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Tough(-ish) questions with the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne

June 29, 2012|By Todd Martens
  • The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne in New Orleans in the band's record-setting concert.
The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne in New Orleans in the band's record-setting… (Rick Diamond / Getty Images )

The Flaming Lips began June in a feud with R&B singer Erykah Badu and ended it with a Guinness World Record. On Thursday night, the Flaming Lips became the answer to a future trivia question, performing eight shows in eight cities, which is the most ever concerts in multiple cities in a 24-hour period. The previous record holder was Jay-Z with seven. 

"I’m glad it’s over," Coyne told Pop & Hiss about one hour after setting the record during a string of shows throughout the Mississippi Delta. The event was to promote VH1, as well as Viacom Music and Logo Group’s O Music Awards. The band started in Memphis, Tenn., ended in New Orleans and stopped in smaller cities like Hattiesburg, Miss., along the way, joined by the likes of Jackson Browne, Grimes and Neon Indian.

"I'm glad it went well. I’m glad no one is dead. I’m glad we got the world record. I’m glad we got to play some really great songs for our most dedicated, hard-core fans," Coyne said.

It's been an odd few weeks for the Flaming Lips, a band that has made a career out of celebrating weirdness. In 1997, for instance, the band released a quadruple album, "Zaireeka," with all discs meant to be played simultaneously. More recently, the Flaming Lips covered their 2009 effort "Embryonic" in a fur case, and released songs on a USB drive -- encased in a gummy skull. 

Earlier this month, the Flaming Lips also found themselves in the midst of a pop feud. The band's newest collection, "The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends," features collaborations with the likes of Kesha, Bon Iver and Badu, among many others. A video was released for the band's reinterpretation of the popular song "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" with Badu. It's most definitely not-safe-for-work, featuring Badu and her sister Nayrok sans clothes and covered in various substances. 

Badu requested the Lips take it down and expressed her discontent with the clip. "As a human I am disgusted with your what appears to be desperation and poor execution," she posted online. "And disregard for others. As a director I am unimpressed  As a sociologist I understand your type. As your fellow artist I am uninspired. As a woman I feel violated and underestimated."

Needless to say, Pop & Hiss had questions for Coyne. 

You've released music in a gummy skull and now broken a Guinness World Record. Do you think at some point this kind of stuff just becomes a gimmick?

I think it goes both directions at the same time. On one level, to be involved with VH1 and the O Music Awards is already trendy, gimmicky, semi-mainstream silliness. So you either embrace it or not. But the other part is: What do I get to do with it? I like the ridiculousness of it. Jay-Z thought this was important enough when he put out his last record, and here we are challenging it. There’s an element of this that is absurd.

We’ve also been thinking of different ways to do shows. We draw enough people that we’re playing these slightly uncomfortable sheds some of the time. Ticket prices get high because there’s a lot to do and a lot of seats to fill. So we want another way to do shows. I don’t want it to be like we play to 5,000 people or we don’t play to anyone. I looked at this as an opportunity to see if we could go to little places. You would not believe the welcome you get in a place like Hattiesburg at 8 a.m. People were crying. No one ever plays there. We’ve never played there.

So I will go as far into the gimmicks and the hokeyness and whatever it takes as long as I can get in my agenda for the Flaming Lips fans. So I’ll do whatever they want me to do as long as they let me do what I want to do.

I wanted to bring all these cool underground, experimental bands along with us. This was going to be the only time these fans would get to see us play these songs. Some of these songs were just made up on the spot. We wanted to make a great effort to say that if you saw these shows, perhaps you’ve seen us play a song that we’ll never play again and in a place we’ll never play again. We’ll never play at 4 a.m. in Mississippi again. If I can do that, I’ll do whatever hokeyness they want.

When you show up in smaller markets like Hattiesburg and see the response, does it make you start to think about approaching your next tour different? Something that avoids the standard theater/shed venues?

I think we’ll try to do both. I’m in favor of doing more rather than trading off. I don’t want to say that we don’t like playing the sheds. It’s a big audience and a way to make lots of money. But seeing this way of doing things does make me think, "Couldn’t we do this, too?"

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