2015 In Review

Wayne Coyne Reviews 2015: The Flaming Lips Leader On Trump, Hoverboards, Baby Hitler, & Heady Nuggs

Last year, I spoke with Wayne Coyne and asked him to review 2014 — basically, to give us his opinions on a few of the year’s big music stories. Though the Flaming Lips are a band who always seem to be around, who are never too far from the headlines, who you can often see live even if they’re not on a traditional album cycle, 2014 had been a relatively quiet year for them. This year, though, Coyne & co. backed up Miley Cyrus on her polarizing release Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz, while also putting together a re-release of their 1995 album Clouds Taste Metallic for its 20th anniversary. The reissue — which is titled Heady Nuggs 20 Years After Clouds Taste Metallic 1994-1997 — is archival in nature, too, culling rarities and outtakes and live material from the era. It’s been a year of looking way back, to a very different era of the Flaming Lips, while also looking forward to new material. Since it was so fun talking to Coyne about 2014, we wanted to get his take on 2015, too. This time, when I phoned him, he jovially answered: “Hey, how are you? I’m sitting in the guest house at Miley Cyrus’ giant fucking estate in Nashville.” From there we talked about everything from the Lips to Kanye West to Mars to Donald Trump to Baby Hitler. Here’s what Coyne thought of 2015.

STEREOGUM: How does it feel looking back at Clouds Taste Metallic 20 years later, with this big reissue?

COYNE: Well, you know, the thing is we have so many records. You’re always revisiting so many. One is always 10, 15, 20, all the time. We have so many things. I think we had been working towards this live recording, the double record set that’s inside this Clouds re-release. That’s been around and people have heard it here and there, but it’s never been satisfying to us because it never sounded very good. I think over the last year we were able to really fuck with some of these plug-ins, mastering plug-ins that you can get, and exaggerate some of the EQs and stuff. We were really surprised at how great we were able to make it sound, and I think that spurred us on to say, “Let’s do this since its 20 years, and look back at the same time.” I think there was a time in our evolution: “There’s music that we’re doing right now and all the other music doesn’t matter, this is all that matters.” As you do more and more LPs, you kind of come full circle all the time. You’re always trying to look ahead and you’re always looking back. Now, that doesn’t feel like it’s nostalgic in a bad way. I think nostalgia is a great, powerful thing … just because you’re looking back doesn’t mean you don’t have to look forward.

STEREOGUM: Do the Flaming Lips of Clouds Taste Metallic feel like a different band to you than the Flaming Lips of today?

COYNE: Even at the time we had an inkling that we were about to change. I think Steven [Drozd] and I would talk about the idea of getting away from it being this very loud, very guitar-oriented group. And after Clouds and shows from 1994, 1995, 1996, that era, we kinda felt … not that we’d explored everything about it but that we’d explored what we wanted. We were starting to think about new music. At the end of Clouds, Steve became more of a singer and guitarist. That was a big mark for us. We were gonna do that anyway. [Former Lips guitarist] Ronald [Jones] leaving wasn’t that big of a shock to us. We knew he wasn’t … however you say it, he wasn’t made to be that kind of guy. He joined the group when you could be low profile if you wanted be, walk around and nobody would know who you are. He started to get recognized and people would come up to him and say “I love you, you’re great.” He just didn’t like that sorta stuff. I think he was looking ahead and saying “These things I don’t like are only going to get worse.” I think he just didn’t want to be a part of it. The years he was with us, we were on the road relentlessly, and we did a lot of recording. The recording back then was different, slower. And we did a lot more shows. I think he didn’t like that that much. I think it was just not for him and I think we had a sense of that. We were all thinking it was difficult working with him by the time he left. His talents and abilities were so great. He was a very nice person, but it was just difficult.

STEREOGUM: What are the Flaming Lips up to next?

COYNE: We’ve been working [on new music] all the while we’ve been working on the Miley record, they’re so intertwined. We would be working on a song and in the beginning we could hint at “Maybe this would be a song Miley could be in,” and we would take it to her and she would start to do stuff with it and that would change its direction. There might be a version of me and Steven singing and then she would sing and change the lyrics. There are versions of us doing [the songs], and then a version she’s doing as well. That’s just mind-blowing and I think there’s a crossover of people who would be interested in hearing both. That part of it’s cool. Whenever we’re doing a lot of recording, it’s always just a freaky accident that pushed you in a different direction that you never would’ve consciously gone to on purpose. I think we have about three or four of those that might mark a different era of Flaming Lips. We keep going back to them like, fuck, this is cool. We’ve been doing so much recording and stuff, it’s almost impossible to not let things happen.

STEREOGUM: All right, let’s talk about 2015 in general now.

