Flaming Lips Fredonia “Secret” Revealed: “Soft Bulletin” Live Album? In The Form of a Gummy Skull?? Plus, New Music Videos!!!

Last weekend, out of nowhere, Wayne Coyne tweeted thanks to “secret live recording” participants, along with a – short, blurry, unexplained – video of a crowd clapping.  Then, on Monday, he thanked them again, leaving Flaming Lips fans wondering: what was the “secret“?  Who were the – in Wayne’s words – “freaks“??  How did they get to participate???

The Flaming Lips are recording a Soft Bulletin live album and – with the help of SUNY (State University of New York) Fredonia students – filmed companion music videos on Saturday, April 16th for two of its songs: “What is the Light?” and “Race For the Prize” (listen to decade-old live bootlegs of both songs at the bottom of this post).  The undergraduates took part in the video shoot, then recorded applause overdubs for The Soft Bulletin live recording.  Afterwards they hung out with band.

Flaming Lips’ producer Dave Fridmann teaches at the school, nearby his Tarbox Road Studios – where the band has recorded all of their albums since it was built in 1997.  The Observer Today explains Dave enlisted his students to gather their peers for the film/overdub session last Saturday: “Fridmann’s Sound Recording Technology students started calling friends and soon the rehearsal room in Mason Hall began filling up… Within 15 minutes, the majority of the medium sized room was full of eager students…”

The Flaming Lips are currently in the process of releasing life-size, edible gummy skulls that play their four new songs – the old-fashioned way: Wayne Coyne personally brings them to one store at a time.  Fans have reported, while selling the first batch of skulls on April 21st, Wayne Coyne revealed The Soft Bulletin live album will take a similar form.  With no official announcement or discussion of the project from The Flaming Lips yet, it is still unclear if the recordings for the planned Soft Gummy Live Bulletin Skull are a compilation of Bulletin’s songs from several concerts, if they were recorded entirely at this past New Year’s Freak Out (where Bulletin was performed live in its entirely for the first and – as of now – only time), or if they are partly being recorded at Tarbox (perhaps even completely a studio creation, as suggested by The Observer Today).  It’s also possible that the gummy live album will be recorded at one or several of the upcoming Soft Bulletin live gigs the band has scheduled for 2011.  And who knows what new ideas the band might develop between now and its release… Maybe The Soft Bulletin Live won’t get released in a skull afterall, but rather a gummy fetus or some other bizarre object…
For updates, corrections and clarifications – as they become available – follow twitter/FutureHeartDay.

So far, nine eight Soft Bulletin shows have been announced:

05/19 – Atlanta, GA @ The Tabernacle
05/20 – Atlanta, GA @ The Tabernacle
05/29 – George, WA @ Sasquatch! Music Festival
06/14 or 15 – Los Angeles, CA @ Hollywood Forever
07/01 – London, UK @ Alexandra Palace
07/07 – Chicago, IL @ Aragon Ballroom
07/08 – Chicago, IL @ Aragon Ballroom
7/31 – Montreal, Quebec @ Osheaga Music and Arts Festival

Update/ correction: the original version of this post listed The Hangout Music Festival (May 21) and Primavera Sound (May 26) as Soft Bulletin shows, as do other web sources.  This is incorrect.  Additionally, both Atlanta shows (not just the first) are Soft Bulletin shows. Follow twitter/FutureHeartDay for updates.

The Flaming Lips “two nights, one morning” at Hollywood Forever Cemetery (discussed here) on June 14-15 will feature a cover of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon on one night, a performance from the graveyard belltower with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros in the morning, and The Soft Bulletin on the other night.  Apparently the live album gummy skull and/or the the music videos are somehow tied into this special engagement as well.  Fredonia Leader, SUNY Fredonia’s newspaper, quoted Wayne at the “secret” film shoot saying, “We’re doing this exclusively for the show we’re doing in The Cemetary in Hollywood”.  I kind of thought it would be cool…”

One question about the “secret live recording” remains: who is the “freak” in this picture tweeted by Wayne and posted on The Flaming Lips’ facebook?

That “freak” – one of Wayne’s terms of endearment – is Suzanne Bonifacio, of the band Chromakid.  She exclaimed to Psych Explorations of the Future Heart, “The picture on their twitter and facebook of the girl looking up is me – crazy and hysterical.  I have been waiting to meet Wayne plus the Lips on campus for a long, long time.”

Suzanne sings and plays synth, samples and bells for Chromakid, alongside Kat Casale (drums) and Tara Rook (keyboard, vocals, sampling).  The Fredonia group cites electronic experimenters (Brian Eno, Aphex Twin, Portishead, Bjork, Caribou, Air, Boards of Canada) and daring rockers (Radiohead, The Flaming Lips, Broken Social Scene, Pink’s Haunted Grafitti) as their influences.  They aptly describes their sound as, “dream while eating candy…” (hear for yourself, below).

