If there's any band that needs no introduction on any planet or in dimension, it's the Flaming Lips. The Oklahoma City legends' new album, Embryonic, comes out today: a hefty, 18-track double album full of some of the most daring and schizoid music the band has produced in years. The band plays The Late Show with Conan O'Brien tonight as part of a series of release-week events in LA that includes a MySpace secret show and the opening of a pop-up store.
Before all the hullabaloo began, we caught up with drummer Kliph Scurlock at his home in Lawrence to talk about, among other things, the Miles Davis influence on the album, astrology, Namelessnumberheadman, and who would play him and Wayne in a movie.
The Wayward Blog: So what's your year been like?
Kliph Scurlock: Oh, man... The first few weeks of the year were pretty mellow. We played a show on New Year's Eve in Oklahoma. I got home around the 3rd or so and hung out for a couple of weeks. We did a video for that song "Borderline" that we did with Star Death and White Dwarfs for the Warner Bros. 50th anniversary compilation thing. After that, we started going over to Steven's and working on songs. We did that pretty much every day for a couple months, and in March or April, we started going up to Tarbox and recording there. For a few months, we'd be at Tarbox for a couple weeks and come back and be at Steven's, recording there, working on demos. Some of the stuff we recorded at Steven's we'd take up to Dave's place [Dave Fridman of Tarbox Studios], and he'd fix 'em up and make 'em sound better, and then we'd add to those.
Was this your first experience recording with the Flaming Lips?
I would say yeah. I've done some B-sides and stuff, but as far as doing an album project, it was my first time.
Was that monumental?
It was. It was kind of weird when Wayne called and said, "We're gonna do this video and after that we're going to Steven's to do some recording, so be prepared to be down here a while." I was like, "Oh, wow, alright." So it was, but at the same time, the day to day of doing it didn't seem particularly monumental, because, you know, I've known those guys for so long and worked for them and have been playing with them for the last seven years, and when we're all together ... it's only when I think about the fact that "oh shit, we're doing an album, and I'm here in it"...
Did any outside influences shape the recording of the album - other albums, bands, movies...
Actually, it's funny you should mention movies because Wayne really got into this movie called The Night Porter, I think. It's this weird film from, I think 1974, about a girl who was a Jew during World War II and one of the Nazi guards who tortured her and raped her and fucked with her all the time, and she survives the concentration camps, and later she goes to this hotel and that guy is working as the night porter, and they have this weird relationship, and turns out she actually liked it. I'm not sure what about it Wayne got into, but he did, and it ended up shaping some of the lyrics. A couple people asked me, "Was Wayne in a bad mood when he was doing the album? The lyrics are dark!" He wasn't at all, he was just exploring different lyrical things, and watching this movie and the psychology of somebody that could actually enjoy torture and being abused and submission and domination and stuff like that.
Musically, I think Wayne had said when we were first starting to work on the album, he thought "What if we combined '70s Miles Davis with classic Ono-band-era John Lennon. So we tried fusing that. The John Lennon thing didn't really take, but I'd say the Miles Davis influence stuck with us throughout the recording. The studio albums from that period were obviously more labored over, with lots of tape edits and this 'n that, but if you listen to live recordings from that period, it sounded like they just put up a couple of mics and recorded it and decided "Oh, that's good enough, let's put it out." On Bitches Brew or Big Fun or records like that, the band would have a theme to play on and just jam for hours, and they'd go back and listen and take the best parts and splice them together and make the song out of that. Some of the songs on the record emerged like that. We'd have a basic idea and jam on it for a while and then record it and go back and listen and say "those few minutes were really good" and cut that out or "that section was good" and use that. ...
Like "Convinced of the Hex," the first song on the record, that was actually just the first three minutes or so of that jam, then it started to lose steam, so we just cut it off there and took it up to Dave's and added to it from there. And then, something like "Aquarius Sabotage," that was about 10 minutes into this jam, and the thing we were working on had just gone completely sideways by that point, and when we were listening to it, we were like "Fuck, that's cool! Let's grab that."
There does seem to be a zodiac theme going on. Was there some astrology happening?
Not really. That was, I forget where the idea for that came from, but early on, the first jams we did at Steven's, we just started giving them zodiac names. At one time, we thought we'd have a bunch of [zodiac-named songs] and we'll spread 'em out across the double album, a bunch of these two-minute blasts, but we didn't have enough we liked, so the zodiac theme didn't get completed.
What's your sign?
I'm a Gemini. Steven's birthday is, like, five days before mine. Him and my other best friend, their birthdays are the 10th and the 11th and get them switched all the time.
