When inspiration hits, Wayne Coyne needs to act on it.
“You just feel like, ‘This is what I want to say right now,’ and you have to absolutely say it before you can be rational again,” the Flaming Lips frontman said on the phone recently from Fredonia, N.Y., where he was working on an upcoming release.
The Oklahoma-based Flaming Lips are entering the fourth decade of a career that has seen the band churn out noise rock, grandiose psychedelic pop and ambitious sound experiments.
Over the course of 13 albums, the group has amassed a large following, and it revels in a distinct weirdo aesthetic that encompasses everything from bizarre song titles and a colorful live show to unorthodox distribution efforts. (In 2011, for example, the band put new music on USB drives hidden inside gummy candies that looked like skulls and fetuses.)
Coyne was in New York to go over final mixes of the Flaming Lips’ latest project — a note-for-note cover of the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” — with longtime producer Dave Fridmann.
This is not the first Flaming Lips endeavor of this sort — the act has also re-created albums by Pink Floyd, the Stone Roses and King Crimson — but it may be the most star-studded. The guest list includes Miley Cyrus, Moby and My Morning Jacket.
The album, which will benefit the Bella Foundation, an animal rescue organization in Coyne’s hometown of Oklahoma City, is something of a passion project for the songwriter. He admitted the process to put the record together has been “difficult.”
“It’s a lot of people to get together and a lot of money,” Coyne, 53, said. “My only priority is that I like it and I want to do it.”
Cyrus, the “Hannah Montana” teen star-turned-subversive pop diva, is Coyne’s most notable new collaborator. After developing a friendship with Cyrus over Twitter, he and Flaming Lips guitarist Steven Drozd joined Cyrus on stage at her “Bangerz” tour to perform the title track from the band’s 2002 album, “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.”
When Cyrus had a day off in Tulsa in March, Coyne met up with her for a “full, great day” that included tracking vocals for “Sgt. Pepper’s” and getting matching tattoos. Earlier this summer, they collaborated on the “very absurd,” as Coyne put it, “Blonde SuperFreak Steals the Magic Brain,” a short film that features Moby and a bedridden, drugged Cyrus hurling profanities.
Coyne’s friendship with pop star Ke$ha was similarly publicized — they were working together on an album, titled “Lip$ha,” that was shelved last November — but he said that, by comparison, Cyrus is in another “stratosphere” with regard to creative control over her music and image.
“Miley just does what she wants to do,” he said.
While 2014 has so far been a prolific year for the Flaming Lips, it has also been filled with controversy.
In May, Flaming Lips drummer Kliph Scurlock told multiple media outlets he was kicked out of the band for criticizing Christina Fallin, a friend of Coyne’s and the daughter of Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, who posted a photo online of herself wearing a Native American headdress. He accused Coyne of being insensitive to Native American culture and being verbally abusive.
Scurlock backtracked on his comments several days later, claiming the firing was due to creative differences and that Coyne was, in fact, not a racist. By that time, though, Coyne had already given a vitriolic retort to “Rolling Stone,” calling Scurlock a “pathological liar” and an “online bully.”
Coyne said he doesn’t like to talk at length about Scurlock’s firing because “every nuance of conversation can be misread on the Internet,” but he does regret “the way it got ugly” and the role he played in the headdress controversy.
“I would definitely say I was in the wrong, and to those people that were offended I’m still sorry about that,” he said.
While Coyne said he does “all kinds of stupid things” and finds himself “apologizing to people all the time,” he believes the ordeal, especially with regard to its cultural appropriation aspect, was blown out of proportion.
“It wasn’t offensive to me, but if it was offensive to you, I would say don’t follow me (on Instagram),” he said.
In the coming weeks, Coyne hopes to shift the focus back to music. Electric Wurms, his prog-rock-influenced side project with Drozd, is set to release its debut LP “Musik, die Schwer zu Twerk” on Tuesday, and the “Sgt. Peppers” tribute will follow in October.
An album of new Flaming Lips music may not surface until 2015, Coyne said. It could veer away from the grating desolation of 2013’s “The Terror,” he said, and turn more toward 1999’s “The Soft Bulletin” and “Yoshimi,” two critically acclaimed albums that nurtured an emotional core within the band’s otherworldly melodic soundscapes.
“We’re always kind of going (with) a yin and a yang,” said Coyne, who then posited the sound of “The Soft Bulletin” as a reaction to 1997’s “Zaireeka,” an experimental album meant to be played on four synchronized CDs.
As for the eccentric Flaming Lips live experience, Coyne said the band has been going “all over the place” during recent shows, incorporating the uplifting anthems, bleak digressions from “The Terror” and everything in between.
Coyne may still sometimes traverse crowds in a man-made bubble, but the creative spirit of the Flaming Lips sees no such confinement.
“I think it’d be a boring existence if we always had to go and say, ‘We gotta do this. You gotta do that,’” Coyne said. “We don’t think like that.”
By Dan Singer - The Baltimore Sun (MCT)
©2014 The Baltimore Sun
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