The Flaming Lips received widespread coverage last week when former drummer Kliph Scurlock wrote a scathing letter to Pitchfork accusing frontman Wayne Coyne of "endless verbal (with threats of physical) abuse," among other charges. Scurlock wrote he was fired in March after writing a Facebook message criticizing Christina Fallin, the 27-year-old musician and daughter of Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin, after Fallin posted a photo of herself in a Native American-style headdress. Scurlock called the image "disgusting," adding, "A headdress is a symbol of respect which is earned."
Coyne, meanwhile, is a friend of Fallin's. After the headdress incident, he wrote a message of support for Fallin online with images of friends and a dog wearing Native American headdresses.
Fallin apologized for posting her headdress photo, but doubled down when her band, Pink Pony, played at Oklahoma's Norman Music Festival. ("I heard Pink Pony was wearing full regalia tonight," the band posted on Facebook.) They didn't, but the performance was later criticized by organizers as racist and discriminatory; the band allegedly mocked Native American dancing and flipped off protesters (Fallin apologized and the governor spoke out against the performance).
In this exclusive interview, Coyne speaks out extensively about Scurlock's accusations, calling the drummer a "compulsive pathological liar" and stresses the Fallin incident wasn't the only reason Scurlock was fired. Coyne also apologized for offending Native Americans. "That was never our intention, and I realize now that it goes deeply to the heart of some Native Americans," he says. "And I definitely regret it."
How are you doing and what is your response to Kliph's recent allegations?
I'm great. But I don't know what kind of story you're even going to have, or if there even is one. The only thing that we would have to say about Kliph leaving is that he just was not very significant to us. And all the things he's saying about the reason he was fired, it's all just made-up lies. He knows we struggled with him for years and it didn't occur to us that it seemed that significant. I don't even use the word "fired." He just doesn't play drums with us anymore – that's the way I'd put it.
I don't like having any hate go anywhere. I absolutely loved Kliph, but he had a lot of problems with being immature and he would just hate everything. Anybody that wants to look at what he does with his Twitter, he usually is hating people. And I never thought about it very much. It was only brought to my attention because I'm friends with Christina. I didn't vote for her mother, but I'm still friends with her, and he's an asshole bully who thinks he can just call someone a "cunt" on Twitter and on Facebook and think he's changing the world. And I'm like, "Hey dude, that's our friend. Why are you doing that? Why are you just being a typical cowardly Internet hater?"
What has the last week been like for you?
It's not hard for me. I just think people are confused. The Flaming Lips folks are not used to hate, you know? I've been pretty used to it. The minute we started working with Kesha or Miley Cyrus, we got a lot of hate. But these people never really had that, and they're like, "Oh my God, what's happening?" and I'm like, "I know, don't worry about it." Anyone that can get you with their petty little cowardly Internet death threat, if they think they can interrupt your day, then they will.
Were your reasons for firing Kliph partly musical, or because of the things he said online?
As time went on, he got to be a lazier and more close-minded musician. We didn't ever really do that much with him. I mean, we would play shows, but he's not creative. We never wrote songs together. He was a guy that we thought was, I guess, good enough technically that could do stuff in performance. But we know a lot of musicians, so it was not that big of a deal.
Anybody who knows him knows what kind of a hateful person he is. I mean, anybody that looks at his stuff could see that most of the bands that we would play with, he despised them. To their face, he would say, "You guys were great" and then 20 minutes later he'd get online and say, "These people are a bunch of fakes. They suck." That would be almost every band we ever played with. The more that time went on, people would pay more attention to him because of his connection to the Flaming Lips.
The reason that it's connected to the Fallin thing, it's like, "If you're going to be that hateful, you can't be associated with the Flaming Lips." And that was one of a thousand things that he would go on his Twitter or Instagram or the fake ones that he's created. That's what he would do all the time. We would play a show with some bands and the next day, he would say how stupid they are and how much they suck. But after the Christina thing, people brought it to my attention, and it's like, "Dude, he says bad shit about all of our friends."
In Kliph's letter, he called that criticism "ironic," pointing out that you've said negative things online about people like Arcade Fire or Dylan or Beck. Do you agree?
No! I mean, we're picking on Bob Dylan, not as a human I've met. I told my experience with him at a festival: I didn't like that Dylan made the whole place clear out and that most of the people there thought that Dylan was somebody else, you know. I didn't like the way that Arcade Fire came in and made everybody from Sleater Kinney to Steve Malkmus to even Beck's crew leave because they were more important. I thought it was appalling behavior. But ever since, I haven't thought about Arcade Fire in that way. I really like some of their music. Win [Butler] and I have laughed at the exaggerated versions of that story. I have nothing against him. I have nothing against Bob Dylan. I could've said that "I love the Arcade Fire" and no one would print it, but if I said I had a beef with them, everybody prints it, and you know that.
