The Flaming Lips Stay Fearless

Published April 11, 2013

ABOVE: THE FLAMING LIPS. PHOTO COURTESY OF GEORGE SALISBURY

The 13th studio album from The Flaming Lips, The Terror, is exactly that—an intensely disturbing album that quakes with uneasiness. Over nearly three decades, the psychedelic experimental rock band has honed its skill for making music that is not simply unusual, but consistently interesting, and has built an exceptionally devoted fan base in the process. Both Wayne Coyne (vocalist/songwriter) and Steven Drozd (songwriter/multi-instrumentalist) insist that much of the insight and impact of their songs has been born out of something unintentional, often ending up more meaningful than they originally expected.

The Terror is a Flaming Lips album that’s as unexpected as is, at this point, to be expected from the band. The melody, lyrics, and instrumental progressions are at times quite ominous. Some tracks seamlessly bleed into the next, while others operate discretely. It’s a record that closes in from all directions, only to consume you without warning.

LEA WEATHERBY: So how did you decide on The Terror?

WAYNE COYNE: Naming an album, those are dilemmas.

STEVEN DROZD: It’s hell.

COYNE: It was the way that we arrived at the song. By “the terror,” we mean an internal, terrifying revelation about human nature or your nature. So I think we got lucky that it intrigued us enough to feel like we understood what it meant. Then you put it out there and you know people are going to wonder, but I think that makes it better, because some people will absolutely know what we’re talking about.

WEATHERBY: Which makes people a little more curious at the same time.

DROZD: It’s just that word, too. If it had been named Control Report Number 16 or whatever, it would be like, “Oh, it’s that new Lips record; I should check it out.” But to me, The Terror is like, “What? What do they mean by that?! I have to see what they’re talking about here.” And we definitely liked the idea that there are a few different definitions of terror, but it’s very internal and that word just jumps out at you.

WEATHERBY: In an interview I read, Wayne, you said something to the effect of, we all are so invested in love, in finding it and keeping it, and that ultimately sometimes the loss of it can be just as inescapable.

COYNE: I guess what I’m getting at is that you can’t really get the full joy out of life unless you really go for it. You just have to go into it and stay under some kind of hope or illusion that it’s going to work. But as you get older, or the more experiences you have, or whatever it is that tells you how this stuff works, you also know that if you go all the way into it, there’s the risk of losing everything but you don’t have a choice. I guess for me that’s what is implied by “the terror.”

WEATHERBY: You talk about a lot of feelings that are painful or difficult. There was that line where you say “a joy that overwhelms”—it is upsetting, what’s being described, but ultimately it’s part of life, good and bad.

DROZD: See, yeah, I like that after all these heavy bleak messages, the last line you get is, “The joy of life that overwhelms.” It’s a good little trick there.

WEATHERBY: I was tricked. And “You Lust” is like 13 minutes long!

COYNE: Yeah! But no, that’s not cool. That’s just punishing people for the sheer fun of it. [laughs] But, the length of a song, it says something, there’s something going on there. I don’t think the song would be very interesting without the long middle and the strange ending. A lot of the songs on the record are very precise and they’re the perfect amount of time for a song, but it’s not on purpose; I think you just sort of get used to this certain arc.

DROZD: I think that middle bit, that super-long sort of solo part—the fact that it’s so long allows you to, if you let yourself, just completely trip out and lose track of time.

WEATHERBY: There’s a lot in the lyrics about sunlight, in opposition with darkness and loneliness.

COYNE: Well, with the picture on the cover, I would keep thinking about this image of this guy sitting in the park in the middle of the day, and the sun is out, and there’s the idea of the light bringing hope and the sense that everything is all right—yet we still feel that it’s dark here, we still feel that it’s bleak. We also know that music sometimes is the only thing that really crystallizes that and lets you feel that. There’s a lot of things that do that, movies obviously do that, but movies remove you from the feelings, it plays and you surrender to it. But music, maybe sometimes when you’re driving and there’s a certain way that the light is hitting and you play a certain track of music—and it’s not that it’s good or bad, really, it’s just this certain mood—I think that’s kind of what we’re getting at there, the sun isn’t this symbol of hope. It’s like, “The sun is here and it’s still a dark day; there’s still something that isn’t changed by it.”

WEATHERBY: Your performances are really unique. What goes on during one of your shows?

COYNE: Part of it, especially at certain festivals, is that we encourage people to love each other and we just let the good vibes be the answer. We’re not saying that that’s [not] hokey, but we know there’s an element of that in the air and that by the end of a three-day festival where people have been ingesting a lot of drugs and they want to feel the love, we could deliver and say, “Of course! Let’s all finally surrender.” And I could see where, if you have not been around a group of people and cried and told someone you love them, that it could absolutely be a life-changing experience. That’s a strange thing, to be so vulnerable and surrender so much to this moment until whatever it is just overwhelms you.

DROZD: But we’re all getting older, and instead of four, five, or six old dudes up on stage playing music, why can’t it be, “Wow, it’s fucking 30 people and some of them are wearing animal costumes and there are crazy lights!” Why don’t we just be that instead?

COYNE: We just create this whole thing where everyone is included. We see this, because we’re on stages a lot, but a lot of times there’s the band, there’s the audience, and the two aren’t going to get together. You’re going to stand there and listen, they’re going to stand here and play.

DROZD: Hell, even the band and their crew! Some bands will be like, “We’re the fuckin’ band!” You know? “Here’s our crew over here, don’t talk to them and admire us!” But with our thing, it seems like everybody is included.

COYNE: Everybody is in it, and everybody’s energy is helping everybody else; and that’s a cool thing, because early on you don’t have much control over what can happen. Little by little, we got some control or were able to do things our way. Some nights the stage is full of people and they’re just high as fuck!

DROZD: High as fuck.

COYNE: They’re just crying and laughing!

DROZD: I’m just pushed out of the way, I’m trying to play and they’re like, “Dude, I am dancing here and you’re in my space!”

COYNE: And it’s legit! Music does that, but sometimes, certain attitudes and whatever else will break it down to where it’s not the mega-surrender that it can be. We just say, “Fuck all that, let’s just get right to the love.” We come out and our very first song that we do would just obliterate everything, and we feel like, “If you’re not into this right now, then you need to leave!” Because we’re all about love and exchanging this energy and just being there with each other.

THE TERROR IS OUT TUESDAY, APRIL 16. YOU CAN STREAM IT NOW AT NPR FIRST LISTEN. FOR MORE ON THE FLAMING LIPS, PLEASE VISIT THE BAND’S WEBSITE.