Q&A: The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne On Stephen Colbert, Ke$ha, And An Inadvertent Game Of Telephone With Lightning Bolt

Benjamin Lozovsky
Flaming Lips leader Wayne Coyne dreams weird and hard and big. What often starts off as a whimsical vision might just end up as a new world record (for the most live concerts in 24 hours) or a limited-edition vinyl release infused with the blood of other artists (as was the case for 2011's The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends). The Lips have an impressive track record of following through on their shenanigans, and that devotion to being endlessly irreverent and self-indulgent (in the most nurturing way) has helped them build a cult-like army of followers. The band has consistently grown creatively, too, its music morphing from scuzzy buzz-bin warmth to orchestral pop masterpieces to hard-edged, highly adventurous psych rock explorations. The band's most recent work, Heady Fwends, was made with people who spanned the gamut of popular music—Yoko Ono, Prefuse 73, Ke$ha.

Few personalities are more outsized than Coyne's; when he talks, he uses what seem to be the most directly vague terms imaginable. It comes off almost like a brain-fried hippie having a conversation with a sped-up incarnation of the Dali Lama, but the trains of thought converge into a force of charisma and authority. Coyne has made a scholarly pursuit out of an obsession with examining trivialities—the little things—in the most grandiose way possible.

But he may have met his match in comedian and faux pundit Stephen Colbert. Coyne and the Flaming Lips appear tonight on The Colbert Report, getting interviewed in a decommissioned space shuttle and performing aboard The U.S.S. Intrepid as the headliner of StePhest Colbchella '012 Rocktaugustfest, an over-the-top take on the music festival. During the taping of the event last Friday, the Voice sat down with Coyne to talk about the band's upcoming 30th anniversary, human skulls filled with blood and new music, and an accidental game of telephone that might just have turned into a LSD-filled night.

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Live: Stephen Colbert Throws A Festival With The Flaming Lips, Santigold, Grizzly Bear, And fun.

Benjamin Lozovsky
Wayne Coyne (left) and Stephen Colbert. See more photos from Colbchella here.
Colbchella: fun., Grizzly Bear, Santigold, Flaming Lips
U.S.S. Intrepid
Friday, August 10

Better than: All the world wars and Woodstocks combined.

Don't you ever question America's might. We do things bigger and crazier than other countries—and then we televise it. And while Stephen Colbert didn't officially endorse that message, he concurs. On Friday night, he took over the U.S.S. Intrepid for a nautical, turret-blazing salute to US military, industrial, and Indie rock superiority.

In dire response to the proliferation of "half-naked, patchouli-soaked, white guy dreadlock festivals," Colbert concocted Stephest Colbchella '012 Rocktaugustfest as an assertion of his fundamental conservative values and reverence of corporate sponsorship ("Pepsi, the official drink of my throat"). Colbert brought acts like The Flaming Lips, Santigold, Grizzly Bear and fun. to support his ultimate (if satirical) political goal: Self-aggrandizement and narcissistic back patting.

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Beck's Sheet-Music Gambit And Six Other Alternatives To Just Putting Out A Boring Old Record

This week neo-pop superstar Beck announced the release of Song Reader, a new "album" in the form of sheet music. The finished product offers nothing to listen to; just 20 sheets of notation collected in a "lavishly produced hardcover carrying case," according to the publishing outfit McSweeney's, which is working with Mr. Hansen to release this artful experiment.

People praised the project; others derided it—although not surprisingly, many musicians leaned toward the former. As the Beauty Pill's Chad Clark put it: "There is zero incentive to release music conventionally right now. It just feels dumb/masochistic. Might as well try shit. Why not?"

A solid point, and one that many of Clark's musical brethren have taken well to heart. Here are some of the more innovative ways that artists are trying to get people to pony up for music these days.

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'Milk It A Little Longer For Me': Watching The Flaming Lips' Attempt To Make The Record Books

Greg Campbell/Getty Images via Text100
When news broke that the Flaming Lips were going to play eight separate shows in 24 hours in an attempt to eclipse a Guinness World Record set by Jay-Z, the collective response was something along the lines of, "Well, of course they are."

The Lips have done so much bonkers shit up to this point in their long career—from releasing a live album on a USB drive encased in a bubblegum-flavored gummy fetus to the release of a 24-hour long song available for sale on a hard drive stuffed inside an actual human skull—that few things they do can really be seen as surprising.

But when I received a press release announcing the world record attempt and the fact that the whole thing was going to be livestreamed, I knew that this ridiculous and gimmicky thing deserved, nay begged for, a ridiculous, gimmicky response: I was going to watch the whole thing, livetweeting the whole way, and keeping notes on my thoughts and what was sure to be my mental collapse around hour 18.

What follows is culled from those notes and my tweets, and timestamped (in PT) for your entertainment and edification. You can surely find videos from the eight Lips shows and everything in between to, I guess, play along at home. I wouldn't recommend it, though. Even though it involved a band I generally admire, it was one hell of a slog.

