2018 In Review

Wayne Coyne Reviews 2018

The Flaming Lips leader on Tide PODS, Post Malone, their new Tom Petty-inspired LP, & more

Wayne Coyne is always busy. Whether working on official albums or a smattering of side projects, the Flaming Lips — the band he’s now been a part of for 35 years — never seem to stop moving. “With us, it’s always like five things at one time,” he says from his home in Oklahoma City, after an intense spin class. (He intended to go to yoga and wound up at SoulCycle instead. “It was fucking tough, I gotta tell ya. They do these classes where you’re just pedaling to the remixed EDM hits of the day and it’s like, man, you motherfuckers are going.”)

But Coyne seems to thrive off of constant activity, and as usual the Lips do have several endeavors on the way at once. Earlier this month, they announced a Record Store Day release called King’s Mouth, an album rooted in the band’s roving art installation of the same name. As the project took shape, Coyne began to regard it as a “weird children’s story” and thought it should have some narration; at the same time, he’d been revisiting the Clash’s Combat Rock and, inspired by its spoken word tracks, thought to ask Mick Jones to lend his voice to King’s Mouth. Jones sent recordings right back, before the Lips had even completed all the music for the project, which in turn spurred them on through the rest of the writing. “It was a wonderful, spontaneous [project] — you know, it wouldn’t seem weird that the Flaming Lips would do something like this,” he says. “It’s an installation, a children’s album, with books and T-shirts and soap and candy that go with it.”

At the same time, the Flaming Lips have been working on a new album with a less-than-expected origin story. And amidst it all, they got into the Christmas spirit yesterday, sharing a characteristically trippy video for a cover of David Bowie and Bing Crosby’s “Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy” duet.

When Coyne and I spoke, we touched on all those topics, including details about the band’s plans for that new album. But, as is holiday tradition here at Stereogum, we also talked about a bunch of random current events and pop culture and internet detritus from 2018. Basically: As we have for the last four years, we asked Wayne Coyne to review the past 12 months. And, as always, he had a lot of thoughts.

WAYNE COYNE: Hello Ryan. What are we talking about today?

STEREOGUM: All the same random bullshit as every other year.

COYNE: That’s what I thought. I was like, oh, shit, I think it’s that time of year.

STEREOGUM: It’s the holiday tradition. This is the fifth time we’ve done this. So, you keep up on stuff a good amount for someone who’s been at this as long as you have. Were there any albums or songs that stood out for you this year?

COYNE: For me, it’s probably been the year I realized half the songs we were listening to were by Post Malone. I didn’t know who it was before. Oh, that’s been Post Malone all this time.

STEREOGUM: So you’re a fan?

COYNE: Yeah! I think more of him, and I think that endeared me to … in the slew of rap party songs we had been listening to, I didn’t know who he was but I would like those couple of songs. I think it was probably when Shaun White was about to do his final gold medal winning thing and he was listening to — “Now they always say congratulations,” that’s a Post Malone song right? He’s getting ready to go, he’s getting psyched up, and I thought “Oh, that’s who I’ve been listening to.” I think once you start to know more about him, I just really liked him. It wouldn’t be anything more than the big songs everyone else is listening to, I wouldn’t know anything besides them.

STEREOGUM: Is the new Flaming Lips music going to be Post Malone-inspired then?

COYNE: I would hope so! But I don’t know if you could really do that if you weren’t him. I think that’s what’s so cool about it. I don’t think his sound or any of that is particularly overly noticeable from everything else, it’s just his little take on it, which probably to some people seems obvious. To me it wasn’t, that’s why I felt embarrassed but also relieved like “Oh, I really like this guy I just didn’t know for a long time.” I don’t know. I would hope so. More inspired by his quirkiness and how funny and how honest he is, not necessarily that we would sound like his music. But I would love to be able to sound like his music. I’m not really sure how we would, but we can always try.

STEREOGUM: You’re in the studio now. You always seem to be working on multiple projects at once, but is there an album brewing at the moment?

