2014 In Review

Wayne Coyne Reviews 2014: The Flaming Lips Leader On U2, Taylor Swift, Iggy Azalea, And What’s Next With Miley Cyrus

Wayne Coyne has never been shy about his opinions. Known in recent years for giving freewheeling, often hilarious interviews, he’s also made some comments that have understandably pissed people off — particularly this past spring, when there were a whole bunch of headlines about the Flaming Lips’ falling out with drummer Kliph Scurlock and the Native American headdress debacle. So, naturally, I wanted to get the man’s opinions on some of this year’s other big music stories. Things didn’t always go that way! Like any musician who spends a lot of time on the road, Coyne wasn’t entirely familiar with all the big stories that occurred back home. But he was down to riff on whatever I threw at him — between all of his questions to me about my life, or tangents like how he was underwhelmed by the Knife’s last show at Iceland Airwaves back in November, despite liking their music. (“It’s Riverdance. I mean, it is. People say it’s like Blue Man Group meets Xanadu, and I’m like, “That’s even giving it too much credit.”) One thing that lingered on my mind afterward was how Coyne has this charming, wizened rhythm to his speech, and is very funny; he says a lot of off-the-cuff things that probably translate better in conversation than maybe they have in some of the interviews floating around out there.

STEREOGUM: Basically, I wanted to ask you about your opinions on 2014. 

WAYNE COYNE: You can ask me, sure, if I know about it. [laughs] 

STEREOGUM: What have you been listening to this year? 

COYNE: Ah, I fucking never remember. We’ve been listening to a lot of Miley Cyrus, I know that. Someone asked me the other day at the airport, the TSA officer. I was like, “Hold on, let me make sure I don’t go to jail.” There’s a couple of things, I’ll think of them. 

STEREOGUM: What did you think about U2’s album release? 

COYNE: Well, I didn’t really like the music. What I heard. You know, I like some of U2. I haven’t really liked a whole record since … what’s the thing they did after Achtung Baby

STEREOGUM: Zooropa. Very underrated

COYNE: I think they’re great, I think the Edge is awesome. There was a record they did in 2002 or something that I liked, bits of it. 

STEREOGUM: All That You Can’t Leave Behind, in 2000? 

COYNE: Yeah, yeah, you know — “Beautiful day!” [half-singing]. There’s three or four songs on there that I really liked. So, you know, I’ve got nothing against them. I’m always like, “Do another great song.” I thought, in a way … they always try to do something. It’s not like, “We just put out a new record,” and you go buy it. I guess, for me, for people to complain about something that they get for free on your iPhone, I mean … your iPhone is kind of set up to “You get shit that we send you all the time.” They’re sending you new apps. A thousand things a week. And then they send you this new record and it’s like “What the fuck is this!? I didn’t ask for this!” That’s just … you bought the iPhone, this is what they do. They haven’t done it with music like this yet, but they’ve been doing that with everything anyway. I thought it was awesome. To me, if you don’t like it, well, you can not listen to it. People say, “I know, but I have it on shuffle and it’s in there,” and it’s like, “Well, you know, you can take it off.” Really, that’s a bother to you, to get free music? You’re really going to complain about that? I think it’s awesome. I don’t know how many other people are going to be able to do that, but that’s the way music’s going. You’re just going to have it. It’s just going to be there. I wish I would’ve liked [the album]. 

STEREOGUM: Some other musicians came out and said they devalued music…

COYNE: This is the dilemma. I always say that music is going the way that water and bananas are going. We were in Iceland, bananas don’t grow there. We went down to breakfast, and there’s bananas. If you had to go buy them, you’d probably think, I don’t know, what are they, a quarter? You’d be appalled if you had to pay a dollar for one. It’s because we love them so much, and we’re so used to having them, and someone magically puts them everywhere we go. And if you had to pay $20 for one, which is probably what they should be worth in Iceland, anyway, in the middle of the fucking winter, you’d think “This is bullshit.” But everybody wants them. After a while, it’s like “I just want it for free, I guess.” And water’s the same way. It’s like, everywhere you go, “We’ve just given you water.” That used to be a big fucking deal, to get it to where you were. You take it almost like it’s air. Here it is. Why the fuck isn’t it here. And music … I mean, people love music more than ever. It’s everywhere you go. You can hardly walk ten feet without something blasting at you. It’s everywhere, everywhere, all the time. But I think it’s going that way. We’re just going to expect — we already do — that music’s just on the internet, you can listen to it anytime you want. But that’s because people love it. 

STEREOGUM: What will that mean for young musicians trying to support themselves? 

