Up All Night With The Flaming Lips
I think you described it very well that this is like the morning after the end of the world party where it’s like, “Well, what happens next?” I think that there’s something beautiful in that. Do you feel that that’s also a statement in terms of other things going on in the world or is it more just, as you said, focused on your actual career arc over the last dozen years from the explosion after Yoshimi and The Soft Bulletin?
Well, I think it’s partly our band career and I wouldn’t deny that it’s probably personal too. At least when I was working on those beginnings, I was kind of in a little crisis of my own right at that time and again, it says a lot to me about whatever was going on in Wayne’s life. He certainly reacted very strongly to what I was doing. I’ll always know if he’s interested in something I’m doing [because] he’ll say, “That’s cool! What is that? Let’s work on that.” And then sometimes he won’t be interested and I’ll know I’ll just throw that in the pile for some other project I’m working on or I’ll play it for him two years later and see if he likes it.
But that “You Are Alone” song, more than anything ever, I think, he was just like, “What is that?” He wanted to know what it was and what it was all about and why did I make that combination of sounds and why was it that way, and he just felt so strongly about wanting to do something with it that that told me that he must be on some similar wavelength about how he feels in his own personal life or something. I think maybe another reason why it was so easy for us to make the record is that we were kind of on the same page. I mean, usually we agree musically on things, but definitely the beginning of The Terror was just an effortless thing. So I think it says something about the band’s career path, our timeline, [and] I think it also says something about us personally that we wanted to make that kind of music. I think some people don’t hear it as being as depressing as I think it sounds. But when I say depressing, I mean it in a really good way. To me it just expresses something that I wanted to hear and I like when I hear other bands do that.
I think that it’s depressing but it’s confident in a sense. It’s not like moaning, but I think you described it great before, it’s the party after the end of the world party.
Yeah, it’s like you’re coming down from that party and what happens now? But yeah, of all the things we could have done, we’ve tried many different kinds of music, but this music on The Terror really feels like Flaming Lips music to me. It doesn’t feel to me like we’re trying different styles. Like if you get the Okie Noodling soundtrack, it’s The Flaming Lips but we’re doing this sort of country trip, you know? Or you could pick some other things, Christmas On Mars is very sci-fi, symphonic, orchestral movie music. The Terror, even though you could stylistically say there’s a lot of synthesizers and a lot of droning things, to me it just sounds like Flaming Lips music in 2013, which I’m really happy to say. It doesn’t feel like we’re struggling to come up with a new identity, this is just what we did. So I’m pretty happy about it.
Speaking of which, The Terror feels very much like an album in the classic sense of the word. I know you guys debuted it in its entirety at SXSW and performed it as this unified artistic work. Was there a point in the recording where it seemed more like an album than a collection of songs? And at what point did you decide that you’re going to put this out live as one full performance piece instead of sprinkling new songs throughout your whole show on tour this year?
We feel like we’ve had a couple of great experiences at SXSW. One of our very first parking lot experiments was there in 1997, I think the second ever South Bulletin Tour show was at SXSW in ’99. It just felt like, we have this new record, we’re really excited about it, we hope people perceive this as us doing something different or whatever. It just felt like a cool thing to just play the record all the way through. I mean, I don’t know if it was a success, but for us, I can say that I haven’t seen us that excited after a show in some time. Now, we may have lost some of the audience at that show [Laughs], but for us, maybe it’s just too self-indulgent, but it was just a wild, fun time. And not because people hadn’t heard it, that seems like a bad reason to do it, but the good reason to do it was it was just something different to do. I know Wayne was like, “Nah, I really don’t want to get out the space bubble and do that,” and we don’t want people dancing on the side of the stage, we want to just try something different.
So, now we’re about to go on the road [and] we’re working some of the kinks out of all that stuff, because it’s not just new music, it’s a new stage show and everything. There’s new video stuff, there’s new lights, there’s new technology, all kinds of stuff happening and it all goes hand in hand with this new music. It’s almost like a little rebirth. I hate to use that word, but it’s kind of like that. I think as the summer goes on we won’t be playing the record all the way through, but half our show will be new stuff. We’re going to try to make it work where we can play this new stuff and then drag some of the old along with it but not make it seem like such a contrast. We don’t want to make it seem like, “Oh, they’re doing The Terror stuff, now they’re doing stuff from Yoshimi.” We’d like to be able to have it where that can all be in the same live show and all be the same kind of live trip. That’s what we’re struggling with now, a way to make all this new stuff work with the old stuff and not have it be such a black and white change within the show. But at that time at SXSW, in our minds, especially since no one had heard the record, it felt like we might as well just fucking go all the way and just say we’re going to play this whole record all the way through and people will either be turned off or be really thrilled about it.
In the past your stage show has been very uplifting, whether it’s people dancing or costumes or the bubble or just kind of the party atmosphere. Do you think that the stage show will reflect more of this somber, morning-after feeling or will remnants from the party still kind of be trickling through?
Well, that’s what we’re trying to figure out right now. We’re trying to figure out how much of that old, big celebratory Lips show we want to try to keep in there, because we don’t want to completely turn everybody off that’s been coming to see us for however many years but we also want to change the show. I could imagine where it would be a darker show overall, not literally with lights, I just mean with the vibe of the show but still have it be a badass rock show. We don’t want to completely go off the deep end. We’re trying to work out what the exact dynamic is going to be. Because we will play “Do You Realize??” but it’ll probably be like as an encore or something, I don’t know. But we’d like to be able to play this new music and have it be as intense live as playing “Silver Trembling Hands” off Embryonic or something is. But I think the people that want to see just the straight-up “She Don’t Use Jelly” yeah, yeah, yeah show, I don’t think we’re going to be doing that much of it. But we’ll have to see, I can’t really tell you right now.
Shifting from your music to music in general, it’s interesting that as your music has gotten, for lack of a better term, darker, in the last ten years, a lot of psychedelic music that you guys were always some of the first as a rock band to embrace has gotten more popular, and a lot of bands who play large places or even get some radio play are also rooted in this whole psychedelic world. Do you see a bigger conceptual change towards that music or do you feel that it’s just that people’s palettes are more advanced and with the internet they have no problem with listening to psychedelic music on the radio or in a big room?
I think it’s all that. You know, there was a time that if you had a keyboard in your band that was weird or completely unacceptable. If there was a band playing in Austin that had a keyboard player, that was just considered wild and not very cool. And then when we started doing Soft Bulletin stuff, we started moving towards keyboards, and to us, and the world we existed in, that seemed like a radical change from what was going on before us and around us at the time. And now, none of those things seem like any big deal. It’s just everything is so much more wide open and that’s the good news, it’s just that evolution and then mutation of music.
I remember I made a compilation tape in 1992 that had Sonic Youth and it had the band Yes on it and I had a couple of friends [who thought] that was completely unacceptable. You couldn’t listen to Sonic Youth and Yes that just was not cool. [Laughs.] And now an 18-year-old is like, “Well, yeah, Sonic Youth, Yes, fucking Donna Summer, Tammy Wynette.” It’s just people are a lot more accepting of different styles of music so, to answer your question, I think that’s just the way it is everywhere. On the other hand, I feel like commercial radio is getting more and more down to a smaller, thin tunnel of what’s popular music on like Top 40 radio. But I don’t really think about that too much and I don’t have to think about it for some time, my kids are still pretty young and hopefully they won’t be listening to it anytime soon. [Laughs.]