Wayne Coyne: ‘Once you’ve had a gun to your head, little things don’t bother you anymore’ | The Flaming Lips

l have a seagull nesting in front of my kitchen window. It seems quite chilled, so I played some music to help it cope with impending motherhood. Which Flaming Lips album is the best completement the seagull birth cycle? Cleggatemyhamster

Gosh, that’s hard to say because not many of our albums are soft all the time. If I were a seagull, I might find The Terror comforting. It has a warm hum, a bit like a refrigerator. My wife is quite gentle so when she gave birth we didn’t listen to anything specific. I’d put the Alexa speaker on her pregnant belly and sing to the baby, though I have no idea if they care if they’re there.

What’s the biggest animal you could possibly be? clingmovie to a lamppost without help and without brute force? I think a giraffe. JAMIEOH

A little elephant? I would not recommend wrapping a live animal in a mail. The first time we played in Los Angeles, in 1985, we used a dead pig’s head. We put a thread through the ears and my younger brother Mark, the singer at the time, wore it like a necklace. We did it again in Dallas a week later and had to carry it in a portable cooler so it wouldn’t get too smelly.

What goes through your mind as you roll around in your giant hamster ball? Do you roll around in it every day? What happens when you need the toilet? hhhhssss, DeJongandtherestless and LeaderOfTheFree

Coyne in his clear plastic bubble, held up by the hands of the public
Coyne in his bubble at the Glastonbury Festival in 2010. Photo: Jim Ross/AP

I don’t use it around the house because it’s too big to fit through the door, but I do practice in the yard. On stage, I’m still aware that everyone is watching me, so being in my space bubble makes me feel more relaxed, even though it’s sweaty. You can last about three hours before you run out of air – we tested it.

I don’t know if it’s adrenaline, but you rarely have to pee on stage. It’s the same with sneezing: your fight-or-flight mechanism kicks in. I’ve only had to perform a few times with diarrhea, but I still have to sing half a set and then shit my pants. I remember Lollapalooza, 1994, where Nick Cave – with his great baritone roar – had a hard time. We joked that he’d better cut down on the loud tones. I noticed his performance was a bit more reserved; not his insanely manic self. I then asked him, “Did something slip out?” but he said no.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve seen at one of your performances? JallenDM

We used to have 25 furry costumes with us; we had 12 or 13 people dancing on each side of the stage. A couple asked if they could pee in the costumes. I thought, “Of all the weird things you can ask of the world, that’s pretty harmless.”

Which album would you like to cover more? Pacific

Since I’ve had my own studio at home, we’ve done the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, the Stone Roses’ debut… We’ve talked about making Portishead’s first album and a plate of the Silver Apples. Who would I most like to cover a Flaming Lips album with? Well, who wouldn’t want the Beatles to cover Soft Bulletin, Radiohead and American Head or Billie Eilish Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots?

What were the expressions on your record company’s faces when you imagined Gummy Song Skull: four songs on a USB drive buried in a gummy skull? thecrista Institute

We’ve also built a USB drive into a real human skull; 14 were made available. You can’t buy human skulls unless you’re a doctor or something, but this distributor here in Oklahoma City owed me a favor. We were in between contracts with Warner Bros, so we did the craziest things possible, simply because we didn’t have to get permission.

Coyne wearing absolutely gigantic hands over his real hands
A big hand for Flaming Lips at the Wireless festival in London, 2006. Photo: Tabatha Fireman/Redferns

You have included my mathematician husband, Thorsten Woermannlike the outside voice on you 2009 album, Embryonic† As you know, he passed away in 2019. I just wanted to say that working with you was one of the highlights of his life. Thank you for giving him and me that super memory. AmiAbroad

He was so kind and vocal about how much he was enjoying it at the time which was a great relief because you never know what people are thinking. It’s such a beautiful, bizarre record, so his voice really adds something to those six or seven songs. I knew he was ill, so it’s great to hear from you, Mrs. Wörmann. Thank you for submitting your question.

We were also robbed at Hemi’s Pizza — around the corner from Long John Silver’s seafood restaurant in Oklahoma — where three boys held you at gunpoint as a teenager. Did your near-death experience contribute to your desire to become avant? garden? Steve1us and favrion23

I think it made me less afraid of doing things in the name of art. Now I’m thinking, “What harm is going to happen if I make a bad record?” Once you’ve stood with a gun to your head and thought, “Well, I’m dying,” the little things don’t bother you anymore. It certainly shaped my fierceness – if that’s the right word.

