Forever unpredictable, tomorrow sees The Flaming Lips celebrate Record Store Day by dropping an exclusive album all about a great but giant king who has his head severed by his people so that they may party inside it and be connected to the universe. Oh, and it's narrated by The Clash legend Mick Jones. We caught up with frontman Wayne Coyne to find out what exactly they were thinking.
Hello Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips. Why have you guys been such active patrons for Record Store Day over the years?
“We have done virtually every Record Store Day since it started, and that’s no small feat. It works pretty conveniently for us because we always have so much material, as well as the old stuff. Doing this, you do get some of the sense of the torture of being a fashion designer. You’re putting together what the bikinis will look like in the dead of winter because you’re working to hit all these deadlines of production. I like that.”
From releasing records inside gummy skulls and vinyl featuring Nick Cave’s blood, would you say that you want each release to be a celebration of the physical?
“It’s a weird one for me. It isn’t just playing the record – it’s record shopping too. There are two generations of people that don’t know what the fuck a record store is, which is fine. It’s hard to say what the experience is. Is it about standing in line, getting inside and getting all these nice shopping choices, or is it about getting home, opening the record, feeling it and smelling it as this big piece of plastic and paper? Or is it putting it on the turntable and having that experience of the needle and the vinyl generating that other dimension?”
So you love the romance of it all?
“For me personally, I don’t ever go to record stores and shop like that. I’m just looking at it as music; whether I’m looking at it on my phone or whatever – but being involved in Record Store Day helps get a sense of the novelty of it. I love that. Some people say, ‘Novelty is bad’, but I think it’s amazing. It’s difficult to come up with things that don’t detract from the idea of who you are as an artist.”
Where would you say that ‘The King’s Mouth’ takes your sound from ‘Oczy Mlody’?
“I don’t really think we viewed ‘Oczy Mlody’ as a complete record until it was just about done. There were elements of it that were recorded five years earlier and, like most of our records, it was pieced together even though it sounds new. We were already doing stuff that was going to end up being the music on ‘The King’s Mouth’, as well as The Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz’ record.”
So when did ‘The King’s Mouth’ become its own world?
“Over the past year and a half, ‘The King’s Mouth’ was coherently it’s own thing. That was our leaping off point. The opening track on ‘Oczy Mlody’ set the tone for what that was going to be about – a smooth, abstract and melodic thing but that feels like it’s from some kind of foreign mind. We felt like a foreign band, in a good way. With the lyrics, we liked the idea that it seemed like we didn’t know English as a first language. I always kind of liked that. We stumbled across a lot of funny arrangements that way.
“With ‘The King’s Mouth’, we knew we wanted them to be emotionally-based songs – almost like we could be James Taylor. We wanted it to feel like a storyteller sitting there with an acoustic guitar; only it happens to be some kind of futuristic weirdo sitting there doing it. ‘Oczy Mlody’ feels like it’s not even it might be a bunch of machines all talking to each other, rather than musicians. ‘The King’s Mouth’ sounds human and driven by real emotions. These are real memories trying to sing to you.”
The lyrics give it a pretty far-out narrative. What’s going on?
“I’m so familiar with this ridiculous story of ‘The King’s Mouth’ that I kind of like that it doesn’t have to be that apparent in the music. My references would stuff like The Who’s ‘Tommy’ – it’s the story of a boy where something magic happens to him then something tragic at the end. I’m familiar with it but wouldn’t always be able to tell you what happened. It’s the same with ‘The Point’ by [Harry] Nilsson. These things could be children’s stories, and all good children’s stories are ten pages long. Unfortunately our record is longer than that.”
So is it a typical kids’ good vs evil story?
“In our story, The King gets his head cut off. In most traditional stories that usually means that he was a horrible king. You know, his kingdom went against him, chopped his head off and now they’re all having fun! Whereas in my story, his head was cut off because they love him so much and want to keep his giant head, so they preserve it as a steel monument. Part of the story is vague but as it goes along it becomes clear.”
