New album is Poles apart, says Flaming Lips frontman
The adventurous spirit of The Flaming Lips extends to both music and words.
The 15th album from the American psychedelic rockers is titled Oczy Mlody (pronounced “Oxlee Melody”), a Polish phrase chosen after frontman Wayne Coyne found it in a second-hand book he bought because he liked the cover. He didn’t care that the book, Blisko Domu (Almost Home), was in a language he does not speak.
Enamoured by the way the words sounded, Coyne keyed them into an online translation programme and out popped the phrase “Eyes of the Young”.
“We would not like to call one of our albums Eyes of the Young,” says Coyne.
“But we liked the idea this other cool-sounding word could mean that.”
The title could be both a timely and apt reference to Coyne himself. The album was released on January 13, the 56th birthday of this man who refuses to grow up.
The Flaming Lips are renowned for their joyful, childlike innocence, with Coyne wearing extravagant outfits on stage, alongside people dressed in animal costumes, and walking over the heads of the crowd in a giant inflatable bubble.
Recently, he has been making headlines for his collaborations with 24-year-old pop sensation Miley Cyrus in Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz, and re-recording famous albums – including The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band – in The Flaming Lips’ psychedelic-rock style.
While these projects were driven by the spirits of friendship, with Cyrus, and homage, in the case of The Beatles, Coyne says Oczy Mlody is its own thing.
“I don’t think there is any particular driving force for the new album,” he says. Spending so much time with Cyrus in the past few years did, however, influence the song-writing process of the three-time Grammy-award winners.
“We would start to have an admiration for the way that she’s presented with tracks,” says Coyne. “Every producer in the world is making a couple of tracks a week, sending them to her and saying: ‘You want to sing on this? Take this groove I’ve got and turn it into a song?’ And I was saying: ‘Man, I wish someone would do this for me’.”
So the group decided to replicate that process.
“We’ll make a track, and once we have the track, I’ll present it to myself as a singer,” Coyne says. “Oh, what can I do now? So, a lot of what we did on this record was like that – we would just be messing around, find this cool groove and make some chord changes and be like: ‘Oh, that could be something’.”
As a result, Oczy Mlody is more upbeat than previous album The Terror (2013), a gloomy affair reflecting Coyne’s relationship break-up, and main co-writer Steven Drozy’s brief drugs relapse.
“The very first track on the album is the instrumental called Oczy Mlody, and when we stumbled upon that sound, we started to think that’s a cool mood or vibe, or whatever you call it,” says Coyne. “I think Steven and I both thought, let’s see what it would be like to make a record like that.”
Coyne says the songwriting process for the new album initially came with tight parameters.
“I would start working on it and I would tell the engineer: ‘We can only do four tracks,’” he says. “It would end up being 50 tracks, but you know, in the beginning, I’m like: ‘It’s only going to be four’. But it’s impossible to know what’s going to turn you on.”
This approach is largely responsible for Oczy Mlody’s progressive spirit. Coyne cites the 10th song on the 12-track album, The Castle, as an example of how the sound kept changing.
“In the beginning it felt like kind of a normal song to us, and we kept stripping it down to just this clunk piano and this ridiculous beat,” he says. “And we had a good amount of delay and reverb on my voice. We had this bigger arrangement that we thought it was, putting all this drama and emotion into it, and the more that we took stuff out, the sadder it got.”