COYNE: Well, I think the youngest musicians already know that. It’s the ones that have come up from my age, where there was a time you could sell a million records, half a million records, and you’d make a ton of money and you made tons of money on publishing and you got to be in movies and commercials and all that. And then … a lot of people would say, “That’s enough for me.” Put out records and make tons of money. We never made that much money anyway. It was never like that for us. To a lot of people, what you used to do to make money isn’t there anymore. Well, you’re from Pennsylvania. My parents are from Pittsburgh. I was born there. My dad was a guy who used to work in the steel mill there. Got to be about 38 years old and thought, “I’m going to retire in another ten years,” and now there isn’t that. It’s like, “Fuck, your cities, we built those!” “Fuck it, sorry man, I want to party.” I’m just saying: join the club. There’s a lot of great, hard-fought industries out there that have become, “Oh, we have to pay for that? I didn’t know we had to pay for it.” Which is, fine. If you’re creative you’ll find a way. I still wake up and go, “I get paid to do this shit.” I would do it anyway. I get paid to do this. To me, I still always think someone’s going to show up and say, “Hey dude, the joke’s over. This isn’t going to work anymore.” And I’m like, “I get it! I don’t know why it worked! I understand.” Yeah, I don’t know what to say to those people. But, I think young people already know that. You come in, you’re either going to be Beyoncé, the biggest thing ever, or you’re just going to be a freak, do whatever the fuck you want. Put out your own records, make music. I always tell people, if you do something that is really interesting and is unique, you know, musicians and people will come to your aid. We want there to be good music and things out there, too. But I don’t know how you make it a living. I don’t know how you’re going to make a living. 

STEREOGUM: Neither do I. 

COYNE: [laughs] You know, musicians … less and less now, but you know, a lot of them would look at it like, “Well, I don’t want to work.” It’s a way of getting out of a job. For me, I just look at it like, this is doing art. I think artists have always thought you’ve gotta work a thousand times harder than the dude who has a job. It’s all the time, all the time, all the time. For me, I’m like, “Hey man, let’s go.” Shit, I hope I can make money. But I’m not the only one.

STEREOGUM: What do you think about the ongoing Spotify argument? Taylor Swift recently removed her music from the service.

COYNE: I think for someone like her it’s just another story. They probably go in the marketing meetings and say, “Well, here’s three stories where they’ll absolutely love her.” She goes to church, but they’re going to hate her on this story, and that’ll get more press. You know what I mean? You can only be loved so long, and then that gets boring, but hating Taylor Swift for a while will probably be good for her career. I think she’s probably doing it both ways. She’s probably one of the only artists who’s actually selling any records, so she can say, “Well, these people that are listening to it for free, a lot of them are probably kids who could buy it, and if we stop doing that they’ll probably buy it, we’ll sell another 5,000 copies a week, and next year we’ll go back on Spotify and that’ll be another story.” You know what I mean? These sorts of things … it is boring to be smart. It’s boring to do what’s right. It’s probably something like that. It’s probably both. I think Spotify gets a lot out of it because people talk about it, and a lot of people like you and me … I don’t really give a fuck. [laughs] If I wanted to download Taylor Swift, I could do it right now. If I wanted to, I suppose.

STEREOGUM: What do you think about Iggy Azalea? 

COYNE: I don’t really know her. 

STEREOGUM: Do you know the song “Fancy?”

COYNE: Yeah. I don’t always get to know the different … everybody kinda sounds alike-ish. Until you see a video or something.

STEREOGUM: She’s been a big name this year, and one of the things people were talking about a lot is that she’s this white Australian woman who sings in this Southern black patois, and it filtered into the ongoing debates about cultural appropriation and performativity in rap music.

COYNE: It’s probably, again, because she’s popular. If you talk about someone nobody knows, it doesn’t really matter what they do. If nobody knows who they are, we can’t really talk about it. A little bit of that, we see that being around Miley Cyrus sometimes. Whatever you do, if you get to associate with that, twenty people want to write a big story about it. Popularity has its own momentum. I think that sort of stuff is good for people. To have some kind of realness, to have something like “What do you think of this?” But, yeah … there is this type of knowledge that I say, if you can stay on the internet long enough you can feel like you’re connected to the world, and all you’re doing is sitting on the internet. That’s how this is going. You can literally sit there all day, bounce around. It’s addicting. 

STEREOGUM: Do you think you’re going to keep working with Miley? 

COYNE: Yeah, for sure. 

STEREOGUM: Are you still working on her record? 

COYNE: She’s just really started. We’re definitely going to make some music together. We’re definitely in the mode of: what she’s going to do next, we’re going to be working on what that could be. She already has a bunch of songs. She’s a pretty good songwriter. She’s got some peeps around that can easily turn something simple into something that can be produced pretty quick. She just sounds like … if you hear her demos and stuff, it’s pretty much — I mean, I don’t know how much of her music you know. 

STEREOGUM: Certainly familiar with the recent stuff. 

COYNE: She sounds like that, it’s pretty easy for her to sound like that. 

STEREOGUM: What’s your working relationship like with her? Do you bring her a song for her? Or jam with her? 

COYNE: It’s both, really. So far we’ve had some songs where we said, “We’re going to write this for her, think of her range,” and lyrically you sort of point it where it could be something she [could use]. And I think she’s doing two different styles. She has this … I guess it’s more classic rock, more classic song structures. And then she has another side that’s just completely freaky. Like Die Antwoord, fucking as far that way as you can go. And, you know, we’re kinda like that too. We don’t really have a style that we do. I think sometimes the Flaming Lips get into a style that everybody can relate to, but we’re not always aware of, “What do we sound like?” You know? She’s very inspiring. She’s a lot of fun. She has no limits. 