So, did you understand some of the criticism that you got for supporting Christina for wearing the headdress?
I would say that I'm very sorry, to anybody that is following my Instagram or my Twitter, if I offended anybody of any religion, any race, any belief system. I would say you shouldn't follow my tweets; you shouldn't even probably want to be a Flaming Lips fan because we don't really have any agenda. We go about doing things through our imagination. And I would say that if we wrongly stepped on anybody's sacredness, then we're sorry about that. That was never our intention.
But Christina is our friend. She's young, and she's trying to feel her way through social media and I don't think she's very good at it. And Kliph is an online bully. He can jump on hating Dave Grohl, and we can be like "whatever." But when it's really someone that you actually know, and you're like "Really? You're going to call her a cunt?"
I didn't know he called her that.
Well, he'll deny it, but, yeah. To me, that's Internet hatred. I guess, my thing is like, "Oh, that's one of our guys doing it? Oh, good. Well, let's not be around him. We don't want to be around people like that." But most of it is that nobody in the organization wanted Kliph here anymore. I was the only one that I felt like, "Let's keep trying. Maybe he'll change. Maybe he'll grow up." And for him to say that all the other guys loved him, they would never come out and talk about how much they despise Kliph. They're not like that. Him saying that they all wanted him in the band and I wanted him out is a complete lie. And Kliph knows that.
Kliph and others were upset that you Instagrammed the photo of your three friends and the dog in headdresses. Do you regret that now?
I regret that some people took it wrong, and yeah. The dog isn't our dog, the dog is a famous Instagram dog that we happened to be in the presence of – Mayor B is an Instagram dog. And he wears everything. He only wears things that obviously his owners must think are cool. One of them is a John Lennon New York shirt with glasses. I don't think Mayor B is saying, "Look how stupid and hateful I am" to John Lennon. I got the feeling that Mayor B was wearing [the headdress] for the same reasons that Gwen Stefani or anybody else would wear it, because it's cool-looking. I think they're saying, "These things are awesome." And all I was saying to Christina was, "Here we were with this famous dog and everyone was having fun."
I understand now that if I'm a spokesperson for any kind of behavior, I shouldn't have done it, and I regret doing it now. I am sorry. I realize now that it goes deeply to the heart of some Native Americans. And I definitely regret it. I don't publicly ever say it, but I live in a neighborhood that was predominantly Native American in the late Seventies and Eighties. I haven't done it publicly, but there's cases of me helping Native Americans. It's all just Internet hate, you know?
In Kliph's letter, he said you were making fun of people protesting Christina's band at a music festival.
I think I've been to every one of the Norman Music Festivals. And I go there because a lot of my friends are playing. It's great, it's free, and I support what they're doing. Yes, I was at the festival. People probably saw me laugh. I took pictures with probably 500 people that night. I'm laughing in probably all the pictures. And I would say that I have pictures from that night with Native American people that were there with us. I think it's a cool festival and I support it.
I had a lot of friends there. I thought [Pink Pony] making fun of the protestors seemed stupid. I thought their music was stupid. I thought their attitude was wrong. And I just thought, "Why don't you just go out there and play your music, tell them you're sorry and play some cool music, and that would be what the festival is about?" And Pink Pony handled it badly. I agree with all that.
But she's still my friend who I'm not going to throw away. I'm not going to jump on and say, "Well, now that I realize that you handle social media badly, you can't be my friend." She's still my friend. She's young. And I think she's very sorry that it all happened, and that whatever she said exploded into this thing. I think there's a lot of regret. I left because I just didn't think it was very good. But then to hear that they were making fun of people, and people probably got too drunk, I thought it was bad.
What did you think when Kliph accused you of being verbally abusive towards him over the years?
I think if he doesn't use the Flaming Lips name and my name, no one will listen to him. I mean, the Flaming Lips as an entity mostly act through me. I was the one that hired him when we were rehearsing with Beck and needed a drummer. I hired him, so of course I fired him. But him saying I'm verbally abusive? It's a joke. Anybody that knows him knows what a hateful pathological liar he is. I don't have to defend anything that Kliph says. The only reason he knows anything about Native American issues is he's trying to join this group that I think their family is Native American. But I don't even want to speak about the hate, you know. I don't have any hate for him.
He accused you of having a "lightning-quick temper," which was kind of surprising.
Well, Kliph has been with us since I think 2000. Before that, he's been in about 30 other groups, and he's quit all of them. If I was so bad, why didn't he quit? He never quit once. I've been in the Flaming Lips for 32 years now. Steven's been in the Flaming Lips since 1990. Michael's been in the Flaming Lips for 32 years. Our manager's been our manager for almost 30 years now. We've been on Warner Brothers since 1990. Nobody else in the world knows that I'm a horrible person except for Kliph Scurlock. He must be a fucking genius from outer space! He's an abusive, compulsive, pathological liar that will do anything he can do get attention. And of course, using my name gets him attention.
