A new song by the Flaming Lips, “Mr. Ambulance Driver,” will be featured on the soundtrack to the upcoming summer comedy, Wedding Crashers, starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. Packed with indie rock — including tunes from Death Cab for Cutie, Rilo Kiley, Bloc Party and Spoon, and a rare early track by Jimmy Eat World — the CD is due three days before the movie’s July 15th release.
Lips frontman Wayne Coyne can appreciate the premise of the film — about a pair of womanizers who sneak into weddings to meet women — having recently survived a family ceremony in Pittsburgh. “As the night wears on, it gets a little difficult, what with the old people drinking too much,” he confesses. “And there are a lot of ‘relatives’ you’re not sure you even know.”
The Lips’ track on the album, however, is considerably prettier and more melancholy, as “Mr. Ambulance Driver” was inspired in part by Coyne’s sickness and a dark Seventies hit.
“My mother died about a year ago, and there was a mood that came with her illness that felt so desperate — the shock of thinking about what the future might be,” he says. “And I had this folksy, storytelling song about the scene of an accident: The guy is pleading with the ambulance diver to hurry up, but he realizes that the girl he’s with is already dead. You know, there was a hit here in Oklahoma in the Seventies called ‘D.O.A.,’ this real heavy death-rock song [by Bloodrock] about a guy in a crash — but I wanted to make something more emotional.”
The tune will also grace the Lips’ long-awaited twelfth album, At War With the Mystics, now due in January or February. (“At some point, you need a deadline,” says Coyne. “That’s how the Hoover Dam got built!”) The band has recorded six songs for the CD, the follow-up to 2002’s Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.
While he described earlier tracks as “progressive Dixieland,” mixing banjo with “futuristic jazz,” Coyne claims that the Lips recently made a revelatory change in direction. “We really turned a corner when we did a cover of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ a couple months ago,” he says. “We were already recording big, epic songs, and somebody here said, ‘Sounds like you guys are doing something like Queen.’ So we wanted to explore what about Queen has to do with us.”
One track in that vein is “The Wand.” “We’ve been recording for about two years,” says Coyne. “And as the election happened, when this feeling of utter frustration and defeat came over all the losers out here, I tried to remind people that we still have this power within ourselves. There’s this homeless guy who walks around here with this cane, and he thinks he can do magic things with it. Sometimes the belief empowers you more than your actual ability. So this is kind of a protest song on acid — maybe more trippy than political.”
“My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion,” which the band has been performing live this year, is another Queen-inflected song. “It’s one of these sort of grand, existential, religious-type songs the Flaming Lips have always done,” he says, “where you take a miniscule moment in your life and really blow it up.”
As for the new album’s title, Coyne says, “It’s about being at war with the unknown, confronting the invisible forces — whether they’re an internal thing or something outside. The truth-seekers are always at war with the mystics.” He pauses before adding, “Of course, this is when people start to question your sanity, when you delve into this territory.”