Among other things, Flaming Lips leader Wayne Coyne has a way of making ordinary things sound interesting.
Take for example the title to his band's latest album.
"It's a combination of the words Zaire and Eureka," said Coyne, from a Kassadaga, New York studio where the band will finish recording the upcoming release, Zaireeka (Oct. 21) this Sunday. "It's fitting because it combines two things we're not so sure go together."
Zaireeka is a 4-CD set, which will be the Lips' commercially-released attempt to capture the wall of sound unleashed last year by Coyne's bizarre "Parking Lot Experiment" performances.
"These are basically rhythms and ideas we're not so sure go together," said Coyne, sounding tired but excited. "It is a monumental effort, and we don't know how it will turn out, but that's why the tag 'experimental' still applies to us, I think."
The "Parking Lot Experiment" was a series of one-off automotive symphonies, if you will, performed by Coyne and 50 of his closest friends with wheels wherein the mad musical maven of Oklahoma City, Okla., passed out 50 different pre-recorded tapes of original compositions and conducted his unorthodox orchestra (who played the tapes on their car cassette decks) through cacophonic and transcendental musical movements.
Flaming Lips manager Scott Booker said the CD set is based on the same theory, but with only one of the "Parking Lot" songs held over. The rest of the compositions are new songs worked-up by the Lips in the studio that Booker said are in the spirit of the experiment songs.
"Experimental so often means boring, but we didn't go into this trying to be experimental," said Coyne, who said even he isn't sure how the four-pack will turn out. "They're meant to be played at the same time, so you have to have four different CD players."
Coyne said he envisions a scenario where the purchaser and three of his closest friends get together, each bringing their own CD player. The quartet then cue up the discs and listen to the music the way Coyne meant it to be heard, out of eight speakers, all blasting at once. "It's not really about a communal thing, but just a reaction to all this 'Oh, it's all been done before' talk. That's not true," Coyne said.
Booker promised that the CDs, each of which will contain nine songs (although even Coyne didn't seem to be clear on what they would be yet) and a list price around $21, "will definitely be unlike most albums you've heard. The whole point is to get other people involved. Wayne wanted to show that you don't have to be in a regular, everyday local venue watching a local bar band doing the same old thing to hear music."
Coyne, however, despite his image as a slightly off-kilter musical tinkerer, was grounded in the reality that the industrious project might not sell a lot of records. "We just hope it spurs other artists to pursue their ideas," he said. "We're in a good position now because people expect us to do weird things, and we feel obligated to push harder."
Describing the process as "a mountain of work," Coyne struggled a bit to explain exactly how the CDs will jive together, vaguely offering that "each CD has accompaniment that goes with the other ones. Each song has its own rules that go with it. The idea was to have eight different stereo fields to fuck with." But, he admits, he didn't consider the ramifications of those eight fields when the band started work on the project more than four months ago.
Sticking with an analogy he worked throughout the conversation, Coyne said the project is "like fireworks. You could do them outside and that's fun for a while, but it's more fun to do them with friends inside. Your eyes could get pushed out, your hair might catch on fire, anything could happen, but for a couple of hours it's real fun."
As for any potential song titles, Coyne offered only one, but it sounded like a Lips classic-in-the-making: "The Big 'Ol Bug Is The New Baby Now."
The Lips are also concurrently finishing tracks for a more conventional "pop" release that will come out in early February and will share a few songs with the 4-CD set. Frequent Lips collaborator David Fridmann is on-board for both albums as co-producer.
As for the fate of ex-Lips guitarist Ronald Jones, who left the band following the tour for the Lips' last studio album, 1995's Clouds Taste Metallic, both Booker and Coyne said the group hasn't tried to replace him, and doesn't plan to... for now. Instead, the band will probably bring a tour guitarist and possibly a keyboard player along on their next tour, said Booker.