“The unfamiliar beats and tones of the Flaming Lips’ trailblazing new studio album, Embryonic, were born from double-drummer experiments conducted in an empty house. How the timekeepers in rock’s most exploratory band define invention.”
-byline of April 2010 Modern Drummer cover story “The Flaming Lips’ Kliph Scurlock and Steven Drozd” by Adam Budofsky, page 46
Modern Drummer obviously respects The Flaming Lips (the book this magazine published, The Drummer: 100 Years of Rhythmic Power and Invention, includes a profile on Drozd among the other all-time drumming greats, portraying him as “the reincarnation of John Bonham” with “the juiciest, most soulful grooves this side of the ’70s,” page 143). Why did it take so long for them to put Kliph and Steven on their cover (when for years they’ve hailed the latter in particular as one of the greatest contemporary rock drummers, and know just how much Kliph means to the Lips live and on Embryonic)? For whatever reason, it was about time (… so for one dozen days after it hit newsstands on March 5, Flaming Lips interviews from Modern Drummer dating back to 1996 were the source of the FutureHeartDay quote of the day – read the selected quotes for March 5-17 at http://twitter.com/FutureHeartDay) and the web exclusive interview with Drozd about songwriting to tie in with this issue Modern Drummer posted at www.moderndrummer.com (also home to several earlier Drozd interviews – recommended) accented that these two deserved to be “cover stars of Modern Drummer magazine“.
At the same time, Steven was also featured in a web exclusive for Premier Guitar magazine. Are there any other musicians –ever- to have been prominently featured at the same time in two magazines about two different instruments? Even drummer/ guitarist/ magazine cover star Jack White hasn’t pulled that off!
Steven at premierguitar.com, some highlights: “Drums were such a physical thing—you could just use and abuse the kit and sticks—but guitar just appealed to me because it seemed like you could really concentrate on things. And it was more of a cool sound thing… I remember the first solo I learned to play… was U2’s “New Year’s Day.”
“What struck me about playing guitar was that you could really make it about the sounds and there were no boundaries. With drums, you have the kit and everything was pretty standard. It just depended on how fast and hard you’d play, whereas with the guitar and effects, you could just finagle with sounds and tones for hours. I just liked that freedom and still do.”
“When we were recording both Transmissions from the Satellite Heart and Clouds Taste Metallic, I was drumming but I also laid down as much guitar as Wayne and Ronald. The only thing with those records is you can pretty much name Ronald’s parts because of his out-of-this-world guitar playing and crazy tones. I ended up playing a lot of rhythm stuff, but for the songs I wrote and created with Wayne I’d lay down the track as we came up with it, and then Ronald would come along and sprinkle his magical guitar tones and insanity on it. So by the time he left the band, I was drumming and also recording guitar parts as the band’s unofficial second guitarist. It was more of a question on a performance level. We had to decide if I was going to stay drumming or move over to guitars and keyboards and get a new drummer.”
“What people don’t know about Ron is that, technically speaking, he could sit down and plug straight into an amp and just blow your mind as a straight-ahead guitarist. It just so happened he was a master of effects as well. People looked down on him for using Eventide Harmonizers, but the fact of the matter is Ronald could simply play. In addition, he built his own effects, constructed his own pedalboard and tweaked the effects he bought.”
“What I pulled from him mainly boiled down to two areas: focusing on becoming a technically sound guitarist and using and manipulating effects in a manner to create sounds only the Flaming Lips could use [laughs]. Obviously, since I first picked up the guitar, I was really into making sounds, so the latter was something that really struck me. But after playing and being around Ronald all those years, I figured out that to effectively use and complement those tones completely, you still had to be a solid guitarist. Many players tend to use effects to cloak holes in their abilities, whereas Ron used them to take his playing abilities into another universe. The only person I can remember during that time that played like that was Kevin Shields [from My Bloody Valentine and Primal Scream]. But even so, Ronald was using ring modulators in a way that nobody else was coming close to at the time. Besides the actual composition of guitar parts, you always have to focus on the outgoing sound of it. And to this day, I think of Ronald when I’m crafting songs.”
“While my touring board is quite pathetic—a Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler, Line 6 FM4 Filter Modeler and a Boss GT-8—I’ve been buying up vintage stompboxes like mad in the last two years. I’ve started to get quite a collection—about 120. As for the coolest or rare stuff, I’ve gotten my hands on some Systech stuff, including the Harmonic Energizer, Overdrive and Phase Shifter. I’d love to get my hands on a Ludwig Phase II Synthesizer or a Binson Echorec—the ones Pink Floyd used in the ’60s and ’70s—but that stuff has just gotten too expensive.”
