Wayne Coyne: ‘Once you’ve had a gun to your head, petty things don’t bother you’ | The Flaming Lips

Yo have a seagull nesting outside my kitchen window. It seems quite chilled, so I’ve been playing some music to help it cope with impending motherhood. Which Flaming Lips album best complements the seagull birthing cycle? cleggatemyhamster

Gosh, it’s hard to say, because not many of our albums are mellow all the way through. If I was a seagull, maybe I’d find The Terror comforting. It’s got a warm hum, a bit like a refrigerator. My wife is pretty mellow, so when she gave birth, we didn’t listen to anything specific. I’d put the Alexa speaker on her pregnant stomach and sing to the baby, although I’ve no idea if they care when they’re in there.

What is the biggest animal you could clingfilm to a lamp-post with no help and no brute force? I picked up a giraffe. JAMIEOH

A small elephant? I wouldn’t recommend wrapping any live animal to a post. We did use a dead pig’s head the very first time we played Los Angeles, in 1985. We put a wire through its ears and my younger brother Mark – the singer at the time – wore it like a necklace. We did it again in Dallas a week later and had to carry it in a portable icebox so it wouldn’t get too smelly.

What’s going through your mind when you roll around in your giant hamster ball? Do you roll around in it every day? What happens if you need the toilet? hhhhssss, DeJongandtherestless and LeaderOfTheFree

Coyne inside his bubble at the Glastonbury festival in 2010. Photograph: Jim Ross/AP

I don’t use it around the house because it’s too big to fit through the door, but I do rehearse it in the yard. On stage, I’m still self-conscious that everybody is looking at me, so when I’m in my space bubble, I feel more relaxed, even though it’s sweaty. You can last about three hours before you run out of air – we’ve tested.

I don’t know if it’s adrenaline, but you rarely need to pee on stage. It’s the same with sneezing: your fight-or-flight mechanism kicks in. There’s only been a couple of times I’ve had to perform with diarrhoea, yet I’m still to sing half a set then shit my pants. I remember Lollapalooza, 1994, where Nick Cave – with his great baritone roar – was struggling. We joked that he’d better really clamp down on the loud notes. I noted his performance was a little more reserved; not his insanely manic self. I asked him afterwards: “Did anything slip out?” but he said no.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve seen at one of your gigs? jallendm

We used to carry 25 furry costumes with us; we had 12 or 13 people dancing on each side of the stage. One couple asked if they could pee inside the costumes. I thought: “Of all the weird things you can ask of the world, that’s fairly harmless.”

What other album might you like to cover? Peaceful

Since I’ve had my own studio at my house, we’ve done the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, the Stone Roses’ debut … We’ve talked about doing Portishead’s first album, and a record by the Silver Apples. Who would I most like to cover a Flaming Lips album? Well, who wouldn’t want to hear the Beatles do Soft Bulletin, Radiohead do American Head, or Billie Eilish cover Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots?

What were the expressions on your record company’s faces when you suggested Gummy Song Skull: four songs on a USB drive buried inside a gummy skull? thecristeainstitute

We also embedded a USB drive inside an actual human skull; 14 were made available. You can’t buy human skulls unless you’re a doctor or something, but this distributor guy here in Oklahoma City owed me a favour. We were between contracts with Warner Bros, so we did the most wacko stuff possible, simply because we didn’t have to get permission.

Coyne wearing absolutely giant hands over his real ones
A big hand for Flaming Lips at the Wireless festival in London, 2006. Photograph: Tabatha Fireman/Redferns

You recorded my mathematician husband, Thorsten Wormannas the voice from beyond on you 2009 album, Embryonic. As you know, he passed in 2019. I just wanted to say that working with you was one of his life’s highlights of him. Thanks for giving him, and me, that super memory. amiAbroad

He was so gracious and vocal as to how much he was enjoying it at the time, which was a great relief because you never know what people think. It’s such a beautiful, bizarre record, so his voice really adds to those six or seven tracks. I did know that he’d been ill, so it’s wonderful to hear from you, Mrs Wörmann. Thank you so much for sending in your question.

We were also robbed at Hemi’s Pizza – around the corner from Long John Silver’s seafood restaurant in Oklahoma – where three guys held you up at gunpoint as a teenager. Did your near-death experience contribute to your desire to go avant guard? Steve1us and favrion23

I do think it made me less afraid to do things in the name of art. I now think: “What harm is going to happen if I make a bad record?” Once you’ve stood with a gun to your head and thought: “Well, I’m gonna die,” the petty little things don’t bother you. It definitely shaped my fierceness – if that’s the right word.