There were many robberies at that time. You assumed that if you were robbed you would be shot too, your body would be thrown in the walk-in cooler and your mom would find out on the news. That pizzeria was around the corner. I did get the feeling that these guys had already robbed a few places, but we only saw a brief police report. When I was 16, 17 years old, I assumed, “Everyone has to die almost two or three times, grow up.” It was only later in my life that I realized: that is not normal.

The text of 1993’s She Don’t Use Jelly ga: “I know a girl who thinks about ghosts / She makes you breakfast, she makes toast for you / But she doesn’t use butter and she doesn’t use cheese / She doesn’t use jelly, or any of these / She uses petroleum jelly.” Who the hell eats Vaseline on toast? The Good Thief

We had conversations – not even when they were stoned – like, “People put petroleum jelly on their chapped lips, but you wouldn’t eat it. But you wouldn’t put butter on your lips even if you were to eat it.” Presenting ideas that no one else will think of always feels like a Flaming Lips song. I don’t speak in metaphors. I’m literally talking about eating petroleum jelly on toast.

Did you know the Google Street View car was coming when it snapped the picture of you in the tub in your front yard? MarkReed

No. I’m definitely more aware of that car you see driving around town with that crazy spinning camera. But at that moment I happened to be there. I had six of these huge metal bathtubs for our Christmas on Mars movie. They are still there, full of soil and flowers. My house is full of useless things; too beautiful to throw away. I don’t know about the traditions in England, but when we put up our Christmas tree, we don’t take it down until the summer, because we don’t want to waste it.

How has parenthood changed your outlook on life? First name Last Name

Our oldest is three; the other four months. I hope they see that doing things you love is what life is all about. I’m lucky that I’ve never been in that work cycle of: going to work, coming home, watching TV, and drinking all night because I hate my horrible job. Even though I am an old man, I hope my children see that everything I do – making music, painting – is about playing, laughing, having fun.

Do you believe in cosmic love or is it all a glorious biochemical delusion? DandysRuleOK

I have a saying: there is no God, but there is. The moment you reject that we live in chaos and everything is damn random, you realize there’s something in your DNA that your mind can’t quite figure out. Seeing these images from the Hubble telescope of how vast and endless the universe is, part of you wants to live your life with the total freedom that defines you. But part of you still wants to be like a spider destined to make a web. That’s one of the beautiful swamps of being human: you get to think how much of this you are and how much is pre-programmed. Music is such a breath of fresh air because it frees your mind. As music flies through your emotions, you become a frozen, mindless, listening vessel.

A huge spiky balloon with a happy face joins Coyne on stage
At the End of the Road festival, Salisbury, 2014. Photo: Andy Sheppard/Redferns/Getty Images

What exactly do you ask at the hairdresser? Malaparte

I don’t like people messing with my hair, so I don’t go to anyone. Sometimes I forget to wash my hair for a month or two so that it is quite dry, and then my wife gives it a good gulp. So luckily my wife is always watching. The word she used today was “oboe,” as in, “You look like an oboe.” So I better do something about that.

Is there anything else on your bucket list? GayerforMayer

I’ve lived in Oklahoma since 1961—all my life—but I’ve never seen a tornado. I have stood on the roof of my house and watched. They pass by here all the time so you would think I would have seen about 20 of them.

There is an optimism in your writing that is both alien and contrary to the times we live in. How do you maintain such a cheerful, positive character? Miffy4boys and FeelingDisintegrated

When the Flaming Lips are at their most expressive, we’re speaking an emotional truth that you can’t say in real life. We swore to the gods of music that we would follow our heart, whether it be embarrassing, stupid or wrong. Sometimes I worry we sound like these wretched old guys. So I hope we still sound like we’re full of hope and love.

How do you survive a zombie apocalypse? Potential Octopus

Disguise yourself as another zombie? That’s what we do as Democrats in Oklahoma. We’re hidden among the Republicans, so we pretend to be one of them, in case they want to kill us.

The Flaming Lips headline Womad festival, July 30th

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