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Members include Mark Coyne (left group, c. 1985), vocals; Wayne Coyne (born c. 1961), guitar, vocals; Jonathan Donahue (group member, 1989-93), guitar; Stephen Drozd (joined group, 1993), drums, guitar, vocals; Richard English (left group, c. 1989), drums; Michael Ivins, bass, guitar, vocals; Ronald Jones (joined band, 1993-96), guitar; Nathan Roberts (group member 1989-93), drums. Addresses: Record company--Warner Brothers, 3300 Warner Blvd., Burbank, CA 91505-4694. Website--Flaming Lips Official Website: http://www.flaminglips.com.
The odd band known as the Flaming Lips languished on the edges of alternative rock obscurity for more than a decade, known only to fellow fringe-music aficionados who appreciated the band's unique, distorted sound. Music writer Jim DeRogatis has called them "one of the most ambitious, imaginative, twisted bands in rock and roll today."
The Flaming Lips have been fixtures around the Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, music scene since the mid-1980s. Their music, and the panache with which they deliver it, springs from frontman Wayne Coyne. "If I was to talk about my own life, it would probably seem like a stupid Bob Seger song about some dumb guy being in a rock band," Coyne told Addicted to Noise contributor Jaan Uhelzski. Coyne learned to play guitar from his older brother Mark's friends, and as a young adult living in the college town of Norman, Oklahoma, during the early 1980s, he kept running into Michael Ivins at punk-rock concerts. The two became friends and teamed up with Mark Coyne to start their own band around 1983.
Adding drummer Richard English, the Flaming Lips began playing live shows and built up a virtual cult following in the area. Their first full-length release, Hear It Is, came on Restless Records in 1986. By this point, however, Mark Coyne had left the band and Wayne now sang and wrote the odd lyrics that would become part of the band's appeal. In 1987 they released Oh My Gawd!!! The Flaming Lips, which was reviewed, rather improbably, in People magazine. Journalist Michael Small noted the band's similarities with early Pink Floyd, and found that "though nearly every song on the album includes some degree of chaos ... each note still sounds precise."
Coyne's voice has been described as "weepy Neil Young-ish," but it is the eccentric nature of his lyrics that have won the band a cult following. This was showcased with their 1989 release Telepathic Surgery, with its tracks about odd pop-culture waste backed by psychedelic guitar. Yet internal and external problems also plagued the band during this era. English quit, and their Restless label went under shortly after the release of 1990's In a Priest-Driven Ambulance. Bored and nearly broke, Coyne and Ivins began making almost-crank phone calls to A&R people at Warner Brothers, looking for a record deal. A short time later, an A&R person who had not heard of their stunts around the office called them out of the blue, then came to Oklahoma City to see a live show. "She didn't know anything about it. We still thought it was a joke when she called up," Coyne explained to Addicted to Noise.
The Flaming Lips' major-label debut was Hit to Death in the Future Head, but its 1992 release was delayed by legal problems resulting from their use of a sample from the movie Brazil. More line-up changes followed--they lost another drummer and a second guitarist as well--but by this point had thoroughly perfected the Flaming Lips' vinyl personality. Coyne's band, wrote DeRogatis in New Times, "had forged a thoroughly distinctive sound that merged the psychedelic shenanigans of bands like My Bloody Valentine and the Butthole Surfers with the twisted-pop sensibilities of Syd Barrett and Brian Eno."
Transmissions from the Satellite Heart would prove to be the breakthrough album for the Flaming Lips. Released in 1993, it contained a peculiar track called "She Don't Use Jelly," with lyrics recounting one tale, among others, of a girl who dyes her hair with tangerines. The song began receiving airplay on modern-rock stations and was a slow but sure hit--not to mention a huge surprise for the band. They did a video for the song that became an MTV favorite and were then invited to play dates on the second stage of summerfest Lollapalooza in 1994. Sales of the LP were healthy, and Mike Metterl of Guitar Player, described Transmissions as "a relief map of clashing textures ranging from scratchy surface noise over delicate pedal steel lines... to faint acoustic fills backing the squeal- o-rama." They appeared on the Late Night with David Letterman show, and even more improbably, were called to guest-star as a live band at a bar frequented by the cast in one episode of Beverly Hills 90210. Admittedly, Coyne and the rest of the band were somewhat unfamiliar with the Fox TV teen drama, but gladly seized the opportunity when it knocked.
