2014 Artist Survey: The Flaming Lips
Wayne Coyne on Why He Isn't Into Conspiracy Theories, How They Couldn't Make The Soft Bulletin Again, Immortality, and Angry Beatles Fans
Feb 20, 2015
Issue #52 - January/February 2015 - St. Vincent
For Under the Radar's 12th annual Artist Survey we emailed some of our favorite artists a few questions relating to 2014. We asked them about their favorite albums of the year and their thoughts on various notable 2014 news stories involving either the music industry or world events, as well as some quirkier personal questions.
Check out our Best of 2014 print and digital issues for answers from alt-J, Camera Obscura, Chromeo, The Dears, Death From Above 1979, Deerhoof, The Drums, Glass Animals, Hookworms, Sondre Lerche, of Montreal, Owen Pallett, The Rosebuds, Still Corners, Strand of Oaks, Teleman, Sharon Van Etten, The War on Drugs, Warpaint, Woman's Hour, Wye Oak, Zola Jesus, and others.
Here are some answers from Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips.
[A shorter version of this interview ran in Issue 52, the Best of 2014 and January/February 2015 Issue, which is still on newsstands. This is the full version of the interview.]
U2's new album was downloaded for free into millions of users' iTunes accounts without their permission. Was it a wonderful gift to music fans or an invasive action that devalues music? Also, which artist, other than you, deserves to have their album automatically downloaded to half a billion people more than U2?
U2 is probably on to something. This thing of people complaining about having this thing downloaded on to your phone. I mean, that's kind of what having an iPhone is. Your iPhone is sending you shit every day. There's things coming into it every day. I think it's wonderful. Some people just got really great joy out of being able to say, "Fuck you, U2, I don't like your music and I hate that I got it for free." But I think they're just naysayers. To me, if you don't like it-like most things in the world-if you don't like it, don't listen to it. And the laziest, silliest argument that there could ever be was like, "Well, I have my phone on shuffle and a U2 song comes up." Well, you can take it out of the shuffle. Take the U2 songs out of there and get on with your life. I mean, this is really pathetic rich white people problems, if you ask me. Who gives a fuck? If you like U2 you got it for free! If you don't, don't listen to it. I think it was fucking cool. I didn't really like the record. But I do like some U2 records for sure. So, for me, if it was 20 years ago, I'd be glad if U2 gave it to me for free! [Laughs] I hope everything, little by little, becomes like that. It would be great.
What's your craziest theory for what happened to the missing Malaysian Air flight?
Oh, none that are funny. You know, we fly all the time, and when you're really engulfed in it, I don't have anything that would be snarky or funny to say. I mean, you fear that something bad happened and all those people don't get an answer. That's just a horrible, horrible thing. People want to know what happened, especially if that's your family. To not know what happened, and be forever out there and be a mystery is a horrible torture for people. I wouldn't want to speculate or make any kind of thing that would be funny about it. I don't mind that people do. I understand why people make light of certain things, that's okay. But, to me, that's just too much. We love that there are mysteries. Sometimes, the mystery is a lot more appealing than the truth. The mystery leaves it open to all those types of conspiracy theories, and people love that. I'm not a conspiracy person myself. I do want to know the truth, even if it's boring. But some people, if you told them that UFOs don't exist, they would just say, "Fuck you, you're wrong, they exist, man." If you tell them ghosts don't exist, they'd say, "Fuck you, ghosts exist, dude!" The truth is not setting them free. They want to believe the crazy things out there.
Which common criticism of your music do you most agree with?
Some people just like to hate you because you're popular. I think our most recent criticisms are mostly from very, very small-minded Beatles fans who want to come to my house and kill me because I ruined Beatles music, and I try to remind them that The Beatles' music isn't touched, we didn't go in there and destroy their Beatles records, they're still there, exactly as they were. Ours is just, it's like a conductor doing a symphony of Bach or Beethoven. We're just reinterpreting their universally loved music. That music isn't touched. So all that, I think that criticism is funny. And then there's other criticism that we're working with Miley Cyrus. There are people that just love sitting on the Internet and telling people how much they hate them, and we're like, "Okay?" That's funny. A lot of people have a lot of time to do that, and they're free to do what they want. But a lot of the time, we have no rules, we have no style. We have no qualms about what we are. We don't know what we are. We're always trying something, so I can understand there are probably people that just want you to do a thing, and if they like The Soft Bulletin, they would want all of our records to be the same. But we didn't know what the fuck we were doing when we made that record, how could we make more? Even if we tried, we wouldn't be able to do it that way again. So, you know, I think all those are valid. We're not wholly responsible for what we do, either. A lot of it is accidents, or little quirks that happen once.
