THE FLAMING LIPS INTERVIEW

November 19, 2019 5:43 PM

APOCALYPSE SOUND with WAYNE COYNE by GARY CANINO

The Terror, the thirteenth album from the stalwart psych-rock act The Flaming Lips, makes no bones about its bleak and uncompromising view of the future. Whether it’s the album’s post-apocalyptic cover, the droning song structures, or even song titles like “You Are Alone”, “Turning Violent”, and “Butterfly, How Long It Takes To Die”, the band attempts to, and succeeds in transporting the listener to the emotional depths of the aftermath of a hypothetical nuclear holocaust. The risk pays off in dividends, even more so, due to the sharp disparity between this music and their earlier work. I recently spoke with Wayne Coyne, the ironically affable frontman, about the record’s themes, the challenge of playing this music opening for the Black Keys, and The Terminator. I’ve been really enjoying listening to The Terror. I understand that most of the songs were built up on small sounds you had created and then layered until it was finished. Can you talk a little bit about the writing process for this record?

Inspiration is such a weird thing, because it either has that energy or it doesn’t. We didn’t approach this record like “here are the chords and the lyrics,” so we ended up having all these sounds, but they’re not necessarily songs… I think that’s why we ended up doing so much layering. A lot of times you’re just working from all kinds of moments that you’re putting together. Like, I’m a singer, but I’m not really a singer, I ended up being the singer for Flaming Lips when we’re playing a concert. I’m not really looking at it like I’m the singer and these songs are about me.

 

The Flaming Lips are known for their bombastic, joyous shows. Do you think it will be difficult playing this dark abstract material alongside your brighter music?

I’m beginning to think we’re just going to start with playing the entirety of The Terror, just not the exact order it’s on the record. Our shows are a pretty big conglomeration of ideas, you know, these big overwhelming optimistic freak-outs. The Terror isn’t really like that, but I don’t think it’ll be a problem playing that within the context of our shows. I think it just energizes us to do something radically different. I think our fans will really love it, but I don’t know if the casual listener at a festival will want to sit there and put up with us playing 20 minutes of this abstract music, as you said. But sometimes I think you have to trade something that has a giant impact on everybody for this personal, pointed impact on fewer people. I feel like this music has something about it though, and if you really concentrate on it, it can affect you a certain way.

 

You’re touring arenas opening for the Black Keys, who are a pretty straightforward rock group. Are you particularly worried about playing for their fans who don’t know your music at all?

I think if they’re standing next to people who are drunk, and those people are saying, “this is bullshit!” then they’ll say, “this is bullshit!” But if they’re standing next to someone who is emotionally involved, maybe they’ll say, “I don’t know what this is, but it’s music I’ve never really heard before.” So I think it depends on the crowd you’re standing with. The last time I saw Radiohead it was in a huge arena with maybe 20,000 people. Some of the people around us were the hugest Radiohead fans ever, and you could see they brought some of their friends who were more casual fans, but you could tell they were kind of digging it. And if the casual listener isn’t affected, we love that challenge. It’s a great opportunity to defy someone yelling, “play the hits!” If they don’t get the concept, that’s okay, they’ll get their money’s worth with the Black Keys.

 

The theme of this issue of TWELV is film. Were there any particular film soundtracks that inspired The Terror? Brad Fiedel’s soundtrack to The Terminator comes to mind.

(Laughs) Well…yeah. Well, with this bleak, futuristic vibe, I could see that. We were talking recently about how the album reminds us of the original Solaris (1972). And the original one is hard to watch; it’s long, and slow, but it has this mood about it, and similar to that were these melodies that we thought kind of came from this Eastern European world. We’re always thinking of making films ourselves that can tell some bigger story, so I’m always thinking like that.

 

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