Published Jun 01, 2005Rarely has a band documentary had such an appropriate title, since the story of Oklahoma art rock weirdoes the Flaming Lips truly is wondrously improbable. They've enjoyed remarkable late-career success, but this documentary is more concerned with the origins of the band, when they spent the late 80s stealing Butthole Surfers shtick and setting stages on fire. At the heart of the doc are the lives of front-man Wayne Coyne and drummer/keyboardist Steven Drozd, which feature remarkable parallels. Both are the youngest with older, itinerant brothers who've spent some time rent-free courtesy of penal facilities. What kept Wayne and Steven out of jail is their creative drive, like Wayne shooting his futuristic sci-fi film Christmas On Mars (in which Steven stars), in his backyard. But highlighted by footage of Wayne's older brothers, who formed a punk-like gang of football players called the Fearless Freaks in high school, the film is an intimate portrait of their lives, interspersed with remarkable exploration of their creativity, including their recent circus-esque performances. But the film almost ended in tragedy; in one heart-breaking scene, Steven reveals his half-decade-long battle with heroin addiction (he's since cleaned up); Wayne matter-of-factly contemplates the fate of the band and the film should he die of an overdose. It's an unbelievable, intimate and fascinating look at one of the world's most precious musical commodities.
How long was the process, and when did it turn into a feature? We started to make music videos with Bradley, our first videos for Warner. We'd made videos before then, but I'd always find guys who'd call me up college students. But I wanted to make them myself. We were always making music videos and doing stuff with film what you think of as promotional things, at least at first. Bradley was in film school, and knew he wanted to be a filmmaker. I could see the process of his ideas going toward [documentary] stuff. As we were making these videos, the idea of the "making of" these videos started being a thing it became part of doing these promotional things. This fit directly into Bradley's desire to really be making a documentary. Little by little, we started to do more and more stuff when we were doing something, Bradley would show up with a camera. None of us ever thought we were making a documentary. Around 2001, he made a 45-minute Flaming Lips documentary, but when he stumbled across the footage that he named the film after the Fearless Freaks stuff with my older brothers playing sandlot football. After he stumbled upon that, he really saw the possibility of this epic story within the framework of all the stuff he shot. He would be the only one who knew he could tell this story. It was him stumbling upon that, and having vaults and vaults of stuff of us just living our lives.
One thing that's particularly revelatory about it is that at the core of the film is you and your family and Steven and his family. When did you start to see that, and in watching it, what surprises you? Me and Steven, even from the first times we met, we'd stumble upon these parallels. Him being younger with older brothers, and me being younger with older brothers almost having the exact reactions to things they would do. Us finding music and art and expression instead of finding drugs and jail it seemed like nothing. It was just the way our story is. Bradley sees those things, and he kept looking for this parallel universe. The things that he shows are funny and heartbreaking and touching. I've seen it now with an audience 7 or 8 times and it's very moving. It's a story that, I look at it and say "that's a great story being told." You do see this unrelenting optimism in the face of all these adversities that you're faced with. You see it more in the lives behind the music than you do in the making of the music.
Your energy goes to art instead of jail. You see that in the movie there is this desire for some intensity, and if you don't get lost in your own internal life, you can see where you could get lost in external life that you see with my brothers. I see that now; I never would have seen it as such without someone taking away the fog and pointing it out. When I see the film now my mother is in it, but she died a year ago. My one brother is back in jail now he was out of jail for about 8 months and even came to the premiere in Oklahoma City, and he got a big standing ovation. Two weeks later he was back in jail. I don't know what will become of him he's 51 years old, there's not a lot you can teach him or show him. Sometimes I think of us as a flea on the back of a giant whale. You think you can control it, but for the most part, you just go along for this crazy ride. As the Flaming Lips, we thought we knew what we were doing for the first couple of records, but after that, you live in this sheer panic of "What do we do now?" That's when the best stuff happens. When you get people just totally being themselves, you do get a sense of originality and uniqueness.
The scene with Steven is one of the most shocking. If that scenario wouldn't have ended when he shoots up in the movie, it could literally be the last time he did it. We left to go to the studio hours after that incident, and that was the middle of the Pink Robots record. If it wouldn't have ended then, the movie would've taken a horrible twist and he probably would've been dead. If it had gone on another month or so, we all feared and accepted what inevitability there is to any of this. It's really out of our control. You start to look ahead maybe we'll be one of those bands living in the aftermath of having a member die of a drug overdose. That's rock'n'roll. That's about as standard a rock'n'roll story as can be told. The way that it has turned out, he was able to get off the drugs for whatever reason, and will tell you it wasn't what fuelled his creativity. Within that, you do see it's a struggle. It's a struggle for anybody. We fully let Bradley tell whatever story he wanted to tell; if we started to control it, it wouldn't have its power. He's showing these things to show how believable this story really is.
There's so much good concert footage. We get the feeling that we should make some document of this time this thing with the animal costumes and films of naked women and confetti. We really feel like we should do something with this, before it moves into something different. And I'm sure it will change. We probably have two or three concerts that feel like there were of some magnitude. We've never really been that enthusiastic about putting out these sort of live things you could go to a Flaming Lips concert and the experience of being there is so removed from just watching it on TV, I wouldn't want people to think that you've seen the DVD and that's what it's like. To be in the room with your friends and singing these songs together, it's different. If you're going to be sitting on your couch watching something, I'll make you something for that. If you're going to be standing in a room with me, let's do something different.
What's the scoop on Christmas On Mars? I feel like by the end of the summer, we'll have it all shot. It will be a matter of putting it together, editing and computer stuff. It seems not totally unrealistic that we could have it finished by the end of the year. We could start to have it be seen by the end of the year. I don't think it can go on too much longer it's already become a kind of hole that people think the Flaming Lips' insanity has gone into. "They've lost their minds they've tried to do something that's bigger than them!" It's not that at all. If left alone, we might have finished this film the first year, and it would've been horrible. (Shout Factory/Sony BMG)