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Friday, May 18, 2012

Why the Flaming Lips won't take NO for an answer

The ever adventurous Flaming Lips are coming off a busy 2011 during which they committed themselves to releasing a new song every month. This led to a variety of collaborations, part of which are collected in their recent limited edition release, The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends. It comes after a series of EPs last year with people like Prefuse 73, Neon Indian, Lightning Bold, and Yoko Ono. The album assembles tracks from those collaborations and other artists such as Ke$ha, Bon Iver, Biz Markie, and Nick Cave.

Not only have the 25-year psych-rock icons been busy with these collaborations, but according to leader Wayne Coyne, he and fellow Lips songwriter Steven Drozd have come up with a new album and a sound they like to call "heroin new wave." While Coyne recognizes the hyperbole, he feels it's one of the most personal, cohesive, and perhaps best sets of music they've ever created. On the eve of headlining Atlanta's Party in the Park, Coyne spoke about the thrill of working with these artists and how it helped seed the new album, expected for a fall 2012 release.

Party in the Park. With Flaming Lips, Young the Giant, Awolnation, Dawes, Ponderosa. $25-$75. 3 p.m.-11 p.m. Sat., May 19. Centennial Olympic Park.

How did all these series of collaborations get started?

Wayne Coyne: During the record that came out in 2009 (Embryonic) we were in the studio with our producer Dave Fridmann and he had been working with MGMT. We'll sometimes come up with these songs that we would say, "Wouldn't we be cool if, like, MGMT could sing on this?" And then lo and behold, we called them up, they say yeah. We're working in New York and getting done about midnight. We email it to them. They're working in L.A. building a bonfire in the studio, and taking drugs all night, and we wake up next morning and they've helped us do a track... Over half the things we've done, these are just people I've still never met. Like Justin Vernon from Bon Iver. That's one of our great collaborations. I've texted with him probably 10,000 times. We've recorded things but I've never been in the same room. I've never actually seen him play up close

Now we just never shy away from anything. And I don't take no for an answer. I can tell you for certain - not everybody, but probably half of the people that are actually on the record, the first contact they said, "I can't do it." I'll keep trying and that's really the key. It's the key to any relationship really. You just need to keep saying, "This is fun, we can make this work." People with less experience - someone like a Yoko Ono - would say no. And you'd say, okay. I go, "Well, let's try again." And that's exactly what happens. Because I know from past experience that people say no a lot - they don't like getting into new things. I like getting into new things, so I say, "This will be great, let's keep trying." That just comes with doing it doing it and doing it.

I have heard from other musicians that collaborating with others, when you come back to the band it feels fresher.

It totally is. I can't tell you how refreshing it is. We immerse ourselves in our own shit - because it's very easy to be insecure and to absorb other people's ideas. But you can't really do art that way. You kind of just have to go off in the corner and masturbate in the corner yourself. That's what art is. And we know when we do that we kind of shut ourselves off being judgmental - that's the way of all artists. No one knows what to do. So we get into this mode where we're sort of sleepwalking, where something has possessed us and we're moving forward. We don't always want to be where we go.

What can you tell me about the sixteenth album, which you apparently just finished?

This calamity of making all this music - we committed to this idea of presenting new music every month. Doing different things every couple weeks, it's a tall order. So I think in the beginning it was a relief to us to be thinking every other month we'll see if we can get one of our weirdo friends to help us. They'll do some of the work. And inevitably it'll be different because they're involved....

When you're in the middle of three-to-four things and you're committed to them, you're making music but it isn't creative anymore. You're following up this thing you started a month ago. But if you're lucky this creative part of your mind is not satisfied and you'll sit there and create music anyway, even though you don't have to. Stephen and I, in these little times, were starting to make what was to me some very strange, powerful, emotional music. Just out of the freedom from thinking about we have to do to get this piece together for Erykah Badu or Chris Martin.

Well, how would you characterize the sound of this new music?

We've described it to ourselves as a kind of heroin new wave. We were given a synthesizer by Sean Lennon at the end of November when we recorded with him at his studio. He has some gear that's impossible to find out there in the world. As a real gesture of love and generosity he said take this with you and see if you can do something with it, and he gave us this strange little synthesizer that we ended up falling in love with. We made a couple songs using a couple little tracks from it because it was just so interesting to hear and I think it led us in the direction most of this very distorted, very emotional really sort of sad melody. It's almost like church music in a way. Just you're some alien is having his funeral service and you're going to hear it and they play music that's kind of sad and kind of religious but it comes from another planet.

So a combination of Roky Erickson and Daniel Johnston?

Well, they're coming at it from the standpoint of songwriters. And I think even myself, I'm a songwriter, but a lot of times I like to work from the idea of sound and that sound tells me something about myself. A lot of it is very song-oriented. I think even for ourselves when we did Embryonic, our last album, 3-4 years ago. It was very jammish. It was very much about grooves and abstractions and some of this is very emotional. I think that's greatest thing music can do - share this very isolated personal thing that's happening to you and put it in a language that could be personal and isolated to someone you don't know. I always gravitated to that, but I don't think we did it on purpose, it just kind of happened.

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