It’s that time of year again. The time where, no matter how dire and infuriating and confounding the world is, you can at least try and take solace in the season’s traditions. That’s what those are there for, right? To give you a little sense of order, something to hang onto amidst the frenetic pace of the holidays or the insanity of the real world. It doesn’t always work, but maybe they can offer a little bit of reliability and comfort. That’s the hope.
So, good news: Today we continue a Stereogum holiday tradition, the one where I call Wayne Coyne and ask him about a bunch of random shit from the last 12 months. As always, he’s been busy. The Flaming Lips released their latest album Oczy Mlody at the beginning of this year, and when I spoke to Coyne he’d just returned home from the Broadway premiere of the SpongeBob SquarePants musical, which the Lips contributed a song to. Just like we did in 2014, 2015, and 2016, Coyne and I dug into all the nonsense of the year, from the political climate here in the States to Fyre Fest to what records we liked to fidget spinners and Kendall Jenner.
WAYNE COYNE: We speak once again.
STEREOGUM: You know, I was thinking that if the world continues to spin out of control at this rate, this might be the last year we get to do this. I hope we go out on a high note.
COYNE: Damn! I was hoping you were going to think the other way. I was thinking you were gonna go, “it seemed like it was going to go out of control when we talked last year, but now it seems to be in this holding pattern of, “Yeah, it’s fucked up, but is it really getting worse? Or is it just holding at ‘fucked up?’” You saying that makes me worry.
STEREOGUM: I guess you have a point. The positive spin is that last year’s interview could’ve been the last one. So at least we’ve made it this far.
COYNE: Well, I know. I know you’re talking mostly about how Trump seems to be going more insane and more stupid as the days go. But I feel like the world and America knows that, which kind of is a relief. You’re no longer overly surprised. You get the feeling — the Harvey Weinstein and the Kevin Spacey stories seem more absurd than a Donald Trump story now. I know Donald Trump could blow us all up. It almost seems more absurd and more appalling that someone like a Kevin Spacey is groping young men than that Donald Trump is going to blow us all up. You know what I mean? Are we losing our sense of reality or do we just not trust that Trump has any power anymore? It’s hard to say.
STEREOGUM: You’re in the studio today. You guys just had a record at the beginning of this year, but you’re also pretty prolific these days. Are you already working on something else?
COYNE: There’s always little things that pop up that let you exercise your desires for new things to do. We have a record coming out, I believe it’s a seven inch vinyl, that is going to be filled up with beer. Quite a few years ago we did the blood-filled vinyl. When we put the blood inside the vinyl, it was a great relief that it didn’t leak out. Now we’re working with this beer company Dogfish Head — they make lots of great, flavorful, unique beers for lots of cool people. We’ve been talking to them for about a year, then we had the idea of OK, let’s make the beer, and let’s name the beer, and then let’s find a good time and a way to release it. And the beer is pink, by the way. It’s unique on a lot of levels. Maybe too many levels. It is beer, but it has a light pink champagne-looking color to it. It’ll actually be the beer inside the record. There might be some speculation, “Is that really the beer?” Yes, that is actually the beer. But you won’t be able to get it out and drink it. There will be beer in cans and bottles right there for you to drink. Rest assured, that’s actually the beer in the vinyl.
Then of course you need music that’s going to go on these two sides of this vinyl, so the last couple weeks we’ve been working on that. It’s always fun to have something guiding you, that it can’t just be anything that comes into your motivation and imagination. We’re working on a song that goes at the end of, I believe it’s a movie produced by Elijah Wood. We’re not allowed to talk about it besides that. Those things are fun. They relieve you from “What the fuck are we going to do?” Suddenly you have a direction.
STEREOGUM: I know with putting out records and touring it can be hard to keep up, but did you have a favorite album or song of the year?
COYNE: The last thing I saw was Katy Perry last week up in Tulsa. About the only record that I actually know came out this year that I heard — I mean, I probably heard other ones, but I don’t know if they came out this year — the only record I really know is the National’s new thing. There’s a couple of those tracks where I’m like, “Oh, fuck, who is that? That’s the National! Badass!” We’ve been around them in the past six or seven years as they’ve sort of made their way. It’s always been compelling. They would be playing during the day at a festival and we’d be putting duct tape on our distortion pedals or whatever, like, “Fuck! That’s such a badass song!” There’s something in them that we have a kinship with. Weird old men doing their own thing. Whenever it works, I’m just cheering for them, like, “Yes, motherfuckers!” To like the songs without even knowing it’s them, all the better, yeah.