“For the most part, the stompboxes stay home. I use the Boss GT-8 and the guitar goes into that and then it goes stereo out, with one line going to a Line 6 FM4 Filter Modeler and the other going to a Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler. And then it just goes into two amps—two Roland KC-550 Stereo Mixing Keyboard amps—and then I also have a Roland JC-120 Jazz Chorus combo, which isn’t mic’d, for stage sound.”
“One thing I may bring on tour—because I used it on the record—is this pedal I got last year from SubDecay, the Noise Box. It is this crazy little box that works as a ring modulator, guitar synthesizer and distortion, all in one small box. It’s insane! Also, I have a friend that is going to try and rebuild an updated version of the Mosrite Fuzzrite pedal that I think was used on the Ramones stuff and early Alice Cooper tracks. But really, I think the Line 6 and Roland stuff do what I need for the tours.”
“I find the 12-strings can create a lot of crazy and mysterious overtones when overdriven or pushed through a fuzz box. And that goes back to my love for Page. About two years ago I bought the Fender Electric XII, and I recently found out that on all those recordings Page used a Fender XII and not the double-neck Gibson that’s always attached to him during concerts. As soon as I was told that, I plugged that Fender XII in again and I was like “That’s the same sound!”
“I definitely used that Systech Harmonic Energizer just because it has that tone from a lot of Frank Zappa’s trippy, psychedelic solos. It’s basically this overdrive fuzz with a super-duper-filter-tweaker kind of control that gives you all sorts of grit but also a wah-wah tone, too. Also, we used an Ampeg Scrambler and a Roland Funny Cat, which is like taking a compressor, an early fuzz box and an auto wah…well it’s just like its name, Funny Cat. We use it quite a bit on the record. When you think you hear a wah-wah, it’s really just the Funny Cat.”
More recently The Flaming Lips were mentioned or featured in several other magazines. On newsstands now, there’s a piece on Wayne’s house in the May issue of Q (page 24 – similar to this), The Flaming Lips’ tribute to Sparklehorse is spotlighted in Uncut (page 20) and the 25th anniversary issue of Spin cover story lists The Flaming Lips’ 1992 release Hit to Death in the Future Head as the earliest album marking #55 moment “That Rocked Our World”: “The Majors Get Wired: Once the floodgates – and the checkbooks – open in 1992, some of the least likely signings in corporate rock history follow” (page 80). As any longtime Lips fan can tell you, this isn’t exactly true (they were signed by Warners in 1990 before major-label gatecrasher pin-up boys Nirvana – whom opened for the Lips in 1989 – signed to Geffen) and Spin makes a better case with some of the other albums listed – i.e. those by Lips peers: Boredoms’ Pop Tatari, Daniel Johnston’s Fun, Steel Pole Bath Tub’s Scars from Falling Down – but it’s only apt that the Lips get a nod. Bottomline: The Lips are the most unlikely group to not just get signed to, but stay on a major label for most of Spin’s existence, and they seem to acknowledge this by placing both Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and The Soft Bulletin on their recent “125 Best Albums of the Past 25 Years” – though if you’re the type to get angered by these type of lists (like that The Lips’ are ranked at only 117 and 64, or that the top three are predictably The Queen is Dead, Sign O’ the Times and Achtung Baby – hey, at least they were hip enough to keep Nevermind in check at a mere #4 – it’s best you don’t look at this list). Maybe the readers will do a better job: The Flaming Lips are nominated for best live act of the past quarter century at http://www.spin.com/spin25/readers-poll-spin-25 (click on the link to vote, but this is a warning: some of the other nominations might make you cringe).
Spin, May 2010, page 80: “Certainly, whichever A&R rep heard these Oklahoma City freaks’ acid-damaged fuzz rock and imagined a fruitful, nearly 20-year partnership with the label has been summarily fired. And shot.”
Elsewhere, Rolling Stone’s recent cover feature on “40 Reasons to Get Excited About Music” had the last words on reason #2 – “Rock Festivals Rule!” – courtesy of Wayne Coyne (RS1103, p58). His comments ran from Coachella (“the lineup is always stellar”) and Bonnaroo (“so mellow”) to the porta-potties at Lollapalooza (“they get hot and they get filled up quick”), but its All Tomorrow’s Parties that he perhaps summed up best: “ATP is a community – you get the sense that you’re around your people. You’re not going to be standing next to some guy that likes John Mayer” (made priceless by the fact that Mayer was infamously on the cover of Rolling Stone a few issues before this one).
Flaming Lips news has also been mentioned recently in Billboard: first in “In the Wings” (by David Prince Vol. 122, Issue 16, p23), a piece on rock musicals in the works (that adds nothing that hasn’t been known for years, but notes Yoshimi on Broadway is “lights years away” from happening); and then in “Record Store Day Reflections” (by Keith Caulfield, Keith, 5/1/2010, Vol. 122 Issue 17, p37), which reports Record Store Day “livened up some of Billboard’s niche charts… thanks to scads of unique and retailer-exclusive products that were released for the occasion. On Top Tastemakers–our 15-position albums chart that ranks the top sellers at independent stores and small chains–the event’s impact is clear… At No. 14 is the debut of the Flaming Lips’ tribute to Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon,” with slightly more than 1,000 copies… The Lips title was initially only available as a digital album but was issued on vinyl (with a bonus CD of the album inside the package) for Record Store Day.”
