The following is an interview with the Flaming Lips conducted by Kory Jay Willis and Steve Kite originally published in Stage Left.
Rumor has it that the Flaming Lips appeared shortly after the disappearance of the brontosaurus, that they sprang full grown from the forehead of a groin-clutching giant with enormous veins and one eye.
International fame and People magazine aside, the Lips (Wayne Coyne, guitar/vocals; Mike Ivins, bass/vocals; Richard English, drums/vocals) are okay dudes from Oklahoma who get around a lot.
The attention the Lips devote to their albums and the 200,000-plus miles on their van have begun to pay off; it’s no longer unusual to casually pick up a big-time music magazine and see their name or grinning faces within.
Things look pretty good, but even near-godhood is hot, as the Lips are learning, just a bowl of bulging eyeballs.
* * *
“Sometimes I think this has all been a dream”
Coyne: People think that you get signed and all your problems are done, and that’s the wrongest thing you can think…
Ivins: Whole new thing, whole new set of problems
Coyne: … Yeah, it’s like now that you’re signed, you don’t have to worry about who’s gonna pay for your record. There’s a lot of times we wish we were the ones calling all the shots, doing everything ourselves, and then we go, “well, we don’t have enough money.”
You get people at record companies and they don’t like you, they don’t do anything for you. I mean, you get Enigma, who’s selling five million copies of Poison’s record, they’re not gonna worry too much about the Flaming Lips down here hoping to sell another 1000 copies before the record dies.
* * *
“If you don’t like it write your own song”
Coyne: It’s hard to say, you know, when you start out you just wanna be in a band, you just wanna be like, “I don’t care if we sleep in the gutter, I just wanna be in a rock & roll band.”
But then, after a while, you don’t really just want to be in a rock & roll band and sleep in the gutter, ‘cause you see these wankers that you know their bands suck and they’re getting lots of money and people love ‘em and you go, “well, dude, they blow,” and you go, “I know we’re not that great, but we don’t suck as bad as they do.”
And the more you do it, the less you want to sleep in the gutter. I don’t wanna sleep in the gutter all; I don’t wanna sleep in the damn van!
* * *
“In this bogus town they ain’t got nothing to do”
Coyne: Playing locally, it’s like first no one will let you play, you know. “Of course your band sucks, you’re from Oklahoma and you’re local guys, and we don’t care, we’ve got all these other cool bands we want to listen to.”
Then once they let you play, then they think you’re good, then it’s sort of like they’re doing you a favor by letting you play.
Like when the first Bowery was going, you know they hated us. They would let us play with Hüsker Dü and the Gun Club and these weird bands that, like, they didn’t have anybody else that really fit the bill, ‘cause they had all these other little slickie bands. And I don’t want to slag anybody, but you don’t have to print it if I do.
* * *
“Jesus is a rock star who destroys all he sees”
Coyne: You know, the Fortune Tellers, they’ve been doing that same damn thing for years. You know, kicking around and acting like they’re a big deal, playing R&B like this is some new thing, but it’s not. I’m sure they’re nice guys and everything, but, you know. There’s no ideas going on, there’s nothing there.
Or even like the Wickers, they go along this little semi-commercial line and semi-R.E.M. line of things where, “well, we’re just gonna play it safe here, we don’t want to offend anybody; we want the club owners to like us, we’ll get all the yuppies to like us and we’ll get some of the college people,” and dig, it’s like …
Ivins: It’s like unfortunately every city in America’s got 10 bands just like ‘em.
* * *
“Seems when people ain’t got nobody.”
Coyne: People who don’t know anything about music see you’re in People magazine, they like, “wow, you guys must be big time.”
And you just go, “of course.” They don’t know any better.
* * *
“The house is burning down and we don’t really care”
Stage Left: What’s your most embarrassing moment onstage?
Coyne: Dude, when you’re in the Flaming Lips you don’t really get embarrassed. I mean, if you can get over the shock of (goofy voice), “Hi, we’re the Flaming Lips, how’re you doing?” “Oh, you suck.” “Yeah, I know”
‘Cause dude, I’ve played in the nude before onstage, and I wasn’t embarrassed, it was funny. And no one really cared.
There were some girls in front that were sort of watching me for a while. They just sort of looked down after that, like (whistles aimlessly).
* * *
“Let’s give love the marketing scam”
Coyne: When guys sit there and say, “Really, it’s just a business,” it’s like, “Well fuck you then.”
I mean, I don’t go up to the guy who started McDonald’s, I don’t wanna talk to him. I mean, as businesses go, he’s got everybody beat. Or guys in the oil business; I don’t wanna go up to them and go, “How’s your business?”
I mean, we like making money, sure, who doesn’t? But it has nothing to do with this “playing it safe” little route.
* * *
“All that I know is that my mind is blown”
Stage Left: So if someone said, “Wayne, I’ll give you 10 million bucks to play that guitar this way instead of your way, would you say, “10 million bucks, I’ll play it anyway you want?”
