Interview - The Flaming Lips: 'Embryonic' Experiments The Oklahoma-based rockers have been steadily mining new sonic territory for over a quarter-century — a trend that continues on their new album. Front man Wayne Coyne discusses the release, plus a very naked music video and a forthcoming homage to Pink Floyd.
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The Flaming Lips: 'Embryonic' Experiments

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The Flaming Lips: 'Embryonic' Experiments

The Flaming Lips: 'Embryonic' Experiments

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GUY RAZ, host:

Wayne Coyne, do you think the Flaming Lips are weird enough to pull off a soundtrack for a Terry Gilliam film?

Mr. WAYNE COYNE (Lead Singer, The Flaming Lips): You know, if he would want us to, I'd be willing to try anything. And if he thought we were right for the project, I would believe him. He's a director and he seems to know what he's talking about.

RAZ: Actually, the Flaming Lips might be too out there, too experimental, even for Terry Gilliam.

The Oklahoma-based band's been making music for more than a quarter century, producing some of the most challenging and yet some of the most accessible music in that time. The Flaming Lips' latest release, "Embryonic," is being hailed by critics as one of their most complex and accomplished records since then.

(Soundbite of song "Convinced of the Hex")

Mr. COYNE: (Singing) She gets out of her head and she talks to the ceiling. You can hear what she said...

RAZ: This track is called "Convinced of the Hex." It's how the Flaming Lips open the record, an 18-track epic.

Wayne Coyne is the Flaming Lips' founder and front man. He is in Oklahoma City. Wayne Coyne, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

Mr. COYNE: Well, thank you for having me, Guy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: Let me tell you how some critics are describing this record: that it's a product of a band that somehow became too comfortable, too good at crafting music, and that this record, "Embryonic," is the band really challenging itself and us, your listeners. Is that about right?

Mr. COYNE: Well, I think those are great compliments. I mean, it makes it sound like we really know what we're doing. Maybe we've never really been that satisfied with what we've done or I think mostly it's that we stumble upon things a lot by accident. There's this thrill of kind of the unknown, or the thrill of something failing and turning into something else, that we kind of want to happen. And I think that song, the "Convinced of the Hex" song, was really one of the very first tracks that we felt like a lot of weird, unexpected but very fresh things happened on.

RAZ: What were some of those weird things?

Mr. COYNE: Well, we started to do what we thought were going to be demos. And we did this sort of freeform jam. Now, this song that you played is probably the best three minutes of that jam that we did. The jam itself probably went on for maybe 15 minutes or something. And when we listened back to it, it really did spark us in a way to think, hey, that's kind of that sound that we were trying to get, only trying to get it through computers and crafting it, as opposed to just playing it and see what happens.

(Soundbite of song "Convinced of the Hex")

Mr. COYNE: (Singing) That's the difference between us, that's the difference between us...

RAZ: You know, I read a review of this record that called it transformative for your band, transformative Flaming Lips album. And it was interesting because the reviewer pointed out how the band almost transformed into a different band at the end of the 1980s and then at the '90s. And then I want to play a clip from a song, from the way you sounded, for example, in 1989 first.

(Soundbite of song "Redneck School of Technology")

Mr. COYNE: (Singing) I'm dragging everybody down, but being healthy's just a big drag anyway...

RAZ: Okay. That song is called "Redneck School of Technology." And here's a Flaming Lips song, very different - a decade later. This is from the 1999 album, "The Soft Bulletin."

(Soundbite of song "Race for the Prize")

Mr. COYNE: (Singing) They're just humans with wives and children...

RAZ: I mean, night and day. And now here's a track off your new record, "Embryonic."

(Soundbite of song "The Ego's Last Stand")

Mr. COYNE: (Singing) Standing in their places, oh, the ego is crushed...

RAZ: Wayne Coyne, it almost sounds like three different bands. Was it a conscious decision for you guys to sort of wipe the slate clean and start something fresh at the end of decades?

Mr. COYNE: You know, the things that we've done, they've succeeded enough that it kind of encourages you to kind of, hey, keep going. But it's never succeeded so much that we thought, wow, you know, we should do more of that. People seem to really like that. So, it really left us with a sort of freedom and a confidence to say, well, why don't we just do whatever it is that we like? And frankly, nobody stopped us.

RAZ: For listeners who aren't as familiar with your music, I mean, you've had albums and song titles with names like "Psychiatric Explorations of the Fetus with Needles," "Free Radicals," "A Hallucination of the Christmas Skeleton Pleading with the Suicide Bomber." So, I mean, you're not always making what we might call traditional kinds of music.

Mr. COYNE: (Laughing) No.

