Back in the 1980s, the Flaming Lips were just an alternative rock band from Oklahoma. They toured for a decade before finally hitting it big in 1993 with their song “She Don't Use Jelly.” It was an ironic grunge anthem that landed them a cameo on Beverly Hills 90210.
But the Flaming Lips didn’t go all Hollywood. “It never occurred to us to move to Los Angeles or New York,” says the band’s main songwriter, Wayne Coyne. “This music came from Oklahoma — how bizarre — as if it came from outer space or something.” Soon they ditched their guitars and started experimenting with tape loops and synthesizers. In 1999 the band released The Soft Bulletin, full of big pop hooks and symphonic arrangements — an instant classic, according to critics and fans. Their follow-up album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002) became a staple of every cool kid’s record collection.
During the band’s early years, Coyne’s day job was working at a Long John Silver’s fast food restaurant. “I was robbed at gun point,” he remembers. “It occurred to me for the first time that I was actually alive. … I can’t say how profound it was.”
Kurt Andersen talks with Coyne about the group’s evolving sound, the inspiration behind the band’s biggest hit (“Do You Realize??”), and his well-publicized dis of fellow indie rockers The Arcade Fire. Coyne is defiant: “Who cares? This is music, this is art — we’re supposed to have opinions, we’re supposed to be weirdos.”
The Flaming Lips will tour the US and Europe this summer. And this fall, a musical based on Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots opens in San Diego.
(Originally aired: July 29, 2011)
Bonus Track: Obsessed with Brittany, Over Oklahoma
In this bit of tape from the cutting room floor, Coyne reveals his infatuation with Britney Spears. He tracked her down at a music festival they were both playing recently. “There’s a force field of people around her and it took me virtually all day to penetrate this thing,” he tells Kurt. “And lo and behold, by the end of the day we met her … and had a very strange unexpected evening.”
He also talks about the controversy that rose up around the band’s song “Do You Realize” after it was made the official state rock song of Oklahoma. When the band when to the capital to receive the honor, “I had no idea that we were going walk into the Senate Chamber. And Michael, the bass player in the group, was wearing this old t-shirt with the USSR hammer and sickle on it.” It didn’t go over well.
She Don't Use JellyArtist: The Flaming LipsAlbum: Transmissions From the Satellite HeartLabel: Warner Bros / Wea
Race for the PrizeArtist: The Flaming LipsAlbum: Soft BulletinLabel: Warner Bros / Wea
Do You Realize??Artist: The Flaming LipsAlbum: Yoshimi Battles the Pink RobotsLabel: Warner Bros
Approaching Pavonis Mons By Balloon (Utopia Planitia)Artist: The Flaming LipsAlbum: Yoshimi Battles the Pink RobotsLabel: Warner Bros
See the leavesArtist: The Flaming LipsAlbum: EmbryonicLabel: WEA/Reprise