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Wayne Coyne in 1999
Wayne Coyne Looks Back On 'The Soft Bulletin': "I Wouldn't Want to Be In That State of Mind Ever Again"
20 years since releasing their ninth studio album, the Lips' frontman opens up about his memories surrounding 'The Soft Bulletin,' his more subdued approach in 2019 and how he worked through his intense, competitive nature
The Flaming Lips have always been a high-stakes band, and 1999’s The Soft Bulletin is their summit. Lyrically, it deals with mortal spider bites, parental grief and a scientists' cure for humanity. The trippy, outsized music lurches between darkness and light. Today, at 58 and expecting a baby boy, frontman Wayne Coyne is mostly free of these heightened states.
Not that he's forgotten them completely. "I have a lot of energy, and I'm very intense," he tells The Recording Academy. "Now, all that stuff doesn’t seem so chaotic to me."
Today (May 17) marks the 20th anniversary of The Soft Bulletin; in September, the Flaming Lips will perform the album in full on three dates while promoting their newest, King’s Mouth, which arrived last month for Record Store Day.
If The Soft Bulletin is a perforated levee of feeling, King's Mouth is a trickling, tranquil river. "The king in my story is a very gentle, loving entity," Coyne says. "There’s no great fight that he’s fighting for." A low-key set with spoken-word narration from the Clash's Mick Jones, King’s Mouth reflects Coyne's newfound calm and clarity.
Such are the band’s twin emotional poles; they’ll be diving back into their most intense album, while mentally miles away from the addiction and drama that fed it. "I wouldn’t want to be in that state of mind ever again," he says. "We got to make The Soft Bulletin and live to tell about it."
Here, Coyne opens up about his memories of making The Soft Bulletin, his more subdued approach in 2019 and how he worked through his intense, competitive nature.
What headspace were you, Michael and Steven in while making The Soft Bulletin?
We were making two records together: Zaireeka, the four-CD behemoth, and we knew we were going to make this record. In the beginning, it was very much about experimenting. But I think the experiment really pushed us into making emotional music that was effective. It awoke us to the potential that we were making music that we liked, rather than just banging around on things.
And I think we were considering that it would be the last album Warner Bros. was going to allow us to do, so we were just going to go for it. We were considering what we were doing to be like, "This is going to be our own trip. Don’t follow us. This isn’t going to lead to success." We had been on a good, stable creative run since 1989, and all these things were crescendoing. But we couldn’t have known that at the time.
Steven was at the very end of the worst of his heroin addiction. Every minute of every day was [reminding us] how finite it is and how serious it is. But it’s still meshed with a lot of fun and exhilaration. I look back on those guys, and I’m so glad they did it. Even though I’m one of them.
Where do its existential themes come from? I’m sure Steven’s struggle with addiction added to that.
I think that’s probably where its main power comes from, but I don’t think we were writing about that. That’s the greatest thing about music. Because it’s abstract and you’re not quite sure what it’s talking about, it can go on a deeper level. There's some connection to the very beginning of your ability to hear.
I think about that because my wife is about to have a baby in a week. He can hear us in there. He can hear stuff coming from the outside. He can tell who his mother is. He can tell that the dog's there. All these sounds are going in there at the same time that your emotional brain is being formed.
Of all the things that you’re going to experience, music is going to get you the deepest. So deep that you can’t even explain it. So, I think it’s just a good combination of words and music. One evoking the other.
What’s the first music you remember hearing?
It’s probably The Wizard of Oz. I don't remember when that started to be played every year on TV. But it would be one of these movies that would play, I think, every Easter. If I sat with a psychiatrist for a week, I’m sure we could find out where the music came from.
Then, when I was three years old, it was the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, and they haven’t left us. It’s probably a magic combination of those two things, and they would repeat every year. I mean, I can look back so far that I can’t remember being alive.
Are you trying to create music on that subconscious level?