(Soundbite of song "Watching the Planets")

RAZ: I have to ask you about the song "Watching the Planets" from this record. But more specifically, I want to ask about the video, which I should mention the full version will never be shown on MTV because you, Wayne Coyne, are completely naked in the video and a mob is forcing you back into the birth canal. Can you tell me about how you came up with that idea?

Mr. COYNE: Well, I'm not the only one in the video that's naked. I mean, there's a lot of naked people...

RAZ: Right, many naked people.

Mr. COYNE: ...before I'm naked. So...

RAZ: Yeah, that doesn't make it any easier to play on television.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. COYNE: I forget. It had to be maybe even a year ago, and you might know better than me. I've listened to NPR a lot and so I heard this story about these troops of naked bicyclists that would do these rides around the city of Portland, Oregon. And I asked them if they would want to make a video with the Flaming Lips.

So, we set up a day at one of the state parks there. And I don't know, you know, how liberal the laws are where you're at, but in Portland, they're pretty liberal. You can be kind of naked and no one really seems to care that much.

(Soundbite of song "Watching the Planets")

Mr. COYNE: (Singing) Yes, yes, yes, killing the ego. Yes, yes, yes, all right...

And I have to say, after seeing them all day standing there completely naked and I wasn't naked the whole time. I mean, I was only naked for a couple of hours at the end of the second night. And by time I had to take my clothes off, it seemed like actually no big deal.

RAZ: It wasn't like an agonizing decision. You were just like, okay, whatever.

Mr. COYNE: You know, I told them in the beginning, you know, as much as I could about what I thought it was, the plotline was going to go, if you can say it's a plotline. And I said, yeah, in the end, you know, I get naked and you stuff me back into this giant fur bubble. And everybody kind of applauded, like, oh, great.

And I have to say, you know, there was a moment, there's a moment when you have your clothes on and then there's a moment in the future where you're completely naked. And that transition, that sort of beaming-up moment where you're taking your clothes off and suddenly, to me, that's the only real moment of, like, oh my God, we're really doing this.

But as soon as you're naked, then it's going, oh, well, who cares?

(Soundbite of song, "Watching the Planets")

Mr. COYNE: (Singing) Oh.

RAZ: I'm speaking with Wayne Coyne of the band The Flaming Lips. Their latest album is called "Embryonic."

You actually recorded, track by track, Pink Floyd's legendary 1973 album, "Dark Side of the Moon." And I want to hear a clip of it for a sec.

(Soundbite of song "Money")

Mr. COYNE: (Singing) Money, get away. Get a good job with good pay and you're okay.

RAZ: That's pretty hallowed, sacred material for a lot of folks. Why'd you decide to do it?

Mr. COYNE: Well, no, you're exactly right. It's not even a legendary album. It's an iconic, monolithic, you know, Mount Everest. You know, it's just, it's insurmountable. I was on the telephone with the people at iTunes and they were asking if we had any extra tracks that you couldn't get anywhere else. And I flippantly, I said, maybe we should just do a cover version of Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon." And thinking they would say, yeah, well, maybe not, and that we would think of something else.

But it didn't. Even that track, "Money," when we first thought about doing "Dark Side of the Moon," that is one of the biggest stumbling blocks, what do you do with a song like that because it's got, I think, two long guitar solos and a giant saxophone solo. I mean, a lot of these things are just like, well, what do you do with that?

And luckily, we came up with this kind of hip-hop meets sort of robot version of that song that felt fresh or funny or didn't seem to be implying the same cynical version of what "Money" means. It almost feels like kind of a hip-hop version where people are talking about money and bling and how great it is to have money as opposed to maybe the Roger Waters/Pink Floyd version.

RAZ: Were you a fan of the record?

Mr. COYNE: Well, of course. I mean, you know, it came out in 1973 so I was, what, like 12 years old and I had - I have older brothers and an older sister and all their friends would all come over to our house all the time and take drugs and smoke pot and listen to music. So, yeah, I mean, Pink Floyd was probably a big influence even on why we became a group like The Flaming Lips.

RAZ: Wayne Coyne fronts the band The Flaming Lips. Their latest album, "Embryonic," is available now. Their new rerecording of "Dark Side of the Moon" comes out this Tuesday on iTunes; everywhere else, a week after that.

Wayne Coyne, thank you so much and congratulations on both albums.

Mr. COYNE: Well, thank you, Guy. It's wonderful to be part of your show. I listen to you all the time.

(Soundbite of song "Time")

Mr. COYNE: (Singing) I like to be here when I can. When I come home cold and tired, it's good to warm my bones beside the fire. Far away across the field, tolling on the iron bell calls the faithful to their knees to hear the softly spoken magic spell.

RAZ: And for Saturday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. Thanks for listening and have a great evening.

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