Q&A: Wayne Coyne On The New Flaming Lips EPs, Passing Off The Space Bubble To Diplo, And His Rivalry With Arcade Fire
We already spoke to Wayne Coyne once this year and turned him loose on the turntables, but the Flaming Lips have had such a whirlwind 2013 that they merit yet another check-in. Since releasing The Terror, the Lips have been on a tear: They recorded a pair of new EPs: a limited edition collaborative release with Tame Impala (available online next week) on which the bands cover each other’s songs, and Peace Sword, a collection of tunes inspired by the cinematic adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s sci-fi novel Ender’s Game. They released a bunch of videos, played countless festivals and toured alongside the Black Keys, the Growlers, and Tame Impala. They covered Bowie on Fallon, backed up Yoko on Letterman, and threw in a Devo cover for good measure. Coyne was kicked off Instagram in September, and last week the band’s Twitter account announced that the band had broken up, a statement that was quickly retracted. They’ve been busy!
So I caught up with Coyne last night during his visit to Warner Brothers Records headquarters in L.A. between West Coast tour dates with Tame Impala (during which, judging from the above photo, he dressed up as Carrie for Halloween). Our wide-ranging chat veered from the origin of both new Lips EPs to social media to Diplo’s use of the Lips’ “space bubble” concept to Coyne’s ongoing rivalry with Arcade Fire. We didn’t even get around to his thoughts on Yeezus.
STEREOGUM: Thanks for taking some time to talk!
WAYNE COYNE: Of course! I’m sitting at a reception desk of a person that used to have a job here that doesn’t have a job it doesn’t look like.
STEREOGUM: Well, I’m sad to hear about that.
COYNE: Well, I’m not positive. I’m looking at all the things that they’ve got here. So anyway, what’s up? What are we talking about?
STEREOGUM: All kinds of stuff! I’ve got a long list. We’ll see what we can cram in. First of all, what was the deal with that whole Twitter outburst last week?
COYNE: I don’t really know! I haven’t been able to get back on Twitter. We were in Taiwan for three of the days, so it wasn’t that easy to get on the internet. And we were in a different time zone, so I couldn’t talk to George, the keeper of the keys to the Twitter account. So I guess I don’t really know. I got the feeling it was, there’s been a guy — I don’t remember the name of the group, but there’s a guy who is in a group that has hacked some musicians. And ours isn’t a really substantial Twitter account. I mean, it has almost a million, but it’s not like Rihanna or something, you know? But he’s gone into three or four other people and did the same thing — did some stuff and said, “Hey, check out our record! It comes out on this day.” But I don’t really know yet, but that’s been the kind of building story. We think it’s something like that. But I mean, it’s Twitter. It’s not that big of a deal. You say shit all the time and say, “Oh, sorry, that wasn’t right,” and people kind of accept it. But you know, kind of shitty.
STEREOGUM: Well, you never like to have false information spread.
COYNE: Well, I don’t mind that so much. I mean, the idea that we’d break up — anything is more entertaining than that sort of thing. And then without me being able to go back up and say, “Hey, here’s what really happened,” it’s just … I don’t know. It reminds us of the power of that stuff. Sometimes you post things, and it’s like, no one even cares. And other times you post something and it’s like everybody fucking finds out about it within the same 10 minutes. It’s crazy.
STEREOGUM: Speaking of social media, at one point this year you got kicked off of Instagram, right?
COYNE: [laughter] Yeah, but I mean, I am OK with that. I understand Instagram has its rules, and I didn’t ever read them, but I knew that they had taken down things that I’d posted before. I forget, because I’m bouncing sometimes in between Twitter and Instagram, I forget. You can do anything you want on Twitter. They don’t really care. And you can’t do anything you want on Instagram, and sometimes I forget. And I know in the time they kicked me off I was posting some things from our gallery, which I knew were paintings and were statues and things, but I think they probably just had people complaining, saying, “Hey look, Wayne’s got a picture of a woman with a tube down her throat.” And it was like, “I know, but it’s a statue.” But I think to the people who saw the picture, they probably didn’t know. I think it’s probably one of these catch-22s — I think that’s the proper term for it — is that you can almost do anything you want if no one follows you, but if you have a lot of followers, you can’t really do as much as you want until you get to where you have like a billion followers. The middle class man is always having problems. But yes, if I was like a Rihanna kind of Instagrammer, I could — and even her. I mean, you know, in her defense, I think it’s very entertaining. And I love what people say on her comment board. But yeah, I totally understand that. And I think that’s why Instagram is so popular, because it’s safe enough that every 12-year-old who’s got a computer can get on there if they want to. And that’s how you can amass 100 billion followers, and that’s what makes it so powerful and fun! But it’s got its limits, yeah. So like I said, I knew that I did those, but I had forgotten that if I did too many that got flagged in a row that they might just shut me off. And they did! But I just started up another one, and they didn’t seem to care, so I’m off and running again. I mean, I would say, I really do like it. And the same reasons that I like Twitter and the whole idea of even text messaging and stuff is that you just can get these little glimpses into what people are doing in their lives. And it just takes a moment. And when I see someone, it’s cool that you’re doing this, and that you stepped on this nail when you were in Wisconsin last week. I mean, just interesting stuff that you’d never call somebody about. It’s not remarkable, but it is the absolute boring everyday things that is our life. And I love it that way. I really have gotten to know people just from that.
