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The gold in the mountain of our madness: A conversation with Wayne Coyne

Wayne Coyne, lead singer of Flaming Lips. George Salisbury photo Wayne Coyne, lead singer of Flaming Lips. George Salisbury photo

For the last 35 years, the Flaming Lips have gone from a fringe rock act in Oklahoma to a highly-sought-after entity in mainstream musical circles. The live performances are utterly mesmerizing, encompassing a euphoric sense of vaudeville theatre and a rekindling of one’s childlike wonder.

It’s not that the band and its front man Wayne Coyne changed what they were doing to appeal to flash-in-the-pan trends and changing tastes. It’s that the center of the melodic universe has become increasingly closer to wherever Coyne & Co. stand sonically. 

Onstage, the Lips, through a life-altering visual experience, represent the intersection of the human condition, where you as the listener are posed with the timeless question — do you choose love or do you choose hate?

In a modern world seemingly gone mad, Coyne stands in front of the microphone as a beacon of truth and consequence, his vulnerability radiating outward amid the moments shared between the musician and the audience. It’s an eternal connection aimed at creating positive change once the show comes to a close and we all head back into our own separate realities, now brought that much closer together in a society where common ground will outweigh division.

Smoky Mountain News: What are your thoughts since [the Parkland, Florida] shooting?

Wayne Coyne: It seems like a year now we’ve all said, “Someone should do something.” Nobody wants to stand up and change anything. And we realize there’s two freedoms that are battling each other here — the freedom to be as insane as you want and the freedom to have your guns. And the parallels between the two, the idea that these insane people can get these guns, we’re running into the dilemma. And the dilemma of policing people’s mind, we’re never going to be able to that. The worst nightmare that could of ever happen because of these stupid gun laws that we have is already happening. There’s nothing to fear, it’s all here now. Don’t fear the future — it’s as bad as it could be. 

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SMN: When placed in the modern context, [the Lips’ 2006 album “At War With The Mystics”] doesn’t gather any dust [politically speaking]…

WC: Music is a great place to sort of put your frustration into. I think it does allow us all to have a great thing to sing about. Part of it is that music doesn’t really change this “higher, aggressive thing.” Music is really meant for us passive, sensitive people to share an idea with. But, passionate, sensitive people aren’t the ones out there that need to be changed. We know that, we know the difference between singing songs about our frustration and then actually doing something about it. We were making, what we thought at the time, was ridiculous protest music, which is what I thought a lot of original hippy protest music was like. It sounded so cool, sounded so aggressive, sounded so freaky, that it would take you a lot of listens to understand that something like “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath is an anti-war song — it was so genius. But, whoever [“War Pigs”] was turning on, wasn’t going out and stopping the [Vietnam War]. They were having a war inside their minds [if] they were “loving.” But, I think we were making music in the same way. This frustration was being vented, yet it added to the frustration because you’re singing about something you can’t stop, singing about something you don’t understand. If you’re listening to Flaming Lips music, I’m not that concerned that you’re out there changing the world in a bad way. 

SMN: And once it’s released it’s out of your hands of how it’s interpreted…

WC: Exactly. Most of our music gets interpreted for the better, makes us seem smarter, kinder and everything probably more than we really are. And occasionally, it probably makes us seem more shallow and stupid than [we] are. It’s usually somewhere in the middle. 

SMN: What has a life immersed in music and creating, in traveling the world and meeting people, taught you about what it means to be a human being?

WC: For me, growing up thinking of being a painter or an artist, my personality was a lot more introverted. I was lucky that little-by-little I would be able to go against this desire to be by myself or to make art in solitude. And I think without being in a group that got to travel the world and had to confront all kinds of things and meet all kinds of people, I probably would never have been open to it, and even seen it. All of these experiences, if you’re lucky, can really change you into having a great understanding and empathy of everything in the world. Something great happens to someone, you go, “Oh man, that’s wonderful.” And something horrible happens, [you go,] “I can relate to it.” You don’t sit there in jealousy or sit there and not be concerned, because everybody is sharing the same life as you — that’s what you find out if you travel and are open to it, try[ing] to really understand what you’re doing in the moment.

Editor’s Note: Flaming Lips will be performing on Friday, March 9, at The Orange Peel in Asheville. For more information, visit To listen to the full, free audio stream of this conversation, go to YouTube and search: “Wayne Coyne Garret K. Woodward.”

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