Rocking the Boat with Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips
Words by Audra Tracy — New York, NY
“It seems like the sun is going to prevail”, Wayne Coyne declared as he gazed through the floor-to-ceiling windows inside his dressing room. His band The Flaming Lips was set to perform aboard the Intrepid Air, Sea & Space Museum tonight, but an afternoon monsoon had pushed the best laid plans just a bit off course.
“Stephen Colbert and I were going to get in our own space bubbles, and some battle was going to ensue, and he was going to be thrown over the edge”, Coyne revealed. “Not really”, he goes on, “they were going to fake it, but since it was raining I’m not sure they’ll be able to do the pickup shots”.
Fun., Grizzly Bear, and Santigold rounded out the roster for Colbert’s inaugural music festival in New York City, lovingly referred to as Stephest Colbchella ‘012: Rocktaugustfest. Each night this week a segment from the event was aired on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, with The Flaming Lips starring in tonight’s finale at 11:30PM EST.
After his sound-check on deck, Wayne Coyne sat in a chair in the corner of his dressing room, his purple painted fingernails tapping away on his iPhone. The reflection of a NASA pin on the lapel of his signature gray suit sparkled in the sunlight that was finally peeking out from the clouds above the Hudson River. The view was spectacular, and would serve as the backdrop to Colbchella in just a few hours.
But in the meantime, he was stuck talking to nosy reporters like me. During a brief interview, Coyne chronicles how getting robbed at age sixteen helped to pave his long path to becoming one of America’s favorite weirdos.
The Flaming Lips had performed on The Colbert Report before, but today was, as Coyne put it, “a different sort of day”. “More than any other show you can be on, he’s the best one”, Coyne says of Colbert. “I like Conan, I don’t know if he still does his show the way he used to, but he was good. Not as good as Colbert – it’s his time.”
After nearly three decades in the music business, The Flaming Lips are enjoying their ‘time’, too. And if you’ve ever seen them live before, you know exactly why Colbert saved their performance for last. Leaving a swirling trail of confetti in their wake, The Lips have steamrolled their way into rock n roll history from the comfort of a psychedelic space bubble. Coyne, Michael Ivins (bass), Stephen Drozd (guitar) and Kliph Scurlock (drums) have a reputation for blowing minds (including our own at Firefly 2012) with a visually stunning show aimed to make you do a double take, raise an eyebrow, or simply squeal with delight.
It’s been a long journey, part of which started long ago at a fried fish joint in Oklahoma. “I worked at Long John Silver’s from 1977 I think til 1990, it was a long time”, Coyne recalls. “I think I was 16 when we got robbed. It was a couple times, but this one really severe time I thought we were going to get shot through the head.”
– Wayne Coyne
“I think I knew I wanted to form a group, even at 16, but you just can’t figure how to do it. And this experience, thinking I was going to die, really made me think I should pursue these things and not waste time. And not worry about what people thought, and just say, ‘fuck it, what does it matter?'”
“I think that was a great gift”, he added. “I came back to normal after a while, but for a little bit there, I think I really wasn’t insecure, wasn’t thinking it would fail.”
Officially formed in 1983, the quirky alt-rockers kicked around Oklahoma for a decade before getting signed to Warner Brothers, a label on which they remain to this day. It was a slow and steady rise to glory, and that’s just the way Coyne likes it.
“We were lucky that nothing giant happened to us as we were young”, Coyne admits. “We didn’t go from having nothing to having 10 million dollars…which I think would have probably killed us. We went from 10 dollars, to 11 dollars”, he laughs. “And then the next day we’d have twelve. And we just gapped little by little to what seemed to be a slightly better world. Just a little bit at a time.”
Fast forward to 2012, and The Flaming Lips are having one hell of a year. On Record Store Day they released The Flaming Lips & Heady Fwends, an experimental album made in collaboration with equally eccentric artists including Neon Indian, Plastic Ono Band, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, and Jim James. In June, they set a new Guinness World Record for most live shows in a 24-hour period (eight, if you’re counting). Yes, The Flaming Lips are still very much on fire.
“Not everybody gets to live an extraordinary life like me, and they do fine”, Coyne concludes. “When you are making records you get to dictate styles and sounds, and I think that’s more what we’re into than anything. We get to do our show our way, and it would be frustrating if we weren’t able to do that. I see other bands all the time that have been around as long as we have, and it’s not very much fun for them. But we still kind of wake up and do whatever we want. I often wonder, how long is this going to go?”
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