Wayne Coyne On ‘Oczy Mlody’

A collection of quotes from The Flaming Lips frontman about his band’s new album.

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Coyne On The Album Title

“There was a [Polish] paperback that I found just looking around in a record store or a thrift store or something for like a dollar, y’know? So I was looking at it and I liked the way the cover looked. The title of it is Blisko domu, and I think I just liked it and just carried it in my suitcase. Then when I got home it made its way to sitting in the studio. It would be like one of those little things when we were doing mixing or just sitting there in the studio.”

“Steven [Drozd] found that little group of words was in a sentence in this little [Polish] paperback we had, and I think it sounded to him like some fun drug they’ll make in the future or something. It turned out that this funny little phrase actually meant ‘eyes of the young,’ which we really liked. You always hope there’s some little identity that starts to happen, on its own. That [phrase] definitely helped us here.”

“These little phrases would stick out like, “Oh, that’s a funny word!” We would do that all the time. There’d be little markings in the book, and Steven [Drozd, Lips multi-instrumentalist] was looking through it one day and he discovered the word “Oczy Mlody.” I think we were working on the track that ended up being the title track. We had tried it maybe 20 different times and just kept fucking with it. We needed a title, so we immediately were like, “Let’s just call this that?” and went with it. We liked that it was kind of gibberish. For me, I liked that it felt like it could be one of the monster characters in Star Wars that’s driving a spaceship, y’know? They speak English and they’re doing things just like us, but they happen to be blobs and shit.”

“To be honest, it has nothing to do with [Polish] language or meaning.
I have no idea what this book is all about. It could be that it is the biggest Polish literary achievement. Or it is scrap, what do I know? Anyway, I liked the way the words looked and the rest of the band saw the same. That Oczy Mlody also has a good meaning, but that was really only the icing.”

“It roughly translates to “eyes of the young.” Some people will say it needs a “-ch” on the end, but it didn’t in the book.”

“Frankly, at first it was not clear what to call it.
When you make music, you always seek words and titles suggestive enough to take the listener to the world you have just created. Initially, we had only a short, untitled instrumental called “Stuff”. We ended up nicknaming it “Oczy Mlody”. We did not know yet that it would be the first piece of our future album, but the suite was simpler. Sometimes, a single title can give the tone of the album.”

“The title is perfect; it’s just how it sounds — it’s like melody without the ‘e,’ and it sounds funny to me. It’s like hieroglyphic.”

Coyne on Oczy Mlody As A Concept Album

“We can describe this new album as a concept album, it’s true.
On this record we had an album title, a piece that bore the same name, and similar themes in several tracks.
As a critic, you can of course perceive all this as a concept album, but when