STEREOGUM: That one stuck with me as well. They have such a way of evoking the atmosphere of the times without getting didactic.
COYNE: See, that’s a perfect way to say it. I would’ve said that and it would’ve taken me 20 minutes, but you’re exactly right. It doesn’t feel like a dated record. It feels exactly now, and exactly them. That’s harder to do than people think. Maybe it’s easy for [the National]. That’s why I wasn’t quite sure who it was. I was like, “Whoever this is, this is right on,” you know, fearing it was going to be Justin Timberlake or something. [laughs] I mean, not fearing. I think that would be great, but being so out of touch with however anyone could sound now, I just didn’t have any idea.
STEREOGUM: I seem to remember us discussing Taylor Swift the last time she released an album, in 2014. So this year she mounted her big comeback and she wound up included in TIME’s Person Of The Year cover as one of the “Silence Breakers,” because of the lawsuit she won. On the other hand, I saw a lot of people voicing some confusion there, since there’s often been this criticism that she should be more political given her position.
COYNE: I don’t really follow who’s the Person Of The Year anymore, other than Blake Shelton being the Sexiest Man Of All Time on People or whatever.
STEREOGUM: Did you feel cheated out of that?
COYNE: [laughs] I forgot that was a thing, and then I thought, well, of course, it should be Blake. I only know because when you fly a lot you see the magazines. Oh, all right Blake, you deserve it. He does! He does. I’ve been around him, he’s charming. I don’t know his music that well, but as a personality or whatever, cool. I think, well, good for Taylor Swift. You know, she’s in a tough spot. She puts out a lot of music and her stuff is all character-driven. Supposedly, it’s all her in the songs. That’s a lot to put on the line and luckily the trend or whatever it is, is accepting that and saying “OK, this is a concern and let’s try to change our society.” I say, “Well, good” and interesting and anti-Trump and all that at the same time. It doesn’t make better music or whatever, but I always say, if you like Taylor Swift you should like her. Go for it.
I am not a judge of that anymore. Sometimes I don’t know the arc of what a person’s meaning is to the world. Sometimes music is just a sound that they make and it has nothing to do with the real reasons people like them. Being around Miley Cyrus in the past couple years, I’ve learned more about that. You can embrace someone’s personality and look and all these things, and the music can just be the music they make. It doesn’t have to be the other way around. We’ve constantly come at the world of music from the other way around. “Oh, I love their music so much! Now I care about what they wear and what they eat.” A lot of times it’s the other way around. You love the way they look and you love what they eat, and what music do they make? That’s the way it goes.
STEREOGUM: It’s interesting you bring up Miley. The last couple years, you did a lot of stuff together during her more experimental albums and now she’s started to go back a little bit. Are you still close with her or working with her?
COYNE: Oh, yeah, yeah. I mean, if you’re inside the world, the way she’s doing things, this album — for me, just knowing the way that she did it, it’s more experimental and more DIY and more punk rock than anything she’s ever done. It just sounds more normal because of the way she’s trying to present herself. I think in that flow of her radically reinventing herself and radically doing things herself, Dead Petz was the beginning of that but Younger Now is the more extreme. We’re all rooting for her. We’re always helping her and always on her side. I think there are some aspects of what she’s going to present herself as that’s just, hey, that’s her. She’s gotta do it. What is she, 24 years old? I’m like, “This is our gal, she doesn’t sit still for a minute.” I think that’s why we even came into it three or four years ago. That was part of her not being satisfied and not standing still.
