The living embodiment of “work hard, play hard”, The Flaming Lips have been keeping busy lately by exploring weird and wonderful ventures that range from starting their own podcast to making their own beer and then releasing vinyl records containing said beer.
Wayne Coyne and co are also getting ready to play festival dates in the UK and Europe in July. Ahead of those, the frontman spoke to NME about working with Mac DeMarco, being a big fan of Post Malone, covering David Bowie and mixing Miley Cyrus’ pee with glitter.
You’re returning to the UK in July to play Kaleidoscope Festival at Alexandra Palace and Bluedot at Jodrell Bank. Both are very picturesque settings, are you excited?
“Yes! I mean, people do forget how beautiful the gardens around England are during the summer. You forget how strangely tropical it is. We were playing around last summer and it’s like, ‘oh my gosh’. It’s something you don’t think about when you’re playing around in the mountains of California or something like that and they’re beautiful. It’s a funny thing.
“This kind of festival is becoming the [in] thing now, it’s not just some muddy field. That’s how Glastonbury seemed like how it started back in the 1800’s [laughs]. That was good enough, but now I think there is more of a desire for it to be a slightly magical. It’s not meant to look like the survival of the fittest on a desert island. It’s comfortable, there’s costumes and candy and it’s meant to be inviting for everybody. We play a lot of them now where they are meant for parents to bring their kids and it’s wonderful. If you went back too far, that would seem a little bit of a joke. Nowadays we don’t want festivals to be such a challenge.
Are these things what keeps festival season fresh for you as performers?
“We like them no matter what they are. We play so many kinds of festivals and I think it makes it a wonderful package to look forward to it instead of the dread in some peoples minds who are thinking ‘oh my god, we have to use those toilets’. I don’t blame people for having that in their minds at all. We love all of it that, as along as the audience is having a good time. If they’re having fun, we’re winning. Often times even when it rains, there’s people having a great time.
“I don’t want to make it seem we prefer these [types of festivals] to [others], we’re lucky that we get invited to so many festivals, what I call whimsical festivals. Most festivals are quite colourful and psychedelic, but we get invited to the ones that lean slightly towards the more fairytale.
Do you have any special plans for these two performances? What can fans expect?
“If you haven’t seen us before, expect just an insane amount of enthusiasm. Although, we can’t do it all the time, we blast as much confetti and balloons and all the sort of stuff to get you into the mood of what we feel like is the best scenario to experience the Flaming Lips. We don’t want it to be taken seriously, we want people smiling and jumping around and having fun. So we encourage all that from the very first moment, we want people to be engaged and energised.
“I think our music is emotional at times – our audience does have a deep connection to what the songs are about. If you’re not ready, you might be stood next to people crying and having what, some might say, is a struggle but what it is actually is some form of powerful experience connected to one of our songs. We encourage that in our audience, don’t hold back, if you feel like you’re overwhelmed by a song, that’s okay.”
“On a bigger level it’s absurdist entertainment and we want to be part of the big adventure of your day or festival experience. It really is never about us, it’s about being with your friends and having a great time, which is more than a good reason to be there. Yeah, we have plenty of things, riding a unicorn around while singing a song about a unicorn. I have my space bubble.
“Most of it is really up to the audience, that idea if you’re paying attention and you feel this surge of love and energy and love for humanity and enthusiasm coming over you.”
You cover David Bowie‘s ‘Space Oddity’ live, and in the past you’ve covered whole albums by the likes of Stone Roses, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, and others. Is Bowie someone you would like to pay tribute to like this in the future?
“We’re still doing Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ in the space bubble. It just seems like such a powerful moment, and since it’s been a couple of years since David Bowie has gone, it does feel even more powerful when we do it now, because his music always played in our lives anyway and his music has always kind of lifted him into another world.
“He would probably have been an artist that we would have stumbled upon [doing the cover album series]. The dilemma with Bowie is that we know his songs more than we would do whole records. We would know ‘Ziggy’ all the way through, ‘Hunky Dory’ all the way through, maybe ‘Low’. There’s a few, but we wouldn’t be able to say that we would know every song, even say ‘Let’s Dance’. So that may be the reason why we didn’t do it prior to his death, but sometimes now it even feels like an obvious tribute. But yes, David Bowie would definitely be on the list.”
What happened to that split EP you had coming out with Mac DeMarco?
“We played a series of shows together and we were attempting to get that done the shows, just as another interesting thing to promote brotherhood. Mac, in his schedule, would already have tons of stuff to do, then a week later he would have twice as much stuff to do. He’s like me, he always says yes to things. We are both guilty of that.”
“We had recorded a couple of tracks, there was a day when we were playing Los Angeles and we had a free day, so we scheduled a recording because we knew we wanted to do this. When we worked with Miley Cyrus, people were still recording until 6 o’clock in the morning and then you just hope that they have the strength and will-power to get up and do the recording as well. With Mac, he got a lot of people over to his house, and it was a beautiful night, people were swimming and then I had a sense that it was not going to happen.
“I’m lucky I have my own recording studio and I have an engineer that works on things even if I’m not there. Mac’s the engineer, Mac’s is everything, it it’s not like he’s the down the road at all. It’s understandable and it’s forgivable. He and I now would always say ‘of course, we’re working on it, we just haven’t finished it yet’.”
You’ve said you like Post Malone too – is he someone you’d want to work with?
“Yeah, for sure. We played a festival with him last week, we got to meet him and hang out with him. He had his mother there and it was really phenomenal. When you’re around him, he’s just so likeable and humble, a cool guy and his songs have so much meaning in them when you get to know him and his story. I don’t know all of his earlier stuff but I definitely know his more recent big hits. We’ve been driving round for the past six months playing his music, singing along with him and then getting to meet him after the show and him being so open and nice – he treated everybody nicely, not just the people who he thought were rock stars. He’s really nice but smart and funny too. I would love to do something with him, he’s got a great melodic thing about him. Even thought it appears like he’s a rapper he’s also a good singer, and has a cool style and a good way of blending rap with some melodic stuff. His name and tattoos are great.”
You recently released a vinyl record with beer in it. Previously you’ve done the same but with blood. Where do you think you can take the format next?
“You can’t really up the ante too much from human blood, but maybe when the beer is your own beer – the beer was made especially for the Flaming Lips and has our influence in its taste and colour. That’s not as insane as having a little bit of Erykah Badu, and Chris Martin’s blood in your records. Probably not as insane as that, but still pretty great. The next record we were talking about releasing was the Miley Cyrus and the Dead Petz record. We’d get a good amount of Miley’s pee and mix it with some glitter and put that in. I think that would up the ante. Don’t you?”
Next year marks the 20th anniversary of ‘The Soft Bulletin’, do you have any plans to celebrate the milestone?
“In 2016, we played a concert in a big amphitheatre here in America, called Red Rocks, with a symphony orchestra from Denver. We recorded it, so maybe that’s the thing that ties in with the 20th anniversary. It’s a bit epic because it’s a live orchestra and about 30-40 more people in the choir. It sounds a little bit bigger, more epic, a little bit more drama. It surprised us, how much that really upped the ante on it. That really added something.”
Flaming Lips play Bluedot Festival near Macclesfield on July 20, and then Kaleidoscope in London on July 21. Visit here for tickets and more information.