The Flam­ing Lips’ Wayne Coyne: he’s got some furry balls

The Won­der­ful Wizard Of Ok­la­homa WAYNE COYNE has been on a fan­tas­tic psy­che­delic jour­ney with The Flam­ing Lips since they formed way back in 1983. Now, aged 55, he’s re­laxed about where the ad­ven­ture takes his band, as long as it’s some­where new. “We’re d

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The 55- year-old man who looks like a wizard flew in from Ok­la­homa City last night. En­ter­ing his room at the bou­tique Zet­ter Ho­tel in Lon­don, he fid­dled around in the dark try­ing to get his plas­tic room key into the elec­tric­ity slot, switched on the light and was de­lighted to find him­self bathed in the pink glow of a coloured bulb. He pulled a band of fake flow­ers down over his eyes, snapped a selfie on his iPhone, and up­loaded the hy­per­colour re­sult. “Cool light in my room in Lon­don,” he tweeted. What­ever he does, it seems, Wayne Coyne is filled with a sense of child­like won­der at the world around him. Now it’s just past lunchtime the fol­low­ing day and, pos­ing for the Q pho­tog­ra­pher in the Zet­ter’s base­ment games room, he is an eye-pop­ping vi­sion in a psy­che­delic fur coat, ac­ces­sorised by tiny multi-hued balls strung around his crotch. Per­haps un­sur­pris­ingly, his favourite word seems to be “ab­surd”. The other is “yesssss”. The Flam­ing Lips singer is proud to let his freak flag fly. Back in his down­trod­den South­ern US home­town, pop­u­lated by red­neck cow­boys, he at­tracts weird looks but never trou­ble, seem­ing to ex­ist as he does al­most in a par­al­lel uni­verse. “Well, I’m not go­ing to the sin­gles bars on a Satur­day night where a bunch of drunk cow­boys would have a dilemma with me,” he points out. “I’m not deal­ing with what’s really there. I’m liv­ing my own life in my own world.” Since 1992, Coyne has lived in the Plaza District of Ok­la­homa City in a huge house he man­aged to buy for $ 20,000 in cash, mainly be­cause it’s an area filled with low-in­come fam­i­lies and drug deal­ers. Some­times at night, he can hear gun­fire. But, the singer says, he has never once con­sid­ered leav­ing his rough neigh­bour­hood, mainly be­cause

“You just start off like, ‘Well, I’ll look like this when I per­form.’ And be­fore long you’re not just look­ing like it, you’ve be­come that per­son.”

in the midst of it he has man­aged to cre­ate his dream home, in the sense that it’s dream­like, and very Wayne: an oth­er­worldly palace of gi­ant me­tal­lic disco balls and white-walled ’60s fu­tur­is­tic won­der akin to the sets of Stan­ley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. “Liv­ing the way I do in Ok­la­homa, you would have to be a mil­lion­aire of sorts to do that in New York or LA,” he stresses. “Where I’m liv­ing you can do it without it cost­ing shit.” Each Hal­loween, Wayne decks the out­side of his house with phan­tas­magor­i­cal dec­o­ra­tions, at­tract­ing vis­i­tors from miles around. These days, though, he tries not to en­cour­age out­siders bring­ing their kids into his neigh­bour­hood. “It’s too hairy,” he says. “Un­sus­pect­ing soc­cer moms with six kids and there’s drug deal­ers try­ing to rip you off.”

