A Brief History Of Wayne Coyne’s Weird
The Flaming Lips' new album, The Terror, has come out. Let us take this opportunity to list our favourite moments in the frontman's bizarre life.
The Flaming Lips’ brand new album, The Terror, is well and truly out; released at the beginning of the month in the UK, last week in Australia, and today in America.
The album is a little… surprising. Documenting a period in which frontman Wayne Coyne separated from his wife, and in which his bandmate Steven Drozd relapsed in his battle against a narcotics addiction, we expected it to be dark — but dark in the poppy-synth-rainbows-and-butterflies-and-all-things-psychedelic kind of dark; the kind of dark that the Flips do so well.
What we didn’t expect was it to be lost in a despairing pit of hopelessness. And neither did anyone else. Pitchfork have called it “unrelentingly bleak”; The Guardian found “beams of sunlight replaced by enveloping gloom to create a melancholy odyssey”; Paste Magazine say the band “seem to be pleading with the listener for some sort of explanation to ease their frightening uncertainty”, and at home, fasterlouder described it as if “they’re forcing themselves to confront darkness, but have ended up as innocent children wandering too far into the woods.”
But then, who are we to be surprised by anything that Wayne Coyne does? Take a stroll with us through his history, please.
1996-1997: The Parking Lot Experiments, and Zaireeka
Inspired by the cacophony coming from punters’ cars after a Flaming Lips concert, Coyne began a series of experiments to recreate it. Originating in an Oklahoma car park, and eventually travelling to SXSW, Coyne distributed 40 unique tapes to 40 locals whose cars had tape decks, and all were told to press play at once. Months were spent cutting and pasting music together, and out of the toil came the band’s eighth studio album, Zaireeka: four CDs designed to be played simultaneously, or in different combinations. (Kinda seemed like Coyne just enjoys the sound of his own music. A lot of it, and all at once.)
1998: The Boom Box Experiments
This time, the band toured with 40 portable cassette players and 40 tapes, for each song on the set list. Friends and fans would sit on stage with boom boxes in their laps, while the band issued complex instructs like “turn up your boom box” and “turn down your boom box” to each group, live.
At SXSW 1999, concert-goers were given headphones to listen to an FM broadcast of pre-recorded Lips material while the band was playing on stage. Apparently major complications arose for those too drunk or stoned to find the FM channel. We presume they were also too drunk or stoned to care.
2002: Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots
This was the Flaming Lips’ first commercial hit. It is a great album. It was turned into a musical last year, directed by Des McAnuff (Jersey Boys and Jesus Christ Superstar).
2003: The Zorb Ball Debut
There are conflicting reports, but most believe that the O2 Festival and Lollapalooza of 2003 marked the debut of Wayne Coyne’s big plastic ball. Around the same time, he began emerging from giant projections of glowing vaginas. Get it? Flaming Lips?
2008: Christmas On Mars
Destined to become a cult classic, 2008 saw Coyne’s directorial debut in Christmas on Mars. The film is about a character called Major Syrtis (played by band member Steven Drozd) who goes insane as he tries to improve morale in an abandoned colony on Mars, by way of a Christmas pageant. Wayne Coyne plays Alien Super-Being. (You can watch the trailer here.)
2010: Outside His House
Proving that the internet is just one massive stalk-fest, someone somewhere noticed that on Google Streetview, The Flaming Lips frontman can be seen taking a bath outside his house, next to a banner that says “Blob in the bath”. (At least it didn’t say “Two Blobs Fucking.”)
2011: Inside His House
Described by Pitchfork as a simple brick house with “phantasmagorical interiors”, images of Wayne Coyne’s house published by his architecture firm, Fitzsimmons Architects, confirmed that yes, he really is just that weird. At least he’s a man with conviction.
With architectural labels such as “bath pod,” “fountain egg”, and, our personal favourite, “dragon mosaic body fabric wings”, Coyne’s dwelling appears to be some kind of freaky amalgamation of sci-fi space shuttle/biological blob/1950s Stepford dream home. Coyne, meanwhile, delights in the fact he can “just walk out of his strange, futuristic, artistic bedroom and take a pee in his strange, futuristic toilet.” We’re not so different after all.
Wayne Coyne’s abode makes up a four-house compound in Oklahoma: the second house is for his wife’s sister, the third for his “computer genius guy”, and the fourth for storage.
2011: The Womb Gallery
Feeling the art scene in hometown Oklahoma had become a little mundane, Wayne Coyne and friends opened The Womb Gallery in 2011. Described by Coyne as a “futuristic, psychedelic art space”, The Womb was an attempt to create a space that is a little more “engaging”. Covered in psychedelic murals and vaginal iconography painted by New York artist Maya Hayuk, and known for all night parties where artists and friends stay up drinking, drawing, painting and creating, Coyne describes the space as an extension of how he “lives anyway.”
