It’s been a tough half year or so for Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips. Last November he accidentally shut down the Oklahoma City’s Will Rogers Airport when he forgot he had a gold-painted hand grenade case (the explosive bits had been removed) in his carryon bag. He’d supposedly expropriated it from a party he’d attended the night before. Then he got himself into a he said/she said running Twitter battle with Erykah Badu over her nudity in a video meant to accompany her cover of Ewan MacColl’s, “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” that they had collaborated on for the Lip’s Heady Fwends project. Previous to that, the band released flash drives of three songs encased in gummy skulls and gummy fetuses. Then his bandmate Stephen Drozd had a substance abuse relapse. And finally Coyne and his wife Michelle split after 25 years together. All the while the band’s children’s-birthday-party-on acid vibe to their live show was growing a bit stale. A recent starring appearance in a Virgin Mobil commercial was a rare bright spot, though seeing Fearless Freak Coyne on national television was a bit jarring to say the least. Recently I spoke with the man himself and discussed how all this turmoil influenced the band’s very stark, dark and even frightening new album, the aptly named The Terror, which to be honest has taken a while to digest.
Always an entertaining and often enlightening conversationalist, Coyne was decked out in a blue metallic leather suit when we spoke. Forever obsessed with all things interplanetary, he had a splay of Ziggy Stardustlike spangles in an arc below one eye and each of his fingernails was intricately painted in a different color scheme. There truly is no one in music, or on planet earth for that matter, like Wayne Coyne. Back on the wagon, Stephen exercised while we spoke. “I don’t think it’s dark,” Coyne said about the new record. “It’s ambiguous and kind of cold and it’s full of anxiety you know. I think it’s purposely not singing about giraffes.
“We wanted to be very focused and not be hodgepodge and all over the place. We decided it would be nine songs. Some of our favorite records are short records. Dark Side of the Moon. Even something like Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain. They’re a great listen but they’re not an hour and half long. They’re this little arc. And we had done Heady Fwends which is a lot of music and previous to that Embryonic (2009) as a double record. It was a lot a lot of music and I think we were like, we don’t want to do that and so it seemed like we could do this type of music, if we were only gonna have to go this little arc. And that was appealing to us as artists.”
So what’s the process? How did the record come together?
“We go into this music and we’re discovering the music that we’re making, and on the way up there we don’t know what it is, and suddenly we discover it. And there’s this short period of time after we discover it that we really find our way. You have all these things you can pick from, but you’re really just listening and you kind of secretly go, `Ohh, I’m drawn to this' and you start to go that way. And before you know it you’re been working for a couple of weeks and you go `Wow, we really have a weird little sound here.’"
Many reviewers have mentioned how the oceans of electronics and gloomy, ethereal vibe of The Terror’s owe a debt to Krautrock. “There’s some of the emotion [of Krautrock], some bleakness, something triumphant about that, not quite finished and that’s such a truism of what life is. You think you know, but you don’t really know. There’s something ambiguous. There’s no way if you’re being honest that the music that you like and the music that you make aren’t going to sound alike. You can’t really know what it is and I think that’s what appeals to us the most.”
Tunes like “Try to Explain,” where by the end Coyne is emitting crying sounds or “You Are Alone” where he again ends the song with more ghostly, mournful yawls seem to be cutting close to the bone. Is this the Lips therapy record? Again, is this the aural portrait of the Lip's unsetting personal situations?
“I can’t help but think that some of it is because the things that you sing about are the things that you’re probably in your mind wondering about. Rarely do you sing about certainties. But I don’t think they are really that connected. We play the song “Try to Explain” like it’s this powerful thing, but it’s just a song. I would never, if I was aware of it, sing a song that would go so deeply into other people’s lives. So we weren’t doing that at the time, no.
“There’s a lot that this record could hint at. Well, here’s a truth. We talk about love and pain and we don’t control the controls. And I can see how all that…but it’s really not like that. You don’t get to know. There was despairing going on, but I don’t think the music sounds despairing.”