There were a lot of robberies around that time. You assumed if you got robbed, you were also going to get shot, your body would be thrown in the walk-in cooler and your mother would find out on the news. That pizza place was around the corner. I did get the feeling that these guys had already robbed a couple of places, but all we saw was a brief police report. Aged 16, 17, I assumed: “Everyone must nearly die two or three times, growing up.” Only later in life did I realize: that’s not normal.

The lyrics to 1993’s She Don’t Use Jelly go: “I know a girl who thinks of ghosts / She’ll make you breakfast, she’ll make you toast / But she don’t use butter, and she don’t use cheese / She don’t use jelly, or any of these / She uses Vaseline.” Who on earth eats Vaseline on toast? TheGoodThief

We’d have conversations – not even when stoned – like: “People put Vaseline on their chapped lips, but you wouldn’t eat it. But you wouldn’t put butter on your lips, even though you would eat it.” Presenting ideas that no one is else is going to think of always makes it feel like a Flaming Lips song. I’m not speaking in metaphors. I’m literally talking about eating Vaseline on toast.

Did you realize the Google Street View car was coming when it took the image of you in the bath in your front garden? MarkReed

No. I’m definitely more aware of that car you see going around town with the crazy revolving camera. But at the time, I just happened to be out there. I had six of these huge metal bathtubs for our Christmas on Mars film. They’re still there, full of dirt and flowers. My house is full of useless stuff; too good to throw away. I don’t know what the traditions are in England, but when we put up our Christmas tree, we don’t take it down till the summer, because we don’t want to waste it.

How has parenthood changed your outlook on life? ForenameSurname

Our eldest is three; the other, four months. I hope they see that doing things you love is what life is all about. I’m lucky to have never been in that work cycle of: go to work, come home, watch TV and drink all night because I hate my horrible job. Even though I’m an old guy, I hope my kids see everything that I do – making music, doing a painting – is about playing, laughing, having fun.

Do you believe in cosmic love or is it all a glorious biochemical delusion? DandysRuleOK

I have a saying: there is no God, but there is a kind of is. The minute you dismiss that we’re living in chaos and everything is fucking random, you realize that there’s something in your DNA that your mind can’t quite figure out. When you see these images from the Hubble telescope of how vast and endless the universe is, part of you wants to live your life with what utter freedom you determine. But part of you still wants to be like a spider that is destined to make a web. That’s one of the wonderful quagmires of being human: you get to think how much of this is you, and how much is pre-programmed. Music is such a relief because it frees your mind. As music flies through your emotions, you become a frozen, mindless, listening vessel.

A huge spiky balloon with a jolly face joins Coyne on stage
At the End of the Road festival, Salisbury, 2014. Photograph: Andy Sheppard/Redferns/Getty Images

What do you ask for at the hairdressers exactly? Malaparte

I don’t like people fussing with my hair, so I don’t really go to anybody. Sometimes I’ll forget to wash my hair for a month or two so it’s pretty dried up, and then my wife will give it a good juicing. So luckily my wife is always watching. The word she used today was “hobo”, as in: “You look like a hobo.” So I’d better do something about that.

Do you have anything left on your bucket list? gayerformayer

I’ve lived in Oklahoma since 1961 – my whole life – but I’ve never seen a tornado. I’ve stood on the roof of my house and looked. They come through here all the time, so you’d think I’d have seen about 20.

There’s an optimism in your writing that is both otherworldly and at odds with the times we live in. How do you maintain such an upbeat, positive nature? Miffy4boys and FeelingDisintegrated

When the Flaming Lips are at our most expressive, we speak an emotional truth you can’t really speak in real life. We made an oath with the gods of music that we would follow our hearts, regardless of whether it’s embarrassing, stupid or wrong. Sometimes I worry that we sound like these miserable old dudes. So I hope we still sound like we’re full of hope and love.

How would you survive a zombie apocalypse? Potential Octopus

Disguise yourself as another zombie? That’s what we do living in Oklahoma as Democrats. We’re hidden among the Republicans, so we just act like we’re one of them, in case they want to kill us.

The Flaming Lips headline Womad festival, 30 July

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