Formed as a traditional rock band in 1983, The Flaming Lips has since evolved into a gargantuan entity bursting with neo-psychedelic space rock, confetti and man-sized plastic bubbles. Hailing from Norman, Oklahoma, their larger-than-life front man Wayne Coyne, multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Steven Drozd, drummer Kliph Scurlock, bassist/keyboardist Michael Ivins, and guitarist Derek Brown have redefined the term “psychedelic.” They’ve proven to get better with age, and while they may never top the success of 1999’s Soft Bulletin, they are comfortable courageously reinventing themselves. 2002’s Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots was intensely beautiful and did so well, the former Governor of Oklahoma made the single, “Do You Realize??,” the official state rock song in 2009. The Lips’ recently released its 16th studio album, The Terror, which completely abandons any formulaic methods of songwriting and delivers something refreshingly unique. It may not be as commercially accessible as previous efforts, but it’s another descriptive chapter in The Flaming Lips’ story.
“We just did the new record and we’re pretty pumped about it,” Drozd says. “We’re not sure how our fans will feel about it, but for us, we really wanted to do a different type of record, which might not be expected. We’re just kind of buzzing along on that and working up a whole new live show.
“We’re not doing the same show you saw a couple of years ago,” he adds. “It’s not as celebratory. There’s no confetti or balloons or that kind of stuff. You saw the pinnacle of that. Now we’re trying different lights on stage, different videos and obviously the music is different because it’s a new record. The question is can we change and mutate into something, but still have an audience? [Laughs] We’re kind of figuring that out right now. It’s exciting, but it’s also a little scary.”
The Flaming Lips’ entire career has been defined by reinvention. When Soft Bulletin came out, they were in the process of abandoning the traditional rock band phase and impressed the skeptics when they emerged with something completely different.
“At that time, in 1999, I think a lot of people had probably written us off as that band in the ‘90s that had the Jelly song,” he explains. “There are so many goofy one-hit wonder bands from the ‘90s, even though we’d like to think we had more depth than that. I can see why people would think that about us. So when Soft Bulletin came out and it wasn’t that post-grunge guitar stuff, I think people were surprised by that. We went in a whole new direction that wasn’t guitar-based rock so much. Whatever energy we got from that album, we took and made Yoshimi, which became the more successful, commercial record and it kind of gave us a whole new career, you know?”
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots took The Flaming Lips to a whole new level of success, but it also continued to take Drozd down a rather dark road where he was taking on a battle of his own. He’s been fighting an opiate addiction for years and, in fact, relapsed during the making of The Terror.
“The problem with drugs are eventually they backfire on you and anyone that does them long enough realizes this,” he says. “I know from my own experience. I thought I was freeing my mind, anxiety, stress and worry. I thought it was helping me in the beginning, but down the road, it turned in to my fucking worst nightmare. Some of the best music I made was when I was fucked up, but then again, some of my favorite music happened when I was sober.”
As The Lips perfect the live show and prepare for their performance at this year’s MAHA Festival on August 17, the guys are in a serene place. Coyne is busy being Virgin Mobile’s spokesperson and Drozd is feeling better than he has in years.
“It’s easier to speak about it now,” he admits. ”If you talked to me in the depths of heroin addiction in 2001, I would have told you that it’s really fucked up my life. It’s a hard thing to give a quick answer to.
“If you’ve been strung out on opiates for a long time, when you quit, you just can’t even sit still,” he concludes. “You’re never at peace. You’re just so full of anxiety. Yoga helped with that. I also quit drinking so I can wake up in the morning and not feel like total dog shit. I have a family, too. I have a wife and 2 kids now. They’re my whole life. Yeah, I do music as a vocation, but right next to that is my family. That’s all of my time. I’ve got my whole life sorted out.”
The Flaming Lips, MAHA Festival, August 17, at Aksarben Village, Gates Open at Noon, Tickets are $45/ADV and $55/DOS. Visit www.mahamusicfestival.com for more information.