Interview with The Flaming Lips
A few weeks ago, on February 13, we spoke with Wayne Coyne, the eccentric frontman of The Flaming Lips, about their upcoming show in Philadelphia at The Fillmore. The Flaming Lips are one of our favorite acts to see live and we were thrilled to chat with Wayne Coyne to see what makes him tick. Unfortunately there was an issue with the audio of that interview that delayed us posting it but today, on the morning of this evening’s show, we are finally able to present our exclusive interview. Just keep in mind the questions, and answers, are from a few weeks ago. Enjoy!
Independent Philly: Where does the name ‘The Flaming Lips’ come from?
Wayne Coyne: We were like a lot of bands when you are approaching playing your first show, so you have to come up with a name. We didn’t have a good name and yet we were quickly approaching the time to make a little flyer or something, and we came up with The Flaming Lips out of nowhere. It wasn’t anything that we had thought of previously, but we gave ourselves an out thinking “You know this is just a temporary name, we can think of something better and we’ll just play this show and we’ll be called The Flaming Lips now and then in six months we’ll be called something else”. You know I think honestly that’s the only way you can do it. Otherwise you’d just overthink it and you’d just worry yourself to death that your name is stupid and you just wouldn’t know what to do. Indeed the name is stupid, but if people like you, and they like what you’re doing, the name of your group doesn’t have that much impact on whether people like you or not. If they like your music, often times, they’ll accept your very stupid name (laughs). We learned that now. I think back then we thought, “Man, we have to have the fucking coolest name ever, but we don’t know what it is”. We called ourselves The Flaming Lips and then people seemed to like it and we made this little record that came out, this very first EP that we made ourselves, called ‘The Flaming Lips’, and people really liked that. So, we just decided, “Okay, we’ll be called The Flaming Lips”.
Independent Philly: Your latest album, and excuse me if I butcher the title, ‘Oczy Mlody’ (Otshee Mwodee)…
Wayne Coyne: You’re right, that’s the actual Polish way you would say that. I only know because I talked to a woman when we were in Copenhagen a couple of weeks back, and her first language was Polish and I asked her and she said that exact same thing. We just say it the way that it kind of sounds if you just kind of look at it, we say, “Ock-see Muh-lody”. That’s our version of this phrase, and we’re not right in that if you think that’s a Polish phrase, but we say we’re right because that’s just what we call our album (laughs).
Independent Philly: You’re the one who named it so I’m going to defer to you on this one.
Wayne Coyne: (laughs) No but I think you’re exactly right. For it to have that meaning, you do kind of have to say that “Mwodee”, the L is kind of like a W. I know it’s a complicated world out there.
Independent Philly: The album, has been out for about a month now. How has the fan response been so far?
Wayne Coyne: I’m in a pretty lucky position. I don’t ever really talk to people who, 1) don’t know who I am, and 2) hate me. I’m almost always in the company of people who love us and especially when we’re in the entity of The Flaming Lips, I wouldn’t really be talking to anybody if they didn’t want to talk to me. I’m not like a Miley Cyrus where I’m just popular enough that people talk to me even if you hate. I think it [the album] really seems to be touching people.
Independent Philly: Your live shows are some of the craziest ones I’ve ever seen. Of all of the elaborate props and fanfare, is it safe to say that your giant hamster ball is your favorite one?
Wayne Coyne: I don’t know if it’s my favorite. There’s still a little bit of trepidation, because I’m always aware that I’m walking on people’s hands and heads and stuff like that. You always get a sense of what people, what they, the audience, think is fantastic, by how many pictures they take when you’re doing something. Yeah I think it’s the most recognizable thing associated with The Flaming Lips show. You see that and, anyone else that gets in a space bubble, you know people almost always compare it to me doing that, even though I’m not the only one who does it. I’ve done it often enough now, I’ve just done it so many times that I don’t think of it as being good or bad, I just think of it as, the audience likes it, and I think they expect it. We would have to make a decision like, do we not want to do it. It’s such an easy thing to do and people like it so much, and of course, if you came to see that, I’ll do it. I’m easy that way.
