“We always have a few things going on at one time,” says Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne, explaining why it’s been almost three years since they’ve released a new album. The Oklahoma City psychedelic-pop band has been hard at work in upstate New York on its twelfth full-length record, At War With the Mystics.
According to Coyne, you can blame the delay on the Lips’ increased popularity. “The success of [2002’s Yoshimi Battles the] Pink Robots took us out of the loop for a couple of years,” he admits. “What year are we in now? 2004? It took us two years to pick back up.”
For War, due next year, Coyne and his bandmates have been toying with some different sounds, on songs including “Mr. Ambulance Driver” and “Space Bible.”
“At the moment it sounds like progressive Dixieland — if there’s a phrase like that,” says Coyne. “There’s one piece we’re working on that’s kind of banjo-driven. There’s some elements of country in there, but there’s also some futuristic jazz going on. When you say those two things together, it sounds horrible. But it’s a new path — not a big path, more like a dirt road, but we’re treading it.”
When not recording the new album, Coyne is continuing work on Christmas on Mars, the Lips’ long delayed foray into movie-making that began all the way back in 2001. “It’s not being shot like a normal film,” admits the singer, who claims he’s only halfway done. “I build the sets, get the actors and we shoot it and develop it right there.” A release date is tentatively set for Christmas 2005, although Coyne is cautious with the date. “Hey, I told people originally it was coming out three years ago,” he says. “At least this way, it’s built up some mythology.”
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The movie centers around a group of people living on Mars who slowly start to lose their minds. When they accidentally blow up their oxygen generator, their fate appears sealed . . . until a Martian (played by Coyne) lands, fixes the generator and becomes a de facto Santa Claus to the grateful Martian residents. A “gothic, Christmas-y, big choir, David Lynch-like” soundtrack to the movie will be released simultaneously.
Until then, Lips fans will have to be content with a number of one-off releases. The band recently finished a track, “Patrick and SpongeBob Confront the Psychic Wall of Energy,” for the upcoming SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, due in November. “The title sounds like a Flaming Lips song already, doesn’t it?” says Coyne. “Musically, I think it sounds like something Parliament-Funkadelic would do if they had access to digital equipment. Or maybe something that would have been on a kids’ show, like Schoolhouse Rocks: simple and catchy, but it moves along.”
Then there are the covers: Over the summer the band recorded a “Nina Simone-like” version of the old Devo track “Gates of Steel” for compilation to benefit People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The Lips also recorded a bizarre remake of the Wizard of Oz chestnut “If I Only Had a Brain” for the soundtrack to a new zombie-themed video game. The results were typically atypical. “We had these kids in the background screaming, and we sped up and slowed down their voices,” Coyne says. “It sounds pretty cool.”