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Bonnaroo 2014 interview: Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips

The Flaming Lips will perform Saturday night at Bonnaroo's Which Stage
The Flaming Lips will perform Saturday night at Bonnaroo's Which Stage
Photo by Theo Wargo

Since the mid-‘80s, The Flaming Lips have been serving up a melting pot of musical styles so unique its only genre definition is “The Flaming Lips.” Their bizarre, often absurdist, lyrics have garnered them significant critical and commercial fame and their “anything can happen” live shows have made them a staple on the festival circuit, including Bonnaroo, where they have performed numerous times.

They’re back in 2014 supporting their 2013 album “The Terror” and their upcoming collaborative tribute to “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, called “With a Little Help from my Fwends.” We sat down backstage with Flaming Lips vocalist Wayne Coyne on Saturday after the Bonnaroo press conference and ahead of their Saturday Late Night performance to discuss their current and future projects.

At the press conference a few minutes ago, you had a great quote that Bonnaroo was the “Glastonbury of America.” Would you like to expand on that?

I think there are several great festivals now. Coachella is a huge one, Austin City Limits Festival is great, even Lollapalooza is still going along. Those are the megafests that everyone is going to one or two of them a Summer now?

You’ve been to a lot of the new festivals too. What do you think they could learn from a Bonnaroo?

I think because Bonnaroo is so well done, so big and so successful, it gives people an urge to go and do new things like that. It’s given people a chance to make a living just doing festivals, working at the festival and selling things and whatever. We play a lot of festivals that aren’t “spend the night in the woods festivals”, you just come in, play your set, and go. But here you get to come out and spend 4 days and brave the elements, and the portapotties, that’s the adventure people want. The bands and the lifestyle are what initially bring people in, but I don’t think it’s what it’s about. It’s the festival itself.

You guys have always been a very collaborative band. Does a big festival where you stay all weekend give you a chance to forge those collaborations?

Well, the thing about a festival like Bonnaroo or Glastonbury is that there’s so many people here and the perimeter is so giant and the backstage area is so far apart. It’s not as easy to get together and plug in. There’s so much noise everywhere. You go out and there are 4 different bands playing. For these big festivals, I think it’s best to get there and know what you’re going to do. Obviously people jump on stage with each other sometimes but even that’s difficult because there’s monitors and everything like that.

You talked a little in the press conference about your past Bonnaroo shows with the spaceship and the giant bubble and the Pink Floyd thing. Is there a drive to top the last Bonnaroo show?

Oh, I don’t know. We don’t think of it so much like that. We’re just so lucky to be able to do our music and our own thing. Whatever the thing is we want to do, I don’t know if it tops the next things. We’re always just doing new music and new things. I don’t know if some of it is worth topping. It’s just its own thing.

Your most recent album, “The Terror” took a little darker path than some of your past work.

It’s more sustained, not as optimistic. That was on purpose, I think. We’re optimistic people so I think if we work with something long enough our optimism seeps in. Steven and I had been making a few songs that were kind of bleak but euphoric at the same time and we love that stuff but we know if we keep exploring, we find other things, so with “The Terror”, we recorded it really quickly, over just a couple of months. I think we were trying to do that. Say you want to do a series of paintings, you want them to feel like they’re of a certain mindset, so I think it was a good thing for us.

Was the current state of the world on your mind as you went down that darker path?

No. If you listen to NPR all day, there are always horrible things happening every day. At the same time, I think there are wonderful things. We don’t feel compelled to write about those things. We write about what’s in our minds.

How much of tonight’s stage show is from The Terror Tour and how much is new stuff?

Some of it has evolved from the contrast of that very big stage show we did last year. But I think it’s amazing. We have this light rig that no one else is using now. These crazy string LED… things. And they make video and it’s like a 3D effect and it was just mesmerizing. We do music from all of the eras of The Flaming Lips. Some of it is very joyous, some of it is very intense, some of it is just crazy.

You guys are very busy going into the fall, you have a new album coming out…

Yeah! The “Sgt. Pepper’s” thing. Yeah, yeah! It’s already got a release date so I better get going! It’s another collaborative thing. That’s the main reason we do those things. We involve our friends and get to do those songs we all know and love. It’s the reason we did the Pink Floyd thing, it’s the reason we did a King Crimson record. It’s rare to run into a musician who doesn’t love The Beatles!

Wayne Coyne and The Flaming Lips will play Bonnaroo 2014 on Saturday Night at Midnight on Which Stage. Other acts performing on Saturday include Lionel Richie, Skrillex, and Jack White.