Wayne Coyne, frontman and head bubble crowd surfer for the Flaming Lips, just keeps outdoing himself. Personally, I find it hard to imagine a better album packaging than the Lips’ gummy fetus EP from last summer. (Yes, there was a USB flash drive imbedded in a gummy fetus, and you had to eat your way to the music.) Or last Halloween’s release of a 24-hour song called “7 Skies H3” encased inside a real human skull. (You can also stream it online if skulls aren’t your thing.) Where do you possibly go from there without getting gimmicky? Well, their next musical smorgasbord, Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends — which features collaborations with Yoko Ono, Erykah Badu, Ke$ha, Bon Iver, Nick Cave and Coldplay’s Chris Martin, among others — is available as a double multi-colored vinyl set on Record Store Day (April 21st). Or if you have deep pockets, you can also purchase a limited special edition, containing all (or most) of the performers’ blood. That’s right, the Flaming Lips record on your turntable could feasibly contain a mixture of viscous fluid from John Lennon’s widow and the creator of the "Put Your Beard in My Mouth" website.
I called Coyne to talk about the new album, and whether making music with Ke$ha is really the coke-snorting, glitter-penetrating, amateur-tattoo-giving free-for-all that we all kinda assume it is.
If Twitter is to be believed, you’ve been down in Dallas recently, pressing the vinyl for the new Lips’ album.
Well of course Twitter is to be believed. I tweet so much that it would be inconceivable for me to keep a lie going. Yeah, I’ve been working on the vinyl down at Stan Getz's place in Dallas, which is only about three hours from my house. I don’t know how much of the process you’ve seen, but these are old machines. You have to feed little pellets of colored vinyl into a big funnel and it kind of goes through this mechanism by which it gets melted and turned into a record. The end result has been utterly amazing. I don’t think anybody’s seen colored vinyl like this before.
In my imagination, I picture you driving to Dallas with a trunk filled to the hilt with blood.
[Laughs.] Well, I’m sorry to say your imagination has gone too far, Eric. That would be way too much blood. How much blood is there in an average person?
Five liters, I think. Am I remembering that right?
Let’s say it’s five liters. For me to fill my truck with human blood, I’d need to have at least a few dead people back there. Maybe a lot of dead people.
Well let’s do the math. Five liters of blood per person. If you filled up a bunch of 2-liter soda jugs, you could store a lot of blood in even a hatchback trunk.
Which would be cool. I mean, not good for the people who lost all that blood, but a cool story for you.
It depends on how many special editions you want to put out.
That’s true. But there are legal dilemmas when you’re doing anything with human blood.
People are weird about it. I’m 51 years old, so I can remember back in the day when there would be car accidents, and there’d be blood all over the street. And after the ambulance and the fire trucks and everybody left, there would just be blood on the street. It would just be there and you’d look at it for a couple of days and no one would care.
They’d just wait for a rainstorm to wash everything away?
Yeah, exactly. Back when my mother was still alive, the guy across the street from her had his head shot through with a bullet. A guy came to his front door and knocked, and when he answered the guy shot him right in the face. Killed him instantly. He died right in the doorway. The police and the coroner came and took everything away, but I think the door was stained with blood for a long time afterwards. And that doesn’t happen anymore. You can’t walk down the street and say, “Hey look, there’s blood on the wall.”
Which is kind of a good thing, don’t you think?
Oh yeah, absolutely.
I’m nostalgic for a lot of stuff, but not necessarily “Hey, remember when there was more human blood splattered everywhere?”
[Laughs.] Right, right. These days, when something like that happens, a big team comes in and removes all traces of human remains. Which, I agree, is a good thing.
How does this relate to getting Gwyneth Paltrow’s husband to give you blood?
It’s kind of where we are now. The idea that you might want to send any sort of human liquids around is just not ... they’d rather you not do it.
Who? The record company? The U.S. Department of Health?
All of the above. It’s not inherently illegal. It’s your blood, you can do whatever you want with it. The government just wants to know what’s going on with it. They want to make sure I’m not causing any health hazards out there in the world.
"It’s your imagination that makes it dirty, Eric. Because of you, I’ve got a trunk full of blood and I’m fingering Ke$ha’s glittery twat."
Who actually collects the blood for this record? It’s not you in a labcoat with a syringe, right?