It’s not sur­pris­ing that Wayne Coyne loves Hal­loween though, since along with his bub­bling en­thu­si­asm for all things, he’s also drawn to the dark stuff. The lat­est Flam­ing Lips al­bum, Oczy Mlody, spot­lights this with its lyrics about go­ing through “the hole in the night sky” in the wigged-out Lis­ten­ing To The Frogs With De­mon Eyes and the strange tale of One Night While Hunt­ing For Faeries And Witches And Wizards To Kill where the singer goes on a noc­tur­nal search for said crea­tures and ends up be­ing blinded by his own gun. It all sounds like a hellishly bad trip. “I think the drug mu­sic that we like is al­ways a bad trip,” Coyne beams. “We’re never gonna see God and like it. We’re gonna see God and it’s gonna ruin us and we’re gonna lose our minds. No one wants to hear some­one say, ‘I took acid, oh it was just so won­der­ful.’ You’re like, ‘Fuck, who gives a shit?’ I wanna know that the fuck­ing worms ate your dick off or some­thing…” Wayne Coyne has lived in this world of pure imag­i­na­tion since his teens. Sur­rounded by his work­ing-class fam­ily of broth­ers and a sis­ter who were into mu­sic and drugs, he spent hours and hours draw­ing while chaotic scenes un­folded around him. “Al­ways mu­sic go­ing,” he re­mem­bers. “They’re do­ing drugs all the time, ev­ery day, ev­ery night. If you weren’t used to it, it would be a mad­house. You’d be like, ‘Fu­u­uck this is

outta con­trol.’ But I think in the way that I was just in it, it made me prob­a­bly the only per­son in the world that would want to be around that chaos and mu­sic and life­style when I grew up. That’s what The Flam­ing Lips are. I mean, The Flam­ing Lips, it’s chaos, you’re never alone, there’s al­ways shit hap­pen­ing.” The only nor­mal job Coyne ever held down was at Long John Sil­ver’s fast food seafood restau­rant, although a heavy dose of re­al­ity was meted out to him there when one day, along with his fel­low em­ploy­ees, he was held up at gun­point and forced to lie on the floor, be­liev­ing he was go­ing to be shot and killed. Un­der­stand­ably then, when the first line-up of The Flam­ing Lips formed in 1983 (when he was 22), he ran away with the psy­che­delic cir­cus, cre­at­ing an art-rock noise that would of­ten be ac­com­pa­nied by the band mem­bers ig­nit­ing out­door fire­works in­doors and set­ting their cym­bals ablaze with lighter fluid. As the ’ 90s hit, and al­ready in their 30s, The Flam­ing Lips never seemed to quite fit into any scene, not least grunge. “Y’know, we didn’t have this mis­sion state­ment to de­stroy Guns N’ Roses,” he says. “I mean, we liked some of their songs and didn’t really give a shit. But we weren’t 25- years-old by then ei­ther.” In 1993, with She Don’t Use Jelly (from The Flam­ing Lips’ sixth al­bum Trans­mis­sions From The Satel­lite Heart) and its nurs­ery rhyme-like words about a guy blow­ing his nose with mag­a­zines and a girl dye­ing her hair with tan­ger­ines, they had a nov­elty ra­dio hit whose suc­cess en­sured that they didn’t lose their deal with Warner Bros Records. Threat­en­ing to de­stroy their al­ter­na­tive cred, they even ap­peared on cheesy Amer­i­can teen soap Bev­erly Hills 90210 to per­form the song. Never though, says Coyne to­day, did he worry that The Flam­ing Lips were des­tined to be­come a one-hit won­der. “We fol­lowed the ab­surd and said, ‘Why’s it mat­ter?’” he states. “And I think that saved us. Cos when peo­ple would say, ‘You’ve got this one-hit won­der,’ we’d be like, [ ex­cit­edly] ‘I know. It’s so cool. It’s bet­ter than hav­ing no hits!’” But Wayne Coyne’s great act of self-in­ven­tion was to fol­low and pro­pel the band to a higher flight level. When the four-piece Flam­ing Lips were re­duced to a trio with the de­par­ture of gui­tarist Ron­ald Jones in 1996, they re-imag­ined them­selves as a post-dig­i­tal Pink Floyd with the bril­liant The Soft Bul­letin, re­leased in 1999. On­stage, in front of trippy film pro­jec­tions, of­fer­ing gen­tly beau­ti­ful songs such as Waitin’ For A Su­per­man and Feel­ing Your­self Dis­in­te­grate, the now 38- year-old, grey­ing-haired, pea­coat-wear­ing Coyne be­came the ec­static ring­leader of this head­spin­ning live ex­pe­ri­ence. He’d an­i­mate hand pup­pets to mime along to the songs. He’d pour fake blood down his fore­head. He be­lieves this was the point where he be­gan to truly build his own per­son­al­ity. “I’m cre­at­ing a per­sona that lets me go up there and say, ‘Thank you tonight!’” he re­flects to­day. “Part of me was like, ‘I want to be­come the per­son that gets to sing those songs.’ And so you just start off like, ‘Well, I’ll look like this when I do it.’ And be­fore too long you’re not just look­ing like it, you’ve be­come that per­son. And that’s the great thing that art does. It’s not that you make it. It makes you.”