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12 For '12: A Dozen Songs From This Year That You Should Hear Right Now

Evans The Death.
In this week's Voice I offered up a midseason report of sorts, listing 12 particularly outstanding tracks from this year. Here, for your listening pleasure, are the 12 songs in streamable form (via a combination of YouTube and Soundcloud so as to not lock anyone—or any songs—out). Happy listening, and if you'd like to share a 2012 song that's particularly tickled your ears, by all means do so in the comments.

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If You Have An Inordinate Amount Of Time Or Patience, You Can Listen To The 24-Hour Flaming Lips Song (Or At Least Some Of It) Now

The 24-hour song's physical package. Ooh, a USB cable!
The Flaming Lips' "7 Skies H3"—the 24-hour song that's the band's Halloween present to its most persistent/unscheduled fans—is currently streaming at the creatively named flaminglipstwentyfourhoursong.com right now, although if you want to hear it there's a bit of a catch; the virtual doors to the listening party get shut after 999 people enter, a paltry number when you think about how many people will just want to dip in and out during the Halloween workday. (How many people of those 999, I wonder, are in it for the long haul, and have been since the song dropped at midnight?)

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Hurricane Irene's Fallout Continues: The Quiksilver Pro Concerts Are All Canceled

So much for Wavves being King of Long Beach on September 9.
Well, that's a bummer: Because of continued cleanup after Hurricane Irene, the music component of Quiksilver Pro New York—the professional surfing contest on Long Island's south shore that's now scheduled to begin September 4—has been called off: "The situation has been changing daily, and we recognize that [Long Beach] resources are focused on hurricane restoration and cleanup as first priority. In that context, we have been informed by the City that the festival and music components of the event are no longer achievable." (Surf, however, is still up.) That means no free shows in Long Beach by Interpol, the Flaming Lips, Wavves, Taking Back Sunday, or any of these 40-odd other acts who were scheduled to perform over the next two weeks. No word on whether or not any of these artists have decided to add a free show to their area itineraries as a "sorry guys" gesture just yet, although something tells me that given recent weather patterns, it may be prudent to throw said events at someplace with a roof.

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Wayne Coyne Talks Flaming Lips/Lightning Bolt EP: How It Came About, How To Hear It

While The Flaming Lips might currently be without a contract at Warner Bros., there are signs that the relationship is far from expired—including but not limited to the fact that their handler there still hooks up email interviews, for example.

At a Boston in-store appearance on Tuesday, Wayne Coyne distributed the first test-pressings of a four-song, 12" EP between the Lips and the Lightning Bolt. For a certain kind of noise freak, this amounts to a meeting of psych-damaged minds that feels far too long in having come about. Yet, despite the Warner logo on the back of the vinyl, there's no distribution through the label. Meantime, over on eBay, the first sealed copy purchased direct from Coyne's hands has popped up; with two days left on the auction, the bidding is already up to $66.

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Live: Weezer And The Flaming Lips Share And Share Alike At The PNC Arts Center

Weezer/Flaming Lips w/Yeasayer
PNC Bank Arts Center
Thursday, July 28

Better than: Not seeing Bush at the Bowery Ballroom.

It's extremely easy to forget the advantages of an large-scale concert if you've gone, say, a decade eschewing such shows. Massive venues with lawn seating (and ticket checkpoints at every intersection, of which there are about 20) lose their luster once the intimacy (and relative lack of expense) of club shows becomes an expectation rather than merely an appeal, and the performative transition involved in scaling up often changes the nature of a band's performance.

Last night's Weezer/Flaming Lips double bill at the PNC Bank Arts Center was a rejoinder to that sometimes-prevailing attitude. Here was a show that could only have worked in this sort of venue, playing to the strengths of the setup and even benefiting from its drawbacks.

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Live: The Roots, The Flaming Lips, Michael Stipe, And Patti Smith Dominate Carnegie Hall's Tibet House Benefit

tibet house carnegie finale.JPG
Patti Smith, leading the charge as always. Pic by Tracy Ketcher.
21st-Annual Tibet House U.S. Benefit Concert
Starring The Flaming Lips, the Roots, Taj Mahal, Michael Stipe, etc.
Carnegie Hall
Thursday, March 3

Better Than: "Auld Lang Syne"

"Beauty is power -- violence is weak," we are told soberly by Tibet House U.S. cofounder Robert Thurman at the onset of their glamorous annual gala. The Tibetan Buddhist author and professor (and father of actress Uma) greets the well-packed pews of Carnegie Hall with an eloquent speech about simplicity, peace, acceptance, condolences. So in deference to his long scholarship, we won't say that this star-studded variety show has any victors or victims; at the New York cultural center's 21st-annual benefit, there are only brothers and sisters united. Tonight, there are no losers or winners.

Except the winners are the Roots. And how.

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