First the storied American pop-psych punk rockers were on tour in Europe; the record company said the band just didn’t have time to talk to a local reporter. Then someone from the band’s management company emailed, wondering if the newspaper August wrote for, Weekly Alibi, would still be interested in an exclusive interview. March went home and listened to The Soft Bulletin again, and then Zaireeka. And then he wondered about Ronald Jones and Kliph Scurlock. And time passed.
The day the paper went to press, March spent the morning talking to some homeless humans who lived in Albuquerque. An emailed interview he was waiting on came in on time. But no one from The Flaming Lips’ organization contacted; it was a day that mixed expectation with completion; at least the heat had dissipated a bit, thought August March as he waited.
At 3:30pm a bell rang. It was Wayne Coyne on the other side of the phone. He was quiet, gentlemanly and certain that he wanted to talk about his band. He wondered if March wanted to hear what he had to say. August told him hell yeah and they began. Here is a partial transcript of that encounter.
Weekly Alibi: Hey!
Wayne Coyne: Hello, August. Sorry this took so long, Derek and I agreed to it and then I didn’t get back with him in time. But now, we’re together!
I can’t even believe I’m finally talking to you. I wanted to talk to you because you all are playing up in Taos, coming up very soon, like this weekend. If I recall, it’s been a long time since you’ve played in New Mexico, que no? Didn’t The Flaming Lips play at UNM back in 1987 or 1988?
Wayne Coyne: [Laughs heartily] You mean in Albuquerque?
Yeah, I think it was in the SUB Ballroom.
I slightly remember that gig, but not so much. I can’t recall. Did it go well, or did it go badly?
I don’t think it went badly. Some friends of mine were discussing it on social media. There was some disagreement about whether you guys went to the Frontier Restaurant. It was one of those early days of punk shows in Albuquerque.
Oh, I see. Okay, I kinda remember that now. I hope it didn’t go bad.
As I recall it was a pretty wild show. The Butthole Surfers had played the school sometime before you guys did, and the University police stopped that show due to nudity. They let your show go on because no one was going to get naked. The kids loved it.
That sounds pretty amazing. First the Butthole Surfers. Then The Flaming Lips. Amazing for that time. I mean we’re not very much like that now, it was a long time ago, but that is so cool. Are you saying you were there?
I was there.
Really. You must be an older dude, like me.
Early fifties here, Wayne. And of course that’s one of the reasons I think your music is so important, it’s generational probably. Which leads me to my next question. Did you see yourselves evolving into a perennially popular rocanrol band with youths and grandpas alike?
[Laughs] Well we would have played in Albuquerque in 1987; we had only been together for maybe five years by then. That was already longer than we thought we’d go. We thought it was gig we were going to do for six months. We thought it would be ridiculous and it would be done and we’d go back to reality, take our jobs at restaurants or wherever and say that was fun. I think that we’ve been extremely, extremely lucky. We went to record our first record, and we did it all ourselves. We liked it and when we sent it out to the world―and back then it was just me, I would send the record to college radio stations and to magazines like Maximum Rock and Roll. Surprisingly, after a couple of months, people really dug it. And that really encouraged us. We thought it was wholly our responsibility [to make music]. You’re still going to be here 35 years from now and people are still going to be listening to your music and we thought, “Oh no, what are we going to do?” I think it helped a lot to think of it as a temporary thing, though. It never occurred to me at the time that I’m going to be doing this when I’m almost 60 years old. That’s too big a reality. I think we thought we were going to be here for a little bit, so let’s have fun. That serves an artist well. If you put too much seriousness into it, too much meaning, you’re bound to become stressed out about it.
Do you ever get the sense that as far as rocanrol music goes, your outfit is still at the forefront, digging away at the avant-garde with noisy aplomb?
Right around the mid ’90s, we were making Zaireeka. And The Soft Bulletin came out in 1999. There was some thinking then that we wouldn’t be a live band. We foolishly thought that we could make records and just relax. We weren’t trying to be the next Nirvana. By the late ’90s we weren’t thinking about being a touring band at all. So when we were playing we were doing ridiculous things, things we liked. We weren’t trying to compete, to say, “Hey, we are a big rock band!” I think the silly things that we did, the balloons, the confetti, the things that are our trademarks now, we did because it didn’t really matter to us, the fame, the money. But those shows made us unique and original. There is no way we could know that stuff would work. As we played shows the way we wanted to play them, they became better, more original. More fantastic. That whimsical thing we do, people really love that. All bands, all artists eventually find their own voice.
How did the addition of Steven Drozd in 1991 change the band’s voice? He started out as a heavy duty, Bonzo-like drummer, amirite?
Yeah, I mean, yeah! I knew that he was musical, that he could play piano and guitar. There was no way that we could know that our personalities and the way we do things artistically would mesh so well. It’s just insane that of all the people in the world, I would run into Steven. Somehow there’s something in it that works. We talk about it all the time. His music is very emotional and I love emotional music.
And Michael Ivins, how’s he doing, maintaining the deep bass groove of the band?
That’s his job and he loves it. We know him as quite normal and sweet. But if you don’t know him well, he can seem intimidating because he’s so stoic and quiet. There’s a lot of happiness going on, with the band and with our audiences.
What about the future, the future of The Flaming Lips, the future of America, the future of the Earth?
I think it’s very easy to get caught up in the stuff that’s happening, Trump’s unpredictability, but I don’t really think the world is his problem. We control more of our lives than we realize. I think the world is so much more connected now. It’s hard to go anywhere and feel like a stranger in a strange land. Because of the internet, people can get turned on to all sorts of new, cool things. Not just music, but all types of ideas. Gay rights are the norm, people can smoke marijuana, we care about animals and help them.
That’s very different than 1987!
I say all of that is good news. Earth can be such a brutal, brutal place. But it’s also a beautiful place and the beauty is something we have to create. Your little bit can make this moment better. We can’t change the way the world is but we can make our moments in it more beautiful, more happy, more cool.