The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne

The Exclaim! Questionnaire

Photo by George Salisbury

BY Stephen CarlickPublished Sep 29, 2014

Wayne Coyne is, in a word, enthusiastic. Anyone who's seen the Flaming Lips live can attest to the boisterous nature of their shows, in which Coyne is known to dance onstage with fans dressed up as animals, trees, suns and rainbows, walk over the crowd in a giant plastic bubble and preach the power of love as confetti rains down. In person, he's no different, bubbling over with philosophical musings, laughter and genuine, heartfelt moments that promise none of his persona is a put-on.

Coyne's already had a busy year: he released a 24-hour Flaming Lips song for Record Store Day; faced claims of cultural insensitivity from Lips drummer Kliph Scurlock (with whom the band parted ways); released a psych-rock album as Electric Würms and played a full summer's worth of festival gigs. Next month, the Lips will release a covers album of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band titled With a Little Help From My Fwends, and featuring Miley Cyrus, Moby, Tegan and Sara and more.

What are you up to?
We were just in England. We play all these summer festivals, but they start so early, at the end of April, and they go to October, so it's a long summer. It seems like summer's over, but we're still doing festivals. It's great! We're doing mostly this — traveling all around the world, playing different festivals with different groups.

What are your current fixations?
We're gonna be playing this show next weekend where we're playing one of our old records, and I'm worried about what I'm gonna wear. I'm a little worried about that. I've got these stage suits that I kind of — like, this weird muscle suit and this grey Burberry jacket and pants. It's such a relief when you know what you're going to wear, and you can worry about other stuff in the world. I know it sounds petty, but when you're gonna be up there... I don't want to look just like I do when I'm walking around! So even though I'm talking to you, it's still, a piece of my mind is thinking.

Why do you live where you do?
I live in Oklahoma City, OK, which I think for a lot people, they'd think "Why? That seems like it's in the middle of fuckin' nowhere." And in a sense it is, but my family's there and my brothers and my sister and our dogs and our houses and my friends and all that. I've said it a billion times: if they all left, I'd just go where they do. So that's it for me. But I never think about it now. I think when we were a young group, you'll go to someplace like Los Angeles or New York or something, and you'll run into some people and they'll be like, "Man, you can't live in Oklahoma!" But the groups we really liked weren't like that anyway. We liked groups like the Replacements and R.E.M. and Hüsker Dü and the Minutemen, and they were all from weird little places. We never... Butthole Surfers, no one thought of Austin, TX as being any place back in the early '80s. We just sort of felt like the Meat Puppets and Butthole Surfers, and they just lived in some weird little place.

Name something you consider a mind-altering work of art:
There's so much of it! There is a painting that Damien Hirst mostly did, but he allowed us to go into his... Have you ever seen one of those spin-art paintings that he's famous for? When you see them in pictures or in museums and stuff, it's hard to just know how gigantic some of them are. We were lucky enough to go into his giant facility where he does these paintings, and he let us all throw paint on them and do shit. About a year later, he shipped me this giant 18 x18 inch canvas that he and I sort of did together. We have it hanging on the ceiling in our design office.

What have been your career highs and lows?
I don't remember them all, but standing here, doing that show — we played here [at Downsview Park] with the Rolling Stones at the SARS benefit! 2002, wasn't it? That was just insane! Justin Timberlake played, and Rush played, AC/DC. It was just crazy! We were back here, all in this backstage area, everyone's running around, drinking, riding around — they had these little motorcycle things. And then the Rolling Stones, at the end of it, let everyone come out and we all took pictures together. Everybody in the picture, you can see everybody, and even the other bands are looking over their shoulders at Mick and Keith — it's really them! So that's a high, in a sense, to be in such a historical thing.

What would be a low? I think there are things that, especially when we were younger, where you don't know — are you any good at this thing? Is it working? Does it make you happy? I think as guys get into their later 20s and 30s, you start to really stress about "What am I doing with my life?" I think by then I'd already been in the Flaming Lips for about ten years, and it was what I wanted to do, but I think you wonder if you're able to or if the world will let you do it. It'd probably be something around that time, around 1985 or something like that. But I talked to someone who said "It's better to do something you love, and be really bad at it, than to not do something you love."

