Last revised May 21, 2014.
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Steven Drozd first explained Electric Würms – his new band with fellow Flaming Lip Wayne Coyne – to Fuse last April: “I don’t think Wayne ever wants me to have any free time, so he always has some new thing for me to do.”
According to Steven the original intention was “to get a psych-prog band going. Wayne wanted me to be this weird John McLaughlin-style front guy playing guitar with a crack team of prog musicians. We’re trying to get something going with that…If I was trying to make it a supergroup, maybe there’d be some people I’d ask. But I think we’ll just get dudes around here.”
Now a year later Drozd and Coyne have finished a 6 song debut primarily recorded with members of Linear Downfall, though involvement from MGMT and Daniel Huffman (aka New Fumes), as well as Lips bandmates Derek Brown and Matt Duckworth, have also been teased. Will they be on the record?
“We have been working on the Electric Würms stuff which is now complete,” Linear Downfall’s Charlee Cook told us in April. Her brother and bandmate Chance Cook describes the sessions this way: “the four of us [in Linear Downfall] and Steven jammed in Pink Floor for two or three days, and played music chairs. It was a lot of fun watching Steven play drums! Wayne kinda came in later and added stuff, and edited and produced.” The result is “about 30 minutes or so” of material that will be released as a 6-track record on a yet-to-be-determined date, possibly in August 2014 by Warner Brothers. Although details are still tentative and the tracklist hasn’t been released, the record has been mixed and mastered and artists involved in the project have shared snippets of Miles Davis and Yes covers, new original jams and a sequel to The Flaming Lips’ 2002 Grammy-winning instrumental “Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon.”
On May 20th Linear Downfall, Wayne and Steven posed for Electric Würms promo photos. Wayne noted on instagram, “Electric Würms ….. It all began in the late 70s when someone invented the right kind of acid that could make you fly.It seemed that everything was , at last , possible. And the overly optimistic freaks of the day began flying into outer space.” Photographer George Salisbury posted an undoctored photo from the shoot:
The Electric Würms sessions montage below provides a glimpse of what’s to come, highlighted by a new original titled “The Bat” at 2:06:
“Wayne and I have been talking about this prog band side project we want to get going,” Steven told MTV as the project was still being conceived last spring. “[Wayne] wants to play bass and get a couple of drummers and keyboard players. And we could play some festivals, like the 2 o’clock in the morning dance tents with some crazy lights and we just play some wicked, crazy music. So there’s that! We’re calling that Electric Worms.“
Steven toyed with and tweeted some ideas last spring, but the project didn’t start in earnest until he and Wayne teamed with Linear Downfall in mid-August to record a cover of Yes’ “Heart of the Sunrise.” The Flaming Lips have discussed tackling this mega-jam for a while and it makes sense they would finally get around to it with Linear Downfall – the perfect group of musicians for any and all psych-prog side-project needs. And as you may recall, Linear Downfall covered “21st Century Schizoid Man” on “Playing Hide and Seek with the Ghosts of Dawn,” The Flaming Lips and Friends complete remake of King Crimson’s debut album. For the non-prog geeks reading this, the reason this is significant – Yes guitarist Steve Howe admitted that “Heart of the Sunrise’s” main riff (written by bassist Chris Squire) was based on “21st Century Schizoid Man.” “I suppose we got away with it,” Howe said in 1992. Even without this acknowledgement to his prog peers the similarities are obvious to anybody familiar with both tracks.
Yes also seem to have inspired the bands name, or at least the second half of it: Würm is the title of Howe’s guitar freak out section in their 1971 classic “Starship Trooper.” Which brings us to…the umlaut. Yes were one of the first bands to hook fans with these phoenics and Drozd is among the many to follow in their path, previously using this linguistic device common to Germanic languages and metal bands alike on “Pompeii Am Götterdämmerung.” Stylized spelling aside, the term “electric worms” describes the squirms of light that wiggle through the cords draped around Coyne’s podium in the Lips’ Terror tour stage setup.
Besides the double umlauts “Götterdämmerung” set two other templates for Electric Würms. As the first Flaming Lips song fronted by Steven “Götterdämmerung” foreshadowed his role in Electric Würms. “So far, the cohesive thing is that I sing on it,” Steven explained to Rock Sucker in March 2014. “Wayne’s playing different percussion instruments and noisemakers, and I’m doing the singing – I guess that’s kind of its defining thing.”
It seems Steven is at his proggiest when his inner German shines, even if only with a wink – and that is the other way “Pompeii Am Götterdämmerung” forshadowed Electric Würms. DEO Creative introduced a logo for the project on their website last June (above right), complete with two more umlauts and quasi-German. “Der Schüren Gewalttätigkeit” it read under the band’s name (rough translation: “The Stoke of Violence”). Around the same time as the logo appeared a website registered to electricworms.com was “under construction” (though it now looks abandoned altogether). And although the title of the Electric Würms debut record hasn’t been confirmed yet, it appears to be Muzik Die Schwer Zu Twerk, a broken German translation of the hashtag Coyne has added to many of his social media posts about the project: #musicthatishardtotwerkto.
