The Flaming Lips’ Experimental Year
(Wayne Coyne at this year’s Hangout Music Fest)
2012 has been a particularly experimental year for The Flaming Lips.
Never wanting to play it safe, the band surprised fans this year by releasing everything from a
24-hour song to music packaged in gummy fetuses.
Frontman Wayne Coyne said that taking the band in such an experimental direction was not only an artistic venture, but also a business decision.
At the end of 2010 the Lips’ contract with Warner Bros. Records was about expire.
Coyne said that because of the changing nature of the music industry, the Lips members weren’t sure how to approach renegotiations, so they didn’t.
“There were a lot of bands like us that were sort of getting ready to do a new version of a record contract, because nobody knows what the fuck to do,” Coyne said. “So we thought someone would figure something out and we would just do what they did. Well, that didn’t really happen.”
When it came time for the Lips to renegotiate, the members still couldn’t make up their minds.
“We said ‘Let’s fuck around for a year. Let us discover what we want, in our own way, to happen,’” Coyne said. “So they said ‘Cool, let’s see what happens.’”
Their most recent experiment, The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends, is a collaborative record featuring Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Chris Martin of Coldplay, Yoko Ono, Ke$ha, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and more.
“Since we were releasing music every month, we thought it would be a little bit boring for us each month to say ‘Well here’s four more Flaming Lips songs,’” Coyne said. “We just thought ‘Well we’ll get some of our friends, and we’ll do collaborations and see what happens.’”
Coyne said the recording process began modestly.
“In the beginning it was just people we would run into.”
The Lips’ collaborations with Neon Indian happened when the bands paths crossed on tour in Portland.
But soon Coyne began to reach out to bigger artists.
“A lot of these people I would just get their number and text them,” Coyne said. “I would know they were fans, like Bon Iver; I knew Justin Vernon liked us.”
Coyne said it wasn’t easy assembling an all-star cast of collaborators.
“Someone like Nick Cave, you’ll ask him and it’s ‘No, I’m too busy. I’ve got things to do,’” Coyne said. “And I’m like ‘Well, I know, but I’ll make it easy for you.’ So the third time I ask him he says ‘Well, I might do it,’ and by the tenth time he’s like ‘Fuck it, I’ll do it if you’ll just leave me alone.’ It’s hardly ever like ‘Yes! Let’s make music!’”
For one collaborator though, it was just that. Ke$ha called Coyne on his birthday and invited the band to her house in Nashville, Tenn., to record some songs.
“She is just crazy,” Coyne said. “She has a tattoo gun, and within 30 minutes she gave me a tattoo on my toe.”
The Lips ended up recording songs with Ke$ha into the night and more the next day.
Coyne said he is a big fan of Ke$ha.
“She’s crazy in the best way: she’s creative, she’s funny, she’s intense, she has a lot of energy,” Coyne said. “Erykah Badu was the same way.”
The band already has another batch of songs ready and will enter the studio in three weeks to decide what to do with the material.
“Steven (Drozd) and I have been listening it to it quite a bit,” Coyne said. “It’s a good collection. We’re calling it nine songs, but some of them connect together. This is all like a big piece of music. It’s a bunch of different songs, but it feels like a piece of music.”
Despite the frantic pace of their musical output, Coyne said the band members aren’t struggling to create new music.
“Sometimes it’s like nothing,” Coyne said. “You’re already there and stuff is happening, you’ve already done one song and it’s like ‘Fuck, yeah, I’ll do another song.’ Sometimes they just happen. And then an hour later you’ve got a whole other thing. It’s just music. People seem to think it’s got to be some mystical experience or something. Sometimes things just sound cool and you’re already recording.”