Axl Rose! Cat Stevens! Songs to sing at funerals! As a 20th-anniversary boxset expands the technicolour universe of THE FLAMING LIPS’ Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, WAYNE COYNE reveals the real story of how his band of freaks inherited the Earth. “We just embraced it all, and did it our way,” learns Sam Richards, in the latest issue of Uncut magazine – in UK shops from Thursday, October 13 and available to buy from our online store.
When Wayne Coyne answers our FaceTime call, he’s just leaving his local hardware store. Presumably he’s a valued customer – down the years, Coyne has personally constructed many of The Flaming Lips’ fantasy environments, from the 10-foot-tall chrome head installation that inspired King’s Mouth to the makeshift film sets around Oklahoma City where he filmed Christmas On Mars. “We don’t have a production company,” Coyne grins, still self-sufficient after all these years. “It’s just us weirdos, you know?”
At 61, his creative spark remains undimmed. Having just painted a whole new series of covers for the upcoming deluxe reissue of Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots – Uncut’s Album Of The Year in 2002 – he reveals that he’s also halfway through creating a 300-page graphic novel telling the story of the album. The Lips have been touring hard all summer and the follow-up to 2020’s American Head is also beginning to occupy his thoughts. On top of it all, Coyne is now the father of two boys, Bloom (aged three) and Rex (six months). “I’m the luckiest dude who’s ever been alive, it’s just amazing,” he says. In fact, the whole family are about to drive to a festival that the Lips are headlining in Arkansas. “We take them everywhere as much as we can, that’s just our life.”
Coyne didn’t have any hesitations about introducing his children to the Lips’ travelling circus. “It’s not a bad thing to be around,” he insists. “I see cool people that are laughing and having a great time and using their enthusiasm and their energy. We have a great crew and everybody in the group is fun. You know, [playing live] shouldn’t have to be some serious, stressful thing where you have to take so many drugs to get through it. It’s fucking music, it’s amazing!”
And in a way, The Flaming Lips’ stage show, with its giant bubbles and inflatable unicorns, has become something of a psychedelic soft-play zone. “I can see that if you’re three, you could like it. And if you’re the right kind of 30-year-old you’d like it, and if you’re the right kind of 90-year-old you’d like it, so it’s great.” The same could be said of Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots itself, a multi-hued 21st- century quasi-concept classic. It contains hummable anthems, universal sentiments and vaudeville songwriting tricks, but also makes room for trip-hop instrumentals and a Japanese experimental musician screaming. Twenty years on, it feels like the moment the Lips became part of the cultural firmament, allowing them to go on and do pretty much anything and everything they wanted.
It even bagged the band a Grammy – although as Coyne reminds us, they didn’t actually win the award for Yoshimi… as a whole, but for its blissed-out closing track, “Approaching Pavonis Mons By Balloon”, which triumphed in the Best Rock Instrumental category. “We only went to the Grammys because it’s absurd to sit there with Tony Bennett and Slash,” he laughs. “But once we won, all that changes. Suddenly, you’re not the weirdo in the room – you’re just in the room. Which is great. I mean, you don’t really want to just be doing the same thing, year after year after year. We’ve been around a long, long time. But luckily, every five or six years, it’s a little bit of a new world.”
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