Fearless Freak: Seven Questions With Wayne Coyne
Wayne Coyne. Photo: Trish Badger
It doesn’t feel like it, but Oklahoma’s The Flaming Lips have been together over thirty years. For a band that got their first taste of success over twenty years ago for the song, “She Don’t Use Jelly,” the band has steadily mixed things up with each release after. On the heels of finishing their new, album and after recently reissuing their 1995 album, Clouds Taste Metallic, the band will be making a stop off in Houston at the lawn White Oak Music Hall to drop one of their legendary live sets. FPH was lucky enough to grab singer and creative force behind the band, Wayne Coyne for a moment of his time to look back on where the band has been while looking forward to where they’ll go next.
FPH: After over thirty plus years together, what’s the secret to your longevity as a band?
Wayne Coyne: I think it’s probably that doing it this long is part of our personality. I know that for me, I came from a big family with my sister and my older brothers, and while I listened to lots of music and experienced a lot of art; though not as much as I’d have liked to have, I think that I was most prepared to be doing it this long. Not that you strive for a family element when you’re in a band, but with my upbringing I was probably the most prepared to be in a weird rock band. With all of the weird things that happen when you’re in a band, if it’s not part of your personality, then you wouldn’t want to do this.
FPH: You guys just reissued Clouds Taste Metallic and I guess that at the time I didn’t realize it, but that album sounds so ahead of its time, especially when you compare it to what else came out that year. Did it feel ahead of its time when it was released?
Coyne: No, but I think that whenever anything is released, there’s always so many different things happening at the time. Depending on what you were into at that time, the album could’ve sounded ahead of it’s time, or way behind. I also don’t think back then we would’ve known if it was ahead or not. That was our second record with both Steve [Drozd] and Ron [Jones], so I think we were more open to seeing how far we could take things as a band. I know that for me, I was ready for a change away from big loud rock guitars, and those two guys really implemented the idea of “what else can we do?”
FPH: You dropped the Miley Cyrus collaboration last year, Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz, and I know you’re a big fan of the band Linear Downfall, what draws you to working with someone, and putting your “stamp of approval” so to speak on them as artists?
Coyne: I don’t really see it as if we work with someone, that we’re putting our “stamp of approval” on them, it really just comes down to openness. The openness of working together is what makes it all happen, and the willingness of doing something from an idea to the work itself. Neither us nor Miley gets embarrassed by anything we do, and both of us are willing to try anything, so that makes working together so much easier.
FPH: The live show you guys have cultivated has really become one of those “rights of passage” for anyone who loves live music. What were some of the shows you saw or have seen that inspired the craziness of a Flaming Lips set?
Coyne: I think that all that you do and everything that you experience has an effect on you. I saw the original lineup of The Who, and the night before I got to see both Bachman Turner Overdrive and Electric Light Orchestra, and while they all had an impression on me, I remember asking my brother, “why can’t everyone play like The Who?” They had all of that energy and passion that came through when they played live. Later on, seeing Black Flag and Butthole Surfers left an impression on me as well. Those two really pushed us and challenged us as a band. I also think being there with them, watching Rollins load gear and then go up on stage to perform, it hits you “oh yeah, he’s just a guy like us.”
For what we do now, it’s really just influenced by us not giving a fuck. What’s cool nowadays? I don’t know, but I and the band just do what we want to do and what we like. By the time the space bubble got incorporated, we were already down the path of doing what we wanted to do without worrying what other people wanted or what they might think is cool.
FPH: A local musician here, Rex Hudson, told me that he saw you guys once at a festival in Denton, Texas called 35 Denton, where the power went out while you were out in the audience in the space bubble. Is that the worst thing that’s happened at a live show since you’ve incorporated interaction with the fans?
Coyne: No, not at all. That was the best thing. I’ve done the space bubble probably about 100 times in Texas alone, and that’s the show everyone remembers. Honestly, watching how things were going when other bands played before us, we had an idea that the power might go out when we played. Mostly because our set is so much power being pushed at one time. The bands before us that night had some lights dim, or something would flicker and we were prepared for what might happen. But, in their defense, they were just a small little festival, and we’ve had the power go out at much larger festivals too. That was a great experience because it bonded the audience with us.
FPH: Will the set here in Houston have a theme, or will any particular album be the focus when you perform?
Coyne: I don’t know yet. We’re almost done with our new album, and we’ll be coming from performing The Soft Bulletin in Colorado the date before. So, probably nothing brand brand new, but we might play some of those rarities mixed in with one of the Bowie songs, maybe “Space Oddity” because it’s the one everyone knows. We might play things like “What Is The Light?” and “The Spark That Bled,” I’m not sure yet.
FPH: As someone who’s seen you guys now, at least a dozen times, I know how I’d describe what seeing you live is like. For anyone who hasn’t seen you before, what would you tell them to expect from your set here in Houston?
Coyne: There’s no clear reference today to compare us to. For those who are younger, we’re not that weird of a band for them to see. They catch DJ’s and electronic acts with their crazy lights, and they’re like, “”you guys do it with props.” I try to tell them that we’re like Radiohead, but more fun. Not that Radiohead doesn’t have fun or isn’t fun when they play, but you know, we have that side where we might space out like a fantasy. But, the live show isn’t about us really. It’s about the bigger experience between our songs and the audience themselves.
No matter what the band brings to the stage, you can bet that it’ll be something that you won’t forget. Anything from trippy visuals to confetti cannons, and everything in-between could be on hand when the band plays the Memorial Day Blowout on Sunday May 29th at White Oak Music Hall Lawn. The all ages show will also feature sets from Title Fight, Roky Erickson & The Hounds of Baskerville, Body/Head (feat. Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth), and many more. The doors are at 1:00 and tickets are between $35 and $37.