Wayne Coyne looks at a Flaming Lips concert as a chance to throw a New Year's Eve party every time the group hits the stage. In fact, the singer/guitarist/ringmaster looks back to the group's infamous New Year's Eve shows as providing much of the inspiration for turning a typical Flaming Lips concert into one of the great spectacles for the eyes and ears of any touring rock show today.
"We started to do these New Year's Eve shows, I think it was around the year 2000 or something," Coyne said in a recent phone interview with Orlando Weekly, recalling how the Flaming Lips began building their carnival-esque stage show.
"I think every year that we were doing those, we would sort of do what we were doing the year before, only more. ... And then we would just do that in our [regular] show, so every show would look like this giant New Year's Eve celebration – which it should," he says.
Now touring again, the Flaming Lips have new songs to play – courtesy of new studio album, Oczy Mlody – and some new onstage stunts in store for audiences. One rather prominent moment involves a unicorn.
"Well, we have this song that says there should be unicorns ('There Should Be Unicorns') and we really like the track. It's got a really great vibe for it," Coyne says. "I'm always thinking what can I do while the song is playing, and that just seemed like such an obvious thing. You know, when we first went to Miley Cyrus' house in Hollywood, she has this big plastic horse in her backyard."
Cyrus, the child star-turned pop-rock renegade, has become a frequent musical collaborator with Coyne and the Lips, appearing on several of the group's songs (including "We-A-Family" on Oczy Mlody), and, most notably, working with the Flaming Lips on her 2015 release, Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz.
"We'd done videos with her plastic horse. We'd done photo shoots and all that," Coyne says of Cyrus' backyard accoutrement. Seeing endless possibility in this yard toy, Coyne bought his own and immediately began tricking it out: "We put the big LED displays and all that stuff [on it], and it just really worked out, and we found a way to make the dollies they can push me around on and all that. And the fact that [the unicorn] is this bizarre plastic thing is even better."
Of course, to make the visuals work, the Flaming Lips need to deliver on a musical level. And the group, which formed in 1983 in Oklahoma City, has evolved its music into a trippy, whimsical, multi-layered psychedelic pop-rock hybrid that fits the absurdist visual vibe of the stage show.
The albums The Soft Bulletin (1999) and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002), in particular, found Coyne and his main songwriting collaborator, multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd, grafting sharply crafted Beatles-esque pop melodies onto their lush, synth-laced songs. But the more adventurous and experimental side of the Lips' music was never completely left behind, especially pronounced on the group's last two studio albums, Embryonic (2009) and The Terror (2013).
Oczy Mlody brings back more of the pop-leaning sound of Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi. The new album is still quite trippy, but tunes like "The Castle" and "How??" are concise and accessible. Coyne says that the Ozsy Mlody songs the Flaming Lips have played live so far seem to be going over well with audiences. The group's set list won't vary much from night to night because he likes finding a song sequence that works well and sticking to that.
"There are groups that go out there every night and sort of make it up as they go, but I personally am not that caliber of a musician," Coyne explains. "Amidst all the chaos it can be when you're playing live ... [it's good] that you, from sheer muscle memory and all of that, are going to play the right note and do the thing that you want to do."