Chromakid’s Tara Rook shared with Psych Explorations, “I was relaxing on my bed when I got a call from my friend, a sound recording major, saying that she just met Wayne Coyne and they needed students to fill up room 1001 in Mason Hall (which is the music building on campus).  Can you say dream come true?? Yes!! We would’ve been happy just running into the Flaming Lips.  The room was filled with all our friends to watch and rock out…”

Suzanne: “Saturday night I had headed to see my family and right as I walked in the door I got a call.  I raced back and got there just in time to squeeze in next to Tara, right in front of Wayne’s smiling face…”

derek brown, steven drozd, & wayne coyne of the flaming lips, april 2011

Tara documented the event with the photo above and the two below.  She adds: “It was mainly music major students but there were other students as well, like from the theatre department and random majors (Suzanne is a philosophy major), but everyone I saw is definitely music affiliated. I always see them at shows in the area and supporting local music. Our drummer Kat Casale wasn’t there but she was able to meet them afterwards. An awesome band from Fredonia was there: Mr. Boneless.  This whole experience was pretty much the highlight of our college lives/lives in general.”

Afterwards, Mr. Boneless’ noted on their facebook wall, “Wayne Coyne is sporting one of our pins NBD.”

The Observer Today“Coyne… found a way to interact with the crowd at all times. Part of this crowd interaction included Coyne running around with a drum mallet while pretending to beat students over the head with it.”

wayne coyne of the flaming lips, april 2011 

wayne coyne & camera man of the flaming lips, april 2011 

Tara also cued Psych Explorations of the Future Heart into a light/sound device that Wayne dazzled the students with: “He showed us this crazy gizmo made by a lady in the southwest which is light sensitive and makes a loud sound when exposed to bright lights.”

Can we expect to see this at future shows?  Get a glimpse of the gadget in the first of the two photos below by Pat DePuy, via The Observer TodayThe two photos below that, also by DuPuy, are via Fredonia Leader.

Click to Close

Of course, no Flaming Lips experience is complete without some preaching from Wayne on music, life and love…

Suzanne: “I talked to Wayne Click to Closefor a bit and planned to keep in touch which was incredible.  Tara gave Steven our EP and I gave Wayne one, which he kindly took and then gave a sermon encouraging us to keep playing music and loving life. Beautiful.”

A conversation like this with any other famous frontman would probably just be “talk”, but not Coyne: who knows where this will lead???

Tara: “We listened to Wayne’s stories, ideas and perspectives.  They are such a genuine and friendly band and I think everyone left with a little bit learned on life.”

Chromakid’s EP streams at their soundcloud page and was recorded by another of the participants in the Flaming Lips’ “secret” filming, Brian Bishop – one of Dave Fridman’s understudies.  Check out the EP’s closing track, “The Wind-Up Bird” via the video above.  Their début album, also recorded by Brian, will be out in the next few months. Connect with Chromakid at myspace/chromakid and facebook/chromakid and see them tonight – 10 PM, at Arlene’s Grocery in New York City’s the Lower East Side, 95 Stanton – or on May 1st at the Mohawk Place in Buffalo.  The latter show is with Twin Shadow (if that name sounds familiar, but you don’t why, you probably recognize it from the numerous festivals he’s playing this year – Coachella, Sasquatch, Primavera, Bonnaroo, Osheaga, Pitchfork and Hopscotch among them – or from his current tour with The Pains of Being Pure at Heart; or maybe because he plays bass on Yellowbirds’ The Color, Psych Explorations’ “most anticipated album of 2011″… a distinction it more than lives up to).


“We’ve been up here in Mason Hall since 1988, that recording area’s all changed now.”
-Wayne Coyne, April 16, 2011, via Fredonia Leader

In the mid-80s, Jonathan Donahue – an indie rock aficionado and literature major at SUNY Buffalo – was in charge of booking the school’s bands on the student union activity board.  A fan of The Flaming Lips’ debut album, 1984’s Hear It Is, Jonathan arranged for the group to play a show at the university opening for Throwing Muses in 1987.  Donahue’s relationship with the Lips grew: he became their roadie, and then joined the band – seeing them through a pivotal period of their evolution.  With his friends at SUNY Buffalo, Jonathan had previously formed Mercury Rev and they recorded at SUNY Fredonia with pal Dave Fridmann – a Buffalo native who became the band’s bass player. 

