The Flaming Lips had a jam-packed 2011: The Oklahoma psych-rockers toured behind their Dark Side of the Moon covers album, released music in a gummy skull, and recorded a 24-hour marathon song on Halloween– all before ending the year with a pair of hometown New Year’s shows in Oklahoma City where they were joined by Yoko Ono’s Plastic Ono Band, with whom the Lips had already recorded a four-song Christmas EP earlier that month. But 50-year-old frontman Wayne Coyne isn’t one for rest: The Lips’ visionary singer already is hard at work on his band’s next project.
Coyne tells Rolling Stone that the Lips are putting the finishing touches on a collaborative album that finds them working with a wildly diverse roster of artists, from Bon Iver to Nick Cave and Edward Sharpe to Yoko Ono. The album doesn’t have an official release date yet, but Coyne hopes it will see the light of day in April. “All these things happen within a couple of days,” Coyne says of the album’s remotely managed, oftentimes logistically tricky recording sessions. “You set up these [collaborations] in your mind and immediately get to work.”
The album’s wide-ranging guestlist of collaborators are a direct reflection of Coyne and the Lips’ diverse musical palette. Some collaborations have already been recorded (Nick Cave, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Plastic Ono Band, Neon Indian), while others are still coming together (Bon Iver). And then there are the artists (Ke$ha, Lykke Li, Erykah Badu) whom Coyne is still trying to convince to jump onboard. “Sometimes it just takes a matter of connecting,” he says of potential roadblocks in roping artists along for the ride.
According to Coyne, the Bon Iver collaboration is a definite go. He recently talked to Justin Vernon, and the Grammy-nominated Wisconsin musician is sending the Lips two tracks to work on any day now. As for Nick Cave, Coyne sent the cranky Australian a track to work on, and a day later Cave responded, “Fuck it! I did something! Let’s see what happens!”
With Ke$ha, nothing is set in stone. (Coyne: “We knew that she was a fan. There are a lot of these sort of druggy outlets out there that people get connected through.”) But the two have spoken on a few occasions – the pop star even invited him to her show in Tulsa, but he was unable to attend – and Coyne, who hopes to lay down some sort of “weird rap” with the “Tik Tok” star, sees it as a perfect match. “She’s a freak,” he says of their similarities.
But the opportunity to work with one collaborator in particular left Coyne in a state of gleeful shock. When Rolling Stone spoke to Coyne in early December, he had just learned that he would be performing two New Year’s shows with Yoko Ono and her Plastic Ono Band; Coyne exuded a palpable sense of giddy excitement at the prospect, but he didn’t want to be overly optimistic. “I always sort of feel like something could happen,” he said cautiously at the time. “I just worry.”
But the concerts did in fact occur – and Coyne couldn’t have been more thrilled with their outcome. “It was better than I could have dreamed of,” he said after the fact. “[Ono] was wonderful and gracious.”
The Flaming Lips ’ pair of New Year’s shows, which included spacey renditions of Beatles classics such as “A Day in The Life,” “I Am The Walrus” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” – as well as joint performances of “Happy Xmas (War Is Over) with the Plastic Ono Band on both evenings – were the pinnacle of Coyne’s “dream” collaboration. The partnership had gotten its early legs after the Lips toured with Sean Lennon’s band, Ghost of the Sabertooth Tiger, last summer. In November, Coyne and the Lips ventured to Lennon’s New York studio, where together they would lay down a set of cathartically freaky Christmas tunes that would ultimately comprise a four-song collaborative EP the Lips released with the Plastic Ono Band in December.
It turned out Yoko wasn’t at the studio for these sessions; she was traveling at the time of the EP’s recording, and was therefore forced to record her parts remotely. But, if you ask Coyne, it was probably for the best. “It would be nerve-wracking to be around as someone as mythologized as a Yoko Ono (in the studio),” he admits. “What would I say? ‘Yoko, could you do that one take again?’”