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Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne often sketches ridiculous doodles while he does phone interviews. They usually start off with naked women, Coyne reveals, and the one he's working on right now, evidently, has turned into a naked chick riding the back of a giant skull.
"Some gushy shit is shooting out of his eyes," Coyne elaborates. "Then it turns into a giant row of women's breasts. There are some bats that look like rubbery rabbits that are flying toward her, getting ready to eat the halo that's shooting off her head — yeah, you know? Pretty normal."
Welcome to the mind of one of rock's true eccentrics. Coyne says he really does these sketches for his own subconscious. "I'm talking to you, trying to make sense to you, and I'm drawing at the same time, but I don't know what the fuck I'm going to draw," he elaborates. "I just start drawing. That's how you do music, too. Music, sometimes, is kind of happening, and if you try to control it or shape it too much, it's just boring. You want there to be these things that just jump out of your mind, and you go, 'Look at that!' And people call it writing, but to me, it's not really writing. It's just sitting there and something comes out, and you say, 'Cool!'"
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For Coyne, the visual art and the music go hand-in-hand. He says it's all art to him, and there's no difference between making music and painting. "For a musician, it's like that," he points out. "But I'm not really a musician in that way. I make sounds, and I work with a lot of great musicians — don't get me wrong — but I don't think of myself as working in music. I'm just doing my thing."
And the Flaming Lips members are doing more of their own thing recently, since their contract with Warner Brothers has run out and they're waiting to renegotiate a new contract. In the meantime, the Lips have been doing creative work without having to answer to "the bureaucracy," as Coyne puts it. Nothing against the imprint; it takes a long time to release albums.
Earlier this year, Coyne and company started toying around with the idea of releasing songs in non-conventional ways, like planting a USB drive with a few songs on it inside a gummy skull — or, more recently, a gummy fetus. Taking a few cues from the band's four-disc Zaireeka album (where any number of the discs could be played at the same time), the band also released "Two Blobs Fucking" as twelve different YouTube videos that could be played simultaneously on iPhones.
And the constant output of creativity doesn't stop there — not by a long shot. The Lips have recently collaborated with bands such as Neon Indian, Prefuse 73 and Ghostland Observatory, and Coyne says he just received the test pressing of the band's collaboration with Providence-based noise-rock duo Lightning Bolt. Most recently, the band worked on a song with Nick Cave, whom Coyne met when the Lips were in Spain.
"We talked about doing a track," Coyne says, "and when I got home, I sent it to him, and lo and behold, about 48 hours later, he sent it back to me with a bunch of crazy singing on it. I'm trying to collect another three tracks that we can do together, and maybe to put out something by the end of October. But he's busy, and we're very busy, too, so we'll just keep trying."
And there are plenty of other collaborations in the works. With a goal of teaming up with a new artist every other month, the band has reached out to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Ariel Pink, No Age and Jimmy Page about working together in the future. On Record Store Day in mid-April next year, Coyne says, they might release what he thinks will be the most interesting batch of music from these collaborations, which he figures could be forty to fifty songs by then. "I think we'll have a very elaborate sort of gummy-skull idea that we're going to do at the very end of this," he enthuses, "and a very elaborate, big vinyl collection as well."
In the meantime, Coyne says it's exhilarating to be able to make music like they've been doing recently, where it's not necessarily quick, but rather spontaneous. In a way, the band's approach to the recent material isn't too far from the way they approached 2009's Embryonic.
"I think we still have a bit of that Embryonic hangover there," Coyne admits. "A lot of that was based on some really wicked jams that we got into, and then later turned them into songs. Sometimes now we'll work in that same way, where we'll do a jam and then we'll pull it out a month later and be like, 'Wow, I don't remember this happening,' and then it hits you as kind of a fresh idea.
"I guess because of the way we did Embryonic, that kind of opened us up to the way we're working now," he goes on. "Anything is possible. There's really just no method anymore for writing songs or whatever. There are a million different methods all the time. For me, that's where it became utterly exciting. I don't necessarily know if it would be what people would say is our best music, but a lot of it, to me, is, like, fucking music we've never done before, which is what you want."