From here, over the next few years, The Flam­ing Lips’ shows be­came pro­gres­sively more elab­o­rate, with Coyne walk­ing atop the au­di­ence in his trans­par­ent space ball, as out­sized bal­loons bounced around him and con­fetti can­nons ex­ploded and peo­ple danced at the sides of the stage in an­i­mal cos­tumes. There was al­most a re­vival tent-style fer­vour to the band’s per­for­mances, not least with the mod­ern clas­sic Do You Re­al­ize??, which put the hu­man con­di­tion into sharp per­spec­tive with its re­minders that we’re all float­ing in space and that we and ev­ery­one we know will die some day. From the stage, nightly, Coyne could see peo­ple cry­ing in the crowd. “For sure,” he notes, “and it af­fected us too. We’d never have that and feel, ‘Oh, look at these id­iots.’ It was al­ways very pow­er­ful and it would make us play bet­ter.” Nonethe­less, Coyne and the band’s freak­ish in­stincts made them buck against the idea of be­com­ing an arena-sized rock band known only for their emo­tional, ex­is­ten­tial an­thems. “When I see a band like Cold­play, y’know, I like them enough,” he says, diplo­mat­i­cally. “But I wouldn’t have wanted to do records in that way where, y’know, if you like Do You Re­al­ize??, well we have four other records that have this [ same] idea about them. We like Do You Re­al­ize??

“If I was 35 and Mi­ley Cyrus was 22, I might say, ‘Y’know, I’m kinda old for what you’re do­ing.’ But I’m so old and she’s so young, it doesn’t mat­ter.”

but it didn’t make us think we should go away from what we want to do with our mu­sic and ideas.” And so The Flam­ing Lips de­cided to head fur­ther and fur­ther out there, fol­low­ing a path of ever-more ex­treme out­sider art no­tions. In the video for 2009’ s skronk-rock­ing Watch­ing The Plan­ets, Coyne was kid­napped and stripped naked by a nud­ist cult. He had no qualms about get­ting his todger out on film? “No,” he laughs. “You think it would be weird. It’s only weird for about 20 sec­onds, y’know. We knew it would rep­re­sent just… there are no rules. We’re do­ing what­ever the fuck we want and no one is gonna stop us.” Sub­se­quently, for The Flam­ing Lips’ 2012 col­lab­o­ra­tions al­bum …Heady Fwends, Coyne man­aged to con­vince most of its guest singers, in­clud­ing Chris Martin, Ke­sha and Bon Iver’s Justin Ver­non, to do­nate blood to be mixed into plas­tic for the record’s lim­ited-edi­tion vinyl re­lease. Only Yoko Ono and Nick Cave de­clined. “I made a blan­ket state­ment,” says the singer. “Like, if you feel for any rea­son you don’t want your blood in there, it doesn’t mat­ter to me why you don’t… you don’t even have to say. I mean, Ke­sha was the first one. She FedExed it to me.” In more re­cen­te­cent times, eye­brows have been raised about the fact that Coyne has de­vel­oped a close friend­ship and cre­ative re­la­tion­ship ela­tion­ship with the in­creas­ingly freak­i­fied Mi­ley iley Cyrus. “If I was 35 and Mi­ley was 22, I might say, ‘Y’know, I’m kinda old for what you’re do­ing,’” he rea­sons. “But I’m so old and she’s so young, it doesn’t mat­ter. If you were around her, in five min­utes, you’d be like, ‘Oh, I get it, yeah.’” Two years ago in Los An­ge­les, Cyrus, Coyne and his girl­friend Katy Weaver even got match­ing tat­toos done, fea­tur­ing a draw­ing of the younger singer’s dog (which had re­cently been killed by coy­otes) along with the leg­end: “With a lit­tle help from my fwends.” “It was just some­thing ab­surd to do,” Coyne says with a grin and a shrug. “Mi­ley likes get­ting tat­toos. You should see her broth­ers and her mom and her dad… they’ve all got the same sorts of things. One would be of a grand­mother and they’re like, ‘This means the world to me.’ Then the other is just a pizza, and it’s like, ‘I don’t even

