The Flaming Lips tapped into some seriously weird talent for their forthcoming collaborative album “The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends” -- weird, not just in type, but the breadth. The Oklahoma-based rock band put their heads together with noise rockers Lightning Bolt for something called “ I'm Working At NASA On Acid,” but then flipped a cover of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” with Erykah Badu. Other big names like Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Yoko Ono and Nick Cave grace the track list of “Fwends,” but it was Ke$ha that surprised Lips frontman Wayne Coyne the most.
“She’s a f*cking freak,” he told me in our interview this week. “She is so much fun and so creative and she just goes for it.”
The pop singer is actually a huge fan of the band, and called Coyne herself to make the connection. After months of back and forth, he went to her house, they banged out apocalyptically inclined “2012” (“It’s what you’d think it’d sound like”) and even got to work on three or four “other ideas” over a day and a night, stuff for the Lips and stuff that may potentially make the cut for Ke$ha’s next album. They already have another session lined up.
“I wouldn’t really approach people just based on ‘You’re a big pop star.’ And I’m not saying I want to be a producer. We’re just gonna get together again just before Easter and probably do three or four more ideas. And then I’ll take those to my people and we’ll f*ck with them. I don’t know if anything ends up on her record, I just loved working with her, she gave it her all.”
Turns out that almost everybody who contributed songs to “Fwends” put at least little bit of themselves into the album… literally. As widely reported last week, each contributing artists’ blood will be incorporated into extremely limited edition releases, dispersed into “the middle of the record.”
“Someone suggested it, said ‘If anybody could do it, then you could.’ I thought, What a crazy idea,” Coyne explained. “At the moment, I’m again in a panic -- not a bad panic, just the kind of panic I like to be in -- of collecting blood from 25 different artists dispersed around the world. In about 10 days, I can make these strange records with blood in the middle of them. A lot of people are really into it. Kevin [Parker] from [Australia’s] Tame Impala needs to bleed and is like, ‘No one will come and do it for me. Is it OK if I cut myself?’
“So now there's people who want to just send me their blood in little vials through the f*cking mail. Yeah, that’s not legal. But it is interesting, it’s something I get to do.”
And thus, the Flaming Lips ethos of experimenting with the traditional album release is yet again expounded. The Warner Bros. group has, lately, made a 24-hour-long song, made albums for listening in stereo on multiple iPhones and released one set in the mold of a gummy skull.
“Making a record is about look and feel too. The music is just music and then together its all the same thing. I suppose its like when you walk into a McDonald’s, every step of the way in the door is designed as an experience, was planned exactly to have an impact on you. We have the opportunity to design our own marketing and make the music into an experience.”
Not everybody that the Flaming Lips wanted to work with – or wanted to work with them – were able to make it on to “the experience.” Coyne said artists like Jimmy Page
and Panda Bear were shortlisted, but sometimes legal red tape or the output of the sessions would prevent them from making the final cut.
“I would like to work with Beck
, having worked with him the past, but he’s one of those guys where there’s too many people to go through. Most of the people I talked to, I talked to on the phone or texted myself. It’s like, Erykah Badu called me, and I called her back. That’s my main thing. I don’t wanna spend all year chasing contracts.”
The Lips may revisit making another collab album in the next couple of years and, in the meantime, have a handful of songs from “Fwends” they’ll be making music videos for, specifically for the songs with Lightning Bolt, Plastic Ono Band, Badu and Bon Iver
As for another Flaming Lips-only set, the band has been cobbling together songs and ideas during their other, more recent projects, for an album, with songs for it created as “subconscious driven events.”
“The best music we’ve done has happened when we’re doing all these other things. It’s the reason I do a million other things at once, new songs are a byproduct, created through magic. It can’t happen if you sit down and just try to make magic.”
This new magic will involve “weird” synthesizers that the band has collected throughout the year, what Coyne calls “very strange emotional, stripped-down synthesizer music… Like electronic funeral hymns.”
The Lips’ 2002 album “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” is getting made-over into a stage musical to debut in November, at the hands of director Des McAnuff (who recently helmed “Jesus Christ Superstar” on Broadway). But despite the band’s interest in a million-billion other projects, they’re staying out of the La Jolla Playhouse production, though McAnuff has their total blessing.
“I was talking to people about that Green Day
musical [“American Idiot”], and Billie Joe [Armstrong] even starred in it for a while, right? And I’m like, no, I’m not gonna be in ‘Yoshimi.’ There’s a character within the music that’s [based on] me. But I’m like, give the part to somebody else, get some other motherf*ckers a job,” he laughed. “I may do it just once, but I can’t dance and sing, not like that.”
"The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends" is due April 21, on Record Store Day.