The process of recording the Flaming Lips' forthcoming album, according to frontman Wayne Coyne, was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the psych-rock band's 15th LP, which the singer is tentatively referring to as The Terror, was created under his ideal circumstances: the album, which he has called "possibly the best Flaming Lips record ever made," was recorded without any knowledge that he and his bandmates were even creating a cohesive collection.
"We kept stumbling upon these little things," Coyne tells Rolling Stone excitedly of the small snippets of in-studio exploration and improvisation that would eventually make up their new release. "When you get freebies like that, it's really great!"
But for all its charm, the album, which the band began piecing together during the recording of their recent collaborative effort, The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends – they touched it up last month in upstate New York and hope to release it this fall – emerged from a decidedly dark period. During its initial creation, longtime bandmember and multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd was in the throes of a drug addiction.
"It was probably the worst time of his life," Coyne says. "I knew he was really, really struggling. He was in a bad way." During this time, Drozd would seclude himself in a separate studio from his bandmates. Paying frequent visits to Drozd's hideaway, Coyne would discover his friend having penned some "horribly creepy" but exquisite songs. The singer recalls a particularly disturbing tune that Drozd wrote reflecting his inner battle.
"He did this one piece of music and did lyrics, all these things," Coyne explains. "Not all the pieces were audible, but he had these things saying 'you are alone,' and then the other voice saying, 'I am not alone.' Back and forth between some horrible internal dialogue. It was truly devastating."
Coyne says Drozd is "better now than ever." But the singer couldn't let go of the unusual beauty he heard in the melodies his friend had created during his darkest hour. To that end, he started penning lyrics and fleshing out the songs with synth lines that would begin to comprise the forthcoming release.
The centerpiece of the album, in Coyne's mind, is its potential title track. "The Terror," he says, is a "really brutal but lovely song" that, like the entire record, is about "finding the answer. What it hones in on is this idea that you really do have to surrender yourself to something before you get a great reward," he says. "But you also know that it sets you up for this horror. You sit in this dilemma of 'do I live a half-life because I don't want to live in pain?' or ‘do I go all the way in life and then kill myself?' That's the dilemma I saw in Steven at that peak of his pain."
Despite its dark subject matter, Coyne says he believes this album is one of the band's most triumphant: he cites a larger emphasis placed upon vocals – the band doused most in reverb - and references a particular tune in which the band employed four-part harmonies. The band also made use of an iPhone app to create otherworldly, almost religious-sounding aural nuggets.
Coyne says the album marks a continuation of non-traditional songwriting techniques, a method the Flaming Lips began employing for 2009's Embryonic. "We started to abandon the idea of writing songs," he explains. "We were being more in-the-moment and more spontaneous."
Above all, Coyne is most pleased the Lips have not, and don't plan on, sacrificing their creative intuition. "Everybody, if you try hard enough, can sit here and say 'let's put this on there, we'll sound a little bit like Wilco, we'll sound a little like Radiohead. People will love it! It will be great,'" he says, mockingly. "If anybody does that, fuck 'em. The minute you think you have the ability to make it perfect, you're a dumbass."
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