The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne on the 20th Anniversary of "The Soft Bulletin" | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne on the 20th Anniversary of “The Soft Bulletin”

Weirdness Leads to Relatablity

May 22, 2019 Web Exclusive
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On May 17, 1999, The Flaming Lips released The Soft Bulletin, an album that found them take a more conventional writing and recording pathat least compared to what came before. Their ambitious and experimental 1997 album Zaireeka was created through a series of parking lot and boombox experiments, and the listener needed to play the four discs simultaneously to get the complete sound.

Singer Wayne Coyne talked with Under the Radar about celebrating The Soft Bulletin‘s 20th anniversary and how it relates to the band’s current album, King’s Mouth: Music and Songs, which was first released on Record Store Day and will be getting a wider release on July 19 via Warner Bros. Their previous album was 2017’s Oczy Mlody.

Joshua M. Miller (Under the Radar): What does it mean to celebrate the 20th anniversary of The Soft Bulletin?

Wayne Coyne: When you’re as old as I am, I’m 58 years old, that doesn’t seem that long ago that we put out The Soft Bulletin. I think if you’re 25 years old that seems like you have [lived] your entire your life almost that we put that record, and since we put it out in 1999 it’s always been with us. We’ve played it, a lot of it, all throughout the last 20 years, and some of it we play virtually every night, and there’s three or four songs on there we play virtually every night, that we play a concert for people. It’s never been that far out of our minds. I remember when it was first five years old and we’d say “Wow, that’s crazy.” It still seems like it’s a new record, and then it’s 10 years old, and I remember when it was 10 years old and “Wow, it’s crazy.” And then it was 15 years old, you sort of build up to it.

The Soft Bulletin seems to parallel the new album, The King’s Mouth, as both seem like sonic detours after what came before. Do you agree?

I do think we love to get into these experimental tangents that kind of open up a new door to the way that we sound and the way we can express ourselves, and then I do think we come back to doing very humanistic, relatable music. I think you’re exactly right. I think you couldn’t get that much freakier than the Zaireeka album that came out in 1997. We were working on The Soft Bulletin at the same time. The Oczy Mlody record, it’s wonderful and it’s quirky but it’s a pretty freaky record. I think even while we were doing that, we were doing music with Miley Cyrus, doing three or four different albums. This music kept, I think, getting richer and richer. I think you’re right, we reached a point where the weirdness leads us into a more relatable, humanistic simple song. It’s a strange way to look at that, and I think you’re exactly right. You’re one of the only people to ever notice that.

As [Under the Radar‘s] Jasper [Willems] mentioned in his interview with you [on King’s Mouth], there’s a very childlike curiosity to the music. Both albums have that quality.

Again, I think that’s something that if I’m aware of it I don’t think I would know what that is. But luckily I think what we’re always doing is we’re always making music. I have a recording studio at my house and virtually every day we’re working on something, and I think that idea that we’re always working on stuff…it flows along, and flows along, and then occasionally we’ll say, “What is all this stuff that we’ve been doing?” And you’ll hear something and it really does stand out. That’s really working, and I think that’s our best way, not buried, but very busy and overwhelmed and liking what we’re doing and not trying to pay that much attention to exactly the way we’re doing it.

You get immersed in it and it doesn’t all work and doesn’t all do what you think it’s going to do but occasionally these little things do poke out. I think that’s kind of what you’re saying. We do a lot of stuff that appeals to us like on an experimental level and we’ll go towards that. It’s almost like the more we go towards these little moments of humanity…I think, like you said that like [Jasper] said, this childlike quality, I definitely think those are there, but I don’t really know if we would know exactly how we would get there. We know when it happens after it happens, but we don’t really know how we would get there if you shouted out “Hey, just do that.” It’s just a strange combination of tone, and lyric, and all these feelings about it.

The Soft Bulletin came out a few years after your father died of cancer. Did that period help you sing about emotional topics?

I think the Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots record is another piece of that journey. Because those records just became popular records. They put us into another world and I think we’re always having tonot having to, we want tobut the idea that we’re always doing that music, that idea…and the stuff we’re singing about it, and the way the music is formed and all that, kind of always been aware of it, but in different phases of it being sad, and being acceptable, and being happy, and being powerful and all that.

I think I probably wouldn’t be able to do a record like King’s Mouth, where you sing so openly about the death of the baby’s mother and the feelings of family and all that, probably wouldn’t be able to do that. Un-embarrassing I’d guess is the word, all that has an influence on it. I have talked a lot about my father dying and stuff like that, and I think all of that allows it to be just a little more expressive, that you can say it freely, especially when music is going, and that’s what I found with The Soft Bulletin. I could speak about these unspeakable things in the form of singing a song where back then I don’t know if I could have formed it into answers like this for an interview, but since then, since it was a long time, I’ve been able to talk about it more, and have a range of things I feel about it, and I think this King’s Mouth record, I think it’s definitely connected to that.

Only because we at The Flaming Lips choose to be permanently connected to that music. We love that music. That music made us more than we made it. All of our music is like that. All of our music reaches people in that same way. That music is so popular in that way, and it’s wonderful. We’re down for that.

You have quite the knack for finding new ways to create and present music. How do you see yourself pushing the envelope from here?

That part of it I never really think about too much. When I listen to other people’s records, I never remember “did they come out on vinyl or did they come out in a gummy skull or did come out in a king’s mouth?” I never think about those sorts of things. I always feel like whatever our music is…can draw attention to it, and sometimes things just present themselves.

I think probably the time we put out the double album that had everybody’s blood inside of itI don’t know if you remember all of those but that was pretty great. I know it’s absurd and I know it’s ridiculous and I know it can overshadow what people would think about the music and those are just the risks that I think you take trying to draw attention to…but if its great music I think you’re going to like it and sometimes I’d be the first to admit I don’t have a good gauge of what’s too much. I just keep trying and say, “Well, if that was too much, I’m sorry. I’ll try harder for it not to be so overwhelmingly so.”

I think I would never run out of ideas of ways to put things out. I don’t know if I’ll have good ideas, but I’ll certainly have a lot of ideas of stuff I would like to try and try to enlist different ways and have people help me do it.

With you becoming a father soon, what do you think of the term “dad rock?”

I think some people mean it in a bad way, but for me I would embrace it for myself because I’ve never had that. It would be another new adventure for me. That’s the great thing about being in a group like The Flaming Lips. We get to just keep going on and on and trying different things, and I would love that. If people listened to the King’s Mouth album and thought it was dad rock, I’d take that as a great compliment. That it could be a story that a father could be reading to his kid late at night before they’re going to sleep. To think they’re going to be dreaming of this king that gets his head cut off, but his head is connected to outer space and the universe. I think that would be a great story for a kid to fall asleep to.

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chelsea faza
May 24th 2019

Thanking you will not be enough. This is really good. You are just exceptional.
Keep doing the good work ??

beth hilton
June 3rd 2019

Loving this reflective piece; I remember working at Warner at the time, challenged to pitch The Soft Bulletin to “win” promo partners…there were so few that got it, which made me love it even more.

wilhelm edward
June 16th 2019

Thanks Very interesting and informative post Keep sharing good knowledge with us

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