Photo by George Salisbury
Between releasing the Flaming Lips‘ 15th studio album—King’s Mouth—on July 17, and welcoming his first child on June 6, you’d think Wayne Coyne’s life has been turned upside down. However, it takes a lot more than fatherhood and a massive summer tour to phase the famed frontman.
“We thought we have such a wonderful, colorful, happy life. We just want to have him be in it,” Coyne says of his new family.
However, there was one time he felt the restrictions of new parenthood.
“[My family and I] were driving down the highway, and suddenly a cop car is chasing after this white minivan. This guy’s trying to run from the cops,” he recalls. “And we said, ‘Fuck, let’s follow them and see what happens!’ And I start going 90, 95, and then we both look at each other and realize, ‘We have a baby in here, we can’t do that!’ That’s the only time we kind of lost our minds for just, you know, just about 20 seconds. So yeah, we’re getting used to it.”
Below, Coyne talks about teaming up with the Claypool Lennon Delirium for their summer tour, enlisting Mick Jones of The Clash to narrate King’s Mouth and more.
The Flaming Lips teamed up with the Claypool Lennon Delirium to tour this summer. How’s it been going so far?
Well, you know, it’s funny because I’ve known Les [Claypool] even from way back in the days when Primus started in San Francisco. I mean, I don’t know him well, but we’ve always kind of played things, and we’d be there together, or whatever. And even when Primus got back together, we did festivals and stuff together, so we’d be backstage.
I hadn’t seen Sean [Lennon] in a little while. And have known him really since the mid-90s, I think. I’m trying to think of when his band, Cibo Matto, they came through Oklahoma City, and I remember going to see them and meeting him, and his mother–you know, Yoko Ono–had sent flowers to the show, and I remember him saying, “Take these flowers, they’re from my mother.” And you’re like, ‘“Oh, how crazy.”
They’ve done quite a few shows already this summer before we joined up. They can do like an hour and a half, and we can do an hour and a half, and it can be like, you know, some of the same like-minded fans and some fans that will see–on each side see like a new group, you know. And we also have Particle Kid. They’re really awesome. We’ve been trying to get them, you know, on some shows four or five years ago I think.
It’s a marvelous, perfect kind of tour.
Do you think the door is open for you jumping on stage with Les and Sean, or them jumping on stage with the Flaming Lips?
I don’t know. I think people overestimate my musical ability. You know, I’m in the Flaming Lips, it’s a very musical group, and I am able to do my own music, but I can’t really jam. I mean the only way I can jam is the way that I jam with the Flaming Lips, which is like, I do something and everybody follows me, you know? I always say that’s the mark of a really great group is the main guy, he doesn’t really know what to do, and the band makes it sound like he really knows what he’s doing. And the Flaming Lips definitely do that with me. I’ll lead the charge and have no musical idea of where it’s going, and because they’re so intuitive and so musical and so good. It makes it look like I’m leading the charge, but I’m really not, I’m just holding on the best I can.
Les will go up there and do a soundcheck, and it’s like, “Oh, I’m not in the same league as him.” And Sean is just such a freak. He really is. He is so musical. I mean he’s always up there trying to figure out some new, unknown chord sequence that no one’s ever played. And I’m still just struggling to get a good normal chord sequence that I can remember and play.
Maybe I can go up there and play like a theremin or something. Something that doesn’t really require too much.
Tell me a little bit about getting Mick Jones from The Clash to play the narrator on the Flaming Lips new record, King’s Mouth.
Steven [Drozd of the Flaming Lips] and I are still trying to figure out this accent that [Mick Jones] has. We feel like it’s slightly upper class, you know, little warbly-mouthed, but in the best, sort of gentle, eccentric kind of English way. And, yeah, we absolutely loved The Clash, and unfortunately, they broke up right as the Flaming Lips were starting to get together right there in the early ‘80s. And then Mick Jones went on to do Big Audio Dynamite. And so Don Letts, who’s in Big Audio Dynamite with Mick Jones, he’s come to several of our shows, and we have a mutual friend in a gal songwriter, her name is Georgia. And she lives right next door to Don Letts and his family. They came to one of the shows, and I know he knows Mick Jones, so I said, “Hey, do you think you could get Mick to do some narration on a Flaming Lips album?” And he just says, “Well, Mick won’t want to do it, but I’ll get him to do it.” And I really didn’t think that much of it. I thought, “Well, that’ll be great if he can, but if not I’ll see what comes of it.” And about a month later, all this stuff came back.