The recent must-read magazine concerning the Lips though – and no doubt the publication now on newsstands most recommended for enthusiasts of life, rock n’ roll, The Flaming Lips and future psych explorations to buy – is Relix’s issue on “The New Psychedelic.” In addition to The Lips’ sophomore LP, 1987’s Oh My Gawd!!!, being the fifth pick on their (chronological) “25 Essential Post Punk Psych Albums” list (p60); and a photo of The Lips performing at last year’s All Tomorrow’s Parties (p58) aptly at the beginning of the main article, “The Everlasting Trip: Scenes from the Modern Psychedelic Underground”… like several other non-Lips related stories in this issue, this article – by Jesse Jarnow with an exclusive, for the piece, Coyne interview as one of his guiding sources – is well-written and inciteful, tapping in on some key themes of underground’s evolution from psych to punk and now back to psych over the last half-century. Y’know… the age of the freak is almost here! Best of all for Lips’ fans: that aforementioned interview with Wayne on psychedelic music is posted on their website…
Wayne’s “The New Psychedelic” interview highlights: “When we began in the early ‘80s, underground music was almost exclusively thought of as being punk rock… The music you made sort of situated you in this punk rock/weirdo underground… In the ‘90s, there was underground music that quickly became popular music, like grunge and all that. That was very underground, and then everybody was in a grunge band… Little by little, the underground has almost been left in the best sense to the weirdo artists who just say “I’m just doing my sound, I don’t know what’s going on, I don’t know who’s winning Grammys and who’s selling records, I’m just sitting in my room, taking acid and making music.” I think in the past 10 years, the best of that has settled into some version of new intense freakout psychedelic music.”
Wayne defining “psychedelic music”: “Part of it is letting go of there being just a guitar player, a bass player, a drummer. It’s the freedom of “we don’t care, we’re just here to make sounds. We don’t care if it’s made by drums or computers or animals or anything… When we think of psychedelic music, I guess it depends how old you are, and if you consider the Grateful Dead to be psychedelic. On some levels they are, but in some ways they’re very traditional. A lot of it is based on bluegrass and blues and country, which isn’t very psychedelic at all. When I saw the Dead in the ‘70s, I thought it was going to be freaked out shit, like what ended up being like the Butthole Surfers or Can or Faust or something, but it was kind of like country music, only the guys were on drugs… I can think of My Bloody Valentine, I can think of Bjork, I can think of Boris. To me, it almost encompasses everything but these very specific genres of punk rock or blues. Even Led Zeppelin pushes on those things a little bit… All that can sort of correspond to your state of mind. That’s what music does. It’s like the cereal aisle of your grocery store now. There’s a lot there. You can get five different kind of Rice Krispies.”
..and on the discovery of “new” psychedelic releases of yore: “I think little by little you’d discover that no matter what niche you were interested in, you’d go, “Oh my god, there’s this endless girth of this stuff.” Once you become interested in it, it opens up this endless world. I wouldn’t say that it’s all endlessly compelling. It is personality driven and it is circumstance driven—like Can…”
…and jambands, etc.: “I’ve been in the audience in the jamband world where what the group is playing isn’t as important as this communal idea of everybody being together, having an experience, and the fact that music doesn’t say “hey, pay attention to what we’re doing up here,” because it frees the audience up to pay attention to each other, which is actually a wonderful thing… The music you listen to driving down the road is just the sound of your friendship having some scenery around it. That’s really probably more powerful than watching a performance, because it’s your own life that you’re enriching… I think a lot of jambands are saying “your life is happening right now, we’re playing to it, you’re happening, we’re just up here jamming away” and I think they know there’s a difference between that sort of communication… I didn’t used to think that. I don’t want the whole world to be a musician. I think musicians are drawn to different things than people who are just enjoying music. People should have their own experiences. It doesn’t all have to be life-changing-coolest-band-ever. It could be “my friends and I had the best time of our lives.” To me, hey, that’s good enough.”
Read the full interview at http://www.relix.com/features/2010/03/01/getting-psychedelic-with-wayne-coyne-of-the-flaming-lips?2
Lookout for the June issue of Relix – which promises to have The Flaming Lips on the cover (just in time for Bonnaroo), with MGMT – and keep on truckin’ like the doo-dah man (to “the sound of your friendship”)…
Psych Explorations of the Future Heart will be posting much more on The Flaming Lips coverage in magazines in the near future. Check back for more and follow at http://twitter.com/FutureHeartDay