In the 34 years since its inception, Flaming Lips has become a live-concert juggernaut whose shows are experiences as much as they are entertainment. They return to The Fillmore Thursday. Co-founder and frontman Wayne Coyne spoke to The Observer Monday about everything from his nephew, his gardener and the Polish language, to why Lips’ shows are a mind-expanding experience for most people.
Q: The last time we spoke you said fans could drive by and see some of the props from videos and shows in your backyard. Whatever happened to your yard art?
A: There was a big leftover cylinder thing we’d used for “Christmas on Mars.” Some neighborhood kids had come and tried to roll it away three or four times. One day my gardener guy said, “If you guys can haul it away, you can have it.” So it’s in some kid’s backyard.
Q: Is the band still such a DIY project?
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A: I sit at my kitchen table, drawing and conceptualizing. I don’t know how to run all the studio equipment, but the engineer is my nephew Dennis and he doesn’t live far away from my studio.
Q: Did your presence set him on a musical path?
A: When we did our very first album in 1983, there are pictures from that photo session where he is 2 years old. Maybe less. The Flaming Lips have been there his whole life. Even when he was young, we’d get together and pretend we were writing songs and I’d actually use the songs. It definitely helped him decide whether to pursue it, but his abilities – it’s down to just him. He’s quite great at a lot. It’s not just that he’s my nephew and he lives close.
Q: The title of the new album, “Oczy Mlody,” came from your interpretation of a Polish book, but you don’t read Polish, right?
A: I recently talked to a guy on NPR and he grew up in a Polish neighborhood and I found out quite a bit about how off our pronunciations were. In Polish there’s a lot of (throaty) chkkk and whook and ick. Those letter forms and silly sounding words seemed to mean something, but they’re fun to say at the same time.
Q: You’ve released five videos for the album. Is there a visual component in your head from the moment you write a song?
A: I think of it as a soundtrack to a movie. Once we have four or five songs I start thinking: What kind of movie is this? What’s it called? What’s it look like? I stumbled on this artist on Instagram (who did the “Ozcy Mlody” cover). I thought the title fit with his simple, blobby, wonderful drawings. I thought: Hey, that’s telling me what that record’s about. That leads you to what you could do with videos. With fairytales and unicorns, we had pretty good and rich (visuals) no matter which way we went. We’re inspired by Tim Burton, too. He’s the master of fantasy that still has a lot of heart and character to it.
Q: The live shows are mythical and younger fans are catching on all the time. What do you think a Lips’ show is like for the first time?
A: We’re always gaining and we’re kind of losing our audience as they get older. They don’t go to as many shows or buy as many records. If you just discover us now, it’s probably a pretty overwhelming experience to see us live. I don’t know if you need to take drugs at our shows anymore. The way we’re doing our shows now, it’s so insane and overwhelming and emotional. Drugs almost just get in the way. Save them for next Tuesday when there’s nothing going on.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday.
WHERE: The Fillmore, 1000 NC Music Factory Blvd.