Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips on working with Nick Cave and collaborating with others
Since the beginning of the year, The Flaming Lips (due Wednesday, August 3 at Red Rocks) have been collaborating with a number of artists from Neon Indian, Prefuse 73, Lightning Bolt and Nick Cave, as well as releasing their own material in unconventional methods like USB drives embedded in gummy skulls and most recently gummy fetuses. We recently spoke with frontman Wayne Coyne for the profile running in this week's issue, about collaborating with Cave and the others for a possible compilation that may be released on Record Store Day next year. Below is the transcript from our chat.
Westword: Wayne, how are you doing? What's going on today?
Wayne Coyne: Well, I'm just sitting here in my kitchen. I'm drawing a little picture as I do interviews. It's going pretty good so far.
I always just do some ridiculous doodle almost every time I do an interview. I never know what's going to happen. It usually starts off as a naked woman doing something with her feet. This one has turned into... she's on the back of a giant skull. Some gushy shit is shooting out of his eyes. Then it turns into a giant row of women's breasts. There are some bats that look like rubbery kind of rabbits that are flying towards her, getting ready to eat her halo off that's shooting off her head. Yeah, ya know? Pretty normal.
Speaking of skulls and women and stuff, would you say you have a particular fascination with that kind of stuff?
Well, I think I do. I mean, I wouldn't say I do. But then I'd look around at my art and the things that I think about and all that, and I'd say, "Well, there you go." But I would say that anybody would. If you're free to really sing and be curious and if you're aware of all these things, everybody would sing about that. I don't think I'm that different.
But I think part of it is that I'm such a visual artist, as well. I don't just do music. So I end up seeing a lot of stuff. Sometimes I think that's more arresting than listening to things because music sometimes can be very abstract. You can sort of read into whatever you want. And a picture is just so literal. It is that. So there's probably an element of that.
I think it's cool. I don't think about it. I really try to work -- as much as you can say it's work -- I really just try to do it for my subconscious, like I'm talking to you, trying to make sense to you, but I'm drawing at the same time, but I don't know what the fuck I'm going to draw. I just start drawing. But that's how you do music a lot, too. Music, sometimes, is kind of happening, and if you try to control it or shape it too much, it's just boring. You want there to be these things that just jump out of your mind, and you go, "Look at that!" And people call it writing, but to me it's not really writing. It's just sitting there and something comes out, and you say, "Cool!"
When you're writing songs or lyrics is there that visual thing too?
Oh yeah, all the time. We did a song with Nick Cave a couple weeks back. He was like, "Don't just send me music. Send me titles. Tell me a story. Anything that you can send that helps me, you know, think about something. Draw a picture. Do anything you can that lets me have something to work off."
Yeah, I think that's why when you see movies it's such an overwhelming emotional experience sometimes because you are seeing visual and audio sometimes blended so perfectly that you can walk into a movie theater actually being in a very happy mood and within twenty minutes you can be crying, because it's blending these very intense things about your senses together.
But for me, yeah, one always triggers the other. I'm sitting here drawing or watching or looking at a magazine or something and suddenly you think, "Oh, that could be this or that." It's always that. It goes back and forth. One goes to the other.
Would you see your music videos as sort of an extension of that?
Oh, totally. We have a brand new test pressing that just came into today. I've been listening to it, and I've been listening to it a lot in the car. I don't know if I'm going to make a video for it. I just listen to it and think, "What does this seem like?" I think if you have imagination, it's easily inspired and triggered by things. Yeah, I would say for me since I'm the one making the videos and I'm the one making the music -- I mean I'm not exclusively making them, but these are my vehicles -- I would say yeah, the music and videos are one is talking to the other all the time when it's done well I suppose.
I wouldn't say they all turn out the way we were trying to get them to, but yeah, as much as you can. Everything that you do is coming from the same place, really. To me, it's all just art. To me, there's no difference between music and painting, and all that sort of stuff. For a musician, it's like that. But I'm not really a musician in that way. I make sounds and I work with a lot of great musicians -- don't get me wrong -- but I don't think of myself as working in music. I'm just doing my thing.
Going back a few questions ago, you said you did something with Nick Cave recently?
Yeah, we've been doing all these different collaborations. We're trying to do a different collaboration every other month. I saw him recently when we were in Spain. We talked about doing a track, and when I got home I sent it to him, and lo and behold, about 48 hours later, he sent it back to me with a bunch of crazy singing on it. I'm trying to collect another three tracks that we can do together, to put out something maybe by the end of October. But he's busy, and we're very busy too, and so you just keep trying. The one we just got back from the test pressing is a group called Lighting Bolt. They're fucking amazing. It's cool shit.
Are you going to put together a compilation of all these different collaborations?
We've talked about maybe Record Store Day next year, and I believe that's in the middle of April. We would have collected what we think is the most interesting of this batch of music, which could be up to forty or fifty songs by then. I'm not really sure. I think we'll have a very elaborate sort of gummy skull idea that we're going to do at the very end of this and in a very elaborate, big vinyl collection as well. And in the meantime, I have to say it's just exhilarating to be able to make music this like this, to do it so... not necessarily just so quick, but so spontaneously, and so stream of conscious. It's pretty exciting.
