The Flaming Lips won over the masses at T in the Park and are now about to gatecrash pop’s biggest party. Frontman WAYNE COYNE tells us about the journey from indie rock obscurity to playing the MTV awards in Edinburgh. Words: Doug Johnstone
he Flaming Lips are a lesson in perseverance. They’re
also musicians of cosrnically mind-bending stature. as
daft as a box of frogs and some of the nicest human beings you could ever wish to meet. And for all the above reasons. they're a band to take to your heart.
Although they formed 20 years ago. the American threesome only really impinged on the mainstream consciousness just over a year ago. thanks to their monstrously successful album. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. In the last l2
months they have taken part in all manner of craziness (more of
which later). and it’s a ride that culminates this month with them playing at the MTV liurope Awards shebang in Princes Street (iardens. As Wayne Coyne — the band's gregarious singer and Captain Birdseye lookalike — tells The List. the route to success is all about leaving )‘(tllI'SleUPCH to suggestion.
‘Luckily we've learned to embrace the weirdness that can come your way.‘ he says. ‘Sometimes I think with artists. the more that they can control their lives. the more that they do. They just start taking control. they just wanna do this and they just wanna do that. But I have found that the more that we can control our lives. the more we are open to weird shit that can come our way. So I hope that we don't ever fall into that gap of someone like. say. Prince. where everything has to be perfect. because the best things that have ever happened to us have been these bizarre things that just happen. You don‘t make them or control them.
‘Like being on Beverley Hills 902/0 [the band made an unlikely appearance on the crappy teen show in the mid-90s] — you can‘t design that. If you‘re not open to new ideas. people simply won‘t call you. and I want people to call me and say. “Hey Wayne. what do you think about this weird shit?" I think that‘s one of our great qualities — just to be open to things and to be suggestible. to say. “Let’s try new things. let’s have a new adventure here.”
And the Flaming Lips have certainly taken part in plenty of “weird shit‘ in their time. A few examples. Wayne Coyne once ‘conducted’ an orchestra of people in their cars. all with different tapes in their cars‘ tape decks. to create a kind of symphony in what was dubbed the ‘Parking Lot Iixperiment‘. In 1997 they released Aiireeku. a four-Cl) set for which the discs were designed to all be played simultaneously in different corners of the room. And they had one tour where they were handing out headphones at the door. and beaming the music straight to your ears as you stood there watching them.
Then there‘s Christmas on Mars. The band started working on a soundtrack album for an imaginary film a few years back. After getting so far with it. they realised they'd actually
12 THE LIST (ill Oct 'in Nt)‘. .7003
written a lilm script into the bargain and decided. what the hell. let‘s make a movie. Starring all the band. the project is described by Coyne as ‘being maybe like lz'ruserlteml crossed with The ll/izurzl of 0:. except done without real actors or money. and set at Christmas time.‘ Due to be finished for Christmas next year. it features Coyne as a green-skinned Santa Claus Martian with antennas. who teaches the humans the real value of Christmas. Quite.
'That‘s probably the next thing that we‘ll present to the world — a Flaming Lips movie.‘ says Coyne. ‘If there were any artists that could do that combination of subjects. it would be its. right? It seems like the Flaming Lips should be making a movie about Christmas in outer space. don't you think'.’ That‘s not a stretch for us. that‘s just our lives. It really stems from my obsessions with religion and science and the place where they meet in the middle. where it looks like nature and fantasy at the same time. It wasn’t like we planned to make a movie. but we had this story. and little by little we arrived at the fact that we could make a movie.’
Knowing the band‘s famous powers of persuasion and their penchant for collaboration. 1 ask whether there might be the odd cameo role for a serious actor or two in there. Coyne is being uncharacteristically coy. but gives us this little snippet:
‘Well. a couple of Hollywood guys have already offered to come out and spend the weekend with me here.‘ he says. “We‘ll get them in a couple of scenes. so it looks like there‘ll be some actual stars in this thing. Let's hope it‘s good. huh'."
lt's things like this that makes the Flaming Lips an utterly essential band. You can‘t imagine the (iallagher brothers doing any of this sttrff. can you'.’ We need our pop stars (and they are that now) to take risks. just to live lives more interesting. more vital than ours. That‘s the point ofthem. isn't it'.’
But for the Lips. it's all a long way from humble beginnings. The band. which has Coyne more than ably supported by rnulti-instrumentalists Michael lvins and Stephen Dro/d. formed in 1983 in their native ()klahoma. For the next In years. they created wilfully experimental. inventive and bonkers music. all of which went pretty much completely unnoticed outside of a few ultra-indie fans.
Then in I999. Soft Bulletin was released. Topping most album of the year polls. it was a wonderful record — touching. daring and sumptuous — and it showed the Flaming Lips finally fulfilling their potential. backing their usual ambition up with a record packed full of beautiful. simple tunes.
Then last year came the real commercial breakthrough. Yosltimi Battles the Pink Robots. A full l5 months of relentless promotion and touring has made it far and away the most