STEREOGUM: So you guys are playing a few shows with Tame Impala right now, and you’re selling an EP where you cover each other’s songs.
COYNE: Yeah, it’s a great, stunning package. It turned out really great.
STEREOGUM: What about that band makes you guys have such a kinship with them?
COYNE: Well, besides liking their music, I mean, we’ve been around them quite a bit. I think we ran into them 2009, maybe 2010, at a festival in Japan. They had just gotten done playing, and I’m always wandering around meeting people, and there was a little bat that was attached to the ceiling in between our dressing rooms. I remember Sonic Youth was there, and we were all going around showing everybody. And the kids — I call them kids because I think they were all probably only 20 years old when I met them back then — they had just gotten done playing, and they had just done some acid that they smuggled in from Australia through Singapore into Japan. I mean, that’s insane. And they were going to have a jam session in their dressing room. And I was like, “These sound like my kind of guys.” And they’re just fun, you know, freaks. Cool musicians with cool ideas. So I think from then we liked them. And I think it’s just the coincidence of sometimes you put out a record and another band puts out a record, and you end up making these circuits together, playing festivals together. And I think we were lucky that that happened with us for a couple records in a row. And they started to work with [longtime Flaming Lips producer] Dave Fridmann, so we’d know more about them and hear more about their music as they were making it. And then I got Kevin to do some guitar stuff on that Heady Fwends thing. He was on his last day of doing the record that’s out now with Dave Fridmann in the studio on the day that I arrived up there, so we had a day together in the studio where our schedules overlapped. So I think it’s just things like that. And I knew in the same way that we work, if I said, “Look, do you want to do a record together if we do a couple of your songs and you could do a couple of our songs?” It’s Kevin, but I knew if they said yes, that they could do it because they can. A lot of people you talk to say, “Yes, but I’m not the one that decides those sorts of things,” or, “I don’t know.” But I knew with them, we talked about doing some shows together and made that happen. And then I said we should do a record together and we immediately started to get that happening. So I knew with them that we probably would without some unforeseen disaster happening that they would do it, and it would be good, and everybody could just get on with it. And so I don’t know if it would work that way with all groups, but I knew with them it would.
STEREOGUM: Let’s talk about your other new EP, Peace Sword.
COYNE: Right! I forget that this thing is now a real entity and back out there in the world. It’s not part of the Flaming Lips’ ever-growing canon of weird music.
STEREOGUM: Were you into the Ender’s Game book at all before the opportunity came about to make music for the movie?