2011: All Of The EPs
Also in 2011, The Flaming Lips announced plans to release a new song or EP every month. Some of the more interesting include:
* February’s release of Two Blobs Fucking, a 12-part composition on YouTube that must be played simultaneously in order to be heard as intended.
* April’s Gummy Song Skull EP: a flash drive of four songs contained within a human size gummy bear skull and brain. (This was followed in June by the release of a live in-studio re-recording of their 1999 album The Soft Bulletin, on a flash drive embedded in a marijuana-flavoured brain inside a strawberry gummy skull; and the Gummy Song Fetus EP,with three songs on a flash drive embedded in a bubble gum flavoured gummy foetus.)
* A six-hour song in September, ‘I Found A Star On The Ground’, released along with two others and packaged with a Strobo Trip Light Illusion Toy: a set of spinning discs with images on them. This release was officially called Strobo Trip, and saw a collaboration with Sean Lennon as he read out the names of 212 people who had donated $100 to the Oklahoma City SPCA and Academy of Contemporary Music.
* A 24-hour composition, 7 Skies H3, encased in an actual human skull. 13 copies of the extremely limited release were available for purchase for those with a spare $5000, and when he could, Mr. Coyne would hand deliver them. (The band also established a free never-ending internet stream of the song for the rest of us plebs.
2012: World Record Tour
In June 2012, Flaming Lips took on Jay-Z’s previously held world record of seven concerts in different cities in 24 hours. Touring by bus – not private jet a la Jay-Z – The Flaming Lips managed eight concerts around Mississippi, each a minimum of 15 minutes in length as per Guinness World Record stipulations.
2012: The Blood Of Ke$ha
Having decided the whole human-skull-made-from-sweet-gummy-bear-confectionary-sporting-an-excessively-long-song-on-a-flash-drive-designed-to-be-played-in-6000-parts-simultaneously-from-your-boom-box-while-sitting-in-your-car-and-eating-a-sandwich thing was done, their purely collaborative double LP vinyl release, Heady Fwends, was instead announced with the much more mundane inclusion of blood from some of its collaborators, including Chris Martin, Neon Indian’s Alan Palomo and Ke$ha.
2012: Wayne Coyne’s Human Head-Shaped Tumour – A Radioplay
Teaming up with Dave Eggers’ cult-favourite publishing house McSweeney’s, Wayne Coyne starred in a radio drama in the style of the infamous War Of The Worlds. The play featured music by Bill Callahan, Okkervil River, Eleanor Friedberger, Nico Muhly and Oneida, and focused on a fictional head-shaped tumour growing out of Coyne’s leg.
2012: The Grenade-At-The-Airport Debacle
Last year, Coyne rolled through Oklahoma City’s airport with a deactivated, gold-painted hand grenade in his baggage, which he’d apparently picked up at a party (“you know, pot and booze and drugs and people playing music until six o’clock in the morning”) and promptly forgotten. All airport operations were shut down, delaying the thanksgiving travels of all passengers. “I agree that it was stupid of me,” Coyne told Pitchfork, “but I don’t feel wholly responsible if people missed their flights. I’m not making the rules. It’s not illegal for me to have that grenade with me.” Clearly the man knows his rights.
2013: A Series Of Commercials
Apparently nothing says “Hyundai family fun” like a band synonymous with drugs, human skulls and blood-infused vinyl, so of course The Flaming Lips were asked to star in the brand’s Super Bowl commercial.
‘Sun Blows Up Today’ was specifically written for Hyundai, and the agents of fun — responsible for making “everyday epic” (good one) — are seen creepily in the corners of a family kitchen, jamming on the family’s roof, playing on a river boat while the family momentarily dissolve into Space Invader characters on land, and finally in a bus littering confetti down the highway to celebrate the family’s escape from a biker gang… BUY HYUNDAI!
And then, most recently, was that Virgin advertisement a month ago, in which Coyne urged the public to “retrain your brain,” and attempted to seduce us with the promise of unlimited cat videos, in a weirdly hypnotic ad for Virgin mobile. I wonder if the ad would have been more successful in its clear attempt to go viral if there were a few goats screaming like humans, or humans screaming like goats screaming like humans, thrown in there for good measure.
April 2013: Releases Dark, Lost Album
Probably the most normal thing he’s done.
Hannah Wolff is a writer, currently studying Art Theory and interning at Junkee.