Independent Philly: You mentioned Miley Cyrus a moment ago and you’ve spent the past several years working with her on various projects including her appearing on the final track of Oczy Mlody and you touring with her. What’s your relationship with Miley Cyrus like and how did that come about?
Wayne Coyne: I think it’s a couple of things. We are drawn to each other because we like each other’s thing. I like enough of her music, especially the music she’s made more as Miley Cyrus than the Hannah Montana stuff, but I’ve always thought she was an interesting, outspoken kind of freak. Then when she became freaked, I think I became more of a champion of what she’s about, and then a little more of a champion of her music as she put out her ‘Bangers’ record. I think she was aware of that. She is a Flaming Lips fan from a little while back and I think she was aware that we were fans of hers also and I think that made it easy for us to kind of say, “Hey, what are you doing?”, and she is very open, and fun, and crazy as fuck. That part of her allows us to get together and we would join her at her shows and sing a song, so it was easy to get together. Then it’s just a coincidence of my girlfriend Katie, and her [Miley], once they met each other, just became absolutely the best friends they could ever be. Like of everybody in the world, they are just absolutely best friends. When Miley and The Flaming Lips aren’t really doing anything, there is still this ongoing deep connection because we’re just friends in that way. It wouldn’t be that I could just be friends with her, if Katie, my girlfriend, and her, didn’t have this deeper connection as well. It’s a combination of a lot of things, her boyfriend Liam [Hemsworth] is really cool, and everything that we do, helps the next thing that happens. It wouldn’t just be the connection through working on each other’s music and stuff, so yeah, I feel very lucky. Even if we never did anymore music, we’d always be friends just because we are really a lot alike. I think we are always pursuing stuff that we can do together, music we can do together, projects we can do together. I know this is part of the way that she works anyway, and she knows that’s part of the way I work. I’ve done 70 collaborations before I collaborated with her. It’s just part of the world of meeting people and doing music and doing art together.
Independent Philly: You guys have been around now for 35 years and because you haven’t had what many in the music industry would call “mainstream success” with a ton of U.S. hit singles, to what do you attribute your staying power, when many bands who have had a slew of hit singles, don’t stick around nearly as long as The Flaming Lips have been able to?
Wayne Coyne: I think most of our longevity is just luck. Our ability to handle the successes, and the failures, you know when we were younger, the successes weren’t that big, so you could deal with it, and the failures weren’t that big, so you could deal with it. We mostly, in the early days, we simply just wanted to make more records, so we would do whatever we had to do to make another record. We would tour and we would make money, and however we would convince record companies to let us make another record, we would. For the longest time that was our only agenda. Nothing else really entered into it. We weren’t trying to be famous, we weren’t trying to be rich, we never thought we’d be famous or rich anyway. We just wanted to make our weirdo records and then little by little, it got to where enough people were listening to our records that we could make money and stuff. Nothing was ever so gargantuan at one time that would have made us want to stop, or you know, fucked with our heads too much. We were all just lucky that it was just this incremental thing. The amount of stuff that we do now, recording and records and touring, music videos and album covers, and just all the social media stuff that you do — if I had to do this stuff that I’m doing now, when I was 25 years old, I would have killed myself. I would have said, “I can’t do it, there’s no way!” (laughs). You get used to it. You figure out how it works for you, and how it works for all of the guys in the group. My personality is, I’m from a big family and I think that my personality is family oriented. I think I attract other people who are like me to work with me. We are all, kind of like a big family. If you don’t like that, you wouldn’t want to be in The Flaming Lips. The more that we do that, the more we attract people who are the same way. I think that’s a lot of it as well, we’re already so immersed in this great family of love, and music, and it’s our life, and it’s money, and it’s all of these things that you need from your life. We are lucky that it has this steadily growing audience that lets it all happen.
Independent Philly: I don’t know if you were attending or watching the Grammy’s last night…
Wayne Coyne: I actually didn’t see them but would like to catch up on it…
Independent Philly: I skipped them to watch The Walking Dead, which is one of my favorite shows on TV, so I was wondering, if you turned into a zombie tomorrow, who is the first person you’d try to eat?
