On Sunday night, Oklahoma psychedelic rockers the Flaming Lips closed out the inaugural X Games Austin. We caught up with front man Wayne Coyne, 53, before the show to discuss that big moment when they stopped caring and went from being just another group of dudes playing rock music to one of the freakiest bands in the world.
XGames.com: When you were asked to play X Games, did you plan on performing to a different kind of audience than you are used to at other festivals?
Wayne Coyne: There is some appeal to doing something in another realm where people might not have heard about you or wouldn't have thought to see you. We do a lot of weirdo, freako, hippy festival things, but I don't know if [X Games] is that much different. Maybe 20 or 30 years ago, it might have seemed like if you liked sports, you didn't like music, but when I was growing up we loved sports and we loved music -- we loved anything that seemed kind of intense.
How do you keep it fresh creatively and artistically?
For us, that is never an issue. We're interested in music and ideas. We make so much music; I'm insanely oblivious to how much we are doing. Last week I got done playing a festival in Ireland, didn't get back to the hotel 'til 6 in the morning, left at 9 in the morning and flew straight to a studio in Buffalo, New York, and just started mixing. People ask, 'My God, how do you do it, man?' But I like it, so it doesn't feel like work. People mistakenly think we're like a lot of these touring groups, like a Pearl Jam or Phish, who will tour for two years straight. But we play for a couple weeks then go do our thing.
Do you think collaborating with people like Miley Cyrus and recording full-album covers of 'The Stone Roses' or 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' helps to reinvigorate you?
It is absolutely invigorating, inspiring and new. When the creation is coming from you every time, it can be a bad thing. You do so many things subconsciously -- begin a phrase the same way, have a cadence about what you do. When I write songs, I don't like to write them like a songwriter -- sitting at a piano or playing guitar and singing to it -- because I know I'll fall into the same things I'm not aware I'm doing. I like working with other people because they have [their] way. It [gets me out of] my comfort zone.
How does maturity affect the creative process?
Your late thirties is probably the scariest time to wonder about whether what you are doing is working or successful. By then, you sort of think, I can't do anything else, I've spent my whole life doing this and if this doesn't work, what do I do? Luckily for me, we were successful enough here and there that we'd have these great moments of feeling like it was going to work. By the time you're in your late forties and early fifties, I think it's like you just don't give a f---. I'm not worried that this has to be the best thing ever. I'd rather do stuff and find out by doing it, rather than by worrying about what the world is going to think.
You've always been interested in aesthetics. What do you want to communicate on stage or through your live show?
Around the mid '90s we had our first success with the song "She Don't Use Jelly," and we became associated with that alternative music post-grunge thing going on then. We didn't like the way we were presenting ourselves, so we started to make a different kind of music. We didn't think anyone would like it; we just thought we'd make records and try to live our lives doing that. But a lot of people liked it, and we ended up having to play shows. We were not really into playing shows, though, so we decided we were just going to do whatever we wanted, and that's when I started having balloons and puppets and not presenting us as these dudes playing rock, just as guys doing our thing.
Do you think at any point there will be a stripped-down live version of the Flaming Lips?
I think it depends on the size of the audience. We would be very entertaining to a couple hundred people, but when you play to a big audience and are trying to penetrate all of them at the same time, you need big things happening -- lights, lasers and stuff -- and luckily we like that stuff. Groups that don't like that stuff wouldn't want to get into playing big audiences and festivals. I've seen some groups do it really well, like Pearl Jam or The National, where it's based on their performance, but they also have a lot of songs the audience might know. We have songs the audience knows, but we don't always want to play them -- it's not the mood we are in. If you show up to see us, you may not know all our songs, but you'll still have your mind blown one way or the other.
Reflecting back on your career, what is the legacy of the Flaming Lips in the history of rock 'n' roll?
As we get to the point where we have made music for a long time, it's a mystery as to what has happened. I make a joke sometimes, telling people The Flaming Lips formed in 1971, but [I was] only 10 years old then. Anything you can say that you think would be absurd, little-by-little can become true, because it is all a mystery how it got the way it did. When I watch those overviews from the 1960s, there were only three people that existed: Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, because they are still here in our minds. Last man standing gets to be interviewed for the public broadcast. When Ken Burns does his version of psychedelic music, he can interview me and I can tell him, this is how I saw it.