The idea that she’d work with the Flaming Lips, that becomes less and less of an “Oh my God!” As time goes by, that’ll seem … it’s not that insane. We’ll remember at the time it seemed, “Eh, it’s kind of insane.” The record we made, I think a lot of it will stand the test of time really well. Once all the talk about it is over, I think people will listen to it and not really think it’s the Flaming Lips and Miley, they’ll think “Oh, what a great song.” I think she took a great stance to not have anyone involved in this new record. I wouldn’t try over and over, but I would hear a song and be tempted to do things to it and I would get the vibe, and she would sometimes say, “You’re not allowed to influence me.” I respect that. To have made as many records as we have, we’re still really insecure about what someone says about your stuff. You’re insecure about it to begin with. As it rolled closer to being the thing, we were just like, “We’re always by your side. Go for it and be bold and do your thing.”
STEREOGUM: All right let’s get away from music for a minute —
COYNE: You gotta help me with music stuff! Was there stuff that really killed you? Maybe I don’t know about it. I’d like to know about it.
STEREOGUM: Oh, yeah, it’s been a solid year. Kendrick and LCD Soundsystem were two of my big records.
COYNE: Both of those, I wasn’t sure they actually came out this year. LCD Soundsystem, it was a long time before that came out I guess. Both of those, yeah. I definitely know those and love those, but didn’t quite know if they came out this year or not. The Kendrick record, since we’ve all known him, it feels like he’s never left us.
STEREOGUM: Have you been keeping up with politics this year? Like Robert Mueller and the Russia investigation?
COYNE: Well, not addictively like we were a year ago, but you’ll jump in, maybe once a week, and go “Is this getting anywhere? Is it going to get anywhere?” It’s interesting what’s happening, but does it really have any effect on him remaining president and all that sort of stuff? There’s always another fucking disaster happening that you get caught up in. The shootings, you can’t even keep up with those. You feel a sense of — when you’re following it all, you feel horrible that you’re just reading about it. You feel powerless to do anything about it. And then when you don’t follow it, you feel horrible for not being able to do anything about it and being powerless. I mean, you’re kind of lost on both sides. It’s a grinding awareness. You can’t be involved in everything. You can only be involved in the small world that you’re actually involved in. But those aren’t big stories, the little victories you have in your own community. They are little compared to these giant, horrible problems where 26 people get killed in a church or something like that.
We were in Las Vegas for the Life Is Beautiful festival, just a week to the day and time of the Las Vegas shooting. We were still looking at pictures on our phone of being in that exact area, just a week ago. Over the summer we had just been in Barcelona, and then that happened just a few days later. Part of you gets connected to it, because you were standing there, you were there. You’re more and more connected to these things that are not happening in weird remote places where weirdoes shoot people. It’s happening everywhere we seem to go. You are connected, and yet still powerless to it. Yeah, it’s a motherfucker.
STEREOGUM: I’ll ask you about some lighter topics before we wrap up. I mean, I guess this was dark for people who were there, but the story itself is so ludicrous, like a real-life satire. Did you have any friends who were at Fyre Fest?
COYNE: No, I don’t know about this story.
STEREOGUM: This was the festival that Ja Rule had his name on. It was supposed to take place in the Bahamas and was advertised on Instagram with all these models and “influencers” and all that shit. It came across as this rich people luxury getaway festival. Then it turned into this like, dark comedy spoof but in real life. People started to get there but nothing was set up; there were tents and cafeteria food. It was a very 2017 narrative, in an Onion article kind of way.
COYNE: Not quite the tragedy the others were, right. I didn’t hear about it. But it sounds like a lot of festivals that happen. [laughs] It sounds like festivals that happened in the world of indie rock as far back as the ’90s, as far as I can remember.
STEREOGUM: I kinda wish I had been there so I could write about it. I mean, it sounded completely horrible. But I go to something like 15 festivals a year. They usually don’t go quite that badly.
COYNE: No, exactly, when you’re involved in a lot of festivals — you know, some of them, it’s amazing that they put them together and it works and nothing happens and it’s just a bunch of dumb entertainment and we all have a party. If you do a lot of them like we do, a lot of them get rained out, a lot of them aren’t well-organized, a lot of them are trying very hard but don’t know what they’re doing. Some of them, and I don’t know if it’s the case with this one, some of them aren’t trying very hard and they don’t know what they’re doing and they only realize that once they get into it and it’s too late. Everyone’s excited about the hype and what it could be. I tell people all the time, when you’re standing there at one of these things and it’s working, it’s amazing. There’s a billion things that can go wrong, and when nothing is going wrong, it’s a great, great miracle of events that it’s all happening.
