Flaming Lips Talk Work Ethic, Taking Ayahuasca With Miley Cyrus
To promote the Flaming Lips’ 14th album, Oczy Mlody, leader Wayne Coyne is taking guests in an unoccupied office at Warner Brothers’ New York headquarters. “It’s like a job interview,” Coyne says, though few bosses probably interview prospective employees in a pom-pom scarf, green winter coat, frill-fringed pants and a faceful of encrusted sparkle jewelry. The Flaming Lips frontman and chief conceptualizer is a few days away from his combination 56th birthday soirée and album release extravaganza in Los Angeles, set to feature a wrestling pit, edible butterflies and a body tie-dye vat.
With a title repurposed from a phrase in a Polish novel and transformed by Coyne into a drug in a surreal sci-fi dystopia, Oczy Mlody is the Lips’ latest in a career that features pioneering noise-punk (1986’s Hear It Is), psych-pop touchstones (1999’s The Soft Bulletin), multi-disc environments (1997’s Zaireeka), collaborative EPs, USB drives encased in gummy skulls and one 24-hour experiment (2011’s 7 Skies H3). As dark, fun, and head-spinning as anything they’ve recorded, Oczy Mlody began life during a series of projects with Miley Cyrus, who appears on Oczy Mlody‘s closing “We A Famly.” The Flaming Lips’ 34-year trip keeps getting longer, stranger, and noisier.
With all these projects, are the Flaming Lips pretty much just constantly recording?
There are big conceptual things, but they don’t take very long to do; but sometimes records are a long time. The Soft Bulletin we started working on at the end of 1996 and didn’t come out until 1999, and we put out Zaireeka in that time, and Zaireeka was just a little stop. We were just continuing to work. I think this record benefitted from the same flow. Even while we were working on the covers album with the Sgt. Pepper’s stuff [With a Little Help From My Fwends], and going right into working with Miley, [we’d have] little gems and not know where they were were going to go. This record was happening all through that. It’s not a single flow. It’s a lot of stuff and, in the end, you make it seem like it’s a cohesive story, but a lot of times you struggle along collecting little bits of things that are expressive in the same sort of color.
How do you get from a stray phrase in a Polish novel to this fairytale sci-fi dystopia?
Once we knew that we were going to start “The Castle” with “Her eyes were butterflies, her smile was a rainbow,” that was the leap forward. On one level, that was like my version – which I’ve done a million times – of “Puff, the Magic Dragon” by Peter, Paul and Mary. It’s a song that, because I was so…