump...]
HitFix: It was recently announced that you guys are playing the Spin magazine 25th anniversary show later on this year. What are you feelings about print journalism?
Wayne Coyne: I don’t want to say it’s doomed, because I think people still love reading about music and ideas and all that. I just don’t think everybody wants to go and buy it at 7-11. I don’t know if they want that paper. Especially younger people. I can see an older guys like me, y’know, hey I love getting the New Yorker in the mail and I love sitting in bed and holding the thing. If somebody’s 19-year-old, I don’t care if I hold one.
Do you feel the same way about CDs?
I was thinking about that. I have a lot of CDs in my house but they have not been played very often because of computers and iPods. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing either. I grew up with magazines, I love magazines, but I’ll adapt. I don’t know what people will do, [those] that are used to being part of the print media stuff. It used to be a very prestigious, high-paying good job and now it’s not.
Can you say the same about the record industry in selling actual albums?
I think a lot of that gets a bad rap. If there’s a better way and it’s cheaper -- gee, you can’t force people. I never said that I thought CDs were overpriced, but a lot of people thought so, and I think a lot of record companies were always painted as the bad guy. In my experience, it’s never been that way. I love Warner Bros. And I think we’ve worked hand-in-hand typically more than a lot of artists have. But a lot of times, the public would look at record companies as the enemy of the artist. And the artist was not making very much money anyway so people thought, “Well why don’t I just download it for free.” Now that’s the horrible chain of events that’s led to this. I don’t know. Things get invented and the world changed.
Would you ever consider putting your future records out yourself?
Of course. We put our very first record ourselves.
I’ll bet that was no walk in the park.
No, no. You get to make your own life. It’s the best way to do it. I didn’t even know what being signed to a label was. People would come up to me and be like, “You’re gonna get signed,” and I’d be like, “What do you mean?” Before we knew anything, we had a record.
For records to come, what do you think playing “Dark Side of the Moon” has done for you, creatively? Has it been a palate-cleanser, post-“Embryonic?”
I don’t know really. In a sense, “Dark Side” -- the songs, the lyrics, the arrangements -- are just so great. Maybe not the whole world thinks it’s great, but we just think it’s a great piece of music. And since [Pink Floyd] have a style and we have styles we jump in and out of, we were feeling confident that we could attach our current styles to this music that everyone already knows and it would be interesting. We’d never think it would be great, we never thought people would hate it, we just thought it would be interesting. And I think it’s that.
Do you get much hate?
We get plenty of hate from the diehard Pink Floyd fans. They want to come to your house and kill you. [Laughing] “How dare you touch this sacred cow.” Musicians love this sort of stuff. If you’re a musician, you cannot resist, [saying] “How did you do that? That crescendo, momentum,”et cetera, it’s powerful. All musicians know that. We’re not always playing to that crowd that just loves [Pink Floyd]. We’re playing to people who love life and music and food and sex and cars and architecture. We’re playing to people who love… ALL DIMENSIONS OF THINGS.
EVERY DIMENSION. Yes. Have you ever talked to Roger Waters or David [Gilmour]? Were securing rights a problem?
Doing this stuff, you get to know… if they don’t like it, it’s sort of like the IRS shutting you down. If you’re still going, it’s because they’re letting you go. If they don’t want you to go, some truck would have run you over last Tuesday when you were going to get some bread. The fact that we’re here and the album is out and we’re not … I’ve met David Gilmour and he’s a very sweet, smart, cool musician.
And you collaborated with Star Death and White Dwarf, and Peaches and Henry Rollins for the recording. Any other bands or artists you have plans collaborating with?
I’m sure we will. Even on our last record, we had Karen O, MGMT. We don’t know what’s gonna happen. You think you’re gonna do this thing and then another thing happens. That happened with Karen O. We were working on a song for one thing and she let me do another song. There’s plenty of cool weirdos out there that I’d love to sit down with, that we may just call them up and play ‘em a track and ask what they think.
Any particular weirdos?
