There is no one else in the world quite like Wayne Coyne. As frontman and songwriter for the Flaming Lips, Coyne has been a prolific, entertaining and reliably odd force in music for nearly three decades. Over and over, he and the band have managed to turn ideas that might sound bad to anyone else into beloved trademarks.
The Flaming Lips' live performances — with their generous nudity, copious stage blood and Coyne's occasional crowd-surf in a human-sized hamster ball — have rightly earned their legendary reputation. But Coyne's creativity extends beyond these big visuals into the musical art that he makes nearly every day at home in Oklahoma City, where he has lived for most of his life. This year, he put out one of the Lips' most unconventional albums yet, Heady Fwends, a vinyl-only release that captures some spectacularly peculiar collaborations. Only Coyne can claim to have assembled, on one record: Coldplay's Chris Martin, Erykah Badu, Nick Cave, Ke$ha, Biz Markie, Lightning Bolt, Yoko Ono, Neon Indian, Prefuse 73 and Bon Iver. And what might have been an aural nightmare finds a common thread that somehow makes the album cohesive. It's still plenty weird. It's also very good.
The band's 2012 has an impressive array of festival dates all over the world, with a double-wide stop in Lawrence June 21 and 22. Over those two nights, the Lips' immersive concert experience comes to Liberty Hall as the band helps that institution mark its 100th anniversary. Coyne joined The Pitch by phone earlier this month to talk about his band's summer shows, Heady Fwends, and the way he wants his art to be perceived.
The Pitch: Have you spent much time in Lawrence? Kliph [Scurlock, drummer for the Lips] lives there.
Coyne: Well, you know, the Flaming Lips have been playing together for a long, long time, since 1983, and Lawrence is just one of those places early on where a freaky, psychedelic punk-rock band like us was able to play. Just by virtue of it being where it is, it's compared to Norman or Oklahoma City, where we're from, but I think it's a lot cooler than Oklahoma City or Norman. So I've been there quite a bit. I think people will remember that the Wakarusa festival used to be just outside of Lawrence there, and we've done that two, or maybe even three, times. I would say we love Lawrence, and it's a very cool place for bands to play.
Liberty Hall is a much smaller venue than you typically play now. How do you adapt your huge stage show to a smaller theater?
We've played places where, even though they can hold a lot of people, staging and stuff can be small. The last show that I saw there, I think, was Sigur Rós quite a few years back. A lot of times, we don't worry about it too much. Something will work. And to me, it's never about stuff as much as it's about love and the people. It'll be fuckin' crazy, I'm sure. When it's smaller like that, it's crazy.
Have you played with Deerhoof before?
Yeah, we've played quite a few shows with them. We did a tour with them maybe three or four years ago, maybe longer than that. We've played shows with them and seen them and know them and do all kinds of stuff.
Is there anything that you particularly like or dislike about festival settings?
What we like about it is that it's not all about people coming to see the Flaming Lips. You kind of feel like you're invited to this giant party. And a lot of times, we'll be at the end of the thing where we get to come out when everyone's already having a great time. Our music is, you know, it's set to a sort of optimistic joyness — an event — and it's meant to sort of be more of a party. Having all the lights and volume and all of that stuff helps. That and ... lots of types of people who want to go hang out with their friends and do crazy shit. It isn't just the setting — it's the mindset of those people that make it. We're some of them, you know.