What's the topic no one asks you about in interviews that you wish they would? Conversely, if you could get journalists to stop asking you one question, which would it be?
No, I mean, I've never had any rules about what people could ask me. I know I have the freedom to answer whatever I want. If someone says, "Well, how big is your dick?" I can always say, "Well, I don't know, my dick's about that big." You know, you're kind of free to say whatever you want. I think it's fine. And I think that most of the time I really am talking to people that know fucking more about our records than I do. I'm always surprised when people ask me things. I do so many interviews that I would not have anything left to long for. So no. And I've talked to a lot of really, really great-would you call them reporters or whatever? And it's wonderful. I probably get to talk to them more than most people. I've done big magazines and little magazines and online magazines and it's cool.
Which subject do you wish you paid more attention to in school?
I was very hard on my art teachers, because I always wanted to do it my own way. If there were things they were doing that I wasn't interested in, I would do it as quick as I can and say, "You can give me an F, I don't care, I just want to sit here and do my own thing." And now I wish I would have paid more attention to it. There are a variety of things that they probably knew about that I didn't, and sometimes I forget, like, "Oh yeah, oil paintings? What are those? How do you mix those?" And people would say, "Well, if you paid attention in art class, they would have shown you." I know, but I didn't, I was doing my own thing. And that's probably true of a lot of things when you're young, you think you know it all. As you get older, if you're lucky, you realize that you don't know shit. And you're like, "Fuck, there's a lot." There's a great, wonderful, endless stream of cool shit out there. Yeah, probably something like that. My music classes were-I always hated them because the music they were teaching I was never interested in, so I shut down and just did my own thing again. My stubbornness probably looks like it paid off a little bit, but some of my openness has come with time. I should have been more open then, and not so stubborn. But those are my own regrets, then, aren't they?
Which well-known filmmaker would you most like to direct one of your music videos?
I love Spike Jonze, I love Lars von Trier, I love-who's that guy that did the Aphex Twin videos? I don't know if he's a film director, though. I love that guy that does Björk's videos. I wish one of them would come up to me and say "Hey, Wayne, we'll do a video for you!" Good! I think if I approached them they would do it. I always have my own dumb ideas, but I'd love for them to do one and see what happens, yeah.
Do you ever long for the days before the Internet and cell phones? If so, what do you think has been the worst side effect of those technologies?
I don't really long for them that much. I love that we can text people and not always have to call people. I think that's a great, great way of getting to know people. If you have to call someone, you don't know what to say, but you can text someone a stupid picture and kind of get to know them just through doing things like that, little by little. What do we lose by it? Fuck, I don't know. For me, I spend time on my phone that I used to spend watching TV. So, for some people they have their phone and TV, so they probably have their computer, their phone, and TV and that's probably too much time looking at a screen, you know? For me, I don't even know how to turn on my fucking TV now, I totally forgot what the remote does. But I have my phone so it doesn't really matter. I've lost track of what night cable TV shows come on. But anything I want I can just get on YouTube. [Laughs] I do sometimes remember that there is a level that people live at where they don't have Internet and they don't have computers and all that, and I've just gotten so used to it. I'll sometimes say "there's music online" and someone will say "I don't have a computer or the Internet," and, "oh yeah, I forgot." I have empathy, I've been poor and lacking in money a couple times, sure.
Given the choice, would you like to be immortal?
Who wouldn't? Who would turn that down? Maybe people are in a lot of pain or something, I don't know. I would love nothing more than to live on and on and on and on and learn more. Yeah, I would. Fuck yeah.
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