"There's a couple moments in the set where you have to remember, 'Oh yeah, keep playing. We're the ones doing the music, you can't just be listening to her.'"

By Eric Renner Brown
November 25, 2015 at 12:35 PM EST
Credit: Kevin Mazur/MTV1415/WireImage

Miley Cyrus shocked the music world in August when she closed out her VMAs hosting gig with the announcement that she’d just released a free album. But as out-of-nowhere as Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz may have seemed initially, it was the culmination of a long-running artistic relationship between her and Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne. Now, less than two years after they first crossed musical paths, Cyrus, Coyne, and the Flaming Lips are hitting the road for an absolutely bonkers-looking 8-date trek, dubbed the Milky Milky Milk Tour.

Coyne, speaking to EW from Cyrus’ guest house in Nashville hours before her 23rd birthday bash on Monday, traces their partnership to a February 2014 concert at Los Angeles’ Staples Center, where he joined the pop star to cover the Flaming Lips’ classic “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” — twice, back to back. “That set into motion the way that we felt — like, ‘Oh, we like this about each other,'” he says. “That’s been our way, to be like, ‘F—, let’s just try to do these things.’

“We started to realize how many things we had in common,” he adds. “There would be things that I did and would influence what she would do in her show, but I don’t think she realized how much her show influenced what we did with our show. Part of the Miley Cyrus show became the Flaming Lips show and part of the Flaming Lips show became the Miley Cyrus show.”

Their working relationship started small. Cyrus loaned Coyne some psychedelic props from her Bangerz tour for him to use during Flaming Lips shows. He recorded songs with her in Tulsa that later became their cover of “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds” and the Dead Petz’ cut “Karen Don’t Be Sad.” Coyne says their artistic bonding made a full album and tour seem more feasible.

“Playing a show together, it’s not that big a leap from what we’ve been doing,” he says. “We did the VMAs show with her, which is a lot of rehearsing and scary as f—. Then we did the Saturday Night Live thing [in September] which was worse in a way: Here’s more rehearsing and there’s more pressure. Seeing each other at the worst of our stress and all that, we were already thinking, ‘This is going to work.'”

To keep their weirdness intact — Cyrus donned a strap-on phallus and horns for a “pornicorn” costume at a Detroit show last week — the Dead Petz only scheduled eight gigs. “We’re only doing a handful of shows, I think it was our best idea,” Coyne says. “That way it’s not 100 shows, which you have to think ‘Oh, f—‘ and decide something you’re going to do 100 times, and it’s not insanely giant places.” Instead, he says, the venues — which include New York’s Terminal 5 and Philadelphia’s Electric Factory — are ones the Lips have played for years, making elaborately over-the-top performance possible.

But while Coyne and his band have this experience, the Dead Petz gigs are still very much Cyrus’ shows. “It’s hard just living your life when you’re 23,” he says. “Then trying to make all these mega-decisions that have to do with money and people’s jobs and art and all that at the same time, it’s a lot for someone to take on. But she has this desire to be like, ‘I want to be the one that says, ‘Here’s what the show is.””

Coyne lauds Cyrus’ on-stage eccentricity — “That’s our gal!” he exclaims — and her pipes, which he says reminds him of both Dusty Springfield and Bjork. The Dead Petz shows so far have kicked off with “Party In the U.S.A.,” “Dooo It!,” and “Love Money Party” — “tracks we all love, anyway” — and he frames the gigs as parties of which he’s simply thrilled to be a part. “There’s a couple moments in the set where you have to remember, ‘Oh yeah, keep playing. We’re the ones doing the music, you can’t just be listening to her.'”

Not that he thinks even a catastrophic instrumental failure could derail a Miley Cyrus concert. “Playing the shows is so easy, because her fans, they just love her so much,” he remarks. “I say it jokingly, but it really is true: She could literally go out there and stand there for two hours, they’d look at her and cry, and she could walk away and not sing one note — and they’d be happy.”

On Friday, the Flaming Lips will release a reissue of their 1995 album Clouds Taste Metallic. The expanded version—dubbed Heady Nuggs 20 Years After Clouds Taste Metallic 1994-1997—is a three-disc set with bonus material and outtakes. Check back Friday for an interview with Coyne about the making of the Lips’ classic.