At 10,000 Lakes Fest -- Flaming Lips leader on their music, their upcoming project, and of course, his trademark suit
DETROIT LAKES - 'After you've played this music for a little bit, you don't really even have to think about it," says Wayne Coyne, lead singer for The Flaming Lips, the Oklahoma City-based freak-pop veterans.
Unleashing the Lips' psychedelic showcase - a sensory extravaganza with confetti, costumes, elaborate lighting and Coyne entering in a human gerbil ball - may not require thought beyond hitting the right cues. Off the stage, Coyne seems to relish thinking and talking in-depth about his band and himself.
To preview the Lips' show at the 10,000 Lakes Festival on Friday - where the band also plans to screen its new film, "Christmas on Mars" - Coyne dished for almost an hour on his disheveled groomsman look, his sunny disposition, the Lips' John Lennon-ness and how to balance rock music and rock performance.
The Forum: You seem to have settled on the suit with the untied bow tie as your signature look. How did you settle on that?
Coyne: I think in the beginning I started to wear the suits (because) I was probably self-conscious that I was older than everybody in the audience. ... And then I think I was looking for something, I know this sounds weird, but there's a picture of Miles Davis, I think it's from the early '60s, where he had gotten hit in the head. (In summary, Coyne says Davis' light-colored jacket made the blood stand out, which made him realize that a dark jacket was thwarting a blood-soaked stage act the Lips did at the time.) So I started to wear a light summer jacket. ... It just built into something that people are used to seeing. I almost think that if I didn't wear it people would not think I'm there. "When's Wayne going to show up? You know, the old guy in the weird suit." So I'll gladly be that thing, if that's what you expect, I can easily be that. ... I want people to relax and go, "Oh, this is the show. This is like the pictures we saw."
Did you ever conceive of having this dream job when you were younger?
I think I conceived of the good bits, yeah. Simply because you think, "Wouldn't it be great to be a rich rock star and travel the world and do things?" That part I was able to imagine. But the part you don't know is there is that it's a lot of work. There's never a day when we're not doing 20 things at one time. Even since our first record - we made our first record in 1983 - since then it's been one long panic of what are we going to do next. ... I find this out the more artists that I know and the more people I meet: the insecurity and wondering if what you're doing is worth (anything)? That never really goes away. I think that's the only way you can still keep doing stuff that's interesting. It's because you're curious and always fumbling in the dark for some new thing that's going to excite you, always going into the unknown.
You've seem relentlessly happy. Do you ever just wake up in a bad mood?
Not really. I'm basically a realistic sort of person. So unless I feel physically bad, I get up and think, "Ah, let's see what we can make of all this." I don't think I descend into a mood just for that reason. But I wouldn't say that I'm necessarily a happy person. I would say I'm enthusiastic and optimistic. But that's me being more realistic than anything else. I do know that I do seem to have a lot of energy, which I can't claim responsibility for. I don't know why I've got that, but it's a great thing. Some day it will probably leave and I'll be miserable like the rest of you. No, I'm just kidding.
I read where you described the album you guys are working on as "John Lennon and Miles Davis discover computers."
Do you have a release date?
I would think the earliest something would happen would probably be, if we were lucky, this time next year. ... (The Lennon quote) is only because within the past couple of records, especially starting with 'Yoshimi,' there were elements that I always felt like bordered on a John Lennon-esque sort of thing that I thought could seem very pretentious or very self-important - at least to say, 'We're writing songs like John Lennon would do.' Because we'd never do that on purpose, never pretend to have these sorts of cosmic answers. When people think of a John Lennon song, that's what they mean - something like "Imagine" or "Instant Karma."
If you think of it that way, something like "Do You Realize," definitely seems like a Lennon song.
See, that's exactly what I mean. Which wasn't our intention. But I think in a sense I'm more comfortable with saying, "I agree with you. I agree with you that there's an element of what he's singing about in the way that what we're singing about is arriving at the same sort of thing." In the last year when I came up with songs I felt like, "Ooh, that sounds like John Lennon," I think, "That doesn't have to be a one-dimensional, pretentious, oh-who-do-you-think-you-are sort of thing." I think we started to accept that more. Instead of saying let's not be like John Lennon, we thought, "Honestly, it does kind of sound like John Lennon."
Do you identify more as an entertainer or more as a musician?
I completely understand how a musician who wants to be challenged every night into finding some soul or some groove or some truth in what they're playing would be utterly frustrated after 50 nights on a big arena rock tour. You'd want to kill yourself. I think there's room for both. I think you can very much be an artist and a musician. ... On one level, we're artists. That's all we are. Just dumb artists doing whatever's imbedded in our ridiculous minds, whatever we're obsessing about. Then we drop that quickly and we're dumb international entertainers. I think that's the only way you can do this and like both sides of it. If you try to do art all the time, it'd drive you crazy. If you try to be an entertainer all the time, there's too much art to do. We've discovered a way to try to jump in between both.
If you go
- What: 10,000 Lakes Festival
- When: Today through Saturday
- Where: Soo Pass Ranch near
Detroit Lakes, Minn.
- Info: Single-day tickets $60; camping and multiday tickets from $220 to $475. Call (800) 493-3378.