The Flaming Lips

The Flaming Lips

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Monday, 30 October 2006
INTERVIEW

Wayne Coyne is the greatest guy ever.*
Just keep that bit of information in mind, it will make sense later.

If you happen to be an audiophile and not completely blind, you may notice that the Flaming Lips are on the cover of tons of music magazines lately as they promote their latest album, At War with the Mystics. Like other Lips albums, Mystics is a milieu of soundscapes, weirdo lyrics, electro/acoustic embellishments, countrified signing and psychedelic titles. And I suppose the nature of criticism requires me to either tell you how much they blow or why you should become their number one fan – but with a band like the Flaming Lips – honestly, you either love them or you don’t. There’s no point in me trying to sell you on the greatness of a song called, “The Wizard Turns On…The Giant Flashlight and Puts His Werewolf Moccasins On.” Because, if you don’t think that sounds like a fucking awesome title, then the Flaming Lips probably aren’t the band for you. And that’s O.K. Sort of.

So rather than talk with Lips’ frontman Wayne Coyne about the usual business like the influence behind every song, how long it took to record the album and summer touring plans (which you can get in any other article on them, I promise) – we decided to talk about truly hard-hitting issues like making pot legal, threesomes, Dave Chappelle and some good light-hearted reading on the Holocaust.

I started reading your introductory notes to the new album in your press kit and there was all this psychedelic talk and I thought, “Oh shit, I won’t be able to follow this” then I read a lot of interviews with you…and I have to say, you’re not quite as out there as I thought!

Well, thank you dear. Ya, I mean, I could see where at the very beginning of that you think, “Oh boy, here we go…here’s some Timothy Leary wanna be retard” but no, I try to go into the realm of fantastical thinking but I don’t want people to think I lost my mind. It’s only fantastical if you understand what’s real. I try to be as real as I can and focus on reality because that’s where we’re stuck.

Exactly, it seems like you mention that a lot and it’s interesting because the way you positioned yourself with this new album you’re probably going to have to deal with a lot of journalists talking to you about politics…

Well ya, but I kinda welcomed that along by putting that little bit in there…

I was talking to some other musicians about the fact that its gotten to a point where musicians don’t want to talk about politics but they almost feel like they have to…

Well yeah! I don’t know how anyone could sit there and not be sort of fascinated, appalled and just disgusted. I mean these things happen almost daily now where you’re just like, “Fuck! What are the people thinking!” and it’s in the realm of religion and it’s in the realm of fanaticism…and all these sorts of things that we’re all fascinated with anyway. It’s not just boring politics anymore, it’s shit that’s really gonna affect people that we know and so you know, when I talk about drugs a lot of people say, “Well Wayne, you know you’re talking about power being in the hands of the inexperienced – what would you do if you had the power?”

And…

Well, I don’t know but I know one thing for sure – I would make pot legal. [I start laughing here] Not because I care that y’know pot is going to make society better or anything like that, I just think it’s stupid that pot is still illegal. How can anybody in government or otherwise think pot is anything other than harmless?!

Yeah, I’ve never seen anyone stoned go postal…

I’m 45 and everyone I know has smoked pot – it’s gotta be like that everywhere. Everyone who’s in government these days if you sat them down and said, “You’ve smoked pot, right?”
They’d be like,
“Yeah, I have…but I can’t tell anybody that.”
It’s like
WHO ARE THEY TELL ING?!
Who is there LEFT in America who hasn’t smoked pot?!

[laughing] My mom but yeah, I hear you! Changing gears a bit, I recently saw the Coachella documentary and you had my favorite part in the whole film. You were saying how in some ways Coachella is a train wreck – you go through all kinds of crazy experiences, but it’s the collective experience as a whole that makes you look back and have fond memories.

I remember being there the year the Lips played and I remember liking a few bands, my ankles being swollen, avoiding outhouses and being real sweaty…

Exactly! It’s not just what bands play or any of that, it’s your own subjective little thing that makes it worth remembering and then because people write about it in magazines or make a film, it becomes a more significant moment in your life and little by little your own experience is connected to something that’s a bigger experience that everyone can relate to. So yeah…it’s like when people talk about, “Where were you on 9/11?” because we’re all experiencing the same thing.

Even in my neighborhood here, I hardly ever talk to my neighbors but if the electricity goes out or some tornado comes through we all stand on the corner and go, “Whoa.” we all had that experience together and that’s what rock concerts do. It’s not just about music. It’s about the audience as much as the band.

Well like this conversation…it seems most music journalism is heading toward being snarky but – I prefer an honest exchange.

Well, I always try to remind [writers], “Make me sound exciting” so that when people read it they’ll think, “I like this guy, he’s interesting.”

I think it’s funny you say that because most artists are so concerned about being represented a certain way and you’re basically telling me, “I don’t care…as long as you make me sound interesting!”

Well, you know your audience and what you’re capable of writing so I want you to make me sound interesting so when they pick it up they think I’m interesting and then they’ll think, “Well, who wrote this article, those people are interesting!” and if they can do that then we’ve won. But if we get a chance to be in someone’s attention for a couple of minutes then blow it and people say, “Well, I read this article and…I thought you were kind of boring…” then damn!

