The Flaming Lips - Wayne Coyne on the Band’s Reissues and Greatest Hits Collection

A Glance in the Rearview

Sep 28, 2018 Web Exclusive
Bookmark and Share


Long before they became known for dazzling concertgoers with bright lights, confetti, and a frontman bounding about in a space bubble; long before they hit it big with the melancholy single "Do You Realize?"; and long before they put out deluxe reissues of their earliest recordings; before all that, The Flaming Lips took hold of hammers and began wreaking havoc on the piano they had just recorded melodious music with. And, in keeping with the zany Oklahoma band's spirit, they also recorded the destruction of that piano during that early studio session. It's one of the memories frontman Wayne Coyne looks back on during a Q&A with Under the Radar while promoting the deluxe reissues of the earliest recordings by the band (a group that is now comprised of Coyne, Michael Ivins, Steven Drozd, Derek Brown, Jake Ingalls, Matt Duckworth, and Nicholas Ley).

Those reissues came out earlier this year and kicked off with Scratching the Door: The First Recordings of The Flaming Lips, a 19-song collection comprised of the band's very first tracks put to tape by their original lineup. From there, they put out a staggeringly comprehensive six-CD box set called Seeing the Unseeable: The Complete Studio Recordings of The Flaming Lips 1986-1990 and a best of, Greatest Hits Vol. 1. The reissues follow their 2017 studio LP Oczy Mlody.

Below, Coyne looks back on The Flaming Lips' varied career, divulges what it's like to be a gracefully ageing indie rocker, touches on the band's progressive politics, and more.

Kyle Mullin (Under the Radar): Hi Wayne, it's great to talk to you. 

Wayne Coyne: Same here! One second, please. I'm making my way out to my car. It's is sitting in the drive way, it's air-conditioned and quiet, and it's got my phone charger in it. Aaaaand... now I'm in the vehicle and good to go!

What kind of car do you drive?

It's a Prius. One of the first edition of the hybrids, you know where a lot of it's electric and some of it's gas. I've had it for 10 or 11 years now, but it's still going. I keep thinking it's going to break down down and I'll need to get a new one. But it's still going! These cars are so tough and reliable.

I assumed you drove a rock star style convertible.

Not quite. [Laughs] Prior to having this car, I'd get whatever used or hand me down cars I could. But this was the first car where I could finally do a bit of research and say: "Yeah, let's get this car when it comes out."

You're putting out a greatest hits collection. Have you cranked it on the speakers of your Prius, and drove around listening to it with the windows down?

Not per se. I actually haven't listened to it as a whole collection yet, though I probably will. I still have a CD player in my car, though a lot of people don't even have them in their computers anymore. I do, however, think that CDs still sound better than digital downloads. Now you've got me thinking about it.... Maybe I should listen to all the CDs while driving around!

What was it like to go back over all that music? 

Some of it is old enough that we've already revisited it a couple of times. The stuff that came out in the early '80s, we repackaged that in the early 2000s. But that wasn't a remastering, like this time. So the remastering of all that early stuff, along with the '90s stuff, and '00s stuff, it's overwhelming. It's a lot to listen to and a lot to remember.

What do you mean by that?

I don't have great fully formed memories of making most of that music. If someone was sitting with me and had photos of a particular instance, or told me about something specific, then it would jar my memory. For instance: there's a track on there from 1987 called "Love Yer Brain," where we took hammers to the piano we were playing, and recorded all that smashing. I remember that, and I remember a microphone getting crushed in the chaos. So unless it was something absolutely memorable like that, one day being stressed out in a studio trying to do your thing isn't that different from the next.

What else do you remember from the early days?

The very earliest stuff, we weren't in studios for that much. I can remember it in a vague optimistic way. The stress and the parts you didn't like fade away, and you remember the fun and the ridiculousness of it. I remember the studio in the south part of Oklahoma City that we first recorded in. I live in that area now, but it would be a building we never would have even driven by back then, the neighborhood was so nice. When we left that studio in 1983, I didn't think I'd ever come back again. By the time we ran into [producer] Dave Fridmann in the mid-'90s, we were stable family guys. And he has had the exact same studio ever since, and it just evolved and evolved and evolved. There's things on the wall that we hung up in 1996 that are still there, and that keeps refreshing your memories from years ago when you notice them. But the earliest stuff, it's a bit cloudy. It all seemed great fun. And thankfully there were never any tragedies.

Could you have imagined that you'd still be at it after all these years?