By the mid-1990s, after over ten years of togetherness, the Flaming Lips were earning widespread critical acclaim as well as opening slots for huge acts such as the Stone Temple Pilots and Porno for Pyros. With their 1995 release, Clouds Taste Metallic, however, the unexpected success of "She Don't Use Jelly" worked against them. Warner, perhaps hoping the album would yield another surprise hit with so little effort, put little marketing muscle behind it. A press release tried to sum it up by describing it as "full of stories about birds, brains, giraffes, sub-atomic molecules, travels to other worlds and other scientific oddities." Sales were less than stratospheric.
The band was slated to tour with the Red Hot Chili Peppers in late 1995, but bad luck struck when the other band's drummer broke his wrist and the tour was postponed. Good fortune, however, does seem to smile upon the Flaming Lips occasionally--or perhaps just the fruits of Coyne's committed cheek. In the mid-1990s, he began experimenting with odd performance-art concerts in parking lots. His concept was inspired by waiting in line for concert tickets for hours as a teenager--he loved how his fellow rock fans brought portable stereos to kill the time and show their devotion to their favorite rock gods and was struck by an idea: "Wouldn't it be crazy if you could organize it so everybody's tapes played together?" he explained to Rolling Stone writer Jason Cohen. Coyne began making dissimilar assemblages of sonic experiments on tape but designed them to be played all at once. He began by convincing friends in Oklahoma City, where he shares a house with his bandmates, to contribute their car stereos to the project, then did it with a hundred boomboxes, and lastly managed to get permission and participants at alternative-music industry conventions.
Selling a bottom-line conscious major label on the idea, however, was no easy task, even for Coyne. First, it was demonstrated to Warner what the live experience was like with a parking-lot concert at their Burbank headquarters, and then Coyne and the band, who have some loyal devotees of their music inside the Warner offices, managed to convince them on 1997's limited-edition Zaireeka by promising to also record a more accessible, radio friendly album slated for spring of 1998. Zaireeka, however, was a first in the industry: a four-CD release that required four separate CD players to play them simultaneously to hear the entire effect. It was, in essence, the first octaphonic CD and was not expected to be a huge seller at its $20-plus retail price. The aural result, however, "is enthrallingly huge," opined Ethan Smith in Entertainment Weekly.
Zaireeka, however, was just another day at the recording studio for Coyne--ever the visionary, and a musician certainly astonished that he has managed to actually make a career from his extraordinary inner inspirations. "I feel like we're getting away with a major scam here, that someday someone is going to call up and go, OK we've discovered that you guys are just a bunch of jokers, major impostors, and the whole thing is over," Coyne told Addicted to Noise's Uhelzski. "Every day we wake up and it's like, they still haven't found out."
It was two years until the Lips released the follow up to Zaireeka, but those two years featured great changes and hardships for the group as members left and guitarist Drozd almost had his arm amputated following a serious infection. From these extreme situations came an album considered by fans and critics as the Lips' finest hour, 1999's The Soft Bulletin. This album, while still featuring all the mad experimentation of their earlier works featured the tighest song structures and most confessional lyrics ever performed by the group. By years end, the album was featured on the top of hundreds of critics' best-of lists. Britian's New Musical Express praised the album by saying, "The combination of the emotional and experimental is more touching and wonderful than it's ever been on any Flaming Lips record in the past. It's some achievement." After the release of the near perfect Soft Bulletin, The Flaming Lips had graduated from being the quirky little band-that-could to being one of the most vital and important rock bands in today's music world. The only problem at this time was just how to follow up one of the most acclaimed albums of the year.
