Catching Up With Wayne Coyne

Music Features Wayne Coyne
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What doesn’t Wayne Coyne have his hand in these days? The Flaming Lips frontman is rarely out of the spotlight, whether it’s with his day job, his new side project, Electric Wurms, or collaborating with folks like Miley Cyrus, My Morning Jacket or any number of his famous Fwends. We caught up with the fearless freak backstage at The Hangout Music Festival to get his take on modern celebrity and how he plans to change the world starting in Oklahoma City.

Paste : You are the busiest man in rock who’s not promoting an album. That seems to be your thing. Dude doesn’t rest.
Wayne Coyne: I guess. Promoting albums now…I mean, we put out a lot of stuff. I think it’s still true for some big acts, where you put out a record and tour the world for five years, then you get together and you put out another one, but really starting a couple years ago, we didn’t really want to do that anymore. I mean, for us, it got to be a little bit boring. Whatever we wanted to do more in that time, we would just start to do it. And it got to be more manageable for us to put them out when we felt like it, as opposed to getting in line in the slot.

Paste : Doing the campaign.
Coyne: Yeah, with the big major label and all that. That’s one of the things that we didn’t like about being on Warner Bros. all the time. It’s just this giant machine, and it takes six months to get anything going. And little by little, I think the way we worked out our contract and stuff like that, I think really suits us now. We do a lot of stuff.

Paste : And it’s fun to watch and to listen. What you do isn’t the normal stuff. Do you ever get worried that the story is bigger than the music? Because there’s a lot to write about with you guys.
Coyne: Not really. I mean, to me, music without all this other stuff, it alone doesn’t have the personality. I mean, there’s a lot of groups that I’ll hear their music and not really get it until you see them, or you read something about them, or they’re involved in something and you see a little bit more about what they’re about. I think all of that is wonderful. One of the most public groups out there ever would be a group like The Beatles. I would say for my own take, the more that I knew about them, the more that I loved them. You really understood what their music and their art was about. I never fear that, but I’m not really trying to do that. Sometimes I just think to talk about music, it’s just kind of dumb.

Paste : As in, you can’t tell me where it comes from, etc.
Coyne: It’s like, no one’s going to talk about notes and amplifiers, chords or recording studios. In a sense that’s not really what music is. Music is this life, and this is something that you get to listen to that tells you about the life. I would say that I live a lot of life.

Paste : It’s a good lifestyle.
Coyne: It’s great!

Paste : There’s something you’ve been doing that’s definitely interesting. I won’t call it down time, since there never seems to be that. You wrote an April Fools’ or an April 1 note about celebrity. Yet you’ve really positioned yourself with celebrity. It’s a really interesting…contradiction isn’t the right word.
Coyne: Right. I mean, the way they presented it…

Paste : We’re talking Kesha, Miley and all of that.
Coyne: Right. Some of comedy is so close, when you’re in it, you can see it’s so close, it’s almost true at the same time. I know the power of these silly things like Twitter and Instagram. Anybody can go on there and if they want to make a story out of it, they can. They don’t have to call you up or be a publicist or anything. I like that. I think it was three or four years ago at least, when I noticed people were doing that in the newspapers and the free entertainment things around Oklahoma City. They wouldn’t really do an interview with Lady Gaga, but they could write articles about her all day because it’s on her Twitter and Instagram, so it must be true. But I thought that was great, because you could just start to say, “I think this is interesting today. I’m doing this and if you’re interested, you can see what I’m doing.” I think with a group like The Flaming Lips, I think seeing how we do it, seeing what we started to do, and then three weeks later, here’s what it ends up being, if you’re a young artist wondering, “how do you do stuff,” I think it’d be wonderful to follow us. We started to do this, and that didn’t work out. It’s great to be able to change your mind. You’re not a fool if the idea didn’t work out. That’s what all art is.

Paste : Do you think it’s good that we have more of a two way conversation with artists, that artists are as accessible? Because, in a sense, there’s a bit of mystery gone. Beatles, Zeppelin, they all had the mystery. Pink Floyd had the mystery. You were forced to imagine them beyond their human selves. I mean, someone can tweet at you, and you’ll answer right back.
Coyne: Which I think is great. For me, if I really love an artist, I want to know as much as I can about them. I think it’s interesting to know what they did on these days. When those big books came out that documented every day that The Beatles were in the studio, these were revelations to people. You really got to see it. They did this in the morning, then that night they finished “Strawberry Fields Forever.” So I don’t think that at all. I’m putting it out there, because I feel, “this is the life that our fans have given me.” I don’t waste, and I don’t throw it away. I just say, “look, this is what I get to do every day and I’m going for it.”

Paste : I want to bring back up the two names we mentioned a minute ago. With Miley and Kesha, I think you’re doing something really interesting here, maybe unintentionally, about taking pop and these musicians that make pop, filtering them through this system of the Flaming Lips, and when they come out, they’re different. Kesha had a very public moment where she kind of derailed for a second, then got herself back up on her feet. Miley, if you weren’t a fan of her music, now you guys are working with her. That’s positive that maybe you could be a fan of her music later. What I’m seeing is that there’s this moment where the Flaming Lips are eating pop stars, digesting them, crapping them back out as psychedelic and way more interesting than before.
Coyne: Well, that’s a great compliment. Thank you. But it’s mostly on their end. They’re the ones doing it. I could never call up Kesha if she didn’t want me to call her and say, “Hey, we should do this.” I mean, they’re the ones saying, “We should do this.”

