The Flaming Lips are a busy band. They’re always busy. Since they formed in the early '80s in Oklahoma City, they’ve been busy recording albums, orchestrating mindblowing live shows, touring the world, making films, running their owngallery, and collaborating with other artists as vast and varied as Henry Rollins and Yoko Ono. They’re not just a band, they’re a creative force to be reckoned with. The Flaming Lips are often described as one of the best live acts on the planet, which is in no small part due to a spectacle-laden performance that incorporates everything from balloons, to puppets, to giant eyeballs, to glitter bombs. Excitingly, The Flaming Lips have just been announced as a headliner for Mofo, the music and arts festival at Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). We caught up with the effusive and mildly hyperactive Wayne Coyne to talk about installations, inspirations, Miley Cyrus (another collaborator), and why he's so excited to play Mofo next January.
The Creators Project: I see you’ve been working on your art installation The King’s Mouth. It looks pretty awesome.
Wayne Coyne: Well, thank you! So with The King’s Mouth, you literally just lay down on this big tongue—it’s kind of like a big bed—and you look up at these LED strings. These are pretty new technologies that makes this—it’s not a hologram but it makes this holographic image that’s all 3D and it’s literally around you. It’s pretty great.
Do you have any other projects on the go?
We’ve got this ongoing thing with Miley Cyrus. We’re talking pretty seriously about doing a bit of touring together [Editors note: it has since been announced that Miley Cyrus and The Flaming Lips will do a limited US tour this November/December]. It’s not daunting, it’s just crazy, because she’s got her own whims of, “Hey, I want to do this, I want to do that,” and we’re like, “OK.” But I have to say, I love that. As much as anyone I’ve met, she’s willing to work and work and work and work and work until she can make it happen. I don’t think a lot of people realize that about her—that she really is insanely driven and she really just works and works. It’s uncanny sometimes.
I’m almost afraid of people like that!
She’s young and she’s got this confidence and this thing, and she’s good at it. I think that propels her to say, “I can do it.” She knows that she can and she’s up for the challenge, and I like that!
Do you think it’s important to be working on lots of different creative projects at one time?
They’re not that different to me [the projects], but I would say yes, for anybody who is lucky enough not to be stuck doing the same thing day in day out. I think it always helps to be able to get another perspective, to wake up the next day and not be able to finish the thing, and then go back a week later and be like, “Oh what was I worried about? This part is great!” We [The Flaming Lips] are like all artists, there’s an element of fearlessness but you’re also very doubtful about your stuff having any quality at all.
You’re still doubtful? Even now?
I know the best thing to do is to just start to do it. Your originality and your imagination and the things like that, they show up only in the things that you do. I listen to people all the time who claim they have imagination and all that, and I’m like, “You can’t say you have imagination! We’ll be able to see it from what you do.” It’s what you do that matters—not what you think, or what you read, or what you say.
It’s also like, if you do things, it creates a kind of energy and a pathway to the next thing.
You’re exactly right. That is a valuable little thing—to think that a novelist could think of every word before he started writing, it’s just absurd. All creative things are really done the same way, whether it’s a song or a building bridge or a haircut. It’s all the same sort of mechanism.
You’ll have to design a stage show for this tour, right? How do you go about doing that?
It’s a lot of experience with a bit of imagination and a lot of ’let’s just try it and see what happens.’ I think that some of our greatest things have kind of happened by accident. They just sort of happened and we said, “Wow, we should do that on purpose.” But it’s also about communicating with the audience. As much as I wish I could understand it, music still does have some kind of magical hold on our minds. The visuals and all that are great and it joins everybody in [to the experience], but really the depth is in the music and what we’re trying to communicate. The lights and all of that are really just to shut the rest of the world out.
So you’re curating a space to communicate the music?
Right. When you go to see a movie you’re basically trading your life for the lives on the screen. You can literally walk in from your life and be acting normal and happy and not have any real worries, and 20 minutes later you could be crying at someone’s love life. It’s really just actors on a screen that you don’t really even know but you let it affect you. That’s what we try our best to do when we’re making a show—to obliterate everything else that’s going on in this moment and let it be a moment between us. It’s a great duty, if you want to call it that. I have people come up all the time and say, “I’ve never cried at a concert like I’ve cried at yours.” And I’m like, “Well, good!”
That must feel pretty good hearing someone say that.
Yeah! It’s like maximum penetration. We did that thing. It isn’t like we do it and it’s like, “Oh, all those people.” It also affects us—with that love, we feel it too.
Talking about going to the movies... I remember going to the movies as a kid and feeling like no time had passed. As you get older I think it gets harder to replicate that time out of life, but that’s what your shows do.
I think you’re right, and I think it is easier when you’re younger because you don’t have all of these experiences telling you, “Oh, I know what this is.” When you’re younger you are just more open to things. The things that impress you when you’re younger, they guide you to the things that you can do when you’re older. Then you’re doing them and you’re part of them, as opposed to just experiencing them. I saw The Who play in 1977, I was only 16, and maybe they weren’t at their maximum power but on this night it was a pretty powerful, communal sort of show. Everybody in there was electrified. The people standing next to you, you could feel how much it was getting into them. I walked away from that thinking, “I’d like to do that. I wanna do that every night,” and so here I am. There are those things that do have that kind of effect on you; it shapes who you get to become.
What's your experiene with MONA?
Of all the museums that we’ve visited traveling around the world as we have, we’ve all remarked it’s like the greatest museum we’ve ever visited and wished that there were more like it around the world. This idea that now we get to go back to MONA—because we would have visited anyway—but that we get to go there and actually be part of the thing is—we couldn’t have asked for a better circle of coincidence.
It’s really changed the game for galleries and museums in Australia.
You’re definitely right. We travel with a big group of mostly guys, and there’s a few of us who will always be going to art galleries and museums and stuff. And a big group of guys will go and be bored after about 20 minutes, but this was spectacular; it took us three or four hours of looking to see it all. Since we were there we’ve still talked about the things that we saw.
Were there any pieces that stood out particularly?
I guess you would call it a sort of statue; it’s made of chocolate and it’s a rendering of a person who was blown up by a terrorist bomb. As you look at it you can see that it’s this half torso of a person and their guts are trailing out, and then you realize, “Oh my god! It’s made of chocolate!” I can’t say why it affected us so much, but I remember that being one that we all went back to. It was stunning.
The Flaming Lips are the first artist revealed ahead of the full Mofo lineup, to be announced on Friday, October 16 (tickets will go on sale then). Mofo 2016 will take place at MONA from January 13–18. Find out more here.
A version of this post originally appeared on The Creators Project Australia.