The answer came two years later in 2002, when the daring Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots was released. Yoshimi did the impossible by being ever more applauded than The Soft Bulletin, ending up on even more top ten lists including reaching number three on the New York's Village Voice Pazz & Jop list. Tracks on the album ranged from the beautiful and thoughtful "Do You Realize" to the instrumental "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Part 2," which actually sounds like a fist fight between a giant robot and a little girl. Drozd said of it being a concept album that, "You could say like, Rush's 2112, where the first side is just this suite of songs that all tie in together about man's struggle against the progression of technology, or technology controlling our thoughts and emotions and all that sort of stuff. The second side is just a bunch of songs not related at all. And I kind of look at our record like that. The first five songs, there's a theme there, especially when you have 'Yoshimi Part 1' and 'Part 2,' you can see how that all ties in together. But really it doesn't bother me. If people want to call it a concept record and get more meaning from it, that's fine with me."
The Lips continued to make waves in 2003 as they took part in a tour with indie-folkster Beck in which they not only opened for him, but served as his backing band. The Lips had, by then, developed a reputation for their theactrical live shows which feature anything from puppets, friends of the band dressed in animal suits on stage, to sprays of fake blood being shot into the audience. The group closed the year by winning a Grammy award and preparing the release of a science fiction film written by Coyne, titled Christmas on Mars in 2004. Through it all, more fans are made as they discover the ever changing world of the Flaming Lips. Drozd humbly sums the group up by saying, "We just start recording songs and we like certain sounds and we throw it all together and we make a bunch of songs, and at the end we go, 'Okay, that probably is going to work, that could be alright.' And then you put it out, people love it and want to give you all this credit."
by Carol Brennan and Jason Gibner
Flaming Lips's Career
Band formed in Norman, OK, 1983; signed to Restless Records and released four albums with Restless including Hear It Is, 1986; signed to Warner Brothers, 1991, where they have released six albums including Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, 2002.
Flaming Lips's Awards
NME Awards, Best Artist of the Year, 1999; Grammy Award, Best Rock Instrumental Performance for "Approaching Pavonis Mons By Balloon (Utopia Planitia)," 2002.
- Selected discography
- Flaming Lips (EP), 1985.
- Hear It Is Restless, 1986.
- Oh My Gawd!!! The Flaming Lips Restless, 1987.
- Telepathic Surgery Restless, 1989.
- In a Priest-Driven Ambulance Restless, 1990.
- Hit to Death in the Future Head Warner, 1992.
- Transmissions from the Satellite Heart Warner, 1993.
- Clouds Taste Metallic Warner, 1995.
- Zaireeka Warner, 1997.
- The Soft Bulletin Warner, 1999.
- Finally, The Punk Rockers Are Taking Acid Rykodisc, 2002.
- The Day They Shot a Hole in the Jesus Egg Restless, 2002.
- Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Warner, 2002.
- Flight Test (EP), Warner, 2003.
- Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell (EP), Warner, 2003.
- Austin-American Statesman, November 13, 1997, p. 18.
- Entertainment Weekly, November 14, 1997.
- Guitar Player, September 1993, p. 129; November 1993, p. 16.
- New Times (Los Angeles, CA), October 23, 1997.
- People, February 8, 1988.
- Rolling Stone, March 9, 1995, p. 26; November 2, 1995, p. 68; July 10, 1997, p. 46; December 11, 1997.
- Under the Radar, February 15, 2002.
- "Flaming Lips," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (February 6, 2004).
- "Flaming Lips: Blood, Death and Overcoming Their Fears," http://www.insound.com (February 6, 2004).
- "Flaming Lips," New Musical Express, http://www.nme.com (February 20, 2004).
- Additional information for this profile was obtained from Warner Brothers publicity materials.
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