While many bands claim to be individual, there really is no-one out there quite like The Flaming Lips.
Across 32 years, 17 albums, numerous collaborations and out-there musical experiments, this bunch of self-proclaimed freaks from Oklahoma City have risen to international success, scoring platinum-selling albums in the UK and now regularly headlining festivals – including our own Victorious here tomorrow night.
The Guide caught up with frontman and ringleader Wayne Coyne in a rare moment at his home in Oklahoma City.
‘I’m just here for a moment,’ he explains, ‘we leave again on Friday and play a couple of shows in Seattle, and then... it feels like there’s a moment in November/December where we don’t play a weekend – it seems like it’s summer somewhere on the planet and we’re playing.
‘It’s pretty great if you can get away with it,’ he laughs.
‘When you’re in the same airports and same festivals, they all kind of blend together, but when you’re there and you’re in the moment, you do the best you can – that’s the time, that’s when it matters – to do your best and to have fun.’
When you’re in the same airports and same festivals, they all kind of blend together, but when you’re there and you’re in the moment, you do the best you can – that’s the time, that’s when it matters – to do your best and to have funWayne Coyne, Flaming Lips frontman
The Lips have built themselves a formidable reputation as a live act – with everything from fans on stage dressed as animals, to bizarre stage props, fake blood, intricate home-made light shows and whatever else they can come up with back at their Oklahoma HQ.
So what have they got in store this time?
Wayne describes a light show that does indeed sound impressive, modestly calling it ‘stunning,’ before adding: ‘And there’s lots of dorky Flaming Lips things that will come out – we’ve got the giant blow-up creatures and I throw lots of confetti and balloons around.’
The band are also keen on tinkering with their material when they perform live.
‘If we don’t feel like it’s working, some songs, the way they’re recorded, that’s one way it is, and then when you play in front of a bunch of drunk, excited, drugged-out freaks, you try to decide: here’s the song, but there’s a lot of dynamic things you can do to give it more “oomph”, and get more out of the song. We do that for sure.
‘I think the audience can feel we’re with them, we’re not just ploughing through the songs, keeping perfect time, we’re part of the night.’
In recent years the band have become increasingly collaborative, from more obvious partners like Bon Iver, Tame Impala, and Nick Cave to popstars Ke$ha and the one that’s been raising the most eyebrows lately, Miley Cyrus.
Wayne and Miley have struck up a perhaps unlikely friendship that has left some fans on both sides baffled, but is soon to produce a full-length album: ‘I think most people would hear it without much knowledge of who Miley is, or what the Flaming Lips is supposed to be, and say: “This is great, who’s that?” And then later it’ll be: “Oh, that’s Miley, she’s completely crazy”, and: “That’s the Flaming Lips, they’re on drugs all the time”.
‘I think we’ve done the well to keep the conception of this as being something completely unheard of, and it could be part of a new world. There’s the mega-popstars and the weirdos and there’s no boundaries any more.’
It’s this approach that has allowed this ‘slightly druggy, freaky, punk rock group,’ to not worry about how their music will be perceived: ‘I think music and art should be made in the private embarrassment of your own mind, and to not worry that it’s cool or it might be popular.’
They’ve also recorded their own versions of two of rock’s most beloved albums – The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. Does Wayne think there are any untouchable sacred cows in music?
‘I don’t think musicians think that. I think fans think that, and that’s their prerogative to elevate the music to have that sacred meaning.
‘Of course it’s a beautiful experience to inhabit a song like A Day in the Life, and no-one ever thinks: “I’m pretending I’m John Lennon here and I’m getting away with it”.
‘It’s what people have been doing since the beginning of music. Conductors take a piece of music by Stravinsky or Mahler and put their take on it, or it’s what jazz musicians do when they improvise on a piece. It’s a musical curiosity.’
‘I like the idea, and you can probably tell that from the way we work – that a song is a pretty indestructible thing, you’ve already got the lyrics and the melody and the structure: let’s mess with it, let’s have our own way with it.
‘I try to remind people, we didn’t destroy their version, there’s still millions of copies of the original version out there the way it was if you want it, ours is there and if you don’t want to listen to it, don’t.’
And there have been plenty of other unusual experiments, such as Zaireeka, the four-disc album where all four are meant to be played simultaneously, releasing a 24-hour song on Halloween 2011, or a series of EPs on USB sticks encased in jelly skulls.
‘I’m lucky that I’ve got the freedom, and occasionally the credibility, to say “I want to do this”.
‘Ultimately it’s healthier for any artist of any kind to pursue the things they’re currently obsessed with and in love with, and to do it.
‘If you don’t get to do this, I say this of anything in the world, relationships, anything involving imagination, boredom is the worst enemy of all that.
‘To do exciting things that sometimes fail and sometimes succeed, to me, that’s what art is.’
...their forthcoming album with Miley Cyrus
I’m not allowed to say exactly when it’s coming out, that’s going to come from her. She really is in control over what she wants to do. There’s nobody above her telling her what to do.
...Do You Realize?? being made Oklahoma state song
The governor who made this was a two-term Democrat which is really bizarre for Oklahoma City, and he was at the end of his term. They’re just like screw it, I’m going to do what I want to do, so he put it forward.
...band colleague Steven Drozd
We do a lot of creating where it’s just Steven and I in the studio. He’s just one of the greatest living musicians there is, he can play anything.
The Flaming Lips and Tinie Tempah headline Victorious Festival on Southsea Common tomorrow. Ray Davies and Basement Jaxx headline Sunday. Tickets cost £30 a day. Go to victoriousfestival.co.uk