Wayne first used the #musicthathishardtotwerkto hashtag at the start of January 2014, around the same time Miley Cyrus started tweeting at him. Wayne has continued to use the tag on his instagrams about Electric Würms since, and more recently on a picture of Miley “vomiting diamonds while singing Lucy In The Sky...” for the Lips and friends’ complete album remake of The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Does the hashtag suggest Miley is part of the Würms? That Wayne’s Electric Würms posts also occasionally include #lovemoneyparty – the hashtag he uses for his collaborations with Cyrus and the title of one of her songs – further implies this possibility. Then again, maybe it’s saying the opposite: Electric Würms recordings are the polar opposite of the Lips’ recent projects with Miley? Perhaps “music that is hard to twerk to” is meant to say that both Miley and her twerking tunes have nothing to do with his Würms work.
Miley too or not to Miley, that is the question. Whatever the answer, Coyne stirred up more speculation on March 19th with the above “electric sperm” image hashtagged with usual suspects (#freaks #theflaminglips #flaminglips #lineardownfall #hippies) as well as tags referencing Miley (#musicthatishardtotwerkto #lovemoneyparty) and haters’ responses to his love for her (#drugmusicthatdestroyshate). (Click on the picture for a larger view.) Most significantly it’s also tagged #mgmt. Was Andrew VanWyngarden’s recent work for Coyne’s Sgt. Pepper’s remake double duty for the Electric Würms debut as well? Is Ben Goldwasser on the Würms record? Is the tag just a joke, perhaps referring to the 2009 Lips track MGMT appear on, “Worm Mountain”?
Here’s what we do know:
Last August Linear Downfall’s Chance Anthony Cook posted the below photo of himself recording with Steven, captioning it “Mr. Drozd and I putting down some tracks!!” Here’s another way to describe it: two starship troopers, exploring new frontiers with pink-strapped guitars.
“The prog ensemble — and this is more Wayne’s thing — he wants me to be this central figure, like a John McGlaughlin kind of dude,” Steven told MTV last spring. While he takes a front and center role singing lead, Wayne plays percussion, noise synths and bass – but only on the songs with simple basslines. Wayne digs the “Silver Apples sound” he gets from Charlee Cook’s bass. The rest of the parts are filled in by other Lips friends, as of now primarily the members of Linear Downfall. Wayne plotted a plan last August in the doodle below, but roles have loosened since then. “We call it a side project of Wayne’s and mine, but it’s a little more of a free-for-all than that,” Steven updated Rock Sucker in March 2014. “I think our initial idea was that I’d be a kind of band leader/guitar player guy…but now it’s turned a little bit – I’ll definitely be singing lead, but I think I’ll be more of a keyboard player, sitting down and singing.”
Wayne explained to Rolling Stone, “I’m part of the ensemble but it’s mostly Steven’s thing. We’re using a lot of musicians, but mostly there’s a group out of Nashville called Linear Downfall that are amazing – they’re such good musicians and such freaks.” Although Steven is the lead figure in the band, because of the “musical chairs” process of the sessions, Drozd is featured on all instruments on the debut record. Linear Downfall guitarist Dom Marcoaldi tells The Future Heart, “Steven plays drums [on the record]. Will [Hicks, Linear Downfall drummer] does too.”
“Playin bass in Electric Wuürms!!! On the easy tracks!!!!” Wayne wrote on instagram last December referencing their cover of Traffic’s “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys,” a jazz-rock milestone. They also recorded a “Diplo inspired version of The Planet Of The Apes Theme” and jammed on the groove best known as “Sivad” from Miles Davis’ Live-Evil (though that track is actually a mash-up of the end of Miles’ early fusion period set opener, “Directions,” with “Honky Tonk” – both primarily edited from Davis’ December 19, 1970 second set at The Cellar Door). Yep, that was the night John McGlaughlin sat in. For the Würms version Wayne said lyrics by Mother Teresa were added.
“We only did a couple of days [of sessions] at the beginning of September,” Wayne explained to Rolling Stone last November. “I forget what the Miles Davis song is called, we literally recorded one of these really complicated electronic Miles Davis tracks with them. We have a session that is going to happen in the next week or 10 days or so that will probably decide when that’s going to come out.“
Steven told Rock Sucker in March that the Electric Würms debut record, “will have a Yes cover on it that people might or might not like depending on which side of the punk rock/prog rock coin you exist on! I think it’s possible to exist in both plains, but some people feel like it has to be an either/or situation (laughs). But we’ve really tripped out hard to “Heart of the Sunrise” by Yes and we’ve done a couple of other songs. Then we’re going to try and do a whole record, so there’s a lot going on.” Since that interview Coyne confirmed they’re “almost done” with a “6 song“ debut, and Linear Downfall confirmed the record was finished at Tarbox with Dave Fridmann.
Looking forward fans can expect both live performances and records from Electric Würms – time permitting. “We’ll have a band of three or four guys – we’re not sure who yet, but we’re working with a band called Linear Downfall at the moment – and then Wayne will play synth on one song, electric bass on another, and he’ll play percussion and stuff. The idea being that it’s not a Flaming Lips show, it’s going to be a different thing,” Steven told Rock Sucker. “We’d like to try and do some shows this summer but we’ll have to see how busy the Lips schedule is before we do that.“
Recap Electric Würms’ progression so far with the tweets below, including a peak at their album cover:
Almost to OKC really honored to be working with our friends The Flaming Lips again!!—
Linear Downfall (@LinearDownfall) November 20, 2013