Flaming Lips: Flying through life, with stupid, fearless confidence

J Michelle Martin Coyne

The Flaming Lips are possibly rock music's most creative outfit. Aside from the psychedelic insanity of its notorious live show, the band has made a 30-year career of embracing its every whim, no matter how bizarre or seemingly impossible. Whether it be the quadruple disc album designed to be played in unison on four separate players or a limited-edition EP housed on a USB drive that's embedded in an edible gummy skull, the Flaming Lips thrive on eccentricity.

This year has witnessed some of the band's most outlandish creations to date, along with a fundamental shift in its approach to releasing music. The Lips have bucked the traditional album cycle for a flurry of conceptual releases that present the band's music through objects (i.e., gummy skulls, gummy fetuses, a single song split between 11 individual YouTube videos to be played in unison and, most recently, a six-hour song contained in a psychedelic toy known as the Strobo Trip). It's certainly not easy to pull off, but frontman Wayne Coyne embraces the challenge:

"This idea of always doing stuff, I think the problem that happens to a lot of artists is they get to a point where they don't have to do stuff, and they do it because, 'Oh, well, now I feel like doing it.' And honestly, this is not how art works. Art is like the tail of a comet. You're the f—king comet, and the tail is what makes the thing worthy of looking at. So we want to be flying through our lives, and really even through our art and through our ideas. And we want to propel ourselves with confidence, this stupid, fearless confidence, like we did with the six-hour song.

"If you are creative and if you are original and if all these bullshit things that you think you are, if you are that, it will show up in what you do. But there is no way you can contrive or think or actually create something that's original. You have to be doing something and hope that just by your sheer will, the things that you want to shape it into turn out to be creative and original."

Coyne's action-oriented approach to the creative process has certainly produced some original work. Take, for example, the band's live show. For starters, the performance opens with Coyne rolling across the audience in a giant plastic bubble. From there, it's complete and utter madness, with enough confetti to bury an army, a light show that requires a disclaimer about the potential for seizures and a giant screen that projects closeups of Coyne's face from a camera mounted on his microphone. Sure, it's over the top, and by now, a bit predictable. But the singer says its appeal and power have little to do with surprise.

"Of course it's hokum and it's obvious and it's full of cliches, but it has power too; because you know everything that's going to happen and you allow it to happen. It's like masturbating. You know where this is going to go, so let's go there; let's fucking do it. Part of what we do, it's not experimental, it's obvious. But within the context of being able to do a lot of things, there's a lot of freedom in that to do whatever you want.

"And it's quite a moment for us too. Even though you may do it eight nights in a row, it's still pretty great. I always use the analogy: You could have sex every night and it's still pretty great. You can eat dinner every night. You get a rejuvenative version of it."

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