The Flaming Lips have wrapped up work on their next record, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, which is set for a July 16th release. The album will be the band's first release since 1999's The Soft Bulletin.
The album's title is pulled from one of the tracks, "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Part 2," which itself had a roundabout trip to its title. Lips frontman Wayne Coyne says the track "Yoshimi" had only a "vile and disgusting" working title that he chose not to disclose. "Everybody kept calling it that so I needed to put a title on it before people started to hear it."
The song happened to feature a guest vocal spot from Yoshimi, a member of Japanese experimental unit the Boredoms, which ultimately led to the title. "I had this recording of her doing some screaming, and I thought, 'You know, it really sounds like she's in some kind of fight or something,'" Coyne says. "So I just thought, 'OK, I'll call it "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,"' and that'll be that. That would get rid of that other useless vile title."
"You know how on the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" they have that woman screaming?" he asks. "And on Dark Side of the Moon, they have that gospel-esque singing on there? When I hear that music, I think of a robust black woman singing with these English guys sitting around. And when we were recording Yoshimi doing this screaming, it was apparent to us that she was a small, crazy Japanese gal, but we didn't know if the audience would hear it that way. Sometimes you just hear a voice and associate an image with that and move on. But we didn't want someone to think this was a black woman or a white woman. We wanted it to sound very specific: a crazy Japanese woman. We just thought that was a funner image. So we thought it would be smart if we said it was Yoshimi, and then you'd think, 'Oh, she's a Japanese girl.'"
The title then proved fetching enough to get tagged onto the album itself. "Once I had this title it really loosened the whole feel of what we were doing," Coyne says. "A lot of times we get into these things that are philosophical and heavy, but there was a little bit of relief when we could just say, 'Why does everything have to be death-oriented or existential?' Somewhere the relief of having something called Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots as opposed to "Psychiatric Exploration of the Fetus With Needles" . . . so that's the loooong-winded reason."
As with The Soft Bulletin, the album was recorded with producer Dave Fridmann in his studio near Buffalo, New York. "We started to record [1997's] Zaireeka there, and as his studio becomes more impressive it shows up on the records," Coyne says. "He's recorded Sparklehorse and Mogwai, and he's really on the -- I hate to use words like this -- the cutting edge on where ideas and music and production can be. And if people hear that on our record, a lot of that can be attributed to him, because we're still just the weirdos sitting on the couch going, "Make it louder!"
The remote location was also conducive for getting down to the business of making a record. "You don't get the idea of cocaine and glamour when you're over there out in the woods like you would if we were in Manhattan," Coyne says. "In the city, we'd still record the same way, but there's that temptation to say, 'Fuck it, let's do something else.'"
And while the band does plan to do the obligatory promotional round of touring in the fall, Coyne points out that it will be as simple as making music for anyone willing to listen. "There's something about the Crosby, Stills Nash and Young tour where you get the feeling that they got back together and they're going out to tour America because America needs them," he says. "America is in these trying times. And the way Paul McCartney came back as if he's going on tour because America needs him. To me, that's the most pompous sort of road you could take, and I actually don't feel even our fans are ever in need of another record. If they're like me at all, they have a lot going on in their lives; they're trying to make themselves happy and to have another record to listen to is nice, but it's not gonna make or break their lives one way or the other. I totally look at what we're doing as a small, small slice of someone's day."
In addition to Yoshimi, the Lips are mining their vaults for a pair of Ryko releases that will spotlight the band's early recordings, padded with previously unreleased demos and recordings. "I listen to it now, and I don't think any of it is that radical," Coyne says. "If you take it sort of linearly, it all seems like a logical progression. None of it seems like a great leap or anything. But I applaud the freaks that are on those records. They were just so far removed from where we are."