STEREOGUM: I think Fyre Fest is when everything went wrong.
COYNE: [laughs] And none of the artists showed up?
STEREOGUM: Well Blink-182 had already pulled out, but I think the way it played out is that anyone who was still going to play, the festival made sure they didn’t fly over. They stayed in Florida or whatever. They knew it was about to go off the cliff. But fans, actual ticket-buyers, were still getting flown over.
COYNE: As the story goes, more and more that’s probably going to happen. People do love going to festivals. The more exotic and the weirder it is, people want to go. Who can blame them. I don’t know if that one was a scam.
STEREOGUM: Oh, yeah, that was another part of the story. The promoter or somebody was a shady character.
COYNE: Wait, so what records did you like? Maybe there are some cool things out there that haven’t come my way.
STEREOGUM: What records did I like? One of my favorites that’s more under the radar is this band called Liima. It’s three Danish guys and a Finn making this gorgeous futuristic synth-pop. They have a new record this year I really love that nobody else in America really seems to know about.
COYNE: [laughs] Well, I think being under the radar is a lot more comfortable, to tell you the truth. It used to be, when we thought things exploded, you got in SPIN magazine and Maximum Rocknroll in the same week. Now, if things explode, you’re on tour with Taylor Swift. It’s just too much. This idea of, you know, everything being everywhere at one time — it’s wonderful. But it also has this curse, it’s overwhelming. I think being under the radar is better than ever. It allows you to reach who you want to reach, without reaching all the enemies of you. Little by little, building that comfortable, “We’re able to be ourselves and do our music with people who like us” without having to confront whatever we call the unsatisfied mainstream. “What is this shit? I don’t get it!” Well, I know, it’s not for you yet! I think that’s tough on groups.
It’s hard to sustain yourself in the big picture of — what’s considered popular now is 10 billion hits on YouTube, and if you only have 20,000, who are you? You can’t exist on that. And, no, you can! You can have a great, great artistic, creative adventure going. It just doesn’t need to have 10 billion hits to be justified. I think all that’s going to start to be appealing to real artists who aren’t trying to be the next Taylor Swift. And I applaud anybody who wants to be the next Taylor Swift. Go for it. But the ones that don’t want to be — that’s fine. It’s better to deserve to have 10 billion hits on YouTube than to have the 10 billion hits and not deserve it. That would be my statement.
STEREOGUM: Even if you didn’t keep up with music much, did you catch many movies or TV that stuck with you? Like Stranger Things or Game Of Thrones?
COYNE: I definitely like the shows more when you can watch them at 2AM at home in your own bed. We do that all the time. I want to watch even the newest Blade Runner movie that way. I don’t want to go to a movie theater and spend three hours sitting there. I’d rather watch it from home where I can stop and look at my phone or get something to eat, feed the dogs or whatever. It’s just a different world these days. I don’t really go to theaters for that anymore. The only time I go to a theater is when it’s supposed to be some outrageous experience. But I definitely keep up with the movies, you want them to be on Showtime or Netflix as soon as they can. It’s good, I can watch it on my own time, I can watch it on an airplane. There are too many things in the world that you have to spend your time doing, and there’s so much entertainment that’s right there available to you.
STEREOGUM: Was there anything that particularly stood out to you this year?
COYNE: I can’t remember if these were shows that we caught that were this year or … Big Little Lies, was that this year? Some of that was just insane. I think earlier in the year there was the recap of the O.J. trial. There’s all these great well-done reality documentary things. I forget a couple of the shows. There’s one about a guy who lived in Arkansas who was kind of a drug dealer. That was a good series. Tons and tons of that, which I think is all for the better for moviemaking and storytelling. You see it more and more, how all great movies could be 20 hours long, we just don’t want to see them all at one time. If we do, we want to be in a hotel room with some food and our phones. That way we can be involved in the story for 20 hours. I think this is such a cool, new thing in the world. Binge-watching gives it kind of a silly title, but they’re just so well done. It’s like reading a novel. Ten years ago, if you told someone you were going to read a novel over the weekend you’d be like no way dude, but these stories, the way they’re told and the character development — they’re fucking amazing.
