The Flaming Lips’ new album, Oczy Mlody, could be considered the first anticipated mainstream album release of 2017. Released back on Jan. 13, the psychedelic rock group’s 14th studio album was met with pretty favorable reviews by most critics and fans.
The LP had arrived on a wave of anticipation, being the first studio project made up of original material since 2013’s The Terror. Between the two album cycles, the group worked on a pair of collaborative projects, the first being 2014’s With a Little Help from My Fwends, a tribute to the Beatles’ famous Sgt. Pepper album which featured appearances from artists like My Morning Jacket, Moby, Phantogram, Dr. Dog, Grace Potter and Miley Cyrus.
Speaking of Cyrus, the young pop singer had a huge role in the evolution of what would become Oczy Mlody. She and members of the band including Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd spent 2015 collaborating and helping her produce a handful of the 23 tracks on her incredibly underrated psych-pop album, Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz. In return, Cyrus made a musical cameo on Oczy Mlody’s first single, “We a Family.”
With two new well-produced collaborative albums behind them, the band has confidently been able to release Oczy Mlody with a new, modern sound that should help the veteran rockers reach new fans they probably never knew existed.
AXS was fortunate enough to catch up with Flaming Lips’ frontman Wayne Coyne earlier this week to talk about the themes of their new album, how working with Cyrus influenced the way they write music, and what fans can expect to see and experience on their upcoming North American tour, which includes stops at Terminal 5 in New York City and The Ace Hotel in Los Angeles.
AXS: I’m assuming I speak for a lot of other Flaming Lips fans in saying Oczy Mlody continues to push the musical imagination of its listeners like you always have, but this time it's almost fantasy-like with faeries, unicorns, witches, frogs with demon eyes and so on. Would you say “Imaginative” and “fantasy” are fair adjectives for the new album?
WC: Well fantasy can be a scary thing. To some people it represents being silly or meant for children and not really based in real emotion. If I go see a movie and it says ‘fantasy,’ I worry. I think having those elements about it give the album its coloring and its entertainment, but for me I always sort of feel like if a song doesn’t have some kind of emotional connection, then it doesn’t really matter what it is, I’m just not that interested. With this record, Steven [Drozd] and I feel like we have this group of very vulnerable, melancholy songs, you know? They’re just these quiet, desperate, slightly optimistic sad songs. I think to he and I, that would be too boring if that was all we did, so when we go that deep and personal, I think it allows us to go absolutely 1,000 percent into the fantasy and absurd world. So I think if I were to listen a record that’s just fantasy, I’m not sure it would have that much appeal to me. When I think of fantasy in the best way, I think of Walt Disney movies, and though they’re cartoons and about fantasy, they really are f*cking sad.
AXS: Would you say ‘imaginative’ works?
WC: For us, a lot of times, our imagination and our concepts are triggered by these sounds that we’re f*cking with. There’s a particular synthesizer/bell sound that’s on this record that I don’t think is on any of our other records, and that added sound really found its way into almost every song. It’s not in every song, but almost every one. We couldn’t get enough of it, this little thing would trigger this other thing and send us into this world. Steven will come up with really emotional melodies and chord changes that really hit you on a deeper emotional level so I would just follow him, which would lead me to think about wizards, dragons, and unicorns, because I know I’m already as deep into the emotional part of it that I could possibly be. You want it to go to that kind of place so it’s not sad. That’s the coloring that you want. Once you get inside the entertainment though, you have to be aware that emotional struggle. That’s why I don’t watch Disney movies on airplanes, because I’m going to start crying.
AXS: There are more modern rhythms on these songs, and you don’t hear traditional drum parts. Is that the band adapting to the use of non-traditional rock beats that you now hear in modern pop music?
WC: We wouldn’t always be that aware of what is being used in pop music. We’d hear stuff and go, ‘Oh that’s cool, what is that?’ then someone would say ‘That’s a Beyoncé song from five years ago dude,’ so we would be sort of ignorant sometimes of what the palette of modern pop is. When working with Miley Cyrus, you get a little more insight to things like, ‘here’s a lot of that being used all the time.’ We got really used to hearing a lot of tracks from producers which she would working on. It no longer seemed like pop or hip-hop production, I mean we probably just got so used to those styles that it began to sound like just music, and no longer had a specific genre to it. I think that really helped us. Had we tried to do this album previous to meeting Miley, it probably would have still been rooted in a sort of weirdo rock sound, but being around her lead us to hear it differently. I think we’d been consciously moving away from the ‘band’ structure for a long time anyway. We don’t really write and record as a ‘band’ structure very often.