Wayne Coyne: I wouldn’t go after any musician, I’d just go after Donald Trump immediately and get that out of the way. But I’m not sure…do you mean that zombies eat the other one because they like them, or because they want to destroy them?
Independent Philly: You’d be doing us all a favor if you just ate Donald Trump. You could let us all know if he tastes like a Cheeto.
Wayne Coyne: (Laughs) I wouldn’t spend anymore energy or thought about it. In a funny sense, I’d do that.
Independent Philly: Philadelphia is a big foodie city. If we were going to make a sandwich and name it after The Flaming Lips, what ingredients would we use?
Wayne Coyne: We’ve considered things like this in the past. What would be this unique sandwich? Back when we first considered it, it would have been weird to have had Chicken McNuggets covered in a hamburger. Now it wouldn’t seem that weird. There are so many freak chefs out there who would do almost anything, but we would often say things like that. It’s kind of fast food, but there’s an element of gourmet food at the same time. We’ve often thought about Chicken McNuggets, let’s wrap that in ground beef, it’s got a little bit of that onion sauce that you can get at Subway, you know that great dressing that they put on stuff, and it would have a little bit of that McDonald’s pickle/mustard/ketchup combination that they put on their stuff. We never tried it. We never actually tasted it, it would probably be horrible, but as a concept we like the idea of it being very the worst, and what we mean by worst is best, of fast food, mixed with the most delectable, rare, elements of your high-dollar restaurants. That’s what we thought at the time.
Independent Philly: I don’t think that’s so strange. I just saw a Taco Bell commercial for a new taco where the shell is made out of fried chicken.
Wayne Coyne: That’s what I mean. Now you’d be hard pressed to conceptualize anything that isn’t already real and absurd. We even kind of thought about it way back in the day and thought, “That will be real. We think it’s weird now but that’ll be real”. Almost all the things that you can combine together in reality right now, will be combined in the future. If you can conceive of it now, it will probably happen. I remember thinking that there will come a day where you’ll go to the bank and the guy at the bank will have more tattoos than you, and that’s already come true.
Independent Philly: Valentine’s Day is tomorrow and you have a show coming up here in Philly on March 4th at The Fillmore, so would you like to quickly send some love out to your fans here in Philadelphia?
Wayne Coyne: You mean for Valentine’s Day?
Independent Philly: Yes, Valentine’s Day is about all kinds of love.
Wayne Coyne: I agree, I think that Valentine’s Day is just another, of the very good opportunities, to tell each other we appreciate, and care, and love each other. Love isn’t this thing that we need to worry about giving out. Love is something you can give out to everybody and not have to be embarrassed about that or not feel like it was unwanted. I think that’s one of the main elements of The Flaming Lips world. I know it sounds hokey, but especially with our music, if you do it with love, that’s all the fight that you need. You don’t need to fight if you’re doing it with love. Love isn’t attention, and love isn’t about you; it’s about the other. That’s been one of the great, long, long lessons that we’ve gotten to learn being in The Flaming Lips and being in front of our audience that has shown us the way. There are so many nights that we stand there and it’s like, “These mother-fuckers are giving us their love”! You can’t get better than that, to be standing there in front of people and know that we’re exchanging this thing that says, “I so much appreciate you”, and they’re looking at you, saying, “We so much appreciate you”. That’s as powerful as it gets.
Independent Philly: Tell us something about yourself that would surprise, or even shock, our readers.
Wayne Coyne: I don’t know if it’s a shocking thing but sometimes people want to think that I take lots of drugs, all the time. I never really took very many drugs, at all, when I was younger. I was afraid of going to jail, or losing my mind, or killing somebody when I was on drugs or something. I was always cautious or afraid of something like that. Even though I do support that people are able to have pot and are able to smoke it, I don’t like it, it doesn’t really work for me. I’ve found just an occasional, occasional strain that makes me happy. Maybe that surprises people, that 1) I don’t really smoke pot, and 2) really don’t take very many drugs.
We are really looking forward to covering Wayne Coyne and The Flaming Lips sold-out show tonight at the Fillmore and we hope to see all of you fellow weirdos there!
[Interview by David Miller]