At War with the Mystics
The Flaming Lips are genuinely peculiar. In an era where most bands fall comfortably into some category (even new genres like chillwave and the recent, super-questionable seapunk), the group has defied any sort of definition. After speaking to front man Wayne Coyne, we're not sure even he knows what kind of monster he and his Oklahoma City cohorts have created in the past 29 years.
"I don't have any idea what the fuck we're gonna do," admits Coyne about the Lips' future plans, for next year's 30th anniversary and beyond. But that seemingly haphazard philosophy has ultimately turned out more masterpieces than one can count. Even if parts may be too weird for some listeners, the Lips' albums The Soft Bulletin (1999) and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002) are beloved, and most recent full-length Embryonic topped many 2009 best-of lists.
The band played Free Press Summer Fest in 2010 (its second year) to wide acclaim and an audience that packed Eleanor Tinsley Park. This year they will perform, front to back, the 1973 Pink Floyd classic Dark Side of the Moon.
Chatter: What brings the Flaming Lips back to Summer Fest this year?
Wayne Coyne: Well I think Summer Fest is great, I think it's kind of new. I really loved the time we were there a couple of years ago, and it's a little bit more of a freak festival than a lot of the city-organized festivals we play.
We like Houston, we like Texas in the summertime. It's miserably hot, but it's got a great energy about it, and that festival, I think, is really well-done and I think it's great to be a part of it. There's a lot of really cool music at the festival, so to me it's just being part of something that I think our audience will really love.
C: One of the big questions everyone had last time was whether you would do a Flaming Lips set or a Dark Side of the Moon set. Obviously, you chose Flaming Lips, but this year you'll be playing Dark Side. Was there a desire to bring both to Houston at some point?
WC: I know it's been two years, but in the consciousness of people that go to concerts, those things always feel very clustered. I think [Summer Fest] would probably think, "Well, the Flaming Lips were just here," and so I think part of the idea is, well, we'll do something completely different.
I think it's just a desire on our part to do something I don't know very many bands would be willing to or could get away with doing. I mean, playing someone else's record. We embrace it as just one of the things we do, but I don't know how many bands would even be up to do that.
It's kind of ridiculous. You go see the Rolling Stones and they play a Who record; it's like, "What?" It's kind of retarded. But we love doing weird things, so it's awesome for us.
I think now Erykah Badu is gonna come up, we're gonna do our song that's off Heady Fwends [a special Record Store Day-only vinyl release] with her. I think Phantogram is gonna play this song with us as well, so [if] it doesn't rain or something horrible like that, it's really gonna be a phenomenal night at that festival.
C: Despite a lot of special releases, it's been quite awhile since the last official Flaming Lips album. Are there plans for that in the works right now?
WC: Yeah, luckily while we were doing all these other things, we were stumbling upon some things we view as brand-new Flaming Lips things. I'm going up in about two weeks to put the final touches on what will become the new Flaming Lips record, which will come out in October.
For me, I think it's going to be one of the best records that we've ever done. It's a very strange, depressing, emotional, very weird record, but it's a very emotional thing. And it really came out of nowhere — we didn't even know we were making it, to tell you the truth — I think it was all sort of being done in a subconscious kind of way, not intending to make music or to make a record.
C: In the early '00s, you pursued more of a pop sound on records like Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and At War with the Mystics. Then with Embryonic, you seemed to be taking things to the opposite end of the spectrum with all-out experimental psychedelic rock. Where would you say this new record falls on that spectrum?
WC: I would certainly agree with that. In this twisted world of the Flaming Lips, the sound "poppy," for us, is being experimental. Cause I think on a basic level, we're just a freaky group. We don't really have a thing that we do.
So when we start to make these things like these sort of subconscious pieces of music, that's just really coming from this impossible-to-get-at core of who we are, where a lot of it's very emotional. It's experimental because we don't really like music that we've heard a billion times; sometimes if we hear a new sound or a new rhythmic thing or something, we're just entranced by it.
A lot of these things, you will hear us not really knowing what we're doing.
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