AXS: Speaking of Miley, the song, “Sunrise (Eyes of the Young)” is essentially a re-worked version of “The Floyd Song (Sunrise)” from her Dead Petz album. Was that one you two had worked on that you’d always wanted to use later down the road?
WC: No, well we like the thing we did with her, for sure. Steven and I had worked up bits of the song while we were working on it with her before knowing where it was going to go. I think once she did it, then we were pretty satisfied with that. This “Sunrise” song was connected to two or three other songs in this big recording file, and our version without Miley on it came up one day and I thought, ‘Oh f*ck, what is that? It didn’t sound the same when I sang it!’ I think we both wanted to keep working on it, and we’d always thought of it that way. When we were working with her on stuff we always said, ‘Hey we might take this and f*ck with it down the road’ and she thought it’d be great to have two songs to come from the same inspiration or whatever. There are these long passages of instrumental stuff that we really liked but I don’t think we’d try with Miley, it wouldn’t sit well on her record.
AXS: You might almost miss it at first, but listening to the album again, you’re able to catch it if you’re familiar with the Dead Petz album and hear similarities, and can appreciate that it’s not an exact copy of hers.
WC: There’s that song that Rihanna did that’s a Tame Impala track, do you know that one?
AXS: “Same Old Mistakes”
WC: Yeah, as much as I like both of them, it’s just the same track. One of them has Kevin from Tame Impala singing and the other one has Rihanna. It’s essentially exactly the same song. I think we didn’t want that, two versions with us then another with Miley.
AXS: Your U.S. tour kicks off here in a few weeks on March 3, but you’ve had a handful of European shows already this year to debut the new material. What kind of theatrical fun did you have in those shows in January and what can fans in the U.S. expect to experience on the upcoming run of shows?
WC: We have this ridiculous plastic unicorn which has this battery operated/wifi operated light show. In most venues I’m able to go off the stage and into the audience where I can sing as I get pushed around on this unicorn. It’s so ridiculous, that it’s fun. It’s not trying to be serious or real, it’s just this absurd element, and it is stunningly beautiful. The way that technology has allowed all this to happen so we can do this crazy sh*t, I mean we’re right in the audience. Sometimes that just changes everything, being right there with them. That part has been a lot of fun. I don’t think people know what to do when you’re suddenly right there with them. We still do this space bubble for when we do the David Bowie song, “Space Oddity,” and that’s transformed that moment into this somber but really magical moment. I’m going over the audience but I’m not being thrown aggressively. It’s more of a magic moment. The atmosphere and love that’s happening when I’m doing that song changes it. We also have this dude who works on our LED stage show, who is just an insane motherfu*ker, and is constantly finding new levels of sh*t, especially if you see this new show and close up on it. You will think that you’ve taken, the best drugs that have ever been made [laughs].
AXS: Going back to working with Miley, I’ve always thought that her label not releasing the Dead Petz album was a loss for future songwriters out there, since it was a great psychedelic, anti-pop album. It could have inspired the next Flaming Lips, and offered a rare taste of non-traditional pop music to go against the grain of what most top 40 albums aimed towards a teenage audience sound like today. How can we get more experimental albums like that out of mainstream artists?
WC: It wasn’t really her label, it was her. She didn’t want to go through her label to have any restrictions. There wasn’t that much talk about how it was going to be released until it was almost finished. We didn’t know what was going to happen with it. It is just her. I’m in a group and we’re a bunch of adult men in this thing that we’ve been doing for a long, long time, so it’s easy for us to have a stance with confidence. I try to remind people that when she put this out, she was only 23-years-old and it was absolutely up to her what she does with it. Does she want to invest into a $100 million tour, get the label to put out singles, or make videos that cost like $300,000 to make? All these decisions are made by just her, this very young girl. The more her and I would talk about it, I wanted her to make the decision which let her off the hook of people thinking it’s a failure because it didn’t come in a No. 1 on the charts. I said we could just release it like weirdos do on BandCamp all the time, and that would be the most punk rock thing you could do with it. For Miley to do that, I thought was pretty radical. Her really crazy fans would go to a show and enjoy it, and the naysayers who say she’s a fake or a brainless pop star wouldn’t even know about it. It went to the people that she wanted to reach. I do agree with you that there’s a sense of ‘I want that f*cking album to be in the world!’ I’m the same way, and I think eventually if I’m able to, I’ll persuade her to make this thing more accessible. I just want to download it on iTunes and listen to it on an airplane!
Check out upcoming Flaming Lips tour dates right here on AXS.