COYNE: Right, we’ve worked with Dave Fridmann on most of our albums, not every piece of every one, but we’re back and forth with him. When we were finishing up the King’s Mouth stuff he had some time available. We already had four or five songs that I thought were really great tracks but weren’t working for the King’s Mouth thing. This is how we work the best. We already have stuff that’s in the works, it’s already flowing over us, and it gives us this time to work on stuff underneath that. It reminds me of when we were doing Zaireeka and at the same time doing The Soft Bulletin and then at the same time doing Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots. You’re just in this great flow — it doesn’t mean everything’s great, it just makes it easy to say “Let’s move over there.”

STEREOGUM: What’s the vibe of these new songs? Is there a particular direction?

COYNE: Tom Petty died a year ago. It seems like he’s been dead a long time already now. I remember as the news of that day was happening, where in the beginning it was like, “Maybe he’s dead, maybe he’s not,” and then by the end it’s like, “Oh my God! Tom Petty is dead! This is horrible.” As it happens, because he’s dead, there’s interest in him.

There’s always been this little story of Tom Petty and the group when they first drove from Gainesville. They go through Tulsa, Oklahoma, and they record with their first producer there. He was working in LA and met them in Tulsa kinda like, “I don’t want them to get to LA and get too many offers, I want to meet them in the middle of nowhere and see if they got some songs.” They’re up in Tulsa, Oklahoma for a couple months. I know at the time, my older brothers and their friends, they’d be going up to Tulsa and selling pot and doing drugs and taking acid, just back and forth all the time.

In my fantasy mind — Steven [Drozd] and I had been thinking for a while that we were going to try to do an album that was somehow about our life as teenagers, even though all of our albums kind of are anyway, we thought let’s be a little more focused on that and see what happens. We always love telling each other stories about [our teenage years]. I told him, I bet my brothers met Tom Petty while they were up there. They had to have, but my older brothers wouldn’t have connected the dots when Tom Petty became famous a couple years later.

So Steven and I started to concoct this other reality of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, that when they went to Oklahoma, if things didn’t go well, they made some great, insane, drug-damaged sad music but it never got anywhere beyond these crazy recordings in Tulsa because they ran into people like my older brothers, and worse. And they all got addicted to drugs and they couldn’t finish the album and they ran out of money and they were stuck in Tulsa having to get crappy jobs or whatever.

Somehow this secret, drug-damaged, sad recording that was made in Tulsa, somehow it existed. That was our fantasy. Why don’t we be that band. We’ll be the lost Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers that never made it but made this beautiful insane drug-damaged sad record while they were in Tulsa, Oklahoma. That’s kind of what that is. With that being the plot or the story or whatever, it’s almost everything goes. It really can be true to Steven’s life and my life, but it can concede the fantasy as well. If there’s a way you can get that in your mind like, “This is how that would sound,” that would be the vibe. [Laughs]

STEREOGUM: Well I’m looking forward to hearing it. On a few occasions over the last couple years, you and I have talked about Kanye West. It’s been quite a saga this year. Did you see his meeting with Trump?

COYNE: You do kind of get used to Kanye making any kind of attention-getting fuss. Honestly, these days, you do almost have to do something diabolical to be talked about. Nobody wants to talk about casual, quality things. I don’t blame him. I think Kanye may be … maybe he’s got the way. What I mean by that is, if the entire world and everybody who’s a journalist and everybody who’s been involved in politics and every talk show host and everybody who has an opinion about Trump, that I’ve ever listened to, has relentlessly said how bad he is and how stupid he is and how unjust this is — it’s not done anything to change the situation. If you ask me, it’s only made him more popular.

For me, personally, I really don’t think it’s that funny anymore. I don’t think it’s going to help us to keep standing on the perimeter of this thing like, “I’m not playing along until he’s outta here.” I don’t think that’s really going to work. You get this feeling that Trump’s greatest motivation and energy has been from getting revenge on Obama, in a sense. Anything that you did, I’m going to undo. And anything that you think was good, I’m going to act like it’s stupid. Part of our mature, civilized nature says what an idiot Trump is, “to get revenge,” what a petty thing to do. I think we want revenge on Trump, to tell you the truth. “Fail, motherfucker!” Be little, be humiliated. And that’s seeking revenge. I guess I’m saying I’m not gonna do that anymore. In the beginning, we all felt humiliated. We thought we were so smart, so right. And look how tricked we were or how naïve we were. I don’t know. We thought we were running this place, and we were not, clearly.

