Surely only good things can come from some of music’s wise older owls passing on their experiences and teaching the next generation a thing or two? That’s why, on the cusp of releasing 15th album ‘King’s Mouth’, we decided to loop The Flaming Lips’ leader Wayne Coyne up with Swim Deep (themselves re-entering the ring with new album ‘Emerald Classics’ on the way) for a chat. Here’s what happened when we handed our interviewing baton over to the Birmingham quintet…
Wayne Coyne [Flaming Lips]: I’m driving at the moment so I just need to pull over so the police don’t think I’m endangering some family driving through Oklahoma City.
James Balmont [Swim Deep]: Sounds like a good idea. We’ve just got back from Birmingham where we were playing some shows this week and I managed to crash the van on the way back so yes, definitely pull over.
Wayne: It’s so hot, it’s like OH MY GOD SOMETHING’S GONE WRONG it’s so hot. But anyway: BLAM! Lets do this!
"Connection is more important than anything else, that's what makes music the greatest experience ever."
— Wayne Coyne
Cav [McCarthey, Swim Deep]: You’ve been in The Flaming Lips for over 35 years now, what advice do you have for a band like Swim Deep who have only been together for a measly 8 years?
Wayne: Well that’s already quite a long time. In the beginning, it’s very much like being in a gang with your buddies, like a street gang or a motorcycle gang. But at the end of the day it’s really got to be about the music. All that camaraderie and stuff is fun, but you have to really be in love with creating music. And if you’re not, you might get to fulfil all those fantasies, but it won’t be enough. Being with the lads and going on all these adventures is fun but it wears off - you can’t keep doing all these things and get the feeling that it’s something new every time.
Cav: Maybe it’s about getting older as well?
Wayne: Yeah, well, when you’re in your early twenties there’s probably about a thousand elements that make up your personality and a thousand elements that make up your friend’s personalities, but by the time that you’re about 40, you’ve only got about 50 things. You’ve become more saturated and 'you'. If there were things when you were younger that you felt you didn’t really like, you’d tolerate them, but when you’re 40 you’ll be like, 'I FUCKING HATE IT!'. It’s definitely bad for a democratic band because some personalities are stronger than others, but that’s the nature of all friendships.
James: Swim Deep is very democratic and we’re all involved in a lot of the decision making along every step, but it does get very hectic sometimes when people have different ideas about what the best thing to do is. What is it like in the Flaming Lips?
Wayne: Yeah, well I think as we went along I gradually became the leader of The Flaming Lips, but that’s only because they want me to be. I never stood up and said 'I want this role'; it was just one day that everyone else was like, 'we don’t want to make all these decisions, you do it!'. But for us, when stuff is going really well there doesn’t really need to be a leader. It’s only when things are going badly that you need a leader and that someone’s gotta pick.
James: We wanted to ask you about the new album ‘King’s Mouth’. What does new music feel like at this stage of your career?
Wayne: When you’re young and you have new music come out there’s always that feeling that it’s got to eclipse everything you’ve done previously. It’s not like that anymore. I view it as if you're an architect and you have a big building in a cool part of town. You can walk through the city and see that there’s this building that people really like, but there’s also this other building down by the river, and that building that houses some families as well. All of them can be powerful and equally meaningful.
We’ve always got a couple of albums of stuff on the go at all times. There’s always one song that we’ve finished with and then six months later we’ll get it out again and change it a little bit. It's like the bird and the egg. An egg looks nothing like a bird, but one day you’ll turn back and the egg will suddenly have hatched and there it is. But inside that egg it's always working, and it just takes time and small changes can have big outcomes.
James: In this age of Spotify, how important do you think it is to make a statement with your musical releases? I almost feel that albums are like chapters of your life.
Wayne: The bottom line is you’ve just gotta do what you like. If people wanna just pick one song then let them; if people want to hear the whole thing then let them. I’m compulsive - I want to make a story because I see the characters and the storylines. And at the same time, it’s just a dumb song! None of that really matters! People get so caught up with the importance and preciousness of their ideas, but Steven [Drozd, co-songwriter] and I don’t care so much.
Tom [Tomaski, Swim Deep]: I’ve got a tattoo of the Clash. When I was 15, I would spend all my Sunday afternoons with my best mate pretending we were in the band. Why did you get Mick Jones to narrate the record – has he always been a big influence?
Wayne: I’ve always loved Mick Jones and The Clash. When we were first starting off, they were already getting ready to break up. We really love that last record ‘Combat Rock’ - when you think how stupid that title is and how perfect it was for that time. I like how they just sang about their own life; it wasn’t the rock star thing to do. They were dorks, I could really relate to that. They were rock stars and then they went home to their mums and stuff. It was punk rock! I love how their records evolved and became all psychedelic and they were really long and weird. They weren’t just trying to make hits.
Robbie [Wood, Swim Deep]: I came to see The Flaming Lips in Portsmouth when I was 17 and you guys were my favourite band. We were up by the barrier so we got to come up on stage and dress up and be part of the performance. I was a giant salamander. It was amazing. How does it feel when you hear stuff like that from fans?
Wayne: [laughs] That’s awesome! I feel like a lot of the time our audience is musicians and artists and then it feels especially like we understand each other and that it’s all real. I love that feeling. It’s like a drug. It would always be this great fucking troupe of people up there, and often they're so nervous about being up there that it just adds this energy to it. I can remember when I’d be up there singing, the audience would just be staring at these freaks in these suits 'cos it’s so fucking real. It’s not Beyonce’s dancers up there, it’s real fans and real freaks and you can’t fake that excitement. And I think it’s contagious! At the end of the day it’s all about the music and that connection to people that love the music. Because we love the music! And that connection is more important than anything else, that’s what makes music the greatest experience ever.
James: Thanks so much for this Wayne, it’s been really great to talk to you. I feel like we could keep going for hours.
Wayne: Yeah! Good luck with Swim Deep!
'Kings Mouth' is out 19th July via Bella Union.
'Emerald Classics' is out 4th October via Pop Committee.
As featured in the July 2019 issue of DIY, out now.
The Flaming Lips - Live at The Forum, London, UK, January 22, 2003 BBC Radio Broadcast Pink Double Vinyl