Over the last 34 years, the Flaming Lips have repeatedly pushed the limits as far as how weird rock music can get. Simply calling their sound “psychedelic” or “experimental” probably doesn’t do it justice, and — particularly after January’s release of Oczy Mlody — they show no sign of ditching their unique sounds anytime soon.
For those who haven’t picked up the band’s 14th studio record (not including soundtracks, collaborations, or the various other projects they’ve released), Oczy Mlody is everything you’d expect from a Flaming Lips album in that it’s more or less nothing you’d expect. We caught up with vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Wayne Coyne to talk about the new record’s featured guests, the technology of recording, and how a joke on a conference call turned into a collaborative Pink Floyd cover album.
PUREVOLUME: First things first, you’ve got both Reggie Watts and Miley Cyrus featured on Oczy Mlody. Those aren’t two names people expect to see on the same record, so how did you decide on them?
WAYNE COYNE: I don’t know if Reggie has done anyone else’s records. As much hassle and as long as it took to get Reggie to be on our record, I’m not sure that many people would be willing to be as diligent for such length. I saw Reggie six or seven years ago at the Sasquatch Festival outside of Seattle, and I told him we should do something together. Then every time I’d run into him or see him on TV, I’d text him and tell him we should do something together. Then finally when we were making this record, I sent him this little poem and said ‘Hey, what do you think of this?’ and a couple days later he sent it back and it was done. I’m so glad we kept at it, because it sounds amazing and it’s perfect. I didn’t even question it. I just said ‘Oh great, now we’ll make a song to go with it.’ We messed around with two or three different things, and now we have Reggie on one of our tracks. It’s even better because he comes in at the end of it and makes this grand psychedelic story.
With Miley, the track we have on our record — “We a Family” — was something we worked on two or three years ago thinking that it was going to be for her originally. We just couldn’t get it to work, it was always too slow or serious or something. We kept trying and trying, but I think we finally hit on something that was less serious at the end of this record.
PV: With records spanning the last three decades, how different is Oczy Mlody compared to the 13 Flaming Lips albums that came before it?
WC: I don’t think we compare it to all of the other albums. This is probably the first album we’ve put out where we would boldly play some of the tracks as if they were hits like a lot of our other songs, but before the album had even been out for a year. I think that really worked. We’ve been playing “There Should Be Unicorns” and “The Castle,” and sometimes those get the craziest reactions of all the songs we’ve been doing. There’s an emotional thing in some of the songs, and I think that’s really a powerful connection for people. We have weird songs and noisy songs and all kinds of bombastic songs, but nothing is as connective as those emotional songs.
PV: From the recording side of things, how has making a record changed for you over the years?
WC: If we had to keep making records the way we did a long long time ago, I just don’t think we’d do it. It would be stressful and not very satisfying. Because of the producers we’ve been able to run into and work with, they allow us to advance and do what we want to do. They allow us to do 200 or 250 tracks, and it’s not some stressful insane thing. It’s getting easier and easier now, because what once took a week now takes an hour. We’ve been able to move along with the technology — not necessarily myself, but the people we’re working with — it makes it easier and funner.
PV: Much like the records, no one ever knows what kind of magical chaos to expect from a Flaming Lips show. How have you been able to keep expanding and changing your live performances over the years?
WC: We just absolutely love it. We see little things and want to try this or try that, but we never look at it and think the thing we were doing two years ago is old and boring. We always think what we’re doing is cool anyway, but we always try to push it along and do stuff. I think that’s just part of the nature of what we’re doing. We never look at it like we have to do anything. We want to try different atmospheres in which we sing these songs in because we want the songs to really penetrate you. We’re almost always struggling with how do we make this song, these lights, and all of these things work so in the end we have this very powerful emotional experience. That part of it never gets old.
PV: Aside from your own studio material, you also did a pretty phenomenal version of Dark Side of the Moon back in 2009. How did that come about?
WC: We were going to do a song on the Colbert show, and one of our albums was about to come out. One of the people at iTunes wanted us to do a special thing just for the people with iTunes to have. We didn’t really have anything we could do, so I suggested at the time as a joke that we could just do Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. It was a strange moment where everyone on the conference call just said ‘Ummm… Well…” and I started to think maybe we could do that. Then over the next couple of days they said if we wanted to do that, they could get us some time in the studio to do it. We spoke to the White Dwarfs and Peaches and Henry Rollins about doing some of the songs, and it started to seem like it could be a really cool group of people doing this album. I don’t think we would’ve been able to do it all by ourselves, but having people come in and contribute all of these wonderful things to it — it opened our eyes to doing quite a bit more of that.