It probably wants me to make it more than I want to return to it. There’s some evocative nature to that part of my mind, helping my real mind. When you do it, it ignites it, and it makes you want to do it more. That’s the thing with all creative people. If you don’t do it, you go crazy. If you do it, you go crazy, too. But a little less crazy. That’s my excuse.
I have a lot of energy, and I’m very intense. I try to remember that that intensity can be good, or it can be the enemy. There’s a lot of quagmires of being young. I think I had a lot of testosterone when I was young, which intimidated people into doing what I wanted to do. As I get older, I don’t have as much testosterone, which I think is better for me now. To just be nice and to be consistent.
Has your intensity come back to bite you?
All the time. When you’re in a band, you’re traveling the world, you’re meeting freaks, you’re doing freaky things. It’s a mile a minute. Luckily, I could spend some of my intensity in all that muck, where you don’t really know what’s going to happen day-to-day.
Now, all that stuff doesn’t seem so chaotic to me. Up until I turned 50, I felt like I had to fking get up and get going, or else this whole thing was going to fall apart. Then, I talked to people who were like, "Dude, your band’s already going for 20 years. I don’t think it’s going to fall apart tomorrow." And I would dismiss it.
Then, once I turned 50, I thought, "This is the way your life is. If you keep being so intense, you’re going to ruin it instead of just having it." That was a good thing for me. To relax about it. If it doesn’t get done today, it can get done tomorrow. I changed my way of doing things.
King's Mouth is so minimal and peaceful. Does that reflect your life today?
It’s not existential, and I’m glad. It’s based in home and heart and love and silly things like that. It’s not a storm trying to break through to another dimension like The Soft Bulletin. You're changing your soul, and you want those timpanis, those distorted horns, because they’re going to get you to the other side.
How do you relate to the king in your story?
I liked the idea that the king in my story is a very gentle, loving entity. There’s no great fight that he’s fighting for. There’s no great cause that he’s killing somebody else for. He's just a gentle, fun hippie weirdo in the story, like the Wizard of Oz.
Making King’s Mouth, we weren’t thinking [affects strangulated voice] "We’re becoming different men!" I wouldn’t want to be in that state of mind ever again. We got to make The Soft Bulletin and live to tell about it.
Photo: Christopher Polk/Getty Images
Recordings By Janet Jackson, Louis Armstrong, Odetta & More Inducted Into The National Recording Registry
Selections by Albert King, Labelle, Connie Smith, Nas, Jackson Browne, Pat Metheny, Kermit the Frog and others have also been marked for federal preservation
The Librarian of Congress Carla Haden has named 25 new inductees into the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. They include Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation 1814,” Louis Armstrong’s “When the Saints Go Marching In,” Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade,” Nas’ “Illmatic,” Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration,” Kermit the Frog’s “The Rainbow Connection” and more.
“The National Recording Registry will preserve our history through these vibrant recordings of music and voices that have reflected our humanity and shaped our culture from the past 143 years,” Hayden said in a statement. “We received about 900 public nominations this year for recordings to add to the registry, and we welcome the public’s input as the Library of Congress and its partners preserve the diverse sounds of history and culture.”
