Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne: 'I'm Not a Good Musician'

The psych-rock vet on his band's new double LP and the best festival ever

Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips
Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images
Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips
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Instead of heading to a real recording studio, the Flaming Lips cut most of their 12th album in the living room of multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd's Oklahoma City home. "We thought we were just working on demos," says singer Wayne Coyne, 48. "But that house gave us a groovy sound." The result is an epic double album that abandons the catchy psych pop of their past few records for intense stoner-rock jams like "Convinced of the Hex" and "Your Bats." "A lot of music that is utterly sloppy is better because of it, like the Stones and Zeppelin," says Coyne, whose band is headlining San Francisco's Treasure Island Music Festival on October 18th. "You take the slop away, and it's not cool."

The first 30 seconds of the album is weird guitar noises and feedback. What did your label say when they heard it?
That's why it's such a great beginning. It's like, "We're gonna jam!" The label knows we're freaks, and they love it.

Why did you make a double album?
I always go back to something George Martin says about the Beatles' White Album: "It would have made a great single record." If that were a single record, one of my favorite tracks of all time, "Revolution 9," wouldn't have made it. So we started recording the weird shit, and we liked it so much we just kept with it.

You played bass on Embryonic. How would you rate your musical skills?
I'm not a good musician, even on a punk-rock level. I think you either have it or you don't, and I don't. But punk rock wouldn't be here if music was left in the hands of musicians. My heroes like Gibby Haynes, Henry Rollins and John Lydon wouldn't be around.

If someone handed you a guitar at a party, what would you play?
Growing up, I could probably play what I thought was "Smoke on the Water," but I don't know how to do other people's songs. We were at a party in Barcelona, and [original Beatles drummer] Pete Best was playing. Jackson Browne was there, and he got asked to play onstage. He said, "I don't do that." If he doesn't do that, someone of my caliber never should.

The Lips are festival veterans – what's the best one you guys have played?
I'd say Lollapalooza in 1994. The Beastie Boys had just released Ill Communication. They were at their peak. The Breeders were on the radio, and we played with the Boredoms, Stereolab, the Palace Brothers and Guided by Voices.

In Oklahoma City, there's the Flaming Lips Alley. What goes on there?
I wish I could say all kinds of wicked, drug-deal-y shit. It's just this street that connects a big venue with a few restaurants in the edgy part of town. As soon as the mayor said, "We should give them a street," it all became really controversial. People started saying, "We can't give them a street; they have a song called 'Jesus Shootin' Heroin.'"

This story is from the October 15th, 2009 issue of Rolling Stone.


From The Archives Issue 1089: October 15, 2009