Life, in all its facets, is pretty great for Wayne Coyne. He still lives in his (ever-expanding) two-story house in Oklahoma City with wife Michelle, who met Wayne in the late ‘80s when he was a local Long John Silver’s fry cook. Because life is so great, Wayne never stops. When he’s not making experimental movies in his backyard (the sci-fi freak-out Christmas on Mars) or touring the world in his plastic bubble with The Flaming Lips, he’s always plotting the next project. Raising eyebrows over Coyne’s eccentricity at this point seems like a wasted gesture, as last year saw the release of the infamous Flaming Lips gummy skull—a life-sized, gummy skull with a USB flash drive inside the gummy brain. Upping the insanity this year, The Flaming Lips are releasing The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends, a limited-edition, double album for Record Store Day on April 21, featuring the vocal and musical collaborations from a grab bag of friends and legends, ranging from Chris Martin of Coldplay and Yoko Ono to Bon Iver and Ke$ha. And, this being a Flaming Lips project, there will be blood, as Coyne plans to infuse five or six of the 10,000 records pressed with the blood of every artist on the project.
“The organizers of Record Store Day were thrilled when we first heard that Wayne was putting together a special record for us,” says Michael Kurtz, Record Store Day co-founder. “The Flaming Lips totally understand our concept of creating something special and unique for music fans. Having every one of the 10,000 copies of Heady Fwends made individualized by hand-pouring the vinyl is the ultimate expression of celebrating our individuality. There is no doubt in my mind that this will be the most sought-after release for Record Store Day. And no, we have no idea what blood type Wayne or Erykah Badu or Yoko Ono or Nick Cave have!”
For Coyne, the experience of collaborating with such disparate artists was a learning experience. “I love working with people, because you get some real insight into the way they are, and you learn more than you would from reading about them or drinking with them,” says the ever-gregarious frontman from his Oklahoma City home.
“Working with Chris Martin, he’s very caught up in what he’s doing,” says Coyne. “I sent him the track that we were working on, and told him he should just sing some stuff on this or whatever, because I knew he was in the middle of a tour and they had the Grammys coming up. So I told him to not spend more than a couple of minutes on it, because it doesn’t matter that much how great he sounds. I assured him that we’d make him sound like a part of this thing, because there are just so many magical things you can do these days with computers. He sent me this little thing that I think he recorded over his phone, because I told him to do it anyway that he can, and it really didn’t matter. He sent it a couple hours after we talked so I was thinking ‘This is great. He’s going to fit perfectly into our song.’ Over the next couple days we put it in and mixed it and made it sound like we were all sitting there together, making this beautiful song together. And then he didn’t want me to change any of it. He was just like ‘No, you can’t change my song.’ I was just thinking ‘Why does it matter?’ But, it’s just an example of the many different ways that people work. For me, it would just be like ‘I don’t care what you do to it.’ But I can see for him that every one of these little expressions is a very precious moment, and I wouldn’t have known that about him until I worked with him.”
The actual process of recording with each artist was different and presented its own unique, experimental challenge. “With the Bon Iver track, he sent me something, and then I’d write something and we’d go back and forth,” explains Coyne. “Lightning Bolt was a 45-minute recorded soundcheck jam. The Ke$ha track is probably the one that most people would consider a live collaboration. We were literally sitting there, making up the music together. We’d go back and forth on the lyrics and we mixed it together. Not all these people were there with me. A lot of it we did over email. Some of the people I’ve literally never even spoken to. It was all done through email and texting. I’ve never spoken with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. But, if you read our texts, you’d think we were brothers, or have known each other for the last 20 years.”
Although the majority of the collaborators were Lips fans or prior acquaintances, in certain cases Coyne had to rely on his charm and quick wits to seal the deal. “We played a show with Nick Cave last summer, and I’m a fan of Cave and The Birthday Party and everything he’s done, but I can understand where he would not be a Flaming Lips fan, because his music is not thought of as freaky and psychedelic rock,” says Coyne. “But, he watched our show and afterward he became a fan. He’d text me all the time saying, ‘Wow, I love this song or that song.’ So, I had only met him a couple times and finally I just said, ‘Fuck it, I’ll just ask him,’ and he said ‘Sure.’ With Erykah Badu, I didn’t really know when we were going to record. She called me on a Monday, and said ‘Can you come down to the studio tomorrow night and we’ll have about three hours in the studio.’ In her mind, she must have thought I had some tracks for her, but I really didn’t have anything. So I spent the entire next day, until about 7 p.m., just working on three tracks to get ready for her. Sometimes, those are the best ones, because you’re just fucking going for it.”
For the workaholic Coyne, to cease motion is to die, and the perfect day for him can be achieved every waking morning. “I’m not too picky. Any day where everybody in my family is feeling good is pretty perfect. Any day where something bad hasn’t stopped everyone’s progress towards doing what they want to do. My days are great when I work from 8 a.m. until 1 a.m. at night. But, the days when I get to sit around and drink coffee, read, walk my dog and be with Michelle and be with our friends and party are great. The only thing that interrupts all that is when you’re reminded that people get sick and are suffering, or there’s some situation where you’re not able to help somebody. Those are the days that aren’t good because I’m trapped in this thing that I’m doing and I can’t just stop and help everyone. Even doing an interview, some people might be like ‘Why would you like to do that?’ And I just say, ‘It’s great. I get to talk about me and my shit. I get to talk with people who are interested in music and love what I love. It’s all pretty great.”