The National Recording Preservation Board is an advisory board consisting of professional organizations and experts who aim to preserve important recorded sounds. The Recording Academy is involved on a voting level. The 25 new entries bring the number of musical titles on the registry to 575; the entire sound collection includes nearly 3 million titles. Check out the full list of new inductees below:
National Recording Registry Selections for 2020
Edison’s “St. Louis tinfoil” recording (1878)
“Nikolina” — Hjalmar Peterson (1917) (single)
“Smyrneikos Balos” — Marika Papagika (1928) (single)
“When the Saints Go Marching In” — Louis Armstrong & his Orchestra (1938) (single)
Christmas Eve Broadcast--Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill (December 24, 1941)
“The Guiding Light” — Nov. 22, 1945
“Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues” — Odetta (1957) (album)
“Lord, Keep Me Day by Day” — Albertina Walker and the Caravans (1959) (single)
Roger Maris hits his 61st homerun (October 1, 1961)
“Aida” — Leontyne Price, et.al. (1962) (album)
“Once a Day” — Connie Smith (1964) (single)
“Born Under a Bad Sign” — Albert King (1967) (album)
“Free to Be…You & Me” — Marlo Thomas and Friends (1972) (album)
“The Harder They Come” — Jimmy Cliff (1972) (album)
“Lady Marmalade” — Labelle (1974) (single)
“Late for the Sky” — Jackson Browne (1974) (album)
“Bright Size Life” — Pat Metheny (1976) (album)
“The Rainbow Connection” — Kermit the Frog (1979) (single)
“Celebration” — Kool & the Gang (1980) (single)
“Richard Strauss: Four Last Songs” — Jessye Norman (1983) (album)
“Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814” — Janet Jackson (1989) (album)
“Partners” — Flaco Jiménez (1992) (album)
“Somewhere Over the Rainbow”/”What A Wonderful World” — Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (1993) (single)
“Illmatic” — Nas (1994) (album)
“This American Life: The Giant Pool of Money” (May 9, 2008)
Press Play At Home: Watch Dodie Perform A Morning-After Version Of "Four Tequilas Down"
In the latest episode of Press Play At Home, singer/songwriter dodie conjures a bleary last call in a hushed performance of "Four Tequilas Down"
"Four Tequilas Down" is as much a song as it is a memory—a half-remembered one. "Did you make your eyes blur?/So that in the dark, I'd look like her?" dodie, the song's writer and performer, asks. To almost anyone who's engaged in a buzzed rebound, that detail alone should elicit a wince of recognition.
Such is dodie's beyond-her-years mastery of her craft: Over a simple, spare chord progression, she can use an economy of words to twist the knife. "So just hold me like you mean it," dodie sings at the song's end. "We'll pretend because we need it."
In the latest episode of Press Play At Home, watch dodie stretch her songwriting muscles while conjuring a chemically altered Saturday night—and the Sunday morning full of regrets, too.
Check out dodie's hushed-yet-intense performance of "Four Tequilas Down" above and click here to enjoy more episodes of Press Play At Home.
Herbal Tea & White Sofas: Why Dead Poet Society's Jack Underkofler Has The "Least Picky" Backstage Rider
In the latest episode of Herbal Tea & White Sofas, learn why Dead Poet Society lead singer Jack Underkofler is committed to having the world's most reasonable backstage rider
For their part, Dead Poet Society have decided to take the opposite tack, as their lead singer, Jack Underkofler, attests in the below clip.
In the latest episode of Herbal Tea & White Sofas, learn why Dead Poet Society's Underkofler is committed to having the world's most reasonable backstage rider—including one ordinary pillow to nap on.
Check out the cheeky clip above and click here to enjoy more episodes of Herbal Tea & White Sofas.
Rob Thomas And Carlos Santana
Photo: Vince Bucci/AFP via Getty Images
GRAMMY Rewind: Watch Santana & Rob Thomas Self-Assuredly Win Record Of The Year For "Smooth" In 2000
In the newest episode of GRAMMY Rewind, watch Santana and Rob Thomas win Record Of The Year at the 42nd GRAMMY Awards for "Smooth," the unlikely smash-hit pairing of the classic rock legend and Matchbox Twenty leader
By all accounts, Santana's and Rob Thomas' 1999 megahit "Smooth" almost didn't happen. In its embryonic stages, Carlos Santana was skeptical of the tune; the AM-radio effect on Thomas's voice alone engendered its own smattering of arguments.
But in a quintessential lesson about why you should never, ever give up, "Smooth" became the second-biggest single of all time, second only to Chubby Checker's "The Twist." It also led to the 2000 GRAMMY Awards, where the unlikely pair won the GRAMMY for Record Of The Year.
In the newest episode of GRAMMY Rewind, revisit the moment 21 years ago when an unlikely gambit paid off in dividends, putting a feather in the cap of Matchbox Twenty's leader and landing a classic rocker back on the airwaves.
Check out the throwback GRAMMY moment above and click here to enjoy more episodes of GRAMMY Rewind.