COYNE: We liked, and still do, the Weeknd song. “The Hills.” Whenever it comes on I think it’s cool, and we play it in house quite a bit. I really liked the A$AP Rocky song. The “L$D” song, like bam! It goes with the Miley stuff, this psych hip-hop. Those two would be our big favorites. We had met A$AP at Art Basel and we talked, before the song came out. It’s funny, the things that he said. I think he said LSD makes him fart and he doesn’t like to take it because it makes him fart. I don’t take it. I took it a couple of times when I was young and I was like “Fuck! That’s just too much for me.” But it was a fun conversation. And we liked the Beach House records. We didn’t know there was going to be the two of them, but we really loved the first one, and the second, and they blend together in a beautiful group. I heard some of the Alabama Shakes stuff, and every time I hear them I’m like “Oh, who is this?” Just fucking badass. I saw them play at Coachella and I was like “Yeah!” I hadn’t seen them before and I knew their music but hadn’t heard that much. I was thinking … I kept hearing an old James Brown record that hadn’t been released, or something.

STEREOGUM: Did you follow Kanye West this year? What did you think of his speech at the VMAs, where he said he would run for president in 2020?

COYNE: We were there with them. I truly think he got more stoned than he thought he was gonna get. I know he smoked pot just previous to that. He hadn’t decided whether he was going to do a song or just talk, I kinda felt like he got up there and was gonna do one but didn’t have his earpiece with him and was like, “Oh fuck, I gotta talk.” He’s great at that. He always makes a moment. He’s gonna say what’s on his mind. It’s a greater, funner, more dynamic world of music with him being so out there and such a celebrity.

STEREOGUM: Moving on, this year NASA found liquid water on Mars. Do you think we’ll find aliens someday?

COYNE: I think we’re gonna find aliens. I don’t think it’s gonna be the grand Star Wars type of life that people want it to be. It’s not going to be alien spaceships shooting laser beams out of them. I think it’ll be ants and insects and stuff. When people say “Are there aliens out there?,” it’s about aliens coming down and putting their probes in and us and shit. I think that’s part of the fantasy life.

STEREOGUM: Last year, you and I talked a bit about streaming, and Taylor Swift taking her music off Spotify. This year, Tidal and Apple Music launched.

COYNE: That’s the Jay Z [thing] right. It wasn’t something that I ever listened to or logged onto or whatever it is. Most people that I talked to didn’t like whatever their thing was. For me, personally, I would say I didn’t know much about it. But anybody I would talk to that was involved or had some say in it, didn’t like it.

STEREOGUM: Why didn’t they like it?

COYNE: I don’t want to name any names, but it seemed like, “We’re millionaires and we want to make sure we get paid.” [laughs] It’s seemed like, of all the people in the world that could really give their music away for free and absolutely not give a shit, it would seem to be some of those people in that group that made it. It seemed like their main focus was, “Well, we’re gonna fucking get paid.” It seems like they have most of the money in the world already.

STEREOGUM: If a musician is in the position of a Jay Z or Kanye or Rihanna, where they do have the money and status where they don’t necessarily need to make money off their music specifically, do you feel that type of artist has any kind of responsibility to try to create a situation in which all the younger artists who aren’t as well-established can actually get paid fairly?

COYNE: No. For me, it’s like, you should do what you want to do. So, you know, Jay Z could be giving away absolutely every bit of the money, and that could be part of the reason he wants to make so much. There are plenty of people who do that. They want to make absolutely as much money as they can, because they’re going to give it away. So, you know, I’m just saying it always comes across in a weird way when people are so adamant about being paid. No, I think, do what you want and there’s plenty of people in the world who think there’s nothing wrong with making money. And there’s a lot of people in the world that despise it. I’m somewhere in the middle. It definitely frees you up to do a lot of things that are hard to do if you don’t have very much money. [laughs] For me, I think the idea that music is free in this streaming kind of way, and that you can buy it, I think that’s wonderful. Sometimes I buy music because it’s just more convenient. I just want to have it. I don’t want to sit here and fuck with that streaming thing. And other times I’ll stream it. Everything is just about the convenience of everything. For me. None of it costs very much money. It’s just, if I want to hear it right now, I’ll give you 10 bucks, if that’s what it takes. Or I’ll just get it for free if that’s what it takes. It doesn’t really matter to me. The little bit of money it costs doesn’t matter much to me.

STEREOGUM: Another technology thing that happened this year: Have you seen these kinda fake hoverboards everywhere? These mini-Segway things?