I dunno… I’d love to have M.I.A. sing something with us. I’d love to have Sleigh Bells. There’s several things that where I’m like… I don’t really know them. They may get a call from Flaming Lips and it starts off with them saying “We hate you! We’d never work with you.”
What about film projects? You guys just had the “Embryonic” “Blastula” documentary and “Christmas on Mars”…
I have an idea for another movie, and this one won’t require building any sets. It’s set at a house in a backyard in Oklahoma City. And, hey, we’re already there. We’re probably going to start doing that in October. We’re pretty solid making new music videos and just doing things for the website and all that, [which] will take care of us for most of the rest of the summer. By October though there should be some people, lights and some locations.
Is that a feature length film?
Probably so. I stop at around 80 minutes. No movie should be longer than an hour and a half.
Do you feel the same way about records?
In a way. I don’t mind records being long, as long as you can feel like you can listen to a little bit now, a little bit later. Not all at one time. Records aren’t like song song song, whereas a movie set, something happens in the first five minutes and then by the end of the movie you still have to think about it.
But isn’t that what a concept record is? Doesn’t “Dark Side” qualify?
It is. But I don’t really think it’s a concept record in that way, all those songs can be put on on their own, and you not give a sh*t about what the theme is, like “Oh, I understand this.” I think most concept records get that way: they’re worth listening to song for song, or no order at all.
You’ve had some fun concept videos. What are the new ones going to be all about?
There’s a couple more. One’s gonna come out this week [“The Sparrow Looks Up at the Machine”] that’s continuing to tell this weird story. There’s a girl who’s been doing all the acting and dancing and all that…
Yeah, who is she?
She’s a friend of my wife’s younger sister. And she does ballet dances and she’s graceful and weird and… some of these videos, it’s cold out. And you gotta be tough and say, well, today’s the day. And we have a monkey in a couple of them now.
I don’t really know what’s going on. She cuts her finger and draws pictures with her finger blood, and then she cuts her foot and draws pictures with that, and then the pictures all get put inside this giant fur vaginal bubble thing. So it means something. Tell me what it means.
I’m sure I can hunt down some bogus explanation of your visions. For a fee.
Damn! I want to get it for free. “I Can Be a Frog,” “Watching the Planets,” “Powerless”
… something is being said conceptually in all of these, I think. People have already hinted at it, that “Embryonic” has a story. And I’m like, good, tell me what it is, because I don’t know.
See, I thought the word “Embryonic” and the giant vagina ball had something to do with each other.
They obviously do! I hear it in my dreams. And then I forget it all when I wake up. So tell me now, I’ll write it down, and when I wake up, I’ll know why the thing plays into the thing.
You are your dreams. Do you feel like the record sounds? Did the record sound like what your personal life felt like?
We had a lot of songs that we had written and a lot of things that were structured that had seemed to be going along the same, nice progression that some Flaming Lips music had gone on in the past. But we accidentally started doing these other things. We did these weird jams, and I know part of the reason we did a double record was because we were saying, “We’re going to do these songs, and then at the end of the day we’ll be able to do whatever we want.” And that’s a mother*cker, when you’re free to do whatever you want. Because you usually do.
You mean the songs you did for “Embryonic” were you doing whatever you want?
Even the sounds. Say you’re thinking of time and chord structures and melodies. You wanna be good at these things. But you don’t know what’s good about music. And when we didn’t care about any of that and just played and said, “I like that, that was cool,” that was practice. And the more that we did that, the less we wanted to do some other thing. So yeah, I think it sounds exactly like our lives, almost to a fault. I want to live the way “Embryonic” has told me to live now. You could say, “Wayne, you’re the one who sang it.” I’d be like, I know, but I sang it from some invisible cave in my mind, and I think I came out of a cave because I said it out loud.
The cave of the vagina ball in your mind.
Yeah, I’m very scared about what the cave means. I guess I’ll have to read your blog to find out.
I guess I'll have to dream to find out. Any suggestions to Wayne Coyne what his visions mean?