Flaming Lips Tiptoe Toward The Pop Mainstream

Experimental band mixes new tracks for potential radio-play while issuing anthology of older, less conventional music.

Just as a compilation of early material chronicling their wildly

experimental earlier years is hitting shelves, Oklahoman

psychedelic-rockers the Flaming Lips are about to finish a new album

that could represent their most radical musical shift yet.

In keeping with their unpredictable past, the Lips are making a bold

break from their more abstract leanings and collaborating with a

remixer -- Peter Mokran -- best known for his work with such mainstream

pop acts as Michael Jackson, R. Kelly and Prince.

Lips leader Wayne Coyne said he has no idea how Mokran's input will

affect his group's collage-like, fractured acid-rock.

"He's been taking a more 'industry' approach to remixing a couple of our

songs," Coyne said of recent sessions with Mokran in Chicago. "His

position is to do something that we could get on radio in the next six

months. He knows what needs to be done to do that."

Coyne said that while most bands would think of this kind of remixing as

a "heinous procedure," he and his bandmates -- drummer Steven Drozd and

bassist Michael Ivins -- loved the opportunity to rethink their songs in

ways that would never have occurred to them.

"What Peter was doing was not that much different than what we'd do,"

Coyne said. "It's just that sometimes we'll sacrifice hearing lyrics for

outright use of distortion and burying the melodies. [Mokran] just said

to us, 'C'mon fellas, we have to hear what you're saying.'"

While Mokran was brought in to give some of the group's songs a more

pop-oriented feel, Lips manager Scott Booker said the group likes to

think that it's always been a pop band, minus the conventional song

structure.

Booker hinted that it is possible the upcoming Lips album, scheduled for

the first quarter of 1999 and tentatively titled The Soft

Bulletin, could feature both Mokran's and Coyne's versions of certain

songs. "Instead of fighting [the Lips' label, Warner Brothers], we'd like

to release a Lips version and a mixed version, so people can hear the

difference," Booker said.

In the meantime, the trio continued its unique series of live shows,

dubbed the "Boombox Experiment," with four recent dates on the East

Coast. The concerts, which feature Coyne and Drozd conducting a symphony

of boombox radios with specially prepared tapes featuring the Lips'

music, have further established the group's reputation as musical

experimenters.

As for the band's studio-produced music, Coyne said it has matured in

unexpected ways.

The 15-plus songs recorded and re-recorded by the band during the past

year are more emotionally based, Coyne said. "I've been drawn to more

emotional sounds as opposed to the abstract, more hodgepodge sound we've

been known for," he said.

The singer described the new music as commercial and experimental at the

same time. It includes such tentatively titled new tracks as "Superman,"

the multiple-song suite "The Psychiatrist Confronts the Indifference of

the Vast Galaxy" and "What Is the Light (My Unscientific Hypothesis That

the Chemical By Which We Feel Love Is the Same Chemical That Caused the

Big Bang Theory)."

For fans in search of the Lips' more old-school approach to

experimentation, a collection of material from the first half of their

14-year career, A Collection of Songs Representing an Enthusiasm for

Recording ... By Amateurs (Restless Records), was released

Sept. 29. The 14-song collection is culled from such albums as Hear

It Is (1986); Oh My Gawd!!! ... The Flaming Lips (1987);

Telepathic Surgery (1988); In a Priest Driven Ambulance

(1990); and the Unconsciously Screamin' EP (1990).

"I think Restless basically wanted to discontinue a lot of our back

catalog, since none of these records sell anyway, so they were trying to

concise those albums down," Coyne said.

With liner notes penned by Coyne, chronicling the band's early years, the

set also features a number of rare or previously unavailable songs,

including covers of singer/songwriter Nick Lowe ("What's So Funny About

Peace, Love and Understanding"), grunge-godfather Neil Young ("After the

Gold Rush"), noise-pioneers Sonic Youth ("Death Valley '69") and

heavy-metal rockers Led Zeppelin ("Thank You"). The latter two have

never been available on CD before.

Also included on the album are Lips originals "Jesus Shootin' Heroin"; "I Want to Kill My Brother the Cymbalhead" (never

before available on CD); "Hell's Angels Cracker Factory"; "One Million, Billionth of a Millisecond on a Sunday Morning";

"Bag Full of Thoughts" (previously unreleased); "Chrome Plated Suicide";

"Michael, Time to Wake Up,"; "Unconsciously Screaming" (with an enhanced-CD video included); "God Walks Among Us Now"; and "Ma Didn't Notice."

"This was looked at as a kind of 'greatest hits' album,' " Coyne said.

"But, being that we don't really have any hits, we just picked whichever

songs we liked better than others."