Well, it depends on where you live. In some cities around America, you can’t get blood taken unless it’s by somebody in the medical field. In L.A., you can take blood from anybody. But in Oklahoma you cannot. I have a friend in Oklahoma who works for a lab and he’d have to take the blood for me during his off time. Sometimes they’re conservative in places you wouldn’t think they’d be. Like in Paris. It’s virtually impossible to get blood from somebody in Paris.
So when you get it all, what happens next? You’re putting it directly into the vinyl?
It’s like a picture disc. It’s essentially two very thin records that are clear, like glass, and then you cut out a picture and stick it in the middle and glue the two pieces together with a special glue. But instead of a picture, I’ll smear the blood inside. Then I’ll glue it together and the blood will sort of ... hover in the middle.
That sounds creepy.
[Laughs.] It kinda does, doesn’t it?
Here’s an even creepier question. When you get the blood, how do you resist ... taking a closer look?
How do you mean?
You could find out whose blood has the weirdest odor or color. How does Bon Ivor's blood compare to Ke$ha's or Yoko Ono’s? Does it have a different texture or consistency?
That sounds ghoulish, but as a fan of these artists, is there a small part of you that’s curious?
Absolutely. There’s a big part. I think the exact same things.
Oh thank god. I was starting to feel like a freak.
This stuff is inherently fascinating and interesting. I might take a closer look, sure. And plus, it’s symbolic. It’s saying, hey, these people really care about this. They’re putting themselves into the music.
Literally, exactly. My blood will be in there too. Which is a literal expression of the love and the effort that’s gone into it. I put as much of myself into my music as you possibly can. Can you imagine if somebody made a record with Jimi Hendrix’s blood in it? It would be outrageous! A lot of the people who worked on this record, I think many of them will be seen in the same way as Hendrix twenty, thirty years from now. And at least a few people can say, “I’ve got their fucking blood in a record!”
As a member of the media, I feel it’s my responsibility to make sure you’re not using this blood for nefarious purposes.
What would be nefarious?
Like if you were intending to build an army of Ke$has.
I would love to do that! To tell you the truth, the world would be a better place if there were armies of Ke$has out there. Being around her and knowing her, I’ve learned just how awesome she is. If more musicians and artists could be like her and stop being so superior and precious and entitled, art would be so much more fun.
Both you and Ke$ha share an enthusiasm for covering strangers with small pieces of colored paper.
We do, yeah. These are things that I think everybody who truly enjoys life can appreciate.
Glitter and confetti?
It’d be like asking, “Do you like sex and ice cream?” Of course I do. Don’t you? Why wouldn’t you? It’s only the worst pretentious fool who says no to those things. The reason I started using confetti in the first place is because of (1999's) The Soft Bulletin. We were already quite old when we made that record, and it’s all about this idea of despairing about death and the meaning of your life. When we went to perform it in concert, we didn’t want it to be this somber bummer. So I went the other way and thought, let’s make it a celebration of life. Let’s cover the audience with confetti and balloons. So we’re singing about death but it’s also a way of singing about life.
Is that why Ke$ha throws around all that glitter? Is she trying to forget the grim inevitability of death?
No, I think with Ke$ha it’s more like, “Fuck it. I don’t think I’m going to die. Let’s party!” But she’s 24, 25 and I’m 50. I still think we arrive at the exact same place. Life is beautiful and life is what you make of it.
You posted a video of you fingering Ke$ha’s glitter. Which, I have to say, is probably the dirtiest thing I’ve ever seen.
[Laughs.] I love that!
I don’t even know why it’s dirty. It just looks like you’re doing something obscene.
I thought the same thing. I didn’t intend for it to be dirty, but when I watched it later I was like, “Oh man, that really does look like I’m sticking my big finger into this shimmering...” [Laughs.] You know what I’m saying.
Something sexual is happening there.
Maybe because your finger was moving so slowly. It definitely looked like a penetration.
I shot that at Ke$ha’s house, so maybe that had a lot to do with it. There was an air of people wanting to stick things in other things. [Laughs.] I don’t know, but it really was meant to be innocent. It’s your imagination that makes it dirty, Eric. Because of you, I’ve got a trunk full of blood and I’m fingering Ke$ha’s glittery twat.
That’s my pull quote right there. “Wayne Coyne: I’m fingering Ke$ha’s glittery twat.”
[Laughs.] Why not? Life is good.
