I’ve seen The Flaming Lips covered in fake blood with skeletons and Santa Claus and dancing bears and huge balloons. I’ve seen The Flaming Lips emerge from a UFO on the edge of a cliff. I’ve seen The Flaming Lips spit out of a florescent flashing womb.
And I’ve seen the Flaming Lips, sweating in my Cat in the Hat costume, blinded by confetti and realizing the pre-show seizure warning for the light display wasn’t a joke. And yet …
“Every time somebody gives me an inch, I take a fucking mile,” says Wayne Coyne, the Flaming Lips ringleader, during the course of a genial phone conversation. “It’s that way for all art in a sense,” Coyne continues. “It just takes hands on determination.”
This is coming from a man three decades deep into a kaleidoscopic array of surreally postmodern musical and visual work that continues to get weirder and louder, chafing on the edge of psychedelic extravagance and anchored solidly in a DIY ethos.
“We have a small, badass crew,” Coyne says, and the capabilities and ideas seem as endless as the persistence of memory.
The upcoming June 1 release of a 52-track Greatest Hits: Vol 1, which includes a bowlful of previously unreleased material, marks a big undertaking described by Coyne as a reconceptualization of everything the band has done up to this point, organized in a way it was never intended to be. This release follows last year’s Oczy Mlody, a hauntingly cheerful float through the synaptic system in typical Lips fashion.
“I don’t really know how music works,” Coyne says. “It’s humbling and embarrassing, but with enough willpower and a humanistic surge you just make it up.”
But music, for Coyne, was the catalyst that allowed everything else to come out. Music provided the platform for the props, the sets, the paintings, the sculptures, the drawings, the prints — this whole torrent of creative eccentricity built on no-talent guitars and smoke machines.
“All of it is really personality driven,” he says. “Part of you is absolutely too self-conscious, but to do anything you need so much help. Most of the people I know who are doing great are hardworking, beautiful motherfuckers, and that’s who I want to work with.”
These collaborations, and even the ability to be doing all this work, Coyne explains, come from the projection of “a character that you go out to play. In time, you become that character. The only way to be authentic is in this fake way, but that becomes you, who you want to be.”
For Coyne, this confidence was inspired by coarsely enthusiastic support throughout his youth, drawing and making paintings in the kitchen while his older brothers encouraged him to keep it up. Now he’s the de facto art director of a group responsible for abstract sonic parking-lot experiments, a film called Christmas on Mars, a now-ubiquitous crowd-surfing hamster ball and a recent panoply of collaborative releases including a Sgt. Pepper remake that’s freakier, if not farther out, than the original.
And yet … I’m still not sure what to expect when they come to town. — Patrick Newson