STEREOGUM: I was going to go in a lighter direction but this revolves around dead people so it’s not incredibly light, in a way. Justin Timberlake performed with a Prince hologram at the Super Bowl. If the Flaming Lips were to perform with a hologram, who would you choose?

COYNE: When you talk about people you wished were still around — I really like Amy Winehouse. Maybe that’s a weird choice. There are so many people who are unfortunately not here. But she was one where I felt like she was going to make a bunch more records and just be a freak and be vulnerable and funny. I thought she was a Cardi B before there was a Cardi B. I’m glad Cardi B is here. But just what a great — she’s not like me, I would’ve loved to just be like “All right! What do you wanna do? This is cool!” Cool voice, different take on the world. There are thousands but personally for me, I think she’d be cool. I mean, it’d still be fun to do like, we lay down some kind of post-modern krautrock groove and then have a hologram of Miles Davis up there doing a four note interpretive solo on top of it. But I think every musician would say that.

STEREOGUM: Everyone wants the Miles hologram?

COYNE: [Laughs] Well, yeah! Like, “Look we’ve got Miles playing with us!” “No, dude, he’s supposed to be playing with us!”

STEREOGUM: Did you see A Star Is Born or any other big movies?

COYNE: Only The Grinch, I think. It’s got Tyler, The Creator doing some of the music in it.

STEREOGUM: Did you like the music?

COYNE: No, and it’s nobody’s fault. I think it’s just my ear. Knowing who Post Malone is and having Danny Elfman and Tyler, The Creator together … I’m not saying that it doesn’t work, I just need to get a little bit more used to it. [Laughs]

STEREOGUM: Have you been playing HQ this year?

COYNE: There’s a game that the roadie guys have been playing all year long. I haven’t played it. They’d be sending me little trivia questions that’d come up, and I’d always be slightly confused. And, that there’s money involved — that makes perfect sense. Our road crew guys, they’re all about gambling and whatever. And they do win quite a bit.

STEREOGUM: Did you see all that stuff with the fake missile scare in Hawaii? There were these stories about people just continuing on, like going back to the breakfast buffet or playing golf even as there were supposedly missiles inbound. If you found yourself in a similar situation, what do you think you would do?

COYNE: I think it would depend on if you took it serious or — we live in Oklahoma, and you do get these doomsday warnings occasionally because of the tornadoes. There have been times where there really has been a tornado and the sirens are going and this would be happening and someone who’s not used to being there would be very alarmed. “What should we do this seems very serious oh my God!” But when you live there, you kind of realize it’s either right on you or it’s not, and if it’s not right on you you’re not gonna really worry about it. If it’s a mile away, you’re not gonna worry about it. If it’s on your block, you’re going to take some shelter.

So, I’d probably be like that. And depending on what I’m doing. If I’m in the middle of a Flaming Lips show, I would defer that to the promoter. Like, “Look, if you think we should keep playing until the nuclear flames have engulfed the stage, I’ll do that.” But if you think we should stop now, we’ll do that. I’d defer to the promoter. [Laughs] If it was something in my own life, if I was in my house, I would go to my normal basement that I do to get away from the tornadoes. I live in — and this is no exaggeration — I live in the first fireproof and tornado-proof house built in Oklahoma City. Only because we have a little bit of those scares occasionally, you’ll be out at a restaurant and it’s like “Are we really going to leave here and go to a shelter?” When we can see clearly on our phones the tornadoes are pretty far away?

STEREOGUM: Would you vote for Oprah in 2020?

COYNE: In lieu of what we have now, I’d say, uh, yeah I’d vote for anybody, especially someone who we already feel like we believe in and trust. You’ve grown used to her being on the side of fairness. I don’t think she really wants to though, she said that.

