When you’ve recorded a four-disc set requiring the simultaneous playback of all four and composed a symphony expressly for a forty-piece boombox orchestra, the logical next move would be to write, direct, produce, score and star in a futuristic epic where stranded space colonists celebrate the first Martian Noel with an alien replacing Santa (who killed himself). Logical that is, if you’re the avant-garde, neo-psychedelic, sonic visionaries known as the Flaming Lips.
Lips’ wizard Wayne Coyne is developing his debut full-length feature film, First Christmas on Mars, and hopes to begin production this summer in his native Oklahoma. Both he and band mate Steve Drozd will star in the flick, and the group will naturally be recording the score — something that may or not take precedent over a follow-up to 1999’s The Soft Bulletin.
Further details on the plot details are better explained by the whimsical auteur himself: “It’s sometime in the future,” Coyne says. “Mars has been sort of conquered and there’s a space station on it but the space program has gone into decline and these people are kind of stuck up there. They’re in the process of converting the spaceships that took them there into a place to live in and that process doesn’t go too smoothly. The whole thing ends up very dilapidated, very un-futuristic, un-‘2001.’ There’s an element of confidence among the scientists, but the overall view is that things seem kind of doomed.
“None of this stops the colonists from celebrating their first Christmas up there,” he continues. “The hype they’ve added to this Mars mission is that this beautiful woman is giving birth to this sort of artificial impregnation from this bubble that she wears on her stomach, which is the way infants are gonna be born in the future. It’s all scientifically timed so she gives birth to this baby the second it hits midnight on Christmas. So it’s symbolically the beginning of a new civilization. But instead of being born from religious ideas it’s born from a science idea.”
While numerous Flaming Lips projects could rightfully be called performance art, First Christmas on Mars will mark Coyne and Drozd’s formal debuts as thespians. And the roles they’ll be playing are typically atypical. “A lot of the people are committing suicide,” says Coyne, “and one of them is this sort of Santa Claus that’s supposed to preside over this big celebration. He dies right at the beginning. I’m playing this Martian that lands, but the Martian isn’t really perceived as a Martian. People just sort of think he’s this crazy guy who’s green. They can’t find a quick replacement for Santa so they just use this Martian guy. So the Martian guy becomes the Martian and Santa Claus at the same time.
“Steven is the guy who’s sort of organizing all this stuff,” he continues. “He’s the guy who has to get together the Santa Claus, the belly bubble baby, etc. You know how David Letterman sent his mother to the Olympics? That’s kind of what [Steven’s] character is doing on Mars. He’s kind of a lovable buffoon.”
What might sound initially like a belated April Fool’s is in fact something Coyne is taking very seriously. He’s been plotting a move to the big screen since the Lips’ first forays into music video over a decade ago, and isn’t about to sink bundles of cash into b-movie shtick.
“It is supposed to be real drama, not something silly,” he says. “I want even people who have no idea who the Flaming Lips are to watch it and feel some empathy for the characters. It’s like all the Christmas-type movies that hint at some sort of childlike magic and at the same time try to be tragic and realistic.”
Ever fans of the interactive, the Flaming Lips are actively recruiting potential space junk for the film. Coyne encourages anyone, fan or other, who thinks they might have an appropriate prop — realistic spacesuit or NASA-ish piece of scrap — to write the band at FLipsFans@aol.com.
The Flaming Lips have just recorded four new songs — “Are You a Hypnotist,” “It’s Summertime,” “Syrtis Major” and “Utopia Planitia” — at longtime producer Dave Fridmann’s Tarbox Studios in New York. Coyne says the band have divided all new material into three groups: songs that could become a new album, songs that would work better with the movie and songs that could fit into both. In any case, no new Flaming Lips material is likely to be released this year.
To fill the void, cringing completists might try and track down a promo-only copy of the three-song instrumental score the band recorded late last year for pal Brad Beesley’s homage to catfish fishing, Okie Noodling.
Last year, the band had discussed plans to record a holiday-themed album with the likes of David Bowie, Bono, Bjork, Shirley Manson and Tom Waits. While some of those songs might survive and surface on whatever the group next issues, plans for the superstar guest shots have been shelved indefinitely.
The Lips will play at least one stateside gig in the coming months (April 28th at the University of Texas in Austin) and a handful of European festival gigs in August. Before and after, they’ll be further foraying beyond the known edge our of audio/visual galaxy.
“We no longer even consider asking what we are as a band,” Coyne says. “Do we play the xylophone? Do we play tubas? Do we play computers? We don’t even approach it like we play anything specific anymore. We just say, ‘Let’s make music.'”