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Living in a ‘moment’ – The Flaming Lips & freedom to be freaky

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

If someone from the future visited The Flaming Lips in its early days and said the band would still be recording and performing in 2018, the Lips would have said no way.

But then again, according to frontman Wayne Coyne, the group probably wouldn’t have wanted to know.

“I would have thought, ‘Oh my god, no,’ ” he told the Journal in a recent phone interview, reflecting on the band reaching its 35th anniversary this year.

” ‘I’m 21 years old. I don’t want think about when I’m almost 60. Hopefully I’m dead by then’ – that’s what I would’ve said back then. But, I have to say, there’s some kind of freedom … when you don’t think something has to last forever.”

That freedom, Coyne described, allowed The Flaming Lips to think of sections of its musical journey as being just moments, something they didn’t have to be tied down to.

“That really does free you up to be just as freaky as you wanna be, or as nice as you wanna be, or whatever it is you want to be because you feel like, ‘I don’t have to live with this forever, it’s just a moment,’ ” said Coyne.

Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips (Courtesy of George Salisbury)

“It’s like dressing up for Halloween. If you get to dress up this night and be a freak, well, be as freaky as you want. But what would happen with us is we would dress up for Halloween, and then never take it off.”

The Grammy-winning, Oklahoma City-based rock group, known worldwide for its psychedelic sound and live shows with large props, funky costumes, Coyne crowd-surfing in a giant bubble, people dancing on stage in animal suits and other oddities, is part of the lineup for Meow Wolf’s first music festival this weekend in Taos.

The Flaming Lips will conclude the Friday/Saturday Taos Vortex fest, following other major acts such as Thievery Corporation and Dr. Dog.

Coyne and company fit like a glove with the Meow Wolf aesthetic.

“Naturally, the way our minds work is how do we go bigger and how do we go more immersive?” said Meow Wolf spokesman John Feins about expanding operations with a music festival. The event also will include camping, hiking, performance art and a late-night dance tent. Officials are expecting a crowd of 3,500 to 4,000, Feins said.

This festival isn’t Coyne’s first collaboration with the Santa Fe art enterprise. His own art installation, King’s Mouth, became part of Meow Wolf’s permanent exhibit in “The House of Eternal Return” in April and will stay there for the next few months.

Though Coyne visited “The House of Eternal Return” for the first time only last year, he said The Flaming Lips and Meow Wolf probably have been influencing each other for far longer. Coyne operates a similar immersive art space in Oklahoma City, The Womb, and many visitors and artists formerly used to say they believed the two spaces were connected.

“I could see where people saw it was like a chain of restaurants,” he said. “You happen to be at the McDonald’s and I happen to be at the Arby’s or something. It has a similar vibe to it.”

He hopes the “art playground” and “experiential” vibe that Meow Wolf has developed at its Santa Fe funhouse rubs off on the Taos Vortex event. That would be a “refreshing” development for the future for live music, he said.

“I think that’s what the world wants,” he said. “I think that’s what I want, and I think that’s why we’re so connected to it.”

Lips’ greatest hits

The first half of 2018 has seen several releases from The Flaming Lips reflecting on its history, including a set of remastered early recordings from its first few albums and its first greatest hits collection.

Wayne Coyne, frontman of The Flaming Lips (Courtesy of George Salisbury)

In addition to the band’s most popular songs, the 52-track “The Flaming Lips Greatest Hits Vol. 1” includes rare tracks, demos and outtakes that weren’t distributed on its previous 18 albums. The rarities flesh out the The Flaming Lips’ expansive vision with offerings like “Noodling Theme (Epic Sunset Mix #5),” an instrumental created for a 2001 documentary about Oklahoma fishing.

The band gave control of the collection to manager and superfan Scott Booker, who used music he loved and that only he would have in his “very guarded Flaming Lips vault of music,” Coyne said.

He said he likes greatest hits albums, often dismissed as recycling old material for commercial purposes.

“Like a Tom Petty, I would really only know his greatest hits,” Coyne said. “I wouldn’t know his albums per se, even though I’m sure they’re really great. Some groups are greatest hits-oriented. I don’t know if The Flaming Lips are like that, but I think it’s fun because there’s already kind of a version of your greatest hits being streamed anyway.”

Services like Spotify are already compiling Flaming Lips songs that fans like the best, he noted. Coyne has walked into two or three shops where Flaming Lips playlists were streaming in the background.

“I would get an idea, ‘Oh, that’s the songs that are the most popular.’ I’m not always aware; I have an idea what they are. That urged us to present our own version of that. That way we can pick and choose: If you like this song, you may like this song.”

Coyne said he and the band don’t think about their mounting number of anniversaries. He says that as long as he’s alive and still playing, The Flaming Lips probably will be, too.

“Beyond that, we’re just lucky that it really does suit our personality in the way we get to do this,” he said. “We don’t struggle. A lot of bands we know, they don’t know how to be, they don’t know how to have fun. We’re lucky that we’ve found our way to do our thing very intensely and not want to kill each other.”

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