I also think … Trump has made everybody so aware of politics. I can’t remember a time ever when all the people around me gave a shit about the House, who was running for Senator. Everyone knows everybody they hate more than they did when Obama was in office. Nobody cared about midterms or any of that. If anything else, it does show just how powerless and fucking indecisive every other politician is, if you ask me. No one can do anything about this, no one can muster any rally or motivation to do anything about this. Really!? This guy is doing this, and none of you can stop him? I’m like, wow, this really isn’t what we thought it was. It probably never was. Maybe in some way he is exposing just how uninvolved we’ve been.

We keep saying someone should run. That’s exactly the dilemma. “I’m not gonna do it, but somebody should!” Who wants that fucking job!? It has to be someone who’s like Trump, who has a lot of money and doesn’t give a fuck about running the government because it’s deferred to a bunch of people who all have their own agenda. There really isn’t a collective out there that’s going to help you. It’s such a ridiculous reality, to think, yeah, the one guy who gives a shit the least is actually the president. Actually. This is not a SNL skit. And no one seems to be able to do anything about it. If I was Oprah, I’d say I’m good at being on TV but I don’t know what’s going on in politics. Maybe we should all start to get more involved and really know what’s going on. Maybe this is what Trump is going to do, he’s going to embarrass us so much that we’ll never forget. I thought everybody would’ve learned their lesson when George Bush got elected twice.

STEREOGUM: You’d think.

COYNE: People were so repulsed he got elected once, and he got elected twice. We’re going to be two years into Trump now, and the two year mark is horrible, because people get used to him. We’re used to him, dude, we know he’s full of shit.

STEREOGUM: Have you kept up with the celebrity couples of the year, like Elon Musk and Grimes or Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson?

COYNE: In a sense. I like Elon and Grimes, I’m not mega-mega for either of them, but I thought, “Oh, that sounds like fun, that sounds interesting.” I don’t know if they’re still together or not. I like Travis Scott with Kylie Jenner. I like all that. And I like Travis Scott’s music. I was aware of Mac Miller dying, while Ariana and Pete were … I guess they were still together. That’s a big, devastating thing to be thrown into, it’s show business and romantic and funny and then suddenly, it’s real life and this is horrible. I don’t know if all of it [before that] was a publicity stunt or what. In all of that, there was still a guy who died and it’s really a brutal, brutal, fucked up story.

There’s part of you that likes to follow that, with Ariana Grande — I don’t really follow her music, but it doesn’t appear to be bullshit to her. The things she says, they kinda make sense to me. I thought all of it was a good story, to me. I don’t know about the Pete guy from Saturday Night Live. They’re all young people and they’re all struggling to be popular and to be cool and to be careerist at the same time, and it’s all like, man, good luck. [Laughs] It’s a lot to go on, and in the middle of that you have people dying of drug overdoses. That’s just a motherfucker. The rest of it is all laughable, but once that starts to happen … I do feel sorry for anyone who has to get news like that and an hour later you’re supposed to make a statement about what does this mean. Fuck, that’s tough.

STEREOGUM: Right, that’s a crazy part of celebrity that people don’t always acknowledge.

COYNE: And we want them to say something about it! We’re always like, “What are they thinking about this?” I kind of applaud that, hey, they’re still here. They don’t just disappear and say, “It’s none of your business.” I think it’s cool. I think a lot of people can relate to it. If you ask me, I think it’s brave. And to still be making your music and to still be trying to focus on pleasing people. Man, go for it.

STEREOGUM: Did you eat any Tide PODS this year?

COYNE: Ohh, this is where people are eating Tide and seeing if it gets them fucked up or something?

STEREOGUM: Yeah, I don’t know how it started — I think it was just one of those dumb YouTube challenges.

COYNE: I did see a few of those. I thought, well, I don’t know what the outcome was. It just seemed like an absurd — did anything fun or bad happen because of it?

STEREOGUM: There was all sorts of news around it like, having to tell people, really no these aren’t edible, and now I’ve seen some commercials that seem geared to undo this viral thing of people eating these things. You know, it’s funny to me, there are certain Flaming Lips videos where I could see someone doing something like this.

