Let’s talk about space, dude.
Wayne Coyne is more than a dream. Not to say he isn’t also a dream–the lead singer, guitarist, and songwriter of the Flaming Lips has brought to life a wide discography of dreamy, psychedelic classics since the band’s 1984 debut. He’s also a dream to be around: polite and friendly, genuinely excited but never manic. But it’s watching him speak that snaps you back into reality. The realization that so much creativity and zeal can come from a single person fills you with inspiration and awe. It’s no surprise that he attracts similar-minded creatives as friends and collaborators, from Miley Cyrus to Yoko Ono to Kesha. Nor is it a surprise that Flaming Lips fans mirror the same passion, showing up to live shows bursting with positive energy in fuzzy pig masks and karate costumes.
One could say it’s that refreshingly eccentric personality that has kept the band around through 33 years and 14 albums. The newest of their releases, Oczy Mlody (pronounced oxy like the drug, mlody like melody without the e), marks a return to optimism for the band following 2013’s moody The Terror. The tracks’ noticeably lighter lyrical themes float over a synth-heavy dreamscape, punctuated by round after round of droning bass and glitchy vocals. Hours before Wayne’s birthday party (which doubled as the Oczy Mlody release party and if you are cool and follow our Snapchat then you saw it but if you didn’t then you’re missing out), we sat down with the artist to talk about unicorns, a new record on the horizon, and literally whatever else Wayne felt like talking about (all of it great).
So you’ve crafted this very unique signature sound and vibe for yourself. Fourteen albums in, how do you avoid monotony?
Well, see, I think that part of it is just overrated or people must think it’s more prevalent than it is. Most people that I know who are creative, they find great joy in even doing the same thing over and over. Like Jen Stark, she is getting up every day and just doing her thing. And it’s wonderful, probably more wonderful when people like it and it gets to earn you a living. But most people I know don’t look at it as monotonous; they’re just like, “This is my job, I get to get up every day and do this.” I’m in that category, I never think any of this would be monotonous. We can kinda do whatever we want; there’s freedom in that. I never think of it like, “Oh, here we are again, making another Flaming Lips album with these same people, fuck.” You know, we’re not so mega-successful that we’re compelled to put out the brand or theme and reshape it or whatever.
I think I read somewhere that the theme on Oczy Mlody is…people having sex on top of unicorns.
Can you elaborate?
For us, there’s this obvious area of psychedelic or whatever. I don’t think we ever consider it that much, but I would never purposely write a song called “There Should Be Unicorns” and then have the first line of the song be “There Should Be Unicorns.” We approach things as being metaphors or making fun of them, or we’re not really talking about what we’re talking about but… most of the time, actually, when we’re singing a song, there is no other meaning. It’s about what we say it’s about. Making records is great because a lot of times you have no concept of story or things that connect one song to another, but as you get toward the end, it’s a really great relief to know that, Oh, we know what we’re singing about. The very last song that we wrote and put together was “There Should Be Unicorns,” and it was already this great, epic thing. It reminds me a lot of that Camelot song they talk about with Jackie Kennedy; it talks about a setting and they can control how the flowers grow and what the temperature of the air is.
This is your version of that?
It’s me telling a party planner, “Here’s what I want this party to be–there should be unicorns.” I am being very specific: I don’t want the ones with the green eyes, I want the ones with the purple eyes. In my world, you would know that. You’d be like, “Oh, Wayne’s parties are great, they don’t have the green-eyed unicorns.” And we can control the sun, you know, ’cause we don’t want it to be too hot in the middle of the sky. It has to be just on the horizon. There would be naked slaves and people who have sex on the unicorns, which we’ll all watch. And there are motorcycle stunts too, but we don’t want them unless they crash. It’s boring if they don’t crash. It’s kind of all these absurd things that we’re saying are possible. We’re looking at this world as if it’s a make believe fairytale world in a giant gated community in the future, where people are so self-indulgent and so rich that you simply want to do something that no one else in the history of mankind could do. [The song] has these horn passages in it and the melody is kind of emotional. Sometimes through music you’re already telling a compelling story, and lyrics are just a juicy little thing that you get to listen to. They aren’t what tells you the story, the music and everything else tells you the story. I think, if I interrogated you long enough, I could play you that music without there being any lyrics to it and after about the 10th hour, you would say, “I don’t know why but it seems like it’s about unicorns” and I would say, “SEE! I’M RIGHT!”
