For more than two decades, the Flaming Lips have pushed music’s boundaries with their fearlessly freaky brand of psychedelic rock. But while the Oklahoma City legends have remained active as ever in recent years — they spearheaded the 2014 Beatles tribute album With a Little Help from My Fwends and backed up Miley Cyrus on 2015’s Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz — they’re just now getting around to following up their most recent album, 2013’s The Terror.
Oczy Mlody, the Lips’ 17th studio effort, bursts with more of the technicolor weirdness that has defined the band and earned it one of rock’s most passionate fan bases. It’s more than a retread, though. “There’s probably 500 new gadgets every week put out there,” frontman Wayne Coyne, 56, tells EW when reached on the road. “We’re always playing with s—. It would be dreadfully boring for us to still be making records playing acoustic guitars and pianos all the time.”
Below, Coyne reveals how Cyrus, thrift-store finds, and green- and purple-eyed unicorns inspired the Lips’ latest psychedelic opus.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Hey, Wayne, how’s it going?
WAYNE COYNE: I’m gonna plug in my phone, so give me just a second. You might hear a little thing. I’m sitting in my car and it sort of acts as a giant phone charger for me.
Cars are made for that these days.
I agree. Mine’s a Prius, so it’s almost like an all-electric thing anyway. It’s a nice little well-insulated room. Sometimes, music sounds best in your car.
Have you listened to Oczy Mlody in your car yet?
My car has so much low end in it, so I always end up turning up the treble and turning down the fat. But yeah, I love it! That’s kind of how we do it: make some mixes and then drive around with them. A lot of people do that. When we played with Neil Young at one of his Bridge School benefits, we drove around and we listened to his…I forget, what’s his [portable] music player called?
Yeah. I thought it was funny that we didn’t go into a room in his house. It wasn’t in the studio. We were actually in his car!
With the new Lips album, there are song titles like “Blisko Domu” and “Nigdy Nie” that you’ve said were inspired by a Polish book you found at a thrift store. The album’s name itself means “eyes of the young.” Do you speak Polish?
I don’t speak or read any other languages — it’s more my fault than the world’s fault. But I did really like the cover of this little paperback; it was only two dollars. Sometimes I really like that you don’t know what it’s saying. We use Japanese lettering on our Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots stuff. Even though it really does say stuff if you bother to sort it all out, it didn’t really matter to me if it did or not.
You teamed up with Miley Cyrus for her Dead Petz album in 2015 and toured as her backing band. How did those experiences shape Oczy?
Making music with her and her producer Mike WiLL Made-It really changed us. We didn’t know she would use virtually every song we worked on. We were thinking, “We’ll have the song list down to five or six really great tracks.” But she was like, “We’re just going to put it all out!” That’s why we love her. She’s insane! If we would’ve refined it, it probably wouldn’t be such a crazy record. You want to go into the new abyss. And now we have fans that only know us from working with Miley Cyrus!
How’d the Oczy collaboration with Miley, “We a Famly,” come about?
It was the first track we attempted to do with her, three or so years ago. She was still on the Bangerz tour and had a day where she was in the studio — the vocal take on this version is from way back then. We could never get it to be an exciting song. When [our longtime producer] Dave Fridmann heard it he loved it, but thought it was pathetically slow. He sped it up about 10 times faster.
Reggie Watts has a spoken-word cameo on “There Should Be Unicorns.” What inspired that?
I sent him this stream-of-consciousness rant kind of thing. The reference I put in the notes was Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” We were looking for this authoritative but cool-sounding voice that would be saying these utterly absurd things. I like the idea that we could sing about unicorns having purple eyes and green eyes — that of course there’s unicorns and we’re already being specific about what color eyes [they have]. It almost sounds like it could be a protest song! And we can always blame it on Reggie if it doesn’t really work.