COYNE: Oh, totally, yeah. You’re exactly right. What happens when it gets in their mouth? Does it foam up? I saw someone did it but I didn’t see any result. Like just that you did it, that was enough? I didn’t know how big of a deal it was. Didn’t try it, nobody I knew around me tried it. To ingest a bunch of detergent. What could it possibly do to you? It can’t be good. Even when you accidentally swallow some soap it’s gonna be pretty bad.

STEREOGUM: Do you have any theories about who bit Beyoncé?

COYNE: What do you mean?

STEREOGUM: [Laughs] So, there was this Tiffany Haddish profile and she was talking about being invited to these big celebrity parties all the sudden. She told this anecdote about seeing another female celebrity, who was on drugs, bite Beyoncé in the face. And then everyone was speculating about who it was.

COYNE: Do we feel like it was true?

STEREOGUM: Yeah, it seemed like it did happen. I’d like to think ridiculous things happen at these celeb parties.

COYNE: Those sorts of things, I feel like they’re just the worst. The one we would always dread running into — I think it’s still true today — was Andy Dick. Do you remember him? If you know what’s going on with him, he’s funny and weird or whatever. But he’d be at these parties and he’d get so completely — I mean, insane. You’d have to call the cops and stuff. He would do absolutely anything.

STEREOGUM: Like bite people in the face?

COYNE: He would, he would. We would wind up at a couple things where he would be around. At first, we’d go up and talk to him. Then you’d see as the night went how utterly insane he would get. I think it wasn’t much longer we’d be at some other event and we’d be like, “Oh, fuck, Andy Dick is here.” Then we’d go to talk to him again and then by the end of the night — I mean, dangerous! Just completely freaked out. Then you just don’t wanna go anywhere. And if Andy Dick’s there, you’re just like “OK, this isn’t for me.” That was our signal. “Oh, it’s one of those kinds of parties, Andy Dick will show up and he won’t be stopped.” But I understand what they’re talking about. It’s thrilling, as stupid as it sounds, to be standing in a room where Jennifer Lopez or Beyoncé or something, they’re right there, talking and eating. I understand that.

STEREOGUM: Are you a Roseanne fan?

COYNE: Not when it got revived, but I knew it and liked it enough in the original day, yeah.

STEREOGUM: The revival didn’t exactly go well this year. Well, it did and then it didn’t. It was this massive hit and then she tweeted some racist things so they killed off her character.

COYNE: We saw it back in the day, and when this thing happened — I don’t know, I’m always surprised people are so … dumb. If it’s a publicity stunt, that’s dumb. And if it’s not, it’s like, “How did you get to where you are and we didn’t realize you were this stupid.” In a way, that’s what’s fascinating about it. The greatest invention to help humanity or whatever could happen today, and it would be a story, but it’s never as enticing as reading about people that are just famous enough to be really fucking stupid and embarrassing. I think there’s something telling about it, in a good way. We can all relate to that. None of us can relate to Elon Musk. I don’t know him, but go for it. He’s not afraid to have people make fun of him. But I can’t relate to what it is he’s doing. How do you do all this stuff? How are you so rich?

STEREOGUM: You can’t relate to shooting a car into space while it’s playing David Bowie on a loop?

COYNE: Right. Part of it’s ridiculous, part of it’s a publicity stunt, part of it is he knows how to get in the news. It’s all those things combined. I say, hooray, I wish I could get a Tesla. But none of it is as fun or relatable as when people you thought were smart are doing stupid, embarrassing things. It feels like they should have a little bit of “If I do this, it’s going to look bad,” and then they do it! With Roseanne, I always thought she wasn’t like that. It’s so comforting to know more about it. We all know people like that. We can all relate to that, people in your life who seemed educated and fair and when it comes down to it they’re this racist asshole!

STEREOGUM: Did you see the Wal-Mart yodeling boy?

COYNE: Tell me a little bit about that story.

STEREOGUM: It’s this kid who got famous from this viral video, singing an old-school yodeling country kinda song in Wal-Mart. Became a big internet thing, a famous little kid, all that.

COYNE: I didn’t know what that story was, but I’ve definitely seen this kid, yeah.