STEREOGUM: That was something people were saying a lot about the Twin Peaks revival. I think David Lynch actually said he was making an 18 hour movie, not a TV show.
COYNE: Exactly, yeah, and the only reason you wouldn’t do that is because no one wants to sit in the theater for 10 hours. But people will definitely sit in their house when they can sit in their underwear. It’s amazing. I think we’ve finally entered into the world where experimental art and experimental movies are actually going to be seen. They’re not just going to be things you talk about that no one cares about. They’ll start to be seen and be part of the real world instead of being in a corner by themselves.
STEREOGUM: Did you see Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi commercial?
COYNE: Yeah, yeah, only after the controversy.
STEREOGUM: I think it actually got banned, yeah.
COYNE: Oh, I see. Well, there’s the power. If Trump doesn’t have any power, Kendall Jenner has absolute power. [laughs] I don’t really remember the controversy, and I always suspected that the controversy was made up to give it a bit more attention. If we say it’s stupid everyone will watch it, if we say it’s great no one will pay attention.
STEREOGUM: Well the thing was she goes and gives a Pepsi to a cop at a protest. I think everyone thought it was really tone deaf.
COYNE: Well, I know, but it’s a commercial. It’s meant to be a stupid commercial, it’s not actually meant to be taken serious as any real commentary. To me, I always think those things are stupid, that people really get upset about it. It’s meant to be a stupid commercial and it did what it was supposed to do. I don’t know. I don’t know if it sold any more Pepsi, which is what they were probably hoping for, but we’re talking about it a little bit. Maybe they won in the end.
STEREOGUM: Did you see the video of Richard Spencer getting punched? There were all these different versions online of people setting it to different songs. For whatever reason, in this deluge of news and shit it became this talking point, “Is it OK to punch Nazis?” So now I have to ask you if it’s OK to punch Nazis.
COYNE: Any kind of violence against any individual, you can’t just say that’s OK now. It’s all a circumstance that happens, and some of it is forgivable and some of it is justified. But, no. It’s just not acceptable. If you think someone’s a Nazi and you’re allowed to punch them, I’d say that’s not proof they deserve to be punched. If you’re in a situation where you’re going to be attacked and someone is being harmed, it doesn’t matter if they’re a Nazi or if they’re not a Nazi, there’s a situation. As a serious, actual thing? Life is a thing you have to navigate on your own, with your own intelligence and your own feeling about what’s right and wrong. What seems right as an overriding wave of reality is not true in the minuteness of your own actual world. It’s not simple enough like that. Sounds like a fun sticker to put on your car, but it doesn’t seem like it will actually work if you don’t really want to go to jail and hurt people and stuff like that. The idea of nonviolence is boring and it’s not as fun but it’s better than the alternative.
STEREOGUM: How about fidget spinners? Do you have a collection?
COYNE: No, I think I stumbled upon one that wasn’t the real thing, and I was immediately like, “What is the big deal?”
STEREOGUM: Wait, what makes it not the real thing? It’s a pretty simple object.
COYNE: I didn’t know if — does it run on a battery? Does it spin by itself? Or is it always this easily spinnable thing you’re doing by yourself?
STEREOGUM: I think there are different versions?
COYNE: I’ve been to quite a few restaurants where little kids, four year olds or whatever, they’re in love with it. I would say, whatever it is, is something that is lovable and the more that people do it, the more that other people are going to want to do it because of it’s popularity. For me personally, I just didn’t have the room left in my fidgety little world to have anything. [laughs] That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t. The one that I did use, I thought didn’t work very well or I didn’t get it.
STEREOGUM: So we’re not going to see a giant fidget spinner onstage for the next Flaming Lips tour.
COYNE: No, not yet, but maybe I will get a hold of one that works extremely well and I’ll get pacified by it. [laughs] It’s hard to say.
STEREOGUM: Well, thanks for doing this again Wayne. It’s become a nice holiday tradition.
COYNE: Thanks so much, that was cool.
STEREOGUM: Take care, man. I’ll talk to you next December.
Oczy Mlody is out now via Warner Bros. Records.