The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne talks Miley Cyrus, Fred Armisen, Record Store Day, hanging out with aliens and more
After 30 years, Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips has evolved into one of the most unpredictable and enthralling rock stars on the planet. Whether he's creating a 24-hour-long song, selling music encased in a gummy fetus or singing with Ke$ha or Miley Cyrus, he's always at the forefront of some unique artistic experience.
"I think our biggest worry is to be boring," the Flaming Lips frontman said by phone recently from Oklahoma City. "The enemy of all art is boredom. If the people that are making it are bored, it can destroy them. So we make a lot of art and music, we collaborate, we do insane things all the time, and I would say at the end of the day, accidentally, we came up with some music and some art that transcends into the other realm"
The Flaming Lips will headline Day 1 of this year's Gasparilla Music Festival on Saturday night at Curtis Hixon Park in Tampa. Click here for all the details on the festival.
Here's our interview with the magnetic singer, in which he discusses everything from performing with Miley Cyrus to his fear of being boring to how he'd like to hang out with aliens. But of course, it's impossible to distill one interview with Wayne Coyne into just one story. So here are some outtakes from our interview:
On Fred Armisen's admission that he took the bandleader gig on Late Night with Seth Meyers because, "I like to think, 'What would Wayne Coyne do?'": "I was touched by it. I saw him, actually, the very next day, by surprise. We were in L.A. and we visited Reggie Watts on the set of Comedy Bang! Bang!, and Fred was there, and he said, ‘Wayne, I have to tell you, I’ve been using you as a model of a way to decide whether I would do these things or not.’ And it was touching. We’ve known each other for a while, and I really like him. And I understand what he means. It’s like: You just have to look at things and say, ‘Here’s what I like about it, here’s what I want to do,’ and not be all concerned about, ‘Is everything gonna work out?’ I understand that. When he came out to Oklahoma and did this little part in our movie, Christmas On Mars — long time ago, now — he didn’t know what he was getting into, and he just sort of went for it. I sort of convinced him, because we were friends back then as well, and he talked about, ‘How do you get to get to where you can say you’re gonna do this?’ And I said, ‘Well, I really don’t know. You just kind of have to hope it all works.’ And I could see where every time we were around each other, there was a little bit of that within him."
On how audience expectations shape the Flaming Lips’ live shows: “We kind of try to gauge if the audience said, ‘The Flaming Lips are playing, and they’re going to bring the giant big light show and all that stuff,’ then we feel obligated to say that’s true. Even though we do different types of shows here and there, there’s a certain overall impression that if the Flaming Lips are playing, they’re going to be doing all that stuff.”
On the challenges of being creative: “I think our biggest worry is to be boring. To fall back on these habits and these things that we do, artistically and musically, and just go, ‘Oh, we’re used to that and we like it, and it’s easy for us,’ instead of going into the unknown and being challenged and stressed out and all these things that come with it. There is a lot of hell in doing it. You go about doing it, and suddenly all of the realities of the world — time and energy and money and (thinking) bad things can happen — can impede on your optimism of what’s going to happen. But you have to move quickly in that area, so you’re a little bit insane in the beginning. That’s what I tell people all the time, which is when we’re pursuing an idea, we’re kind of insane with the idea, and we don’t really care about all the little things that go wrong. If you wait too long, and that insanity isn’t there, you really do become sort of a cautious, normal person trying to do bizarre, stupid things. But as long as you’re doing it in the moment, it never feels like that.”
On trying out new and unexplored experiences: “The idea of being in politics, sometimes that stuff is interesting. I don’t know. I think being a rock star does let you have a little bit more of what we call kind of the biker-pirate lifestyle. You’re not really doing the same thing every day, and you’re not around the same people every day, and you’re not in the same place every day, and you’re not on a schedule. Couple of months ago, we were in Asia doing shows in Japan and Korea. We’d flown all day and did soundchecks and all this stuff, and did the show, and the show ended, and we were back at the hotel at midnight, and we were quite exhausted. We went to sleep for three hours, woke up and went out at 3 o’clock in the morning and stayed out till 7 or so, just because that’s the way the lifestyle is there. You can go out at 3 in the morning and there’s still things going on. So that’s what I mean by that. We’re just going with whatever is available in our time and our energy and our desires. You’ve got to fit in on this schedule of flying and soundchecks and shows, but that doesn’t mean that your mind, at the end of the day, is done.”
On the Flaming Lips’ upcoming Record Store Day release of a 50-minute version of their 24-hour-long song, 7 Skies H3: “No matter what we would say about the 24-hour song being put to 50 minutes, it sounded like a sad compromise, which it’s really not meant to be. This music that we made was intended to be this bigger, freaker, maybe-once-or-twice-in-a-lifetime experience, but once we got away from it for a minute, we were like, ‘This is really cool.’ It’s not cool for seven hours, but it may be cool for eight or nine minutes, sitting there and actually holding your attention and being entertaining. So it was (producer) Dave Fridmann’s son, Mike, who is probably the one person who’s listened to all of 7 Skies H3 — the whole 24 hours of it, he’s probably listened to it 5 or 6 times. He’s probably the only person ever that will do that. He started to think, ‘Let’s grab these little bits’ — a little bit like the way Miles Davis’ producer Teo Macero would do, of hours and hours of his long jam sessions that Miles and them would do, he would take a section that maybe lasts for five or six minutes and say, ‘This part here, let’s grab it and work on that.’ Mikey’s doing the same thing with this humongous, humongous piece of music. He’s taking little bits, saying, like, ‘At three hours in, there’s this moment that is really special,’ and we’d grab that. So it’s not meant to be that same experience; it’s just taking pieces of that music that we feel like, ‘This is really wonderful. I think you’d like to listen to it for 3 or 4 minutes at a time.’”
On experimenting with the medium of television: “I guess I’m not looking at television as a medium. I suppose it’s kind of a format for things that are already mediums — sports, movies, events, commercials. I love commercials. I think they’re probably sometimes the height of concentrated genius, where it’s like, ‘Get your message across in 30 seconds, while people are drunk watching football.’ That’s a tough job. But I don’t know. I guess I don’t really think of it like that. I’m not really scouring the things in my life that I haven’t done and saying, ‘I should do them.’ Like skydiving or eating monkey brains or something. I’m just doing the things I’m interested in and seeing where it leads me from there.”
On the artistic appeal of Twitter and Instagram: “A lot of things you’re doing in your life aren’t gonna happen in 20 seconds. You have got to focus and concentrate and think about it. But these other things that are just little spices to everyday life, if they take all day to do, they’re not a little spice to your life, they’re taking up all your time and energy. And little by little, entertainment is in that realm. We’re all busy living our lives, and the things that we choose to just say, ‘Oh, I’m just gonna watch this and get out of my head for a second,’ those’ll happen quick, and you only have so much time to get to these things.”
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*