STEREOGUM: [Pause] I actually don’t have any thoughts on this kid, I don’t know why I brought that one up.

COYNE: [Laughs] Well I was going to ask you to help me.

STEREOGUM: It’s been weirder doing these interviews this year, finding the funny things people have actually kept up on, vs. just the constant bad news or whatever.

COYNE: Well, I just think that we’ve done that, we’ve done that, we’ve done that, and I think we don’t find everything as absurdly funny because it’s like, this is the way the world is now. It’s not like we’re gonna make fun of it and that’s gonna stop it. Plus, I don’t know, when Pete Shelley died … I just don’t think any of it surprises you anymore. The way we get news now, everyone knows it at the same time. What’s the newest thing we can know? Is it really going to effect us that Pete Shelley died? We all kind of … it’s like the school shootings. Are you really going to do something about it or stand on the side of “We’re concerned and we care but we’re not stopping anything, we’re not going to do something about this.” I think that’s where we start to go, “Why are we doing nothing?” We’re in that kind of time.

I went to the rally, the March For Our Lives. I stood in the crowd, embedded in big groups of families that were devastated, standing there close enough to hear their conversations about losing daughters and sons and really wondering, “What are we going to do about this?” It’s big, a lot of us there. And you want to stop it the next day. You think, “By the weekend we will have done something about this.” But it’s not true. This is the dilemma that we have. A lot of information, a lot of stuff, does move around fast. It’s just not like that with this kind of stuff. The gun laws are changing. The gun laws are gonna change. Because of these things, it’s gonna happen. But we have to keep working on it, and it’s real work. You have to stand out in the cold. It’s not just log on to Twitter and go back to whatever you were doing. That’s the way it is.

It seems like some things can switch because, “We all logged on at the same time, dude, and someone on American Idol won or lost and look at me I participated.” But a lot of things are never gonna be like that, and it seems like a disappointment that these things are gonna keep happening. But it’s gonna change. We have to keep working on it, and it takes years. In Oklahoma — and this is just my take on politics — the day that we woke up to the horror and the truth that Trump was elected, the drug laws and the liquor laws in Oklahoma were better, were more progressive, were moving towards something you’re more used to seeing in San Francisco than you are in Oklahoma.

Just a couple months ago, marijuana became legal in Oklahoma. Now you’re driving from Texas, trying to make your way up through Kansas to St. Louis or something, and you can stop and buy weed in Oklahoma. What the fuck? A year ago, that would’ve seemed like it was never gonna happen here. Maybe once it happens in Texas. Then suddenly it happened. Part of it is because of the Trumpism. People are going out to vote. And while they’re going out there to vote against Trump, they’re also voting in these local little laws. That’s the slow boring unexciting news. No one wants to think that. Oh, you gotta go vote again? Yeah you gotta go vote again. I want big news. I want to be part of the big news. When the asteroid wipes out Russia, I wanna be part of that. But it’s not like that. There’s no asteroid. All these things are gonna change, you just need to keep working on it, keep finding a way, keep finding a way.

STEREOGUM: There have been several of these gigantic rallies in the Trump era. When you leave something like March For Our Lives, do you feel optimistic about where things are going incrementally, seeing people engaged and making those local changes?

COYNE: When you’re actually there, it’s just different than reading about it. Especially in the situation I was in, when you’re with these families — this situation they’re in isn’t going to go away. Their energy is because their daughter or son has been killed. That energy isn’t going to go away. That energy of being on the side that’s right, the side that’s going to change this for the better, that’s going to stay there.

I always tell people, it’s not a good spot to be in, at the front of the line anymore. The frontline is for celebrities, because you can’t get anything done and everybody’s too easily offended. The place you’re going to get stuff done is back here at #20. Don’t worry about being #1. Real work gets done back away from everyone paying attention. I think that’s good news. I think that’s the way it should be. I think politics used to be, what’s happening in your community is your business. I think little by little, this timeframe we’re talking about won’t be exciting to people, but we still need to do it, and it’ll be done by the people who take it serious and not just people who want to take a picture and put it on Instagram. I think that’s good news.