What's the meanest thing ever said to you before, during or after a gig?
I don't know if anything really sticks out. I can't thing of a singular bad... I mean, almost inevitably, every night, you know, we think it's going great, we really got [the crowd], and I don't know why, but this'll happen, I'm sure, tonight as well. You're looking at everybody as a big entity out there — "Hey, it's going well!" — but then you focus on some person and inevitably it's some girl and [feigns long yawn]. She's looking at her watch like "When's this shit gonna be over?" It brings you back down. You think, "Fuck man, we're killing 'em!" and then every night… It's the sign of indifference, which is more painful. For someone to really hate you, they have to know what you're about. That's different. It's almost like love, but it's pissed off love. Indifference is just "I don't know who you are, I don't care who you are, and even what you're doing right in front of me has no effect on me." That's tough.

What should everyone shut up about?
I don't have a real big agenda about — I don't even know what everyone's bitching about! Is there a certain thing...?

I love that your overwhelming positivity is such that you're not even aware that people are hating anything.
I don't know if there's one thing where it's like, "Shut the fuck up about this!" I don't know!

What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?
Well, the dislike is easy: I'm too intense, you know? I'm just too much sometimes. I think, if I'm lucky, I'm around other people who aren't so affected by that, and they'll be like, "Wayne, look, we're glad you have a lot of energy and we're glad you're willing to die for this, but it's not that big a deal." That'd probably be my... Just because I'm the guy who's in charge a lot of the time. I try to remember that I just don't give up where you should. Sometimes it's like "Dude, focus your energy on something else."

What I most like is probably that I still have hair, and I'm 53 years old. I'll be walking somewhere, and a stranger on the street will come up and say, "Man, how'd you get your hair that way?" First off, I don't know you! But at the end of the day, I've got my hair!

What's your idea of a perfect Sunday?
I don't ever really realize when it's a Sunday or a Monday. I guess, when I was younger, a perfect Sunday would have been at the end of the summer. We would all be staying up late, and we could catch frogs and lightbugs in the backyard or something. For me, when we were growing up, the summer time would be an endless — every day was like Saturday, and it was a party with all my brothers and sisters and our friends and music and... drugs. Just, every day was like that.

What advice should you have taken, but did not?
That's a good one. It's probably something my mother would have said: "You don't always have to be right. Right is overrated." And I was probably like "But no! I'm right and they're wrong!" I would think I know that in my mind, but there are times when I'm stubborn.

What do you think of when you think of Canada?
It was, previous to three weeks ago, a marvellous place where I first saw the Northern Lights, somewhere between Montreal to London... is London a city here? Out in the middle of nowhere we saw the Northern Lights. But then, we played Quebec City about three weeks ago, and we didn't get in until about one o'clock in the morning, and we were one of the last people on the late-night flight that had to go through the border crossing guards. They were so pissed off at us, and went through every molecular crevice of everything we had. They were so sure that we were smuggling drugs of some kind. We were all laughing about it, but they were so... mad, and so determined. They did swabs over everything.

What was your most memorable day job?
I worked at Long John Silver's [the fish restaurant] in Oklahoma City, and I was the fry cook there. I worked there from 1977 to 1990, so a long, long time. I loved it! That's where I really think I got my idea of how I could make my fartin' music and still be a grounded person that gets up and goes to work. My most memorable day would be the day I was working and we got robbed that night and thought for sure that we were going to die in the back on the floor by the walk-in freezer. When they didn't kill us, we jumped for joy. That shit gets seared into you.

What do you fear most?
I think that you would lose your mind, and by losing your mind, you would lose this capacity that allows you to know that you're loved and your ability to love. I sometimes walk around and I see people that, just, nothing has any effect on them. I don't know if they're actually mad or something, but there's no joy of the moment. Especially when you're around music, and you see how some people are so affected by little things, and other people you can't reach them. Maybe that's a genetic thing or something, but I think "Dang! To wake up one day and not care!"

What song would you like to have played at your funeral?
It's a song that we play all the time after our shows. This song — I'd have to do two. I'd do Louis Armstrong's "Wonderful World" — it's not his song, but it's one he's made famous — and then there's a song that we played at my mother's funeral when she died. It's an old song that the singer Tom Jones did. What's it called? It goes [singing the song "I Know"], "I knooooow, what it means..." but I would say — and anyone who knows me would know this — that you would have to use the scratchy record that was her record that she probably got in 1969. We played it probably half a million times, and sometimes I'll hear it on YouTube or something, and I won't recognise it because the song I know has the scratches on it. It comes from another world. It's in another dimension. Then hopefully they would all pick something that makes us all feel like I had the greatest life that could ever be, even if I died right here today.

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