If you would've told me then, "You're going to be doing this until you're dead," it would've been dreadful. In the beginning I thought we'd do this for a year or so. We didn't even have the ability to take it serious enough, and had no idea we were building the foundation of something that was going to last for 35 years. Knowing that would've been too much responsibility. We were absolutely free and oblivious to any of that. If you'd asked us in '84 if we wanted to get signed by a label, we wouldn't have even known what that meant. It was after that, when Restless the label from LA, told us: "We want to help you put out your next record," that we then thought, "Oh, that's cool." But previous to that we were so oblivious, just dorks. We were embracing the DIY spirit, and we thought everyone was doing it. Now that we're older, we look around and realize, "No, not everyone was doing that, without any help whatsoever." But we thought everyone was. We were inspired by bands like Butthole Surfers and Meat Puppets. We really did find we loved making records though. That's the thing that gave us our mojo after awhilewe'd do anything to help us make another record. Because as soon as we got done with one, sometimes even before finishing, we'd already have ideas for the next one. We were already thinking of ways to be even more expressive and freaky.

It seems like you have even more passion for performing live. Your concerts are renowned for their stage production and creativity, after all. 

The thing is, we never thought that we were that good live. But we never had standards of what we should be onstage, which lead us to doing ridiculous things like throwing balloons and confetti at people and having puppets, and me being in the space bubble. In the end, it was just us saying: "We're not good at it, but we'll do it our way!" And that lead to some remarkable originality. So, when we look back, we realize we were lucky to not get the hard blow of reality thrust upon us. We were lucky to not think: "Oh we should be more normal," or "Oh, we should quit."

What else have you realized now that you didn't know then?

One thing that's striking is how, once you get to be older than 35, time is just a different thing. It doesn't have the same dramatic dimension that it did when you're in your early 20s. Now I can remember something from 20 years ago and it feels like it happened a year ago. Our record Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots is an old record now, even though it doesn't feel that way to me. But when you talk to someone young about how 2002 doesn't seem like that long ago, they'll look at you like: "That was the dark ages, you old dude." But as you get older, that dimension is not so uncrossable. 

You've recorded so much music for so many years. So how challenging was it to comb through the archives for releases like this?

We have everything organized and archived quite well already, so it's not that hard. Part of the way we work is, if we need a drum track, and we don't like what we've recorded recently, we'll sometimes go back to a recording from the '90s and put that on the new record. Whatever we had, if it worked it worked, and we have no qualms about mixing and matching on occasion. So we're living the whole life of The Flaming Lips all at once, in a sense. And everything we did leads up to right now.

And how does it feel to work with younger artists like Miley Cyrus, and see how they approach things differently?

Well, so many cool things happening now, and I try not to get overwhelmed and copy them. But when you see someone play and go "Fuck I want to do that!," then that does creep into what you do on some level. And that's most evident when we were recording with Miley Cirus and Mike Will Make It. They played us some great fucking records that they were working on for her next project when we were in the studio together. Then a year later what we had heard was the record of the year. It was a whole world we never thought we'd want to get into. But she had a huge influence on us. We want everything to keep coming at us, and give us new artillery to make our sound.

Lastly, how does it feel to be living in Oklahoma, as an outspoken progressive band, when your governor signed an anti-LGBT adoption law earlier this year? 

We know her, mostly through her daughter. She's not on the scene as much as when her mother first got elected, oddly enough. But the sad truth is, not enough left leaning people in Oklahoma City vote. If all of those people had voted for the person they wanted to instead of her, she wouldn't have the power to do these things. It's unfortunate, but the people who vote, that's what they want. And the people who don't want that, now they have a rude awakening. And I've always been frustrated with that. You make a difference! You've gotta go be aware of what's happening. You can't do nothing and then complain about it later. And I'm hoping this is one thing that changes that apathy, and that voting becomes cooler. But it's very hard to go against any of that now, because the governor is saying "The people who voted for me, this is what they want." I've met with her and tried to persuade her. I've told her "C'mon, this makes Oklahoma look like a bunch of rednecks." And she was essentially like: "Fuck you. Yeah, I am a redneck." But I do think it will change. Right now this is the backlash to the governor prior to her, who was a great, progressive, democratic governor. He was very cool, a two term governor. And I think people became too complacent. And they forgot, then realized, "Oh yeah this is a matter of diligence." It's like watering your grass, if you don't do it for awhile it'll get taken over by weeds. We should keep talking about it. It's appalling, and it's backwards. It's hard to change it now. The time to change it would've been four years ago during the election. But when it is such a hard punch of reality to your face, sometimes that's when you wake up. Maybe this is the punch we need to stay awake and stay vigilant.

www.flaminglips.com

Support Under the Radar on Patreon.



Comments

Submit your comment

Name Required

Email Required, will not be published

URL

Remember my personal information
Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

Peter
October 4th 2018
5:51am

Good interview.Thanks.