Who else are you planning on collaborating with in the near future?
I've worked on a song with Ghostland Observatory. So, we're trying to do another couple with them. We've talked with Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs about doing stuff with them. Ariel Pink, doing something with them. No Age, Deerhunter, Jimmy Page, quite a few people. So you can see where I'm quickly.... instead of being able to put out something every month, it would take me a couple of years to collect all this stuff.
I think we'll keep working this way. We started to do this because our contract with Warner Brothers had kind of run out and we were waiting to renegotiate a contract. In the meantime we just going to do a bunch of stuff without having to, I don't know, answer to the bureaucracy for lack of a better word. I mean, we love Warner Brothers but sometimes it just takes so long. But now that we're doing stuff this way, I think we all really like it. You make the music, and fucking two weeks later, it's out. It's pretty cool.
Are you kind of approaching the new stuff the same way you did with Embryonic?
I think we still have a bit of that Embryonic hangover there. A lot of that was based on some really wicked jams that we got in to and then later turned them into songs. Sometimes, now, we'll work in that same way, where we'll do a jam and then we'll pull it out a month later and be like, "Wow, I don't remember this happening," and then it hits you as kind of a fresh idea.
I guess because of the way we did Embryonic, that kind of opened us up to this that way where we're working now. Anything is possible. There's really just no method any more for writing songs or whatever. We just take.... There's a million different methods all the time. For me, that's where it became utterly exciting. I don't necessarily know if it would be what people would say is our best music, but a lot of it to me is like fucking music we've never done before, which is what you want.
Are you spending a lot of time producing the new stuff or keeping things a bit more raw?
Well, with a group like Lightning Bolt, for sure. We recorded them live at a sound check when they came through town here. Then some of it, I wouldn't necessarily say we did it quickly. You know, working at my house here we could easily spend three or four days on sometimes a very simple track. So I don't know. By the standards of what the Flaming Lips could do, I would say a lot of this happening quickly.
But I would say almost all of our records, even though there could be two or three years in between them being released, to me, the real spark of the record, the real meat of those records, always happened very quickly anyway. Even though they might have taken us two years to make them, the meat of it or the spark happened over a couple of days.
So this, what we're doing now, is not very much different than really any of that. There just isn't this other structure saying, "Hey, we're making a record." Because the records just come out as we make them. I wouldn't say radically different from that way because we know that is the only way that music really works.
A lot of times you can try to shape it and you can try to control it, but to me it doesn't really work. It either fucking sounds cool or it doesn't. If it doesn't sound cool you gotta keep trying. Some of it is just as simple as that. It's like food. If you like the way it tastes, fucking eat it. You don't have to think about it, you know?
Are you looking forward to playing Red Rocks again?
Yeah, Red Rocks is just one of those legendary shows. I just got a text from Grace Potter, who was playing there just the other night, and I'm reminded of the fucking rocks and the whole view from the stage and everything. So yeah, it's quite an honor to be one of the groups who gets to play there as often as we have. You think about everybody in the world wants to play there and not everybody gets to. So it's quite an honor, really.
I'm definitely looking forward to hearing you guys do Dark Side of The Moon.
Oh yeah, that's right we're doing Dark Side of the Moon there. It's going to be great. You'll love this because we're inserting bits of the Wizard of the Oz into the live performance of that now, so there's all that stoner mythology connection and all that. It's a lot of fun. It stretches it out a little bit more because the Dark Side of the Moon is not a very long record. It's just absurd.
Everybody knows a little bit of the Wizard of Oz music even though they think they know more than they do. Everybody knows a little bit of it. We got these great little movies that play along with it. It's just an absurd, intense thing for sure. It breaks up some of the... To me, some of the Dark Side of the Moon stuff does get a very sort of similar melancholy in it, and so inserting the Wizard of Oz stuff in there is such an absurd element of that music. It's otherworldly in a way. You just go, "What the fuck?"
Are you still going to be doing some of your own material at the show?
We don't know. The Dark Side of the Moon doesn't take that long to play. Maybe an hour and ten minutes to do it. I think at Red Rocks we're probably playing a little longer than that. When we've been doing the shows recently, we've only done the Dark Side stuff, but I think this will be a bit longer. I think we'll be able to go off the stage and come back on for an encore do another four or five songs as well.
I just heard about your art gallery that's opening next month -- the Womb Gallery?
Yeah, totally. We haven't quite had our opening yet. We're still getting ready for our first opening. The outside just looks amazing. I think everybody is so impressed with the outside they think that the inside is already great even though nothing has happened. Yeah, it's pretty fun. Pretty great.
One last thing. I saw you guys in Aspen last December...
Oh yeah, at the Belly Up. That was awesome.
Unfortunately the space bubble got popped...
It did, but that was fun. That was great. That was exactly what we wanted to happen in a way, just something fucking crazy like that.
I'd imagine that's the smallest place you've played in a while?
Yeah, but the guy who does those shows, that's part of the appeal. This cool little gig. I mean, everybody does that gig. It's such a great... but it's mostly because of him. I think Aspen is a cool place, but I wouldn't consider it that much if he wasn't there doing the shows.