Well, I think it would be very hard to make you sound boring.

But it’s not me, it’s you that’s going to do it, your writing is either going to make me sound like the greatest person ever* or not. It’s all in the words you pick.

Right. You’re correct. [I start laughing]

[Wayne laughs] I’m at your mercy, dear.

Ok…well, that’s just where I like men [I can’t believe I actually said that]. It’s funny, I was telling your publicist that when I was reading over interviews you’ve done, I read the Playboy interview and thought, “That’s interesting…he was just so…normal about sex.” I was expecting some crazy answers.

Well why?! What did it say?!

I mean, maaaaybe we should just blame the writer for making you sound very normal, Wayne! But I dunno, basically they said you’re not into any crazy fetishes but you do have a thing for tan lines and…the smell of sun tan lotions?

Well yeah! I think that’s pretty normal.

I have never heard of that fetish before! But being Brazilian I am very glad to know that the smell of my sun tan lotion may come in handy this summer.

[Laughing] Well, right!

And then there was something in the article about your wife’s pubic hair and that was the only part where I thought, “Whoa…he’s talking about pubes, that’s kind of bizarre.” The rest of it was basically you saying, “Eh, who needs whips and chains.”

Well, I know, people always talk about that stuff like they’re some freak or some exaggerated weirdo but it’s like, dude, we all know that shit in real life is awkward! It’s uncomfortable! You know what I mean? It’s not sexy like you think it’s gonna be, it’s more…ew. I’m just telling it like it is. I mean, if you talk to those weirdoes who are into that shit – I think you usually go, “Ugh, I don’t know if I want to be involved with you.”

Exactly, I’ve told friends that when you date musicians they’re the most non rock n’ roll behind the scenes.

There ya go! I mean most guys wanna talk about having threesomes and that shit but most guys don’t know what to do with one woman let alone two.

So, how long have you been married now?

Me and Michelle have been together almost 18 years.

How did you meet?

She was an art student at [Oklahoma University] in the late 80s. The Flaming Lips were doing shows and she thought I was cool.

[I laugh and then brief silence] Ah…shit, sorry…I’m stalling. To be honest, I’m a little hung-over. [Wayne starts laughing] I saw Richard Butler play last night.

Oh, how was it?! Man, I loved the Psychedelic Furs back in the heyday.

“Love My Way” was not that bad acoustic actually. It was pretty good.

Ooh, weird, because what I love about that song is all the fucking nice synthesizer sounds and junk.

Well, his voice is great…and y’know, him and Bowie have aged pretty well.

I haven’t seen Butler lately but the last few pictures I saw of Bowie after heart surgery it was the first time where I kinda thought, “Oooh, he’s starting to look a little old and weird” but I haven’t seen Richard Butler.

He looks pretty damn good. I think he’s hot…but I digress. Y’know…one of things I’ve been thinking about this album and the slew of press you’ve been getting is that the Lips are a band that I kind of think of as contra-pop…

Contra pop? What do you mean?

Like, you’re not one of those baseless acts that mindless people rally behind. I don’t necessarily expect to see the Lips on MTV today – I mean, I might – but I don’t expect it. I wouldn’t mind it. And yet you’ve been getting tons of press. I’m hoping it’s a sign that there’s a different consciousness going on in music.

I hope so. I mean, I hope the fact that the Flaming Lips are popular enough to get on covers and the Coachella movie makes people think that there are always new possibilities.

I feel like a lot of artists feel that if they reach a certain age then they’re too old or if they’re not on a certain label then they can’t make it…

Well, they do and you living in L.A. see it more – and that shit just brings you down, man. That’s all people fucking think about. It’s all about being a rock star and, “Am I cool enough?” That is never gonna work for people because you’re never going to be cool. So don’t worry about it. The guys that are the coolest are the people who just don’t give a shit and those are the ones that you’re always like, “Damn! Why can’t I be like them?!” It’s people too worried about not looking like a fool. Life’s too short.

So, piggy backing on that, give me an example of someone you think is cool.

Um…I’m trying to think of someone I like in the realm of celebrity. Oh! I like Dave Chappelle. There is some psychic stress there that he’s trying to work through [but] you root for him. I think he’s honest and I think he’s fucking funny. I think he’s very cool.

Another cool person, Louis Armstrong. The way he would just stand up there and smile. People would think, “Why isn’t he angry like Miles Davis?” which is another one, fucking Miles Davis. He was cool.

Definitely. Ok, one last thing, you’re very articulate and I was wondering what you’ve currently been reading.

The one I was reading this morning – which is a book I read over and over and over because it has great bits in it, it’s called Survival at Auschwitz [he starts to chuckle at the grim title].

Wow. Light reading.

Yeah, it’s by Primo Levi and he tells of his true experiences of what he thought human nature was and what it proved to be. Obviously a lot of it is in the extreme of human nature because of concentration camps but he does have some real kernels of wisdom that I think apply to survival in all kinds of ways and [apply to] how much of it is just dumb luck. A lot of times other artists will ask me, “How did you guys do it? How did you guys survive all these years of being weirdoes and not making any money?” And so much of it is just dumb luck. You just hope you’re doing what you like and something horrible doesn’t defeat you along the way.

 

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