"We’ve all done things that we’re embarrassed about. I love the way that Ke$ha isn’t afraid of trying anything. When she offered to give me a tattoo, I knew I’d be the one missing out if I didn’t say 'Fuck it, sure, let’s go for it.'"
What’s it like hanging out at Ke$ha’s house? Are there guys walking around dressed as anthropomorphic penises?
No, it was pretty tame. I mean, sure, within an hour of sitting with her and talking, she brought out her tattoo gun and tried to convince me to let her give me a tattoo. But she does that to everybody.
That sounds like a very bad idea.
No, it’s funny. She does these little tattoos, like a peace sign or an animal or whatever. It’s like if you were drawing on your body with a ballpoint pen.
Except it’s permanent. A ballpoint pen washes off.
The tattoo wore off after a few days. She put it on my foot. I don’t have any other tattoos, so doing the foot was her idea. She was like, “That way if you don’t like it, nobody has to see it.” People sometimes, in the same way they do with their music and their art, they overthink it and contemplate the grandiose meaning of these stupid things. But really, the way to live your life is to just go for it and not worry about it. If you’re embarrassed about it later, who cares? We’ve all done things that we’re embarrassed about. I love the way that Ke$ha isn’t afraid of trying anything. When she offered to give me a tattoo, I knew I’d be the one missing out if I didn’t say “Fuck it, sure, let’s go for it.”
While you and Ke$ha were in the studio, you tweeted a picture of what looked like lines of cocaine. Ke$ha later claimed it was just cut up TUMS that you were snorting for diarrhea. What’s the real story?
Well, we were recording in a studio in Nashville, and there was this big mirror sitting on the table in between the console and the couches. So of course we all wondered, what the hell is that about? A mirror on a table?
Let’s all pretend we don’t know what it’s there for.
[Laughs.] Exactly, right right. And then there were some TUMS, which I think belonged to the engineers. And, you know, a lot of hours go by in the studio where there isn’t much to do. One of the drummers thought it’d be funny if he crushed up the TUMS and made lines out of them, because there was this ridiculous mirror there. And me, not having any guard about what I tweet, I thought it was fucking funny enough to share.
And of course everybody thinks it’s the real thing.
Which was kind of the joke. You know, we’re recording with Ke$ha, so of course there must be these gigantic lines of pure Mexican nose candy. “Oh, Wayne is obviously doing coke with Ke$ha, that’s the only reason he’d do a song with her,” playing into that whole dumb stereotype. People are just so ready to bash her. But she laughs about this stuff more than anybody, which is what’s so great about it. I probably wouldn’t have tweeted the photo if I thought it’d have a negative impact on her at all. But she didn’t give a shit, she thought it was funny.
If you look close at the photo, it’s pretty obvious it’s a joke. My favorite part is the rolled up one dollar bill.
I know, right? [Laughs.]
You’re so gangster, Wayne Coyne. You can’t even snort your coke with a five?
And look at how big those lines are! That’s a ridiculous amount of coke. Is there a nostril big enough to snort that?
Let’s talk about the music. Your song with Ke$ha is called “2012.” Can we assume it’s apocalyptic?
You can assume. It was Ke$ha’s idea to do it about 2012 and the end of the world, and really taking on a spiritual, heavy trip. Personally, I’m not really an apocalypse kinda guy. I do not think the world is going to end any time soon, but I think it’s fucking funny that people are narcissistic enough to think it might.
We won’t hear “2012” until the record is officially released on Record Store Day. But like a lot of music fans, I’m not especially patient. Can you give us a hint of what it sounds like? Maybe hum a few lines?
Sure. Well, it starts with this very strange sample that we got off of a toy that someone sent me. It’s a sample from the Doctor Who television show from the '70s, and it’s this very strange little robot saying “You must be upgraded! Upgrading is compulsory!” It’s funny, but it’s also weirdly relevant to today. You get the iPhone and the apps and everything needs to be constantly upgraded. So the first line of the song is something I wrote for her to sing, and it goes (in a Ke$ha falsetto) “It’s 2012, I think we’re going to hell!” And then the robot voice goes (in a robotic voice) “You must be upgraded.” It’s a lot of fun, and I can’t wait to have people hear it.
The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends arrives April 21 at record stores. Listen to a preview of "2012" as sung to Eric Spitznagel below.