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Wayne Coyne: “You get to be a bigger version of yourself”


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Wayne Coyne
Short Profile

Name: Wayne Michael Coyne
DOB: 13 January 1961
Place of birth: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States
Occupation: Musician

The Flaming Lips' new album, Oczy Mlody, releases on Bella Union on 13 January 2017.

Mr. Coyne, what has been your most liberating revelation?

Part of you doesn’t really realize just how cool it is not to give a fuck, you know? I am very concerned about like, “Is this working?” People are spending their money and giving us their time and all this sort of stuff…But not giving a fuck is a way of giving more love because you’re free. It lets you be more creative and dynamic and louder and more fun and sadder and everything.

Has it been a challenge to get to that point?

It’s hard, yeah. I mean, look, I probably would never have worn that muscle suit — this skintight Halloween suit that looks like muscles with tassels on my dick and all that, you know? You think, “This just looks too absurd,” but in the one way, it’s a costume. I get to be this character and it’s not really me. You really get to be a bigger version of yourself but you don’t feel so self-conscious because you’re in this suit… It saturates you more with who you are by being something else. It’s all an extension of you.

“It’s about the music. I never feel like it’s about me. Deep down inside we’re still introverts.”

Do you think you’ve been around so long that sometimes you’re impersonating yourself?

Not in a bad way, you know? I mean there’s definitely Wayne-isms that I’m glad to not have to think about too much.

Like what?

Like my hair, for example. It would be a statement to people that know me if I cut my hair off — it wouldn’t just be a dude who has some hair and then doesn’t. I can go to places in the city and everybody knows absolutely who I am. But if I go in with my hood up and cover up my hair, I could sit there all night and no one would know. I think I play into all that. I play into this look of a pirate from outer space that likes Christmas music, even though I’m still just an introvert that wants to sit there and do the music and the art.

Really? I wouldn’t think of shows with The Flaming Lips as introverted…

Well, now I accept that we turn on the switch. All the stuff we do is kind of because we never feel like, “It’s about me! As long as I’m here singing, it’s about me!” We always feel like it’s about the music. Yeah, I get to sing the songs but I never feel like it’s about me. Deep down inside we’re still introverts, we’re just doing our thing. I’m not an entertainer like that.

When you perform though, you definitely take the lead.

I do, yeah, because I’m the singer — but there’s a lot of dilemma, for me, going up there and saying, “Oh, here we are!” The band has got a lot of things to do, they’ve got a lot of dense music to remember and effects to remember and there’s fuckin’ lights and confetti and shit hitting them in the face. All I’ve got to do mostly is just stand there and sing, which, you know… I’m slightly embarrassed about some of the time, but I like singing.

Embarrassed about the songs you’ve written?

No… It’s more that it’s just a strange thing to think, “Look at me! I’m singing songs!” But I think that’s why we do the big performances: if I’m not here, it’s still a lot of cool shit going on. And I like that I get to sing songs, that I get to be the dude, but I wouldn’t want to do it if I didn’t get to be this other character, if we didn’t have all the stunts.

“All you know is that you want to do it, and it’s better to do it and have it fuck up than wonder!”

Like performing in your infamous space bubble, for example.

That’s probably the most ridiculous thing! The first time we did it, you don’t really know — is that going too far? Do you do this thing and then suddenly it’s so stupid that the music gets forgotten? That’s not what we want, we want it to enhance the music and make the whole thing more magical, you know? All you know is that you want to do it, and it’s better to do it and have it fuck up than wonder! And so we did it for the first time at Coachella.

Talk about jumping right into the deep end…

(Laughs) Right, it’s 80 000 people there and it was the last day of the festival. So, you know, you’ve been there and you’ve seen all the bands, and you’re like, “Well, so we get to see The Flaming Lips and The Cure, who cares? Do you want to go home?” I feel the same way after a couple days at a festival! By the time we got up there, I was like, “We’ve got to fuckin’ do it, man!” When we saw how much people liked it, we were like, “Let’s do it all the time!”

Do you think people expect those stunts from you now?

We want to do it! When I go to see any group that you kind of have an idea of what they’re going to do, whether it be Kiss or The Who or any of these groups… If they didn’t do thatthing, you’d be like, “Hey! Hey, dude, what’s up?” You know?

Do you ever worry that your stunts will come off as gimmicks?

The stunts are just things that you get to experience. We embrace the idea that it can be a routine, you know you’re going to do it and it’s still full of emotion. But it’s not something that… We never really know what these things will be. Even with something like our Parking Lot Experiments in the late nineties, I mean, we weren’t intending it to be anything. It was just a little project that we were doing when we had a month in between shows.

The Flaming Lips' Parking Lot Experiments (1996).

How did it then develop into a collaborative concert with 40 different cars each playing a different cassette tape?

Well, you have to remember that back then that’s what everybody did! We would meet in this big underground parking lot, in our cars that had decks in them. We liked the way that music sounded in this parking garage. We’d eat in this restaurant and then afterwards, we’d be like, “Man, fuckin’ crank up your stereos in here,” bouncing around! It was like, this car played a track, my car played a track, that car played a track. Then we were like, “Why don’t we see if we can get like 40 cars, and we’ll just tell everybody where to meet and where to park and all that stuff.” And it worked!

Did that experience have an effect on your approach to music?

It was exciting to us not to be a rock group but to simply be making music and playing music — but not have to play it as performers. That turned into how we started to do music after that. We made The Soft Bulletin without any idea of a group. After The Parking Lot Experiments, we never thought about, “You’re a bass player, you should play the bass,” “You’re the drummer, you should play the drums.” It was like any way that we made it would be The Flaming Lips. Even if The Flaming Lips didn’t make any music it would still be The Flaming Lips.