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The Zen of Wayne Coyne

For almost four decades, The Flaming Lips have been on the cutting edge of the psych rock movement, and on June 1 they released their first volume of Greatest Hits, shepherding fans both old and new toward their favorite studio cuts.

As frontman Wayne Coyne sees it, Greatest Hits Vol. 1 as well as the newly remastered Scratching The Door: The First Recordings of the Flaming Lips and Seeing The Unseeable: The Complete Studio Recordings of the Flaming Lips 1986-1990 provide a window into the band’s earliest stages. “The stuff that’s really, really old now, I almost always just go, ‘Oh shit, this is insane. Why would they do this?’ It’s like I’m like listening and going ‘I don’t know these guys, they sound like they’re fucking cool, they’re crazy,’” he laughs. “So I always love it.”

In a recent conversation, Coyne opens up about the band’s legacy as well as their unique perspective as stalwarts of the summer festival scene and trailblazers of their ever-bizarre journey as a band. “None of it is something that we thought, ‘Oh, we want people to think of us this way or that way.’” he says. “It’s all just been a great surprise.”

You guys have this Flaming Lips Greatest Hits coming out on vinyl and a deluxe edition too with a bunch of B-sides and unreleased demos and other cool rarities. Can you talk to me a little bit about the curation process with this?

We’ve been talking about putting out something like a Greatest Hits probably for over 10 years now at least. There are already these Flaming Lips playlists out there, like on Spotify where it sort of feels like there’s already a Greatest Hits version of our stuff already out there, and I think more than ever we just felt, “Well, we should just make one ourselves.” Not that those other ones aren’t good and not that people don’t like them, we just thought, “Well, why don’t we just make one ourselves and then say this is our version that you can buy it on iTunes. It’s already there, and if you don’t know which record, say, this particular song is on, here’s all these songs that you possibly heard out there in the world, all collected for you and made the way I would want it to be, made easy for you.

We’ve always liked Greatest Hits. Some of my favorite records I’ve ever had were Greatest Hits: Tom Petty’s Greatest Hits, Elton John’s Greatest Hits, or even Donovan’s Greatest Hits, those are some of my favorite records. Not even the records that they would make, you know, I like Greatest Hits. So I think we’ve always tried to make one, we just have never quite been able to pull all the pieces together. The main piece to come together is our producer Dave Fridmann being the guy that’s in charge of all the remastering, and even though I’m there with him and all that, it’s a big long process, especially when it’s this many songs, you know, it’s a lot of listening and a lot of nuances, different levels, records made from the 90s versus records that were made just a couple years ago. So a lot of, you know, a lot of sonic challenges that you have to kinda get solved. And all that takes a little bit of time and listening and you know, fucking with it and all that.

Totally. And then it’s cool, kind of in tandem with the Greatest Hits thing, you have Rhino and Warner Brothers digging into the back catalogue and preserving all these early years of the band. When you’re listening back to all these earlier songs, kinda what emotions do they elicit?

Well, I mean luckily some of them, we’ve never gotten that far away from them, even a record like The Soft Bulletin which is, you know, one of our big, big records, that we played and talk about it all the time. That record’s gonna be 20 years old before too long so it’s already a long, long time ago that these records were conceived of and made. And then there’s the ones from the early 90s and even like the stuff that’s on the Rhino stuff, I mean some of that’s dating back to even the early 80s, and none of that stuff has ever been that far away from us revisiting it, we’ve revisited before, so it’s not an utter shock. But all of it is mostly a joyous occasion.

A lot of times I’m listening to it, and I’m absolutely loving it, absolutely loving how, like, just weird these dudes are and then I’ll say, “Who is this?” and then it’s like, “Dude, that’s you, that’s the same lick.” I’m like, “Oh shit, I don’t remember this song,” you know?

I know you said you revisit stuff often, but were there any songs in particular you kind of fell back in love with?

Even things from our very, very first album, this is the first time that they’ve really been re-mastered. Previous times it’s been re-mastered, it’s only been re-mastered as the way it was being put out, instead of getting out the tapes again and really EQing them differently, and that’s what Dave Fridmann did. I think when we listen to our very first EP that we put out in 1984, there’s a song “My Own Planet,” and hearing that I’m just like “Oh my god.”

Even just that we wrote such a great song, it’s got a great title, and it’s got a great, memorable semi-chorus, that you sing over and over. Then it’s got a great, you know, slightly sloppy, but very energetic and charming song to it, which none of us knew anything about at the time, you know, we were making it, we thought that this was gonna be some visceral, aggressive punk rock or something. Now it’s just very charming and nice.

And a lot of it is like that, where you’re just a little bit surprised at how…the word dorky comes up a lot, but I’m so glad that we were not too preoccupied with being great musicians or great, you know, great…you know, we didn’t get connected to great producers, we were doing it ourselves and learning and learning and figuring things out. And some of the figuring out is what makes the record so wonderful. I don’t think anybody would want to record the way we did and I’m glad we did because it makes the record just sound absolutely unique.

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