Interview: The Flaming Lips

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The Flaming Lips first burst onto the scene back in the day when bad haircuts and drugs were the staple diet of underground musicians-otherwise known as the early 80s. Imitating their idols the Butthole Surfers, The Lips soon became a force to be reckoned with themselves, with pyrotechnics and fumigation at their gigs. The alt psych rock outfit then scored a hit during the post-grunge years of the mid-90s with ‘She Don’t Use Jelly’. But they didn’t let that novelty last.

The Lips released the highly acclaimed Zaireeka-a 4-disc experimental album meant to be played simultaneously. Their live shows became bigger and bigger with frontman Wayne Coyne overseeing nitty gritty production details and unlike other rockstars, actually getting his hands dirty setting up their own stage – with more elaborate stage props including a giant UFO, and excessive amounts of confetti and beach balls. They became a household name after The Soft Bulletin, Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots and At War With The Mystics produced hit after hit and cemented their fame in rock history. JUICE speaks to main Lip and Miley Cyrus’ spirit animal, the ever wordy Wayne Coyne, on being a hard-worker and Vesak Day on Mars…

Hey Wayne, how’re you doing? Have you eaten?
Well, I just walked the dog and I had some cookies, and I’m ready to go.

We heard that you have this tireless work ethic… that you’re always working. Do you ever sleep and how do you keep going?
(Laughs) Did you say do I ever sleep and how do I keep going? Yeah, I don’t sleep a lot but I sleep almost every night…not every night but sometimes for a couple hours, sometimes for 8 hours. 

You’re a self-confessed atheist…
Sure, yeah. But a lot of people aren’t anymore, you know what I mean. And I’m old. I think when I was younger I was brought up with people who weren’t religious. I mean, I don’t really believe in anything really.

So why do so many of your songs revolve around love and hope? These are both faith-based concepts.
Oh, I don’t know…I can’t really disagree with that. They’re associated with religion and all that sort of stuff, but faith is just…you know. I don’t know if you need to believe in anything to have some real hope and that sort of stuff. I can understand why people would say they’re connected with the ideas of God and religion, but they’re not for me. I don’t see it like that. I think some of the concepts are thrown around in all religions. This idea of being kind and tolerant, and trying to understand human nature-I think that shit is awesome. The stuff that I don’t like about it is the stuff that people would say: if you don’t believe in the same religion as we do, we’ll hurt you and kill you and ridicule you, so yeah that part of it is what would throw people off. There’s already a lot of hate; there’s no need to add to it. 

A lot of Western musicians have embraced Buddhism at one time or another. Have you ever tried it?
I don’t exactly know what Buddhism is, though I wish I knew more about it and perhaps I would embrace it to a certain extent. So I’m not really sure what the basic thing is. Maybe you could tell me?

We think it’s basically karma, and achieving perfection through good works and good will?
Well, I don’t really believe in reincarnation and that sort of stuff. I don’t know if Buddhism revolves around this other life. So I don’t know, with the ideas of karma, if you believe in that, you should live like that. I would say that for anybody that believes, live like that. I don’t really believe in the idea of karma – if you’re a kind person and you do kind things in your life, the same thing will happen to you. I can understand where people get the idea; if you’re around people who aren’t horrible people, you stand a much better chance of not being hurtful or killing yourself. But I don’t know if I believe in that. I would use Adolf Hitler as an example, who did an inconceivable amount of pain and suffering, and died by his own hand. He was able to take his own life and in his own way. I don’t think he really had that much pain and suffering, if you think about karma. 

Does love exist after death?
I would say that death is death. To me, it’s kinda like leaving off your TV. I don’t think your TV goes into some other dimension. It’s just not working anymore; that’s what I think is happening with people. Literally, just a bunch of chemicals reacting in us and when the chemicals stop flowing, we’re dead. End of story. But I don’t know why there would be anything else. Where would it be? How would we live? Where would we live? Without our bodies and our brains, we wouldn’t be stuff. We exist in the physical realm; without the physical realm, there is no life. I don’t know if there’s metaphysical pain.

Before we get a little too existential, if we haven’t already done that, allow us to give you a compliment. Your hair looks really good now. Did you have it arranged to be coloured orange back when you did the ‘She Don’t Use Jelly’ music video and was it orange to go with the tangerine part of the song?
I think I probably considered that, yeah. I thought it would make sort of a stupid statement and I like that. I think nowadays it’s pretty common to have coloured hair all the time. Back then it wasn’t common, but it was common enough. Yeah, I thought it would make a memorable statement in the video that we shot for ‘She Don’t Use Jelly’. I didn’t think it looked good or bad; I thought it was kind of just silliness.

What do the lyrics to ‘She Don’t Use Jelly’ mean?
I don’t really think it means anything. I think somewhere within the storyline, you get the feeling there’s a person who’s curious about an obscure experience-you know, putting Vaseline on toast or something like that. In the bigger scheme of things, it talks about sex, drugs and rock n roll, but I don’t think any of that’s on purpose. I don’t really think it has any true meaning beyond that but like all songs, you can make it mean whatever you want to make it mean-for good or bad.

You’ve been known to be an intellectual in the field of rock n roll. What sort of genres do you consider annoying or silly?
I don’t really consider any genre necessarily annoying. I don’t listen to too much heavy metal, blues, rap, rock or whatever. But that isn’t because I think it’s annoying; I don’t know that much about it. Frankly, I’m probably ignorant about a lot of stuff that is good. I would just say if you dig it, you should listen to it (laughs)

If you were going to die in a week, what would you do?
That’s a good question. I don’t know. I try to live my life as though that’s already true and I tell people that I care about how I feel about them. I try to make good on my word all the time. I try to live as if what we’re doing matters and that it’s going to make us happy, and that it gives us purpose and we’re not just moving along blindly, not understanding our day-to-day life. I don’t know, you know. I accomplish doing yoga every day that I could. I try to have sex with my wife 3-4 times a day, maybe more than that. We all want to live as though that is true, but I don’t think you can really live that way. It would be too stressful.

Are you still friends with the Butthole Surfers?
Yes, there’s a great influence of the Butthole Surfers on The Flaming Lips. I think we’ve been around and seen those guys often enough, and I think they probably have seen us and know some of the things that we do are directly influenced by them.

You said that you’ve stopped taking drugs…
Well, you know I only took very few when I was young anyway; I never really took that many. I still drink and only very occasionally smoke some pot.

What then brings out the crazy genius and the ideas that you have now?
Well, I just really do what I like. I don’t really have any other explanation for it. I’m lucky that people like what I do and I have a lot of energy-like you said earlier, “When do you sleep?” I don’t really know where it comes from. Like, even speaking to you I’m drawing a very strange picture, so maybe it comes from my subconscious-while I’m doing something else, something good happens. Do you have a cell phone? Do you have an iPhone that I can send the picture to? 

Cool! Send it over! We look forward to you guys performing in Singapore… So much that we’d like to cook for you. Do you like Vaseline toast? …Hello?

(*Ed note – Picture has yet to arrive.)

The Flaming Lips and The Raveonettes take stage in Singapore on 11 November 2010 at 8pm, Sands Expo Hall E. Tickets on sale at JUICE is giving away 30 tickets here!

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