Ladies and gentlemen, the Flaming Lips
Does band produce music, art or both?
By Meriah Doty and Joseph Van Harken
(CNN) -- The ever-innovative indie rockers the Flaming Lips have gained more renown since the release of the band's 2002 album "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots" -- and that's brought new fans to the band's live shows.
Those fans quickly find out that the show isn't just about music.
At the Bonnaroo music festival in June, for example, the band blew up oversized balloons and shined giant flashlights at the audience and each other. Lead singer Wayne Coyne bathed in gobs of fake blood. Small cameras attached to microphones illuminated live, close-up images of Lips players on a giant-screen TV. Dancers pulled from the audience donned animal outfits and jammed on stage through exhaustive sets.
What's it all about? CNN caught up with front man Coyne before Bonnaroo for an interview.
CNN: Do you look forward to going out there and trying to open some people's minds ... who have never heard you before?
WAYNE COYNE: I don't think about it too much. The fact that they are here is all that really matters to me.
They should do whatever they like. If they are here and they come to see us, and they like us and they forget about us tomorrow, I don't really care. I'm here to entertain them and if they love us and buy all of our records because of this, well, that's great, it doesn't really matter to me. It's their night. It's not my night. I just look at it that I'm just another thing that you can walk over there and see. I've got some big balloons, I've got some blood I'll pour on my head, if you like that, come see it, and if it's not your thing, it doesn't really matter to me.
They already love music and really all music is great. There's not really one kind of music that's better or more interesting than another. If you like it, and it moves you, then it's good.
So I'm just really here to help out. If you guys need someone to help cleaning out the toilets, hey, I'll help. I don't care. I'm just here to help the festival do what it's trying to do. It's not my agenda tonight, it's the audience's and we're here to try to make it their night.
CNN: Could you talk a little bit about your writing process? How do you guys bounce ideas off each other to make your albums unique?
COYNE: Well that's nice of you to say that. ... I think most artists, if they are being totally honest, will tell you that the fear of creativity is that a lot of it is just a lucky sort of cosmic accident. That -- yes indeed -- we're trying to do something and we want something to happen, but a lot of times you're in there playing and really nothing great does happen. And you sorta play around with the same ideas over and over.
But, if you're lucky, something comes along and you go, "Wow, that's great, let's do that," as opposed to this boring thing that we were trying to do. And we go in that direction.
And so, I don't know. I don't know what the mystery or the magic or any of that really is. I mean, I know it does work, and I know it does happen, but for the most part ideas and art and all that stuff doesn't work. ... Even though it's my music you hear it and you think, "Oh, I hear myself in there." If I knew how to do that, (laughing) I'd tell you. ... I just know there's some luck and hopefully it will keep happening and it will happen to us and people will think that we're still interesting.
CNN: Could you talk a little bit about how art influences the band.
COYNE: To be in a band encompasses all the great exaggerated elements that is art. I mean you can look anyway you want, that's kind of a statement. You can sing about anything you want, you can sound anyway you want and that's a powerful thing. Now you can make videos, you can make your own movies, it really encompasses everything there is in the arts, and you can sit there and say, "This is me," using all these different things.
I think that's why I was drawn to rock and roll to begin with, because I really come at this thing as just being a guy who loves music. I'm not really a musician or anything. I mean, I know a little about music now because I've done it for so long, but I started doing it because I love it, and I started to paint because I love it. I didn't got to school for it. I didn't have a lot of people around me saying, "Do it this way or that way." But a lot of people that I was around just simply liked it and said, "Hey y'know, let's do this thing." ...
I don't know if that's good news or bad news to tell you the truth, but I think people like watching a guy trying to do something. Whether that's climbing a mountain or trying to get to the moon or just trying to express himself, for some reason people admire that and I'm glad I picked something that I can really get enthused about.
So, I don't know, I think all art is great. Certainly, I'm in a band and it looks like it's all about music. But I love movies, I love novels, I love painting, I love cooking, and all that stuff that requires any element of that thing that says it's art. I think it's great.
CNN: What does Bonnaroo mean to you, the music scene and the music business?
COYNE: Well, everyone who's watched the movie "Woodstock" wishes the dream of that sort of thing happening on the summer when you were young and you were looking for that experience. ... Bonnaroo, like Lollapalooza in the years past, or even the way the Beastie Boys were doing their Tibetan Festival, it brings people together that feel like they have interests in the same sorts of things and they already agree on the same thing. It's like going to see your favorite football team only there's no football, there's just bands who everyone already kinda likes.
So I think, starting on this level, where you already have a big audience, that's attracted by the Dead, and that whole crowd ... and then you've got bands like Moe and the Roots who've already had that big audience, this big jam-band audience. And because those bands represent an open-mindedness to music anyway, they've invited people like Sonic Youth, Tortoise and us into this thing to say, "Hey our crowd wants a big variety of music." ... People want there to be a variety of bands who embrace new music, old type of music, or just any type of music and it doesn't matter if you are wearing tie-dye or what, it's not about one specific thing. I don't know, I think it's great.
Note: Special thanks to Hotsupe Productions for hosting the interviews at the Bonnaroo Music Festival 2003.