Are there any influences on the new album that’ll surprise people?
Well, some people might still be surprised that we’re–purposely and without there being some mastermind controlling the whole thing–working with Miley Cyrus. It’s like, I don’t know why that still seems weird to people. I think it was more acceptable when we were on a Miley Cyrus record, but now it’s crossed over into this sacred holy land where she’s on a Flaming Lips record, which is so great and perfect. That might still freak some people out. Also, you know, there’s the type of sound we’re using. We’ve been around a long, long time. Some of our audience consists of older dudes like us. I’m very used to it, this big, sub-y sound with bass and minimal clicky sounds. Actually, last night Miley picked us up from the airport and she immediately put on this song, and it was so…
What was it?
Let me see if I can find it on my phone. At first I thought it was her, like, Fuck, that’s cool. But it wasn’t her, it was this girl, here she is, “Heard Em Say” by Leikeli47. And with the sound systems they have now, it can be really fat and bright. Being around her and her producers on these speakers, it’s definitely had an effect on me. And now when I listen to The Beatles, sometimes I secretly wanna go in and add some fat to it.
Which you did to Bowie’s Space Oddity.
Yeah… Bowie, well, it was our own version. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me being ruined by the music industry. But I would never tell anyone but you guys that I want to add stuff to The Beatles records, okay?
When you and Miley first started working together, whose fans had the better reactions to your collabs: yours or hers?
Well, ours did. We were fans of hers ourselves–and not just the music or way she looked. We all thought the VMA thing she did with Robin Thicke was absolutely amazing. In the interviews she gave after the fallout from that performance, she just comes out and says, “This is what the fuck I’m doing,” and it’s just so great, and what the fuck, and outrageous, and genius. We’re all in love with her, and I think she always knew that in a sense. A lot of our fans had the same impression of her, I think, that she’s freaky, and funny, and slightly psychedelic, and just wonderful in all the right ways. I think it’s still her youngest fans who are having the hardest time dealing with her changes. Like, some of Miley’s youngest fans think I’m controlling her. They like the idea that she’s being told what to wear, what to sing, how her shows are gonna be, when actually she’s the one doing every bit of it, deciding every little nuance. I couldn’t just wake up and decide to go work with her and tell her what to do. People like to believe, I think, that I’ve drugged her and I have her under complete control. And you know, it’s such a great drug that even though she has no control, she can still go up and sing and do drugs all night.
That sounds like a great drug.
Listen, if I had the drug, we’d all be using it right now. I would give it to Donald Trump, and we would all be living the high life. But listen, they’re young and I forgive them; people just say things on the Internet. But when we do shows with her and her fans, they love everybody in the group. If you’re there with Miley, they love you. The things people say on the Internet, who cares? Most of it is love, a small percentage is this ignorant hate, and that’s just the world. Who cares?
Did you guys go through a similar pushback from Kesha’s fans?
Not as much because it wasn’t as public, and it was just for a couple of songs. I guess Kesha’s fans didn’t really know who we were. There were definitely a few Flaming Lips fans who were like, “What the fuck, Kesha?,” and I’d say the same thing to them: If you were around her, you’d get it.
So your tour kicks off in London later this month. What city are you most excited to hit this year?
London is a lot of fun for us. We have a lot of friends there; we’re meeting with Damien Hirst the day before the show to see some of his stuff. We don’t really play that many shows that we’re not excited about unless we’re sick or something. I really love San Francisco; it was one of the first places that would let us play back in 1984. We couldn’t even play in Oklahoma. It still feels like we’re a version of a group that would’ve come from San Francisco, even though it only REALLY makes sense that we come from Oklahoma, and that’s why it works. But nowadays, the world is so connected through the Internet–you can just be in Oklahoma and people know just as much and are just as tuned into what you’re doing as people in London or San Francisco. It wasn’t always like that, but it certainly is now.
Do you have any dream stages that you haven’t played yet?
Well, we have a record that’s gonna come out. Nobody knows this yet, but I guess we can probably talk about it now. So, for the past five years, we’ve run in circles that are connected to the Virgin Records guy, Richard Branson. He’s very set on being part of the team behind the first musicians to go into space, and I’m always around these people a few times a year, and we keep asking each other, “So who’s it gonna be?” We all know that Lady Gaga wants to be, and I think that’s very possible because she could simply go up there with a microphone, play a track, not take a shit for a day or two, and then fly back down. We always have this big road crew, these big amps, and all these things that rock groups still have, so it seems very unlikely. I wouldn’t wanna go up there with just a microphone and some Depends on.