Coyne: Well, it’s, I mean, to, if, you know, if someone blatantly came up and said … it would depend on, you know, I mean, that’s like, you say it so simple but I’m sure in the end it would have to be more complicated.
Stage Left: Well, there’d be taxes.
* * *
“People don’t know what these songs are about”
Coyne: We produce our own records and things because we want to do things our way. It’s our idea; if it makes it, fine, if it don’t, fine.
I think people look at us like we’re a weird band so they don’t expect it to just be acceptable all the time. We’re allowed a lot of freedom.
And we sort of make it seem like these are big grand ideas, and if you don’t get it, well, you know, that’s your problem.
I think a lot of people that buy our records and stuff, they want us to get more extreme, they want it to be, like, shit that they’ve never heard before.
* * *
“For these doomed lyrics I have no fear”
Coyne: We really could care less about the history of rock & roll and all that stuff, you know, we wanna do something like take three guys from some other planet, give them these guitars and drums and stuff and see what happens.
It’s easy to say, but it’s not easy to do.
* * *
“A person’s got to have something to keep him from going insane”
Stage Left: Do you have any goofy stories of things you did in your van, like Hüsker Dü used to drive down the highway and float balloons out the window?
Coyne: Oh, we’ve lit smoke bombs …
Ivins: Yeah, smoke bombs.
Coyne: … inside the van.
* * *
“When I’m with you”
Coyne: We do everything ourselves; we produce the records, we do everything on the record cover, we say what order the songs go in.
So everything you get on our records anyway is us.
If you buy it and you like it, then you’d probably like us. ‘Cause everything on there is us; you’re buying as much of us as you can.
* * *
“Bombs are coming in cereal packages”
Coyne: Dude, we’re frustrated as we sit here. That’s the whole key behind it. We’re into being frustrated, insecure, not knowing what we’re gonna do a year from now. That keeps you young, guys!
I mean, you’ve seen your dads’ stuff, you know, when they get the job, they get the car, they get the house, you know, you go to work everyday, come home, they start getting’ fat, they start lookin’ old.
* * *
“The sun is gonna come up the very next day”
Coyne: It’s rock & roll, really. Isn’t it supposed to be society; society is here, and new touring rock bands are out here on the edge doin’ shit to fuck up society in whatever way they want to
* * *
“There’s so many dumbfucks, man it really sucks.”
Coyne: Most people that buy records, if they like ‘em and buy ‘em they keep ‘em forever and it’s in their collection for fucking 50 years. And even if we die on the plane to Europe our shit’ll still be here.
You guys know, you go into a record store (flips through imaginary record bin), “These guys are wankers, they’re wankers, they’re wankers.” You wouldn’t have those guys over to your house.”
I mean, most of ‘em look like dicks, they got whomped-up hairdos and they’re just kissing people’s asses for money. And you wouldn’t have those guys over to your house; I mean, what do you say to ‘em?
* * *
“It takes so long to get there that I can’t remember where I was”
Coyne: Some underground bands, they just don’t have any clue as to really what good records sound like, or good packaging, and they just slap anything on there.
We’re not stupid. We don’t want there to be this distinction between records that cost 10 million dollars and records that are made for 500 dollars. We would rather it just be like records, you know: “Bruce Springsteen … Flaming Lips … Bon Jovie … Butthole Surfers.”
We’re not into “the underground and the above-ground;” we’re into, like, music. We don’t care about the underground; we don’t owe them anything. They didn’t do anything for us.
* * *
“These days are needles under my skin”
Coyne: We don’t just think that we’re gonna do this thing for five records or whatever then kiss it goodbye, ‘cause, dude, this is all we can do. We don’t have jobs or nothin’, you know; this is it. We don’t have a choice.
If it doesn’t work … this is sort of the stage of how it doesn’t work right here (motions to Mike Ivins and himself). I mean, you guys have known us for a long time, we’ve been a band for four years or whatever, and this is sort of what it’s like when it’s not workin’.
You make records and you fuckin’ starve, you’re in debt, all the time. We don’t really care, we don’t really worry about it too much; we’re in a band.
* * *
“Playing cards that are numbered”
Coyne: We spend endless amounts of hours, we get so into our thing that we get blinded to, “Is this bullshit any good or not?”
We like it, but it’s like when it’s your own kid, even when he’s ugly and fat you’re like, “Oh go out there, it’s fine.”
* * *
“Boy, you play so loud you could wake the dead”
Coyne: This guy who knows all these weird bands like us and the Butthole Surfers and Sonic Youth and all that wanted to put out this Neil Young compilation where everybody covered a Neil Young song.
A lot of people were thinking we should do something like “Cinnamon Girl” or something that’s really grungy and we sort of tired of that mentality like, “you are what you are.” So we picked that song (“After the Goldrush”) ‘cause we could do a lot with it. We’re not really into Neil Young. He’s got some great songs, no denyin’, but as a, man, to be like, a Neil Young-head … we’re not really into Neil just as Neil.