Pass the jelly, say the Flaming Lips
May 31, 1999
By Donna Freydkin
(CNN) -- So what if the Flaming Lips live and die as the band known only for that short-lived, odd little modern rock radio smash about the girl who won't use jelly?
If you ask singer Wayne Coyne, who fronts the resourceful, experimental Oklahoma band, a dazzling tidbit of public appreciation is better than languishing forever in anonymity. One hit at least proves that somewhere, sometime, there was a vast audience for their music.
Translation: there's nothing wrong with being a one-hit wonder, with the hit in question being 1994's chart-riding "She Don't Use Jelly."
"It's good that we have the potential in the marketplace to reach bigger audiences," says Coyne. "We're three people who are interested in music as art, but most of it won't ever be marketed as popular stuff."
However brief, "She Don't Use Jelly" gave the Lips their stickiest taste of fame yet. The song was on heavy rotation both on MTV and Top 40 radio, and the band played it to David Letterman, on the second stage of Lollapalooza and even to the sun-drenched hipsters of "Beverly Hills, 90210." (Their gig at the fictional Peach Pit prompted Steve Sanders, played by Ian Ziering, to utter these somewhat immortal words: "You know, I've never been a big fan of alternative music, but these guys rocked the house!")
But the band -- composed of Coyne along with bassist Mike Ivins and drummer Steven Drozd -- say they've never plotted to invade, much less bring down, anyone's house. They've been steadily churning out records for 15 years, and the fact that they struck pay dirt with one single is happy coincidence. But that didn't stop them from hoping for the best and making their 14th album, the upcoming "The Soft Bulletin" (out in late June), very pretty, highly listenable and fairly commercial.
"Our records tend to be everything that we don't hate. What we hate is one thing that stops us in the recording process," he says. "We're guided by what we don't like."
A shot at normalcy
Major label or not -- they signed with Warner Bros. in 1991 -- the Lips have been steadily cranking out quirky, homegrown albums since 1984. But they're best known for 1994's "Transmissions from the Satellite Heart," which yielded the hit "She Don't Use Jelly," originally spun by an Oklahoma City Top 40 radio DJ.
They continued generating idiosyncratic little albums after their brief nibble at fame, but their weirdness culminated in 1997's "Zaireeka," a four-disc monolith designed to be played simultaneously. How, you might ask, can four CDs be played at once? And who, pray tell, would want to listen to the cacophony? That, apparently, is for Coyne to know and you to find out.
But with "The Soft Bulletin," the Flaming Lips give normalcy their best college try.
"This album is bigger and more lush than our previous stuff," says Coyne. "We had the musicality and the ambition and the time to be more lush this time, to make more normal music."
They started working on the album in 1997, taking their sweet time making a record that, surprisingly, came out sounding pleasing and sweet, if not exactly ultra-polished. "Race for the Prize" is the album's first single in the U.K., and "Buggin'" is on the soundtrack for "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me," which opens this summer.
Art vs. commerce
And yes, they want the album to sell.
"We're aware that we have to be marketable, because at the end of the day, it's about making money," says Coyne. "So we try to make our albums a good blend of art and commercialism."
But Coyne says the Flaming Lips are not grasping for another hit or panting after wider audiences. Could it be -- that they're happy where they are? Coyne says yes.
"People who listen to our music get it, and the ones that don't -- well, it's not for them anyway," says Coyne. "Our audience is perfect for what we're doing. We don't feel under-appreciated at all."
And Coyne says the band has left the sardonic humor of "She Don't Use Jelly" behind, dumping novelty tunes in favor of melodic, more sophisticated arrangements.
But if he's known only as that guy who penned the jelly song, Coyne says he couldn't care less. After all, what's the use of art if no one is there to hear it?
"I understand that that song is what will stick out," says Coyne. "And the guy on the street only needs to know what has become popular -- that's what is so good and powerful about the music industry. It's about appealing to masses of people with popular music. And hey, it's good that people know who you are."
MORE MUSIC NEWS:
Mick doesn't want world to know what he makes
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