Inquiring Minds

The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne Embraces the "Eyes of the Youth"

“I feel like with some of the pop elements of the album being sped up, and some of the throbbing sounds, it's the Lips relaxed,” says Flaming Lips front man Wayne Coyne of the group's new album, Oczy Mlody.
“I feel like with some of the pop elements of the album being sped up, and some of the throbbing sounds, it's the Lips relaxed,” says Flaming Lips front man Wayne Coyne of the group's new album, Oczy Mlody. Photo by George Salisbury/Courtesy of Warner Bros. Records
Even if a band is lucky enough to last 35 years, it's difficult for most to stay relevant and inventive. But while most so-called "legacy acts" nowadays will forever make the same records again and again, Oklahoma’s The Flaming Lips have done anything but stay the same. Their intense and bombastic live shows are the stuff of rock legend, and on their latest offering, Oczy Mlody, they not only reinvent themselves but craft one of their strongest albums to date.

Progressive and dark at times, orchestral and vibrant at others, Oczy is such a radical step forward it's hard to believe it it's coming from a band that formed in the ‘80s. The Houston Press was excited to speak with founding member and lead singer Wayne Coyne recently about what goes into making a Lips record, how they choose to release them, and what Houston needs to know about this Friday’s date at Revention Music Center with Mac DeMarco.

It should be noted that speaking with Coyne is a pretty interesting process, as he answers questions like you've been chatting with him for years. After the usual pleasantries, we began to discuss how progressive and bold the new album is.

”Well, I don't know if ‘forward’ is what we were thinking when we made it,” says Coyne, whose group spent several months both recording and playing shows with headline-grabbing pop star Miley Cyrus, under the name Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz. The two parties reunite on Oczy’s closing track, “We a Family.”

“To get to do it, music you know, to get to think of an idea and see it form and then to record it — if we didn't get to do it as an expansive piece, then that would be sad,” says Coyne. “We love making records, and I think it sounds like us now just embracing the technology and what we like at the moment.

"The last couple of years, being around Miley [Cyrus] with pop and rap music around, we're always trying to not be influenced but things get into you,” he continues. “I feel like with some of the pop elements of the album being sped up, and some of the throbbing sounds, it's the Lips relaxed.”

The album's title, a Polish term that translates to "eyes of the youth," is not lost on Coyne by any means. "When we were recording, there was this little paperback book that had multiple pages earmarked, and that phrase was in it; ironically, on a song that ended up having the same title as the album,” he says. “It’s a great-sounding phrase and such a wonderful accident. Finding that freed us up to making this album the way we did.”

Of course, in typical Lips fashion, the band released a companion piece to Oczy before the album, The Flaming Lips Onboard the International Space Station Concert For Peace. Coyne describes it as a “live(ish)” release, sparking a conversation about the intriguing ways the Lips have released material over the years.

“Well, we've recorded so many live albums over the past ten years that for some reason or another, either we didn't like how we sounded or whatever, never came out,” he says. “But having the crowds recorded already, and the guise of how to promote this album, we just took some demos that were around and added the real live crowds from our shows.

“You know, with one of those live KISS records, I think it's the first one, the audience is from a Steely Dan concert and we wanted it to be an actual audience from our shows, so I guess we did something similar but in reverse with a real audience of our own,” he adds.

In the past, Lips fans will well recall, the group has issued their music in any number of intriguing ways, among them “gummies” or the multi-disc epic Zaireeka. “We always see things that we like,” explains Coyne. “When Jack White released one of his records, there was a limited run that had this blue liquid inside the vinyl, so I had an idea to do the same but with blood — the blood of those who worked on the album, The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends. We ended up making 14 of them and I have one in my freezer, I think. We would have done more but I think we ran out of the blood.”

However creative the Lips decide to be when releasing an album, the band is even better-known for their expansive and over-the-top live shows. Asked about what the Lips may have in store for Friday’s Houston show, "we added a giant inflatable pink robot that we used once at a fest in England,” Coyne says. “It was crazy because there was all this rain and wind, and people had to hold it up from our crew, and it ultimately made it appear as if it were walking, but it was really to keep it from blowing away.

“We have the guy who is one of the inventors of the LED light technology you see at other shows today doing our light display,” he continues. “What he does is just amazing and sometimes we just sit back and look at his light show. Songs like ‘Race For the Prize’ sound better than they ever have, and we've gotten it to where we've always wanted it. Doing all of the New Year's Eve shows we've done, with all of the confetti and lasers, has really prepared us to find a way to perform underneath all of this chaos.”

The Flaming Lips and special guest Mac DeMarco perform Friday, September 29 at Revention Music Center, 520 Texas. Doors open at 7 p.m.; tickets are $40 to $45.
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David Garrick is a former contributor to the Houston Press. His articles focus primarily on Houston music and Houston music events.