“He was a giant baby, who grows into a giant boy, then a giant teenager, then a giant adult. His head and his mind eventually get connected to the universe. He gets killed while saving the city from a giant avalanche of snow, but they can find him later because his head is connected to the universe even though he’s dead. They preserve this porthole into everything through the magic of his mind. You walk into his mouth, peer up and see what’s in his mind.”
There’s an art installation recreating the head. Did that come before or after the idea for the album?
“It started as this art installation at our gallery. It didn’t have a name, but it just had a dancer in there. It wasn’t open to the public but once every six months we’d have these elaborate parties inside it. We started to give it a face. We were looking at it at something connected to a religion from Mars or something. It appealed to us as a massive silver entity. Because it had a crown, people started referring to it as ‘The King’, then because of the hole we crawled through they started to call it ‘The King’s Mouth’. People would be partying in there forever. We’d make up these bombastic, weirdo, confrontational movies and all these people (some of them on drugs and stuff) would just peer up at these movies.”
“Because this initial installation was happening in a hurry, I just made up this ridiculous Dr Seuss style story to go along with the head. The music that’s in ‘The King’s Mouth’ installation is only around 10 minutes long, and it centres around two of the instrumentals that are on the album. It began just as that – these abstract storytelling instrumentals. Little-by-little we were encouraged and realised there was probably an album to go with this.”
Why did you ask The Clash’s Mick Jones to narrate the album?
“With Mick, I had no second choice. When he got involved, that really sealed it. Up until he did his narration it wasn’t really set in stone and could have been whatever we wanted it to be. I feel that the word ‘eccentric’ definitely applies when I hear his voice. It’s not just a voice – it’s the voice of Mick Jones! It’s insane. Even to people who don’t know him, they’ll hear his eccentric character. It’s not American, it’s not British, it’s whatever we say it is. People get used to that. Look at ‘Star Wars’ – there’s not a space or a time that you have to be in.”
Are there any lines in particular that you feel he really nails?
“I did watch and listen to a lot of interviews that Mick had done. It’s such a serendipitous thing that what I fell in love with about the way he spoke actually happened on this record. He has this interview where he talks about the break-up of The Clash and how he spent a lot of time up at his mother’s house. He had a tone when he talked about his mother that I made me think ‘Oh my God, if he says ‘mother’ that way with our text, then it’s going to be heartbreaking’ – and he did. When I heard him say that, there was some sort of cosmic connection. It’s insane how expressively perfect it is.”
Do you have any more dream collaborations left on the bucket list?
“Whenever there is someone, I’m always very open to seeing what could happen. We’ve done a lot of very lucky collaborations that we would never have thought could happen. A lot of it is just about being proactive about wanting it. At one point we wanted to do some stuff with Yoko Ono. I knew Sean [Lennon, her son] quite well and I thought, ‘Well, that’s going to help us’, but she just simply said no. About a year later I kept asking until she probably forgot that we asked and she eventually said yes. I know how people are. If you’re really busy with a lot of things then you just say no because you don’t want to overburden your sense of enjoying your creations. I think we just got lucky with her. ‘No’ doesn’t always mean ‘no forever’.”
“We just did a mash-up with Spaceman 3 and Post Malone. I did run into him. He does seem like he’s very open and loves all kind of music, but we were already three or four projects deep so I didn’t pursue it as ‘a thing’ for right now. I always like the idea that you like a person, so if a project goes badly then you’re still gonna have fun regardless of how the music is. Being around him was a lot of fun. That’s what we did with Miley. It was so crazy hanging out with her that we just thought we’d do that until some music happened. If you like someone, you’ll keep working. If you keep working then eventually you’ll stumble over something really great.”
The Flaming Lips release ‘The King’s Head’ in a limited run for Record Store Day on Saturday April 13 before a full release in July.
The band will return to the UK to perform ‘The Soft Bulletin’ anniversary tour in September.
September 5 – Usher Hall, Edinburgh
September 6 – Manchester Academy, Manchester
September 7 – Brixton Academy, London