With an almost-40-year life span and nearly 20 albums to their credit, The Flaming Lips have graciously cemented themselves as one of the most consistent powerhouses in the alternative-pop community.
This year, their classic 1999 album 'The Soft Bulletin' turns 20; and to celebrate, they're taking a one-of-a-kind live show around the world – including a visit down under this month.
Remarking on the accent of his interviewer, the group's captain and long-standing champion Wayne Coyne giggles. “I'm laughing because that g'day is just so Australia! Sometimes I wonder if I'm doing that [a strong accent] because I'm from Okla [Oklahoma], but no one points it out.
"I like talking to Australians. There's more and more of that in the world now, with the Hemsworth brothers. . . the Australian way of consciousness.”
Wayne himself lives in a little-known part of Oklahoma, USA. In previous years, the big-hearted rocker would exhibit elaborate Halloween decorations for the children of his neighbourhood, displays not unlike those eccentric performance props for which The Flaming Lips have become so known and loved.
“I have to say I used to go bigger than I do now – I’ve lived in this neighbourhood for 30 years. I first moved here in the early '90s in a very low income area of Okla. My house was a great, old, big, crazy house, a lot of neighbourhood kids would come around, kids who didn’t even have day care – and that was wonderful. But as the years go by, being a little bit famous and local, I’d get huge crowds who’d just wanna take a picture with Wayne in a costume. . . but I do love Halloween.”
The group's live shows invite fans on a revelrous journey, an auditory and tactile experience complete with an intricate light show, bright-coloured bouncing balls, confetti rockets, and gigantic custom-made stage props (mechanical horse, anybody?).
Drawing influences from the likes of David Bowie and Pink Floyd, The Flaming Lips convey the heartfelt sincerity of Elliott Smith in a boisterously Beatles-esque package.
“On stage we do love to dress up and look weird and make a ridiculous moment, a celebration, optimism – there’s no limit that we won’t go to. Our music is about death, but it’s also about life. When you think about death you’re thinking about life.
"Someone the other day said ‘this is happening, this person died, I got home and my tree died, my cat got sick and he will die’. But you have to notice that things are alive. As you get older you put value on noticing. One may have died, but a hundred are living. It’s a good way to remember how beautiful life really is.
"When it’s beautiful and nice, it really is just going by. ‘The Soft Bulletin’ and ‘Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots' [albums] are addressing that sensitive quagmire – ‘I want to get everything out of life I can, but what if something horrible happens?’”
The Flaming Lips celebrate imperfection. Their music encapsulates themes of oneness, beauty in diversity, and acceptance in the face of chaotic forces.
Bordering on the shamanic, Coyne's stage presence demands a certain degree of audience participation. He wants listeners as involved in the show as he is, commanding a reaction verging on hysteria, in order to evoke the most powerful experience possible.
“If you're a scientist, you might dismiss the sentimental sensitivity that artists dwell on. Music is a replacement for god, in a way - it comforts you when you’re alone, it says you‘re not alone - even when you are alone.
"These sounds and these melodies and this intensity and all that, was made by someone who is feeling the same way as you are now – it makes you say, I'm not alone, even though I'm feeling this right now. If someone was saying that to you, you'd say 'f... you', but music penetrates in a way that gives you relief – some kind of motherly comfort.”
Wayne keeps his finger on the pulse of what's happening in a way that not many alternative stars would, never being one to shy away from the vagaries of the zeitgeist. The group have collaborated with an almost record-breaking variety of artists, from Nick Cave to Tame Impala, Beck to Miley Cyrus, and most recently with Mick Jones of The Clash on their 2019 record 'King's Mouth'.
The Flaming Lips are one of the most seminal revivalists of psych rock. Groups like Tame Impala and MGMT, collaborators with their legendary producer Dave Fridmann and The Lips themselves, owe vital elements of their success to Wayne and co. 'The Soft Bulletin' is an undeniable classic, one which greatly influenced the shape of modern psych-pop.
On his musical philosophy, Wayne says: “Music is such a cool thing – but at the end of the day, if you're in it because you wanna be famous, good luck, if you wanna be rich, good luck with that.
"If you love, love music – you’ll be nourished by that alone, and you won't really notice if you’re famous or rich, because you're rich already. It's not difficult to make it and to embrace it. If you really, really love music, why would you want to do anything else?”
The Flaming Lips 2019 Tour DatesSat 28 Sep - The Fortitude Music Hall (Brisbane)
Mon 30 Sep - Sydney Opera House
Tue 1 Oct - Sydney Opera House
Thu 3 Oct - Melbourne International Arts Festival @ Hamer Hall
Fri 4 Oct - Melbourne International Arts Festival @ Hamer Hall