Paste : You’ve become their spirit animal.
Coyne: I hope so, yeah. But those two, more than some of the others that I’ve worked with here and there, they’re absolutely wonderful. Fearless. Badass.

Paste : I really want to see how this Miley stuff comes out, because this could be completely different for her. It could be a shock to her fanbase.
Coyne: I don’t think so. I’ve seen them. Same thing I would tell Kesha, “They love you. Music is just what they’re hearing.” And this idea that it’s got to be a certain way, no, they love you. And if you do it and you put yourself into it, and you love it, I bet they’ll love it, too. And not try to be like, “well, I gotta be number one.” You’re already number one in their heart. You do this through love. I think that’s what real artists want to do. If you don’t get to evolve through your art and through your music, you’ll just go insane. If you don’t have the desire to evolve, you’ll try to do whatever you think is going to work, but if you have the desire to try to evolve, like Miley and like Kesha, you don’t want to do the same music you did last year. Even if it was the biggest record in the world, you’re already moving on. Same way The Beatles or Radiohead or any of these groups [did]. You’re living in your music. It isn’t just something you do to have money at the end of the day. And I see that in them. They’re not doing it as a career move. They’re doing it because it’s like, “I love this.” It’s wonderful.

Paste : We mentioned The Beatles a couple times, too, and that’s where I want to end because you’re doing a full Beatles album.
Coyne: We are! I have my own studio and a lot of bands come through, and a lot of my friends and sometimes I sort of put it to them, “you can record here and do whatever you want, but you’ve got to give me a song.” We did one of my favorite records, a record by King Crimson, In The Court of the Crimson King. Just a little record that we do with our friends. We had done The Stone Roses’ first record, where people got together to do different songs, and I had planned on Sgt. Pepper really about three years ago.

Paste : Which is really a perfect record for you all to do. The zaniness that you can inject into it.
Coyne: I love it. So, we had planned on doing it anyway. Then over the New Year’s Eve shows that we were doing, we were doing two nights and we had decided that the second night we would do a kind of Lennon/Beatles set. So if you were there both nights, you would see us do our Flaming Lips set, and then that second night, you’d see this extended set. And we kind of accidentally worked up this really fantastic version of “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds.” It had got out there on YouTube, and people had seen it a bunch and the David Letterman people were doing…I mean, this was all just coincidence. We really did not consider that The Beatles were doing this 50-year thing. We were just doing it because obviously we love John Lennon and the Beatles. And I think it had gotten out there, and they asked us to do the “Lucy In the Sky” song on the David Letterman show. We asked Sean Lennon to do it with us, and he jumped on.

Paste : Which is really an incredible moment right there. If you’re a fan, it’s like, “look what I get!”
Coyne: Are you kidding? Yeah. So, it sort of just by coincidence became the Flaming Lips doing “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds.” When it came time to do stuff with Miley, we had some tracks of our own that we were working on together and she was curious about, “well aren’t you doing this Sgt. Pepper’s record” I was like, “yes.” And she was like, “I’ll be on it!” So we had the track already ready, and that’s why it was easy. Because we did four or five things all in one short day, and we did that track and “A Day In A Life” with her. People don’t realize she’s so into what she’s doing. These things are like one take. We would be there as long as we thought we needed to be, but she just sings the song and you’re like, “that’s great.”

Paste : So for you guys, is this just for fun or are you trying to get something new out of these albums?
Coyne: For someone that loves music, you can listen to the way they record, and we do our own recording and have producers that help us, but a lot of it’s initiated by us doing it. Yeah, any artist, any musician, if you delve into that stuff, and you’re really going, “what are they doing there?” It’s phenomenal. There’s a simplicity where people think, “oh, it’s just this and that.” But there’s a magic to it that isn’t so obvious. It makes you go, “Oh my god. They didn’t just do the simple thing. They did this, it’s quirky, there are mistakes. They don’t always sing on key.” There’s all these things that people take for granted as being like, “well, these people know what they’re doing.” They didn’t know what they were doing and they went for it anyway. That’s what I love about it. Every time we delve into music, you learn something about it. It’s great. And that music is so wonderful anyway. You could not run into someone who loves music who doesn’t know that music.

Paste : And then you’re part of that album’s history in a way. Maybe it’s just part of the Wikipedia page, but you’re part of its history.
Coyne: I love it. And part of the idea of being attached to Miley Cyrus and My Morning Jacket and these other groups is that I want, especially stuff that people know so much about The Beatles, that if these weirdo groups do it, it’ll get more attention. And part of it, the charity group thing that we’re doing in Oklahoma City, this volunteer organization that helps all of these homeless animals, dogs and cats in Oklahoma City. I mean they’re cool, cool people. All volunteers that help low-income families with their vet bills, which you know, that’s one of the big dilemmas. You just don’t have $3000. So I know that if we do this Beatles music, a lot of people will think we’re stepping on sacred ground, but I think it’ll be interesting to people. And I know if we get these artists doing it, and I can say absolutely it’s done out of love, everyone’s doing it for free, volunteering all their time and efforts. No one’s doing it to become more famous or to make money. And secretly all the money is going to go to this little place. And I want it to be in Oklahoma City because I want it to seem like, there are a lot of things out there that are trying in a sense to change the world. And that’s great, but it’s a difficult thing. I know that with a little bit of concentrated effort, this thing in Oklahoma City, five years from now, won’t be there. Then we can say, “Hey man, Wayne’s friends, they helped us do that.”