On Friday, The Flaming Lips released their 16th album American Head. The record finds the Oklahoma City-bred pop-psych group exploring what exactly it means to be an “American band.” To go along with the album’s release, frontman Wayne Coyne appeared in the latest installment of the Rolling Stone interview series, “The Last Word”.
Since announcing the album back in June, the band has released several music videos for songs on it including “My Religion Is You“, “Flowers of Neptune 6” featuring Kacey Musgraves, “You n’ Me Sellin’ Weed“, “Will You Return / When You Come Down“, and “Mother Please Don’t Be Sad“.
When the band announced the album, Coyne penned a short explanation of what The Flaming Lips were trying to accomplish with American Head,
The Flaming Lips are from Oklahoma. We never thought of ourselves as an American band. So… for most of our musical life (as the Flaming Lips starting in 1983) we’ve kind of thought of ourselves as coming from ‘Earth’… not really caring where we were actually from. So for the first time in our musical life, we began to think of ourselves as ‘an American band’… telling ourselves that it would be our identity for our next creative adventure. … We started to think of classic American bands like the Grateful Dead and Parliament-Funkadelic and how maybe we could embrace this new vibe.
In the latest edition of Rolling Stone‘s “The Last Word”, also released on Friday, Coyne expounded on those patriotic themes as well as recent developments of his own life. While the band’s journey to the heart of what being an American band means is a purely artistic one, interviewer Brenna Ehrlich asked Coyne if he had contemplated the negative connotations of what it currently means to be American, i.e. President Donald Trump.
I never considered Trump. I don’t even speak about him. I think Flaming Lips music, when it’s at its best — it’s something deeper than Donald Trump.
This in turn boiled over into a discussion of the global COVID-19 pandemic that has brought the live music industry to a grinding halt.
You hate to say anything positive about the pandemic. We’ve all lost our jobs because we can’t go out and play concerts. But I feel optimistic that it’s allowed people to take a break from the onslaught of all the cool things that can occupy your attention. I don’t think the Black Lives Matter movement would have had as much power if there were all these other things going on. I was very glad that there were no concerts and no sporting events — nothing else in a way to say, “Yes, this could be the news.”
In the shadow of all that, I think some really powerful things are happening. I hope we don’t all just die like it’s the plague or something. I hope this is just a moment in our history and we learn a lot from it.
Coyne, 59, recently had a son named Bloom with his second wife, Katy. He was asked what he hopes the world will be like when his son is 59.
I think the world is a wonderful, beautiful, insane place. I don’t think of the world as being this great punisher that’s here to teach us horrible things. Surely, there is a lot of injustice and there’s a lot of pain, but the world can really only be as beautiful as you see it. Two people can be standing in front of the sunset, and one of them just sees it as a waste of time: “What are we standing here for?” And the other one sees it as the greatest experience they’ve ever had. I would say I hope that the world is as great and as wonderful and as challenging and as cool as it is now when he gets to be older.
The interview also touches on some of the thematic elements present on American Head, particularly love and religion and their presence in the song “My Religions Is You”.
I remember questioning my mother about religion when I was seven or eight years old. She said, “Well, some people don’t have a mother that they can talk to and they have to talk to something. They can talk to God because they don’t have anybody they can talk to.” And I understood that because I did have a mother and a dad and brothers and a lot of people that I could talk to.
And I said, “Well, my religion is you. My religion then is my brothers and my family, and our house and you.” I think at the time she was like, “I could see you thinking that way.”
I’m not trying to sing something that everybody will understand; I’m just trying to sing something so I can understand it. And I think in that, it probably becomes a thing that everybody can understand.
One seemingly out-of-the-blue highlight of the interview came when Ehrlich asked Coyne what his favorite book was as a kid and what that says about the person he has become.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I mean, it’s such a great story and you wish it was true in life — that these bitter old fools who hate the world somehow get enlightened and change the way they are. Most older people that I know that are old and bitter and hate everything are not just going to wake up one morning and see everything great and new. But it’s a great story in that way — that you can change your heart and your mind and suddenly see the world differently. It’s like a Bible story, it’s just easier to understand.
Inevitably, the conversation turned to the topic of drug use. American Head is full of references to drug use, and several songs revolved around the substances including “You n’ Me Sellin’ Weed” or “Mother I’ve Taken LSD”. Coyne and The Flaming Lips have never been ones to necessarily deify or demonize drug use, but the theme certainly appears quite a bit.
So, we’re not singing about drugs as if it’s a hippie, cosmic, mind-opening, beautiful thing. When I’m singing, “Mother, I’ve taken LSD,” I’m singing about my oldest brother being on the porch telling my mother that he had taken LSD. When your older brother says he takes LSD, you just think, “Oh, my God. He’s so f*cking crazy. Why is he so crazy? And why is he trying to kill himself?” And then part of you says, “He is crazy — and he’s cool, he’s wonderful, he is like a God because he can see things and do things that I can’t do.”
When I took LSD, it didn’t open up the world — it made me think of how horrible it is and how painful it is and how unfair it is. I’m almost 10 years older than Steven, but he had virtually the same experience with his older brothers and drugs. So, when we sing about these things, it’s like we’re relating to each other.
Read the full interview with Wayne Coyne in Rolling Stone here, and stream American Head via the player below.
The Flaming Lips – American Head
[H/T Rolling Stone]