Do you put much stock in astrology?
I have to admit I don't. I'm not very superstitious. I don't believe in God or ghosts or any of that stuff.
So do you believe that the universe is made of matter and that's it?
Pretty much, yeah. I don't necessarily think I'm right, and I won't get in people's faces and tell them that their beliefs are wrong and I'm right. But when I did the math based on what information I have and what I've seen and experienced over my life, the idea of there being a God didn't quite add up for me.
Through the recording process, were you worried about accessibility or marketability of the music?
Not that much. I mean, it definitely came up a few times when we'd be discussing what we were working on and where we started wondering, "Have we lost our minds? Is anybody gonna like this?" and we just decided you can't ever tell what people are gonna like. If that were the case, only five albums would come out a year, and they'd all be multiplatinum successes [laughs]. So we just basically decided that we should make an album that we liked and that we were really proud of, and from there we hoped that people liked it, and if people don't, our feelings won't get hurt.
Did you get any feedback from when the album streamed on The Colbert Report site in September?
I've gotten some, and it seems like from what I've read just on our message board, the fans that were there prior to Yoshimi or that go back to the '90s really enjoy the album a lot, a lot more than Mystics or Yoshimi. Some people who've gotten into the band in the past few years haven't liked it as much. Definitely seen some people that wrote on their first reaction "This fucking sucks! This is bullshit! I hate it!" and then a couple days went by and they said, "Well, I've listened to it a few times, and it's started to grow on me." I've definitely seen a wide range of opinions out there, but I figured there would be. I knew we were doing something really different, and I knew some of the lo-fi noisy stuff might not go over that great, but we really just wanted and needed to do something new so that we're not standing in the same spot. We're pretty restless, and the audience gets restless, too. They don't want you to keep pumping out the same album year after year. Of course, I say that, and AC/DC had one of the biggest-selling albums last year, and they put out the same album year after year. [Laughs.]
What do you think would be the ideal setting for listening to the album?
I'd say a dark room - not pitch black, but dim the lights, maybe some candles lit. Um, I don't know... Wayne and I were in Portland just a week ago doing a video, and it's a long drive there and back, and I was doing the overnight shift on the way back and put the album on and found out it's actually a good album to listen to while driving.
Do you get to follow much local music?
Man, the last few years I really haven't. It sucks 'cause I know there's a great, just, ever since I started coming around Lawrence when I was 17 and then moved here when I turned 18, there was just a great music scene and a lot of good bands, and there's always bands that start off not very good and a year later are good. I'm just ignorant of much of what's going on. I'm aware of the bands my friends are in, and that's about it.
I wish I was more on top of it and home more so that I could see bands, or home more so that when I was home I'd have the desire to go out [laughs], but I haven't been home for more than three or four days at a time this whole year since we started working on the record. So when I am at home, I have to use my time sort of wisely, and there's friends I wanna see and blahblahblah, and I may not go out to shows for the hell of it, even though I should, because often I'll be surprised by something I've never heard of. That's how I discovered Namelessnumberheadman. I forgot if I just happened to be at the Bottleneck or if there was some other band on the bill that I wanted to see. I'd heard their name, and when they came on to play, I was just fucking blown away by them.
What keeps you in Lawrence?
I just really love it here. A lot of my friends are here. I live close to downtown, so I like that I can walk downtown and go to the Replay. Love Garden is a big thing that keeps me here because I'm a total music nerd, so having a great record store is really important to me, as sad as that may sound. Great food and just, you know...
Better than Oklahoma City.
For me, it is, but I've been in Oklahoma City so much that it seems like home as well. If it became ever an issue that I didn't live there, I think I could move there and not be too upset, but I definitely prefer living here.
One more question: Since we were talking about movies earlier, if you were in charge of casting Flaming Lips: The Movie, whom would you pick to play you, Wayne, Steven and Michael?
That's actually really funny because that's a conversation Steven and Wayne have had a couple of times, and they've actually come up with the actors, and I forget ... I think Morgan Freeman would play Wayne ... oh fuck, man, I don't... and I think it was decided that Jack Black would play me, and, God, I don't remember who it was decided would play Steven and Michael. Obviously, it wasn't a super-serioius discussion, but the end result was that Morgan Freeman would be Wayne. The thinking was that, you know, "He's got a beard and he wears suits a lot and he's got a deep gravelly voice and, so, yeah, he'd make a great Wayne. He's tall and thin..." Jack Black was like, "He's kind of a spazz and a dork, so he'd be a great Kliph."