At various points during a conversation with Wayne Coyne, talking from his home in Oklahoma City while his dog Daisy yips in the background, the Flaming Lips front man prefaces his remarks by saying, "These things can sound very hokey" or "I know this sounds hokey, too."
But for Coyne, known for walking on top of the audience in a plastic bubble, appearing uncool is of no great concern. The 47-year-old singer has been leading the Lips since 1983, and on songs like "Do You Realize?" from the psychedelic pop-rock band's 1998 commercial and artistic breakthrough,
The Soft Bulletin,
has expertly confronted mortality in song while conveying his wide-eyed sense of wonder at being alive.
"With the power of music, and the magic that it can do, you can sing about those things, and present those sorts of ideas," says Coyne, whose Lips will headline Saturday's Jam on the River at the Festival Pier on a bill that also will include the Disco Biscuits, RJD2 and Josh Ritter. "And it feels like the truth. And then the music stops, and we all go back to being the dorks that we are. But in these epic dreams that try to grab at these unidentifiable, invisible pieces of our lives, I think that's where our music is the best that it can be."
The Lips music has always had mind-expanding elements, "but you don't have to be an expert to make noisy freakout kind of music," Coyne says, in reference to the band's early punkish days. "But to actually make beautiful, emotional music is a little like flying an airplane. You need a little bit of skill, or this thing isn't going to work."
On the Lips' most recent records,
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
At War With the Mystics
(2006), Coyne says bandmates Michael Ivins and Steven Drozd, plus producer Dave Fridmann, have become skilled enough that the band feels wholly "unconstrained" artistically.
"Which is the only way rock bands should feel," he says. "When you find out that bands are just calculated and cool, that they have an agenda to how they're going to be perceived, to me it just all falls apart. The best thing that can happen to rock bands is they get so far up their own ass that they think they can do anything. And once in a while, they do."
The Lips will begin working on a new album soon, but Coyne has just completed another project. It's a full-length movie called
Christmas on Mars,
which he describes as "a fantastical and disturbing humanistic freakout," as much about "bleak isolation as it is about exaggerated colorful optimism." The film-festival-bound flick, which Coyne had been working on since 2001, concerns a spaceship crew marooned on the Red Planet, an alien superbeing, and "horrific hallucinations centered around the artificial birth of the Christmas baby."
"I made this a kind of a drug-trip movie that you could see if you're 18 years old and you could smoke pot and contemplate the meaning of life. But I think I mostly made it to get it out of my mind. I think that's what happens with all stupid artists. You just have this thing in your mind, and you just feel like you've got to do it."
At the risk of sounding hokey again, Coyne says, "The thing that makes the Flaming Lips is the audience that transforms itself into this great enthusiastic ball of human love. It's kind of like eating ice cream."
When the Lips play the Jam, Coyne says, he'll "sing some new songs and play with some new gadgets. But I don't want people to think that if you go see us, you're not going to see that thing that you've seen us do on YouTube. I use the analogy to Santa Claus. I'll have the suit on. The reindeer will be there. We'll have new presents to give you, but also the tried-and-true magic that, hopefully, we always do."
Tonight at midnight, The New Deal: Jam on the River Kick-Off Show, Theater of the Living Arts.
Saturday at 1:30 p.m., Captain Morgan's Jam on the River featuring the Flaming Lips and the Disco Biscuits w/ Bassnectar, Josh Ritter, RJD2 and Grimace Federation, Festival Pier.
Saturday at 11 p.m., the Disco Biscuits w/ Bassnectar: Jam on the River Late-Night Show, Electric Factory.
Sunday at 2 p.m., Captain Morgan's Jam on the River featuring Lotus with Deadmaus, the Avett Brothers, RJD2 and American Babies, Great Plaza.
Sunday at 11 p.m., Dark Star Orchestra: Jam on the River Late-Night Show, Electric Factory.