From a career standpoint, the Flaming Lips have managed to remain relevant and successful on a major label for a long time, even without much mainstream success.
It’s mostly dumb luck, but I might also credit the fact that we’re not stagnant. For better or for worse, we don’t make the same record over and over. You have to try not to worry about being perceived as cool.
If a young artist asks for advice, what do you say?
Take chances, because you have to find a way to be pleased with what you do. I know a ton of bands who think they’re gonna be rock stars, and they get signed to a label, and two or three years later no one likes them. And they just give up because what they really wanted was for everyone to think they’re great. But the bands who really made it were artists trying to get at this inner vision. If other people don’t like it, fuck ’em.
Is the music industry doomed?
When one part of the way you make your income goes away, you find a new way to make money. Smart people won’t give up. They’ll find a way to make it work. Shit’s gonna change. But we want it to change, and we just have to keep on changing with it and see where it goes. Plus, it’s wonderful the way computers and the Internet have made music and art and literature and movies and great ideas – not just the new ones, but the old ones, too – available to everyone, almost for free. It’s like this great library in outer space. We should be rejoicing, not thinking, “Oh, my God, how are we gonna make money?”
Have your life and career unfolded the way you expected?
No. When I was young, I thought that by the time I was twenty-one I’d be a rock star, and by the time I was twenty-five I’d die of a drug overdose. I never would have thought I could be in a band like the Flaming Lips and be forty-six and still doing what I love. So I’m lucky the dream I had never did come true.
This story is from the November 15th, 2007 issue of Rolling Stone.