Ok, wait, rewind. Tell me about the next record?
So this next record we have coming out is like a fantasy record of us performing on an international space station. We have so many recordings of us playing live, and we’ve taken some of the most insane audience sound bites, like the chants in between songs and stuff–we’ve taken these and put them to some demos we have in our studio. We made this fantasy thing where we’re just up there, performing on the space station, but this space station doesn’t actually exist the way we think of space stations now; it’s like the space station that existed in my childhood perception of what a space station would be. I was born in 1961, and when I was eight years old, they were just landing on the moon. So I remember it being on TV and going outside to look at the moon with my dad’s binoculars and seeing the flag.
You could see it?
We couldn’t, obviously. But you know, when you’re eight, you’re convinced that these are pretty fuckin’ powerful binoculars, dude. And thinking that there would be a space station in ten years that would be giant, and we could go there to just do whatever–that’s how I’m putting the record forth. Like Space Odyssey; it’s just this giant, beautiful space station, not one of those dumb little capsules just floating around out there. That would be a dream concert, to answer your other question. But see, we have to think about these things. Like, how do you shit in outer space? It’s a real thing, and we’ve done research on it. We know that you go into a little vacuum-sealed thing that freezes it, and they don’t even throw it out into space, they reuse it. They reuse everything because weight in space is such a premium. Everything gets recycle. Your food must taste so horrible, but you know, there are sacrifices we have to make to travel in space. That’s probably why Lady Gaga won’t do it, she’s like, “I am not eating someone else’s shit for dinner.”
It could be a strong career moment.
It’s true! People talk about the way that space stations will exist in the future, where you can eat the whole thing. You won’t have to take food with you; you build the ship as you eat the ship, and it’s really sustainable. It’s probably not good for binge eaters. You’d have to watch your fellow astronauts and be like, “Hey, you’re looking a little chunkier; how much of our space station have you been eating? The air pressure is off.”
Speaking of your dreams, who would you love to collab with soon? Who’s doing cool stuff?
Well, some of them are dead. I absolutely love Amy Winehouse and wish that she could’ve gotten through her intense and horrible stuff that she couldn’t survive. I think she would have been so much fun to make music with. Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, people like that. For living people, there’s Ariel Pink. We’ve done stuff with him live, but it’d be great to do a proper Flaming Lips and Ariel Pink thing together. There’re some other guys, you know, there’s everybody. I love everybody. So if someone comes up to me and says “Wanna do this?,” I’m just like, “Yeah! Cool! Let’s do it!” Except I won’t say yes to the Trump inauguration. But I’m not being asked, either.
To close, in the entirety of your massive and varied discography, what’s your favorite song?
I think as time has gone on, this song of ours “Do You Realize??” has sort of gained its own momentum, meaning, usefulness, and all of these things that all songwriters at some level want to have contributed to the world. Something like a “Happy Birthday” or “What a Wonderful World” or John Lennon’s “Imagine,” something like that where you’re inside yourself. I think “Do You Realize??” is like that. Not on those levels, obviously, but it does that sort of thing. At virtually every show we do, there’s a person who’ll come up to me and say, “At my dad’s funeral last week, we sang it,” or, “When our daughter was born, we used it on this thing we sent out to everybody,” and it’s this heavy, optimistic moment. When you’re doing a new song, you’re absolutely in love with it and think it’s the greatest song ever. Then you move on, and the next song is the greatest song EVER, and you’re just indulged in the thing that is right there with you. But this song, it’s really better than we are. We want to sing it, and we’re glad to get to be the ones who sing it–as if it’s just a song we’re singing, even though we know we wrote and produced it, and all that. But it’s so much more fun to be able to stand outside of it. There are some groups that have that one song they have to sing every night, and they’re sick of it. We’re so glad to have an arsenal of songs that give the audience that reaction. That’s the greatest thing, and it’s what music and art wants to do. It’s more than just partying and having fun; it’s going to the heart of their lives. Also, it repeats like “Happy Birthday,” so everyone knows at least a few of the lyrics.
The Flaming Lips’ 14th album, Oczy Mlody is available now on iTunes and probably whatever streaming service you use.
For more on Oczy Mlody, check out Wayne’s explanation below:
Also, Wayne has more to say.