COYNE: No. I think I’d heard about it, but I’m not a sci-fi guy like that. Not that type of sci-fi, you know? And I wouldn’t have ever considered reading that in the time that it came out. I always remember, if it came out between like 1984 and like 1999, I didn’t read a book in that time, you know? I was approached by the music director, I think it was somewhere in the middle of the summer. And we just really had a brief conversation about would we want to try to do a song that he would build into the credits. And I just really liked him. He was real encouraging, and he gave me a lot of ways we could do it, a lot of pointers of what he thought would work and all this. And that was enough for me, you know? I mean, I had seen little bits about the movie, about what it was going to be about. And they sent me the movie. It wasn’t finished yet, but you get these links, these big secret links where you can see the movie and all this sort of stuff. And I kind of felt like the thing that he had described to me, the vibe and all this kind of stuff, was something that we liked. And it had these sort of epic, regretful tones to it. I think what happened — and I see now why we got so immersed in it — we began with one type of song, which I think they liked but said, “This isn’t gonna work.” And then we gave them another song, and they said, “Well, this works, but we kind of like the other one better now that we’ve had it for a while.” And then we made this song that’s the “Peace Sword” song now, which, really, I think it’s such a great song. And I know that sounds silly for me to say it. But you know, we did this one thing, and we did this other thing, and this sort of came out of — not the middle of those two, but this kind of surprise that we thought, “I think we know what to do now.” And in this time of making that, and then waiting for it to go up and down the chain of people who get to decide whether it’s what we want or it’s not — I mean, that could be a month before you hear back from somebody, you know? And in the meantime, we had already made a couple other amendments to this piece of music, thinking, “I think this could work, this could work.” And it’s just something that, in the time that we had, we did some things that really worked. And regardless of what it’s for, I mean, when you’re doing music, and it’s your music and your art, you’re really just driven by liking it and wanting to do it. And so for me, it didn’t really happen because of the movie or any of that stuff. It happened because we got very lucky that we kind of got obsessed with this creation. And sometimes it’s easy when it’s got so much. It’s already character-driven, and there’s a mood, and it’s outer space. There’s all these things about it that already tells you, “We could do this! We could do that!” And I think we just got really lucky that the things that we did early on. And when they said that they liked it, we were already three songs into it, like, “Well, we like it too!” And we just built on this thing, really, where we didn’t have any idea whether it would really come out. We were working on some other music at the same time, and some songs that we were working on for something else ended up being songs for this. And we just, I think like a lot of people, we just go with whatever the fuck is working, and that’ll be fine. That’ll be cool. And towards the end of them getting their marketing together, they asked us if we would consider putting out this music that we’ve been making as an Ender’s Game — sort of connected to the movie. And at first they didn’t want that. Not them — I don’t know which chain of the mega-command or whatever. But at the very end, they were like, “Would you want to put together this thing that you’ve been working on?” And luckily we had already done a lot of work, and so we were able to do it. Because by the time it got to me, and I was like, “When do they want it?” it was like, “Tomorrow.” And I was like, “Well of course they do. That’s how these billion-dollar movies come together.” But so, yeah. Mostly it was dumb luck, but mostly it was just, you kind of like these things that you’re doing and hope that they find a reason to exist in the world.
STEREOGUM: I noticed at festivals Diplo has started running around in a bubble much like yours, and I was wondering if you had any thoughts on that.
COYNE: Well, I don’t have that many thoughts on it. We played a show with Diplo in Costa Rica about two years ago, and we all hung out together. And we went and explored some forest together and got drunk together and did some cocaine together and talked about music and live shows and all this and hung out with his people from his Major Lazer ensemble and stuff. And we talked about, literally, the space bubble and lasers and confetti. And I had a feeling, not in a bad way, but I just had a feeling. He was like, “Man, I gotta do some shit that isn’t just me standing there behind the record player.” And I was kind of — not because it was bad — I was kind of wanting to stop doing the space bubble anyway.
COYNE: Only because we wanted to do something different at the beginning of the show. And it just sort of became like, “If you haven’t seen the space bubble by now, I mean, you must not like us.” It sort of seemed like, I mean, we’ve done it for 10 years almost every time that we play. And I was already thinking that we were going to stop doing it. And then I swear almost at the exact same time that we were like, “We’re not going to do it,” I saw that Diplo was doing it, which I thought was perfect. So to me, I like him, and I would never be like, “Who’s he think he is?” It’s like, it’s a fucking cool thing. I’m surprised more people don’t do it. It’s just such a cool thing. But you do kind of have to be committed to it. It’s not as easy as it looks. So I’m like, “Go for it!” It’s absurd. Do it! But I never felt like it was mine. I didn’t own it. I’d just do it, and it is what it is. But I could see where the audience would say, “The Flaming lips did that. You shouldn’t do it.” But I think in the world of people’s creations and things, it’s almost like, “Well, if the Flaming Lips did it, then I should do it!” I mean, I can see it going both ways, so yeah. And I like him, so I don’t have any — now if it was the Arcade Fire, then I’d have a problem with it.
COYNE: I’m kidding! I mean, I’m kidding about them. All that stuff is so funny. People don’t know this, but I did have a secret meeting with them when we were playing — I think it was in San Francisco, we were both playing at the same time, and we kind of had a secret get-together in the lobby of the hotel. And I said, “Look, I think it’s a lot more interesting to the world if we remain enemies. And the things you stand for and what the Flaming Lips stand for aren’t really the same thing.” So we agreed that we would pretend to be enemies for a little while again because it’s so pathetic when everybody just gets along, isn’t it? [laughter]
STEREOGUM: [laughter] I suppose…
COYNE: I mean, no one ever cared about Erykah Badu and the Flaming Lips until we had our big fight.
STEREOGUM: I wouldn’t say no one cared, but I see what you mean.