He’s not placed on every song, but almost every song on the album. Some of them, we literally built the song around him, and just sort of said, “Well, we’ve got this, let’s make this work.” And I think once we got him on to some of the songs, it just started meaning more and more.
I think at the very beginning, we thought it could even just be an abstract, kind of instrumental album. The stuff that plays in the “King’s Head” art installation is two of the compositions that ended up being “Mother Universe” and “Electric Fire”—they’re the songs that actually play inside the installation.
I kind of think it just kind of spurred us on to do more song-oriented stuff, and to give this story a real voice and a real sort of atmosphere. It really did surprise us that it became this cohesive thing, because in the beginning we were very content that it could just be some weird instrumentals and that would be fine.
You’ve previously said that your drawings helped pull the story out of the King’s Mouth instrumentals. Do you find yourself often starting with visuals and then building music out of it?
Everything is always going back and forth. With most of our records, even going back to our very first record that we made in 1983, at some point, I want to put together what would be the album cover. It’s always good that you sort of get a vibe and a feeling for what it’s going to be. Like for The Soft Bulletin album cover, I knew that I wanted to use that photograph. I already designed it before the album was finished. And the last maybe 25 percent of The Soft Bulletin was made with that cover in mind.
The way I say it, is “I don’t know what it’s supposed to be, but I know what it’s not.” We did some music that I felt like, “It doesn’t seem like it goes with this,” and then we would move on to something else.
With Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, same thing. We were about halfway done with that, and I had come up with the title Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, and then I drew a little, real quick sketch that I think really does resemble the way that that painting looks on the cover. I think right then we already knew, “Okay, we’re going to make this sort of cartoon-y sci-fi, you know, Asian, concept album,” even though most of the album was already finished, and it wasn’t really a concept album. But in the very end we threw three or four things on there that mention robots. That sealed its fate.
I’m glad you brought up The Soft Bulletin. In February, you reunited withthe Colorado Symphony to do a full album recreation. What’s the most satisfying part about doing those big collaborations with that many instruments behind you?
Before it’s happening, you can just imagine how rich and how dramatic and how precise, and all that stuff it’s going to be. And then when it’s over, it’s wonderful to sit there, and have the freedom to mix it and do all this stuff with this great, gigantic performance. But when you’re in the middle of it, it’s hell. [Laughs.]
The dilemma is you never have very much time. And in the Flaming Lips world, when we make records, we literally will take years to make a record. When you’re doing these things with this big ensemble—for this show at Red Rocks with the Colorado Symphony, I mean, it ended up being 80 people, which sort of grew day by day, you know? And there’s no time really to rehearse, and there’s very little time to set up to record, and though it’s at Red Rocks Amphitheater, outside of Denver, which is, you know, it’s one of the great American venues, it really is–I mean The Beatles played there, Jimi Hendrix played there, I think Igor Stravinski even played there, it’s insane. But, it is outdoors in the middle of some giant rocks, tucked on a mountain side, you know? It’s not, you know, it’s not a well-crafted, you know, for sound.
There’s a lot of variables there, for sure.
And on this particular night, it was slightly rainy, and it was cold. I mean, the audience loves it. The audience doesn’t care. Everybody still came and loved it just as much. But, you know, delicate fingers trying to play these delicate instruments back there, it’s a challenge.
In King’s Mouth, the arc of the story is quite dark at times, yet, it ends on an optimistic, happy note. Why did you choose to flip the story that way? Do we all need more optimism in our lives?
[Laughs] Well, I do find that if the Flaming Lips work on something long enough, no matter what it starts out being, it kind of gets this flavor to it. I think Dennis [Coyne] the engineer and Dave Fridman the producer and Steven, they all just latch on to it and make it more rich. But I also feel like that must just be part of my nature. That I’m already setting it up to be this way. Because I said the same thing about even some elements of The Terror, which I say is our grimmest record. The Terror is full of a kind of anxiety, but I still think you listen to it, and it’s still optimistic even amidst all the sort of chaotic, grey world that it’s going through. I think you’d know that if you are around me, and all the people that are around me. Regardless of what’s really happening, we would find the fun and the good and the light and the reason to be happy. Maybe that’s not always so good for music, it’s like your fingerprints just get all over this thing, and you can’t remove them. It’s like shaping clay, you know? Once you get a hold of it, you keep shaping it, and it does kind of resemble us. And I think in that way, I’m really quite glad, you know?