In 1989, Donahue introduced The Flaming Lips to Fridmann – a Sound Recording Technology major at SUNY Fredonia – and suggested they take advantage of the school’s inexpensive recording facilities.  They spent that summer in Fredonia recording cult classic In a Priest Driven Ambulance in the school’s clinical studios, an environment they embraced – though they did take a trip to Fredonia’s Tops Supermarket to record (in the parking lot) one track, “There You Are”.  They returned to SUNY Fredonia in 1990 to create the “Unconsciously Screamin’” EP, and in 1991 to work on their major label debut, Hit to Death in The Future Head.   Fridmann stayed with the band, producing all of their albums since, except Transmissions from the Satellite Heart –produced by (Dave’s friend/ rival/ assistant from SUNY Fredonia) Keith Cleversley, a fellow graduate of the school’s Sound Recording Technology program.

Establishing his name through working with The Flaming Lips, Fridmann branched out to produce similar artists (Luna, Radial Spangle, St. Johnny/ Grand Mal).  After Weezer’s producers working on the “Blue Album” follow-up couldn’t meet requests for mutant alt-rock sounds ala the Lips, Dave was brought in to engineer half of 1996’s Pinkerton.  Building on this early recognition, he opened his own studio the following year near Fredonia, in Cassadaga, NY.   Tarbox Road Studio’s first ever sessions were for The Flaming Lips’ Zaireeka: thus, the recording facility opened its door precisely where and when the band that became most associated with it began a new era of their evolution.

Among the other artists that recorded at Tarbox its opening year was Jane’s Addiction’s (for their much-hyped “reunion” single, “So What!”) – a full-circle moment from when Dave struggled with the Lips just a few years earlier to get Jane’s big budget sonics out of SUNY Fredonia’s equipment.  It was his sessions with The Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev in the first years of Tarbox though that defined the studio’s – and Dave’s – reputation.  Mercury Rev had gone through a series of personnel and stylistic changes, all of which boiled over with their 1998 masterpiece Deserter’s Songs.  Since then Dave produced many other acclaimed albums at Tarbox – including Mogwai’s Come On Die Young, Sparklehorse’s It’s a Wonderful Life, The Delgados The Great Eastern, Sleater-Kinney’s The Woods, Low’s The Great Destroyer, MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular (not to mention Dave’s work heard by millions in OK Go’s viral videos).

In the late ‘90s, Flaming Lips bassist/multi-instrumentalist Michael Ivins began married life by moving with his wife to Fredonia and – under Dave’s expertise – becoming an apprentice at Tarbox. Ivins redefined his role in the band, opening new sonic possibilities for them in the process (Steven also moved to Fredonia, in 2002, though neither still lives there).  The group refined their Zaireeka experiments into a lush album unlike anything they had every done: The Soft Bulletin

Ivins’ apprenctiship with Dave liberated The Flaming Lips to go wherever their imagination took them. The Soft Bulletin developed the left-turns they had taken in the inaugural Tarbox sessions for Zaireeka, but it also built on the sonic techniques Dave had explored working on Deserter’s Songs.  In addition to everything happening at Tarbox circa 97-98 that fed into The Soft Bulletin, the region itself became a setting for their newfound sensibilities.  Everyone from Elephant Sixers Elf Power to Jack White (with Whirlwind Heat) to rock en Espanola Mexican stars Café Tacvba has traveled to the remote countryside studio precisely because its out-of-the-way location and wooded surroundings distinguishes it from other studios and is conducive to inspired work.  In February 1999, while finishing up The Soft Bulletin, Wayne wrote an essay for the album, “I Am Not On Drugs…Yet“.  He began by commenting on the setting their classic was made in, “I sometimes think about how quiet the world must have been, maybe a hundred years ago. I say that, having just come back from a walk outside (outside the recording studio which is in Cassadaga, a sparse farming community in western New York) and it was so dark I could not even see my own feet as I walked.”

Had The Flaming Lips decided to follow Clouds Taste Metallic by recording in a typical, urban recording studio – in other words, some place where it’s never truly dark or quiet, even at 3 AM –  who knows if they ever would have stretched themselves to capture the sublime lushness of The Soft Bulletin, or the “backwoods” sensibility that underscores it?

Twenty years after first recording at SUNY Fredonia the Flaming Lips returned to record parts of Embryonic their in 2009 (as seen in the excerpt above, from mini-doc Blastula and the moving picture below).  It’s only apt that they returned to Mason Hall once more, to work on a live version of – of all records – The Soft Bulletin.

Update Note: On Moday, April 25, 2011 consequenceofsound posted part of this story, which they learned of from this post (via http://twitter.com/FutureHeartDay).  Though they revealed no new information on the project, they did note that, “The band’s PR hasn’t responded to inquiries regarding possible release dates for the live recordings and videos”.


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