COYNE: Yeah! They’re at the kiosk at the mall. It’s the future that we all were promised, only now you need exercise. As soon as they make something that everyone can just fly around on, it’s the exact moment we realize, you know, we really could stand to walk down to 7-Eleven. You know what I mean? I feel like a lot of people who are doing it are already skateboarders or something anyway, so it’s cool in that way. They just should’ve made it in 1975, when everybody would’ve had to have it. Now, it’s kind of … to me, it’s more novelty than it deserves. What we would hope is these lead to the idea that people that can’t walk are able to use some machine and walk the same way as people who can use their legs and backs. That’s the hope, really. In the end, it really is just used for people who can walk fine, they just want to fucking sit, you know? I don’t know.

STEREOGUM: What do you think about Donald Trump?

COYNE: [laughs] Well, we were just with the guy on Saturday Night Live, Taran Killam, he’s doing Trump. We started talking about Trump and how much, you know … in the beginning, Saturday Night Live was very political, and I think a lot of people knew more about politics because of Saturday Night Live than from actual politicians. I still think that’s true. But now people love seeing Taran do Donald Trump so much that it’s making them actually like Donald Trump more. Instead of him being made fun of, they’re starting to be like, “Yeah, that’s something Donald Trump would say!” In the beginning, it’s so outrageous … I don’t know, I just never got the feeling that Donald Trump would actually want to be president. It feels like, when you get in there … it would just be a job that he doesn’t seem suited for. It seems too boring. It doesn’t seem like something he would like to do. The idea of being on the campaign and being in the newspapers everyday and being this controversial guy who really doesn’t have anything to do with the way the country runs at the moment, you know. But I kinda got the feeling if he won he’d be like, “You know, I was just kidding. Give it to the other guy.” I had this feeling like it’d be “I knew I could win, and now that I’ve won, I don’t even give a shit.” He can’t really be thinking he’s going to be president, can he?

STEREOGUM: It seemed like a stunt in the beginning, and then it just kept going.

COYNE: Yeah, and nothing by comparison seemed more real or more authoritative or more able. You keep thinking someone’s going to come along and then Trump’s going to look like an idiot, right? And then nobody does. It seems like now, we’re starting to get into a period — this year leading up to the election — that’s when it starts to become a real thing. I don’t follow it that strictly. I don’t think I’ve seen any of the debates as they’re happening, I’d see little snippets later or something.

STEREOGUM: Drones were a big topic this year, too. And now Amazon has announced delivery drones. What do you think about all that?

COYNE: This is a little excessive, you know? I mean, how big could the package really be? And how big would the drone have to be? Is it really just a helicopter landing in your fucking front yard? I don’t love the idea of drones because we fly all the time, and I don’t want some idiot’s drone getting caught in the engine up there while we’re trying to land and, you know, burn to death. I don’t like the idea that there’s these things that can fucking fly really high and everybody can have them. It’s like, fuck, it’s scary enough. That’s the only part of it that I’d be against. What’s the postage? I want candy and some toothpaste, can you bring that by? Why didn’t they have that in 1975 when we really needed it, because now everywhere you go the convenience store is open 24 hours a day. Even Uber. Occasionally we have to use normal taxis and stuff. It’s a world of difference. You reach this level of it all being convenient, convenient. For us I would say, it’s really is great. The idea that you’re in the middle of doing something and someone could bring you some food and you can decide exactly what it is and they’ll go get it and bring it to you … I haven’t had anything delivered with a drone yet, though.

STEREOGUM: A couple of months ago The New York Times Magazine posed a question to their readers, about whether you would kill baby Hitler if you could go back in time. This became a big thing, and people started asking the presidential candidates, etc. So now Stereogum wants to ask you whether you would go back in time and kill baby Hitler.

COYNE: Wow, that’s a great question. We’ve probably asked that ourselves at different times in our lives. I’d say no. If you’re there, and there’s a cute baby there, in a sense … you can influence it to go another way. I’ve actually talked to people who have had to kill somebody, to be serious, and I guess it’s hard to say but in a way it would be a horrible, horrible thing that you have to do. To do it, to begin with. And then to think, obviously the cosmic dilemma is all taken care of because it’s just a fantasy question anyway, but yeah I think you’d have some kind of guilt and some kind of aftermath that you would wonder, “What a horrible person I am. Have I become the Hitler?” Luckily, we never have to decide. I’d say no for me.


STEREOGUM: I’ll bring it back to normal life for the last question: Are you excited for the new Star Wars movie?

COYNE: Yeah, I guess I don’t really think about it. I don’t think about Star Wars the way some people do. Some people, they just, man, it makes their whole year. [laughs] So, I’m glad for them. But I just don’t think about it that much. I like it. I don’t even know how many are out.

STEREOGUM: All right, Wayne, well thanks for being up for this whole thing again.

COYNE: Cool, that was fun.

STEREOGUM: Talk to you next December.