Flaming Lips 'The Terror': Wayne Coyne Puts Aside Hamster Ball, Embraces Darkness

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WAYNE COYNE
Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne | Getty Images

When the Flaming Lips performed at Spinner's free NXNE show in Toronto before 30,000 odd fans last summer, little did we know that it would be the last time the Lips would play their famously celebratory streamers-lasers-stage-props live show in North America. Following a subsequent Australian tour, Wayne Coyne and company retired their giant hamster ball and confetti canons to develop a new concert experience that better represents the bleakness of their just-released album "The Terror."

The Flaming Lips launched the new album with pair of shows at SXSW last month — a tiny and instantly legendary Warner Sound gig where they performed their most popular album "Yoshimi vs The Pink Robots" from beginning to end for the first time and another massive free outdoor concert where they played all of the then-unreleased "Terror." The second show sent many fans, expecting the Lips usual over-the-top optimism fleeing the lakeshore.

A few hours before the first show in Austin, Coyne sat with HuffPost Canada Music in the group's green room — really more of a back alley tent behind the venue — to discuss the 30-year-old band's dark new direction, the similarities between art and masturbation and the ridiculousness of a "supernatural entity that doesn't like gay people." Oh, and the Yoshimi musical, too.

So your tour manager Chris told me that for the live show you've gotten rid of the hamster ball, you've gotten rid of all the happy-go-lucky confetti and...

We haven't gotten rid of it. We've just decided to do something else now. I don't want people to think that we were sick of that, it's just we're gonna do something different. So it's not to say that we don't like that stuff, or if you like that stuff you won't like us now. But if we said, "We shouldn't do it because people might not understand it" we don't deserve to have the audience we have. You just do your new thing and apologize if people don't get to hear their favorite song, and hope that they like it anyway.

There's nothing you can do about that. That's the wonderful thing about having a handful of popular songs and popular gimmicks or whatever, but it's also the downfall. Do you want to do those, or do you want to do these new things? And sometimes you can't do both at the same time.

One of the things about Flaming Lips is that your lyrics were always pretty dark, but the sound was really optimistic and happy. What prompted this turn into all-over darkness on "The Terror"?

[Sings] "Do you realize." I mean, we love that song, we're glad we have such good reaction to that song. I think little by little we felt like we probably have enough of that type of music. We shouldn't be restricted on what areas of other music we would explore.

After making 16 records and being a group for 30 years, sometimes people wonder like, "are you just burned out?" I'm not at all, no. I love music more than ever, so I feel it's exhilarating to just pursue your own bullshit self-absorbed agenda. That's what art is. It's just you masturbating, saying "hope you like it." That's the only time art can really say something. If I'm telling you the absolute truth about my life, I'm sure it's absolutely true about your life in a sense, too. That's the beauty of it.

Was there anything in the zeitgeist? The record's bleak, so do you feel the world getting bleaker, too?

It's just mostly us having the freedom... We want to explore other music and the new things that excite us -- it's the drugs you've never tried before, the experience you've never had before. We don't have to make another "Do You Realize." But at the same time, if we wanted to, I'm sure we would.

So it's just to try something new? Not that you're feeling particularly disturbed about the world?

As you get older and as you get more experiences, there are these myths of happiness and these myths of existence that you no longer believe in. There are some dimensions of living a long time and being open to the world and being curious about the world that is sometimes disturbing. It's not all some beautiful adventure. They both can exist at the same time, and that's what this music is about... Some of my favorite records are not happy records, but I'm very happy when I listen to them.

When people turn 30, they tend to like, start to feel old or evaluate their lives...

That's part of just the way people's brains evolve.

So does the same thing happen when your band turns 30?

A couple years ago we probably wouldn't have made such a weird record on purpose. We've made weird music all along, but we just wouldn't go this far and say, "This is relentlessly this one mood."

One of the dilemmas of our energy is that we wanna work on this thing, but we don't wanna fucking work on it forever. I run into more and more people that are like that now, it's like we have a hundred day limit. It's like "I love this and I love it and I love it I love it, but I don't want to do this like a 9-5 job for 10 years. I want to do it when it's exciting and I want to move on."

And I think the way that people can put out music now... Sometimes music, like all art, is like, "This is what I think right now. I don't want to sober up. I don't want to make sense. I don't want to be cautious. I want to say it right now." I think art is probably at its best when you're screaming at the darkness.

Right, so Drake gets upset one night and finishes a new song and at 5 am, calls it "5 AM in Toronto" and puts it on the internet the next day.

That's the deal. And that's for everybody now. You feel like, we can make this record now and six months from now we can make another one. That doesn't mean they're disposable, but they're like painting, they're like poems, they're like rants. That's when they're at their best.

The album seems to have hints of religion and UFOs and stuff.

There's just no place left anymore where you can really be free of conspiracy theories. I like the idea that we can be paranoid about shit, but the more rational side of me always goes, "oh come on." And I don't like that, because I think it makes less interesting art, less interesting music, less interesting things to say. But I'm 52, and when I was 22 I would have said, "You don't know. How do you know?" But we should demand proof. We shouldn't believe in things like UFOs or the Ku Klux Klan or any of this shit without proof.

Same for religion?

I think there's areas of religion that are about love and trust.

But a supernatural entity overseeing us?

That's ridiculous. Supernatural entity that doesn't like gay people? It's fucking stupid, you know? Iif you're a 17-year old mother and your two children got burned up in a fire last night and you want to go to church, do it. But if you're some fucking racist asshole that wants to kill people because your version of the bible says you're allowed to, fuck you. It's just not cut and dried anymore. So I don't say belief is bullshit, I'm just saying with the way the world is right now, we don't have to believe in UFOs. If they're real, brother, they'll exist even if we don't believe in it. We don't have to go looking for shit. But I think there is a great longing and a great curiosity to wish that there were things like Santa Clauses and Easter Bunnies and aliens and Jesuses and Satans in the world. Too bad there ain't, but there are other things that are just as great, maybe, you know?

You've spoken about moving past albums like "Yoshimi," but what about the Yoshimi musical? It's run at the La Jolla Playhouse where they workshoped it. Now how does it go out into the world? This part, I think, takes about a hundred million dollars. So probably about two years from now. I think it's going to go to Asia first. I don't know for sure, but they have different strategies of the way they like to work things out, and since this has a lot of technical things, they're probably thinking some advances are going to happen in the next six months or a year and it's gonna let the production be a little bit more fantastical. I think they believe in it. I mean, I'm just the dude who watches it and is responsible for some of the music and the ideas, but I don't plug anything in or tell anybody what to do. I think as far as they're concerned, they've done a really great thing.

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