re­mem­ber why I got it.’ [ Laughs] It’s the most mean­ing­ful and the most mean­ing­less and it doesn’t mat­ter and that’s why we like her.”

For all of his tripped-out joie de vivre, un­der­neath it all, Wayne Coyne can be a wor­rier. He frets some­times that his frag­ile Neil Young-like singing voice isn’t strong enough to carry the melodies he hears in his head. “I’m not a very good singer,” he reck­ons, while at the same time ac­knowl­edg­ing the emo­tional qual­i­ties he brings to a song. “I get to sing the song and the song is bet­ter than me.” In years gone by, he used to worry about The Flam­ing Lips break­ing up: “I would al­ways worry that peo­ple [ in the band] would just get burned out or lose in­ter­est or their hap­pi­ness in it. But then after a while, I would just be like, ‘Well… me wor­ry­ing about it is prob­a­bly mak­ing it worse.’” Above all, he used to worry about get­ting old. “Then peo­ple would be like, ‘Dude, you’re al­ready old,’” he roars. “And I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, you’re right.’ It was such a great re­lief. I kept wait­ing for some­thing to hap­pen. I was re­lieved that what­ever was gonna hap­pen prob­a­bly al­ready did and this is the way I’m gonna be.” Coyne can’t imag­ine a time when he would want to quit the road and re­tire to his psy­che­delic com­pound. “I think I could prob­a­bly go on like this for­ever,” he muses. He un­der­stands that while most peo­ple ex­ist in the “straight” world, he’s free to be alive and cre­ative in what­ever weird ways he chooses. “I’m just very lucky that I kept work­ing to­ward the fact that, like, I’m sup­posed to get up and do mu­sic to­day,” he con­cludes. “It’s what ev­ery­body wants me to do. Every­where I go, ev­ery­body’s say­ing, ‘You’re gonna do your thing to­day.’ So I could see where if you want that, you’d wanna be around me and say, ‘How’s he get­ting away with it?’” The sim­ple rea­son be­ing be­cause he’s The Won­der­ful Wizard Of Ok­la­homa, and that he glows with a bright light, pink and all the other colours of the rain­bow, wher­ever he goes.

Su­per furry an­i­mal! The Flam­ing Lips front­man shows off his man­i­festo for a good life.

Race for the prize: The Flam­ing Lips with their Best Rock In­stru­men­tal Grammy, New York, 2003.

(Above) The Flam­ing Lips, with Coyne (cen­tre), in 1989; ( be­low) get­ting a big hand on Later… With Jools Hol­land, 2006.

That shows real balls: (left) Coyne meets the fans at Coachella Fes­ti­val, Cal­i­for­nia, 2004; ( right) with heady fwend, Mi­ley Cyrus, Soho House, New York, 2015.

Trans­fu­sion mu­sic: The Flam­ing Lips’ …Heady Fwends blood-filled lim­ited-edi­tion vinyl.

Off on a stag do? Wayne Coyne, Lon­don, 2016.

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