Sites like Flavorwire see this as a pattern of erratic behavior in the last few years, whether it's making Erykah Badu mad [for posting an unedited video of your collaboration online] or causing a lockdown at the Oklahoma City airport because you had a grenade.
I think it's people speaking about situations that they don't know anything about. I do a lot of stuff, and I don't always ask everybody if it's politically correct. If you want to talk to Erykah Badu, I think she'll laugh about it now. I think all that was, in a sense, a publicity fight. I still talk to her. Jim DeRogatis, this writer that actually wrote a book about us, went on a rant about how much he hates us now. I guess it has something to do with the way that I've become more famous, or whatever.
But if I really am all those things, how can I have these guys in my group? Wouldn't everybody leave? But people like crazy stories. It's a much better story that I'm a drug addict, that I'm abusing all these privileges I have as a rich white person. That's a great story. It's not true. It's all just exaggerated. I'm sure a lot of the things that we do, to conservative people, probably think, "Oh man, they're crazy people on drugs." It's like, well, we're not! The truth of that is just too boring to even worry about. I've been doing my thing, working hard, doing music, you know.
What's the state of the band now?
Well, on one level, the band, the crew, everybody involved, we're a family. And Kliph, little by little, became a [different] person. I think it won't take very long before people really see what he's about because it's unspeakable. I'm not even really going to say the real depth of the reasons the Flaming Lips don't want to be associated with him. But that Christina Fallin thing was enough for me to point out how much he hated all these groups we played with and places we've played. Here's a guy that hates the whole state of Florida and hates everybody in Aspen, Colorado. It's like, OK, that's a lot of people that you don't know that you already know that you hate. So little by little, I thought, "Maybe he's not our guy."
Were the texts he quoted from you true? Like the one that says "Go stick up for your Indian friends if it's so important to you"?
If taken out of context, they would seem horrible, you know? In the text before that, I said, "Kliph, you can't say things like that on Twitter," because it's like, your hatred for... You're saying, "I'm sticking up for them" by being more offensive than what you're saying. I said that if you believe that, that's one thing. But you can't go on all this social media and be so horrible to people. When he said, "I have to stand up for what I believe in," I thought he was joking. If you know him, you know what a horrible, hateful person he is.
Kliph was not fired because of that [headdress incident]. Kliph was fired because of a thousand hateful things that he's done. And he just wasn't a very significant musical part of the Flaming Lips anyway. I think the day after we fired him, we played a show in New Orleans without him. Steven's the drummer. Anybody that listens to those records and think they're hearing Kliph, they're hearing Steven. And Steven is with us and will always be with us.
How has Christina dealt with this all in the last week?
I don't talk to her very much, but I think she's devastated by it. And I think that's exactly the reason why people like our ex-drummer pick on her. You can say whatever you want about me, I don't give a fuck. You can shit about my family online, I don't give a fuck. But he knows if you say something to someone like Christina Fallin online, it hurts her. So that's why he kicks even harder. "I got her, man! I got her! I'm really changing the world!" And because it affects her, they kick harder. And someone like him, who is a bully, that's his main thing. If he's a bully, the minute he knew that it was affecting her, he kicked harder and harder.
Has the band settled on a new drummer?
Well, there's two guys. I think we're going to use two different guys. Who is the guy that plays with Radiohead and Portishead? [Clive Deamer] He's great, and we met him at a couple of festivals last summer. And I like the way that they were using two people to do the slightly electronic stuff versus the real rock stuff, and we were trying to go that way. We were thinking of it anyway, and then this thing that happened, there are two guys here who want to be part of this thing. I think it'll be a great addition to this cool group of weirdos that we take around with us, and they're guys that we know right from here. I think it will be really exciting and the Flaming Lips will be better than ever.
You're also working on a Sgt. Pepper tribute album and recorded "A Day in the Life" with Miley Cyrus.
It's stunning. It's really just a lot of great friends of mine who are all contributing. Sometimes it's two groups doing a song; sometimes it's one. And it's not always the Flaming Lips and someone; sometimes it's just other groups. But I think all that's gonna be great, and it all goes to this dog and cat adoption welfare volunteer thing in Oklahoma City here. Miley and I and everybody associated with the Flaming Lips are trying desperately to help the animal welfare situation in Oklahoma City, which is appalling. I've been all around the world, and I've never seen another city that has as many homeless animals as here. People are like, "Why do you do Beatles songs?" and I'm like, "Because people love them." I think it'll generate a lot of interest. Five years from now, maybe we won't have this problem, where all these dogs and cats are being destroyed at the animal shelters. I mean, it's sickening.
I don't even like talking about our ex-drummer, because it just uses up this space that we could be talking bout this cool shit we're doing with Sean Lennon and My Morning Jacket and Miley, and I don't want any of that tainted.