STEREOGUM: What else do you have planned for 2015 right now? 

COYNE: I don’t really know. Is it going to be 2015? Wow. See, I forget. I don’t know, all this time we’re also working on Flaming Lips music. We just put out so much stuff. We didn’t plan on doing this Sgt. Pepper’s record, and then it sort of became a thing. We just had another record out last November, the soundtrack to that movie, [the Peace Sword EP for Ender’s Game]. But I think that’s the way of the world now. I think if you’re Beyoncé or someone, you can wait three or four years if you wanted to, but it’s just not like that now. I think it’s very easy to … the music you’re making is the music you put out in a couple of months. Instead of, I don’t know, this idea that you can market it and calculate it and think of about it. I don’t really know how it works for everybody else. I mean, U2. They put out their last record five years ago. They didn’t even seem like they wanted to make this record. It just doesn’t seem like it’s in an area where it’s fun. Whereas we just put out stuff. We don’t give it all that much consideration. I just don’t think about it that much. We’re always playing, we’re always doing stuff. We’re always recording, and then it occurs to you, “Oh, yeah, we put that record out.” We didn’t really have a plan this year. Doing stuff with Miley and all that, it’s just fun. We’ve definitely had some times where it was do or die, like “What the fuck are you gonna do?” But it doesn’t feel like that [now]. If someone asked what the next Flaming Lips record is going to be like, I just don’t even know. We have a thing that we do when we consider songwriting and all that … [longtime Flaming Lips producer] Dave Fridmann will probably have a little say in it. He’ll probably say, “I don’t want to do another weird record with you guys. I’m going to find some of your songs again.” We just record all the time, it just doesn’t feel like it’s that big of a deal. I think art’s better that way. Where it’s not “Ta-da! Here it comes!” We’re just sort of moving along. I can’t really see it stopping, which, to me is where the fun is. I just get to live my life and evolve as I think of things and try things. It’s all really just right there.

STEREOGUM: What attracted you to Miley vs. other pop stars?

COYNE: Well, she likes us. I haven’t been around that many [pop stars]. But the ones that are of her level, I don’t know, a Chris Martin or something … they’re just not freaks like her. She’s a blast. She’s not that worried about “Is this all going to work?” and “What are people going to think?” She’s really in the mode of doing whatever the fuck she wants. But if you were around her, you’d see. The way she treats people, and all that, it’s just fun. If you were around her, you’d be on one of her records. That’s just the way it is. When people are around me, we’re just doing stuff, so if you’re here, well, we’re going. When I was with Damian Hirst, just for a couple of days, we did paintings and all this sort of shit. You’re just in their flow. I think creative people want that. You want to be around someone where they’ve got their own opinions and their own way, and they’re inspiring to be around. When I’m around her, it reminds you. You think of things and do it. You see her show and the way she is around her fans and stuff, it’s awesome. It’s hokey to say, but it really is about love. It’s not this power thing, it’s not this to be popular. When you’re there with her fans and you see them and her together — maybe it’s like that with Taylor Swift, I don’t know, I’ve never been to a Taylor Swift show. But when you see [Miley], it’s not some fake thing. It’s a real thing. When they’re crying to each other … it’s powerful. Mostly, I think, she’s just a freak. She’s absolutely the craziest person I’ve ever met, and I’ve met a lot of crazy people. She’ll say, “I need to come to Oklahoma and get freaky with you guys!” I’m like, “No you don’t. Fuck. You cannot get any freakier than you already are.” People will see. I think as the next couple years go, people will see all these sides of her, and it’s going to be, you know, I think it’ll be the way Björk made those first three or four records, where it was ahead of its time but it was beautiful and exotic and strange and she’s a freak. I think it’ll probably be something like that. And I think [Miley] coming from that world of popularity, it’s wonderful. She’s so powerful and so rich. I run into a lot of people who want to do cool shit but they don’t have any power, and they don’t have any say over what’s going on. Even the stuff we did with Kesha. She’s crazy too, but she’s not in the same [tier of pop stardom]. She wants to do all these things, but she’s not in control. So she rails against the people that are in control. With the way we work, we just do our own thing. There isn’t anybody who says, “Oh, you can’t do that,” and we just forget the whole world isn’t like that. When you’re around [Kesha] … we’d be doing music and she’d be like, “This is what I want to do.” And I’d be like, “Well, you’re already doing it.” She’s like, “No! They won’t let me!” I’m like, “Oh, I forget.” But Miley’s not like that. If she wants to do it, she just goes and does it. She has everyone around her saying “We’ll help you, let’s do it.” The times we’ve recorded and done videos and stuff, it’s not like she shows up with twenty handlers. It’s just her. I don’t know what people think it would be, but it’s not like when we were around Beck or something.

STEREOGUM: Beck has twenty handlers?

COYNE: Well, he didn’t have twenty, but he would have some. [laughs] There’d be a lot of handling going on. I just don’t have the energy for that.

//

The Flaming Lips’ With A Little Help From My Fwends is out now via Warner Bros.