When it comes to weirdness, the Flaming Lips make Lady Gaga look like Gidget. And if a Flaming Lips concert is the Greatest Show on Earth (it is), then bandleader Wayne Coyne is P.T. Barnum, spiked with L. Ron Hubbard, Jean-Paul Sartre, and your junior-high chorus instructor. Flaming Lips concerts yield the same result every time: one of the most ecstatic experiences in modern pop culture.From the Midwestern abyss of Oklahoma City, touring endlessly around the world, the Flaming Lips have endured almost 30 years of alt-pop outsiderness. They released their 12th album, “Embryonic,” last October to widely mixed reviews. (This paper’s reviewer loved it.)
Q: “Embryonic” was recorded differently than your last few albums, with a more organic, improvisational approach. Like you relinquished control and let the process take over. Would you say that’s accurate?
A: Well, yeah. And I’m not proud of that. You have to believe, inasmuch as all your experiences tell you, that you know what you’re doing, otherwise you don’t get into this thing far enough to be able to not have control. I would say almost every song on “Embryonic” is not what we intended to do. We were trying to do other music with everything we had. I can say that honestly.
There’s this great Miles Davis song that says, “Thinking One Thing but Doing Another.” And that is the truth _ you really have to be convinced that you’re doing this other thing to actually do the real thing. It sucks because the more we know about it, the more we’re looking for the invisible reality. The invisible reality is invisible _ you’ll never know it. But that’s true in our lives as well. You have to have a plan. And so we wake up and we become good at charging after whatever it is we believe we want to be. Because if you’re not charging after it, you won’t run into this accidental way that your life will become.
Q: Sounds like a question of fate versus free will.
A: I totally agree. … It’s like, when do you surrender and let the universe take you, and when do you assert yourself and say no? That is the mother (expletive). Free will is not any fun. We all want to be a slave to something.
That’s why when I sing about, you know, “We’re free to be slaves” (on “Sagittarius Silver Announcement” from “Embryonic), it’s almost like: Pick. If you’re brave enough and have enough experiences, pick the thing that you want to surrender to and let that be the way your life went. And I struggle with that a lot. I struggle with, do I wanna surrender to art? Ah, art is kinda boring. Do I wanna surrender to just having a good time? I don’t know. I wanna have a good time, and then I wanna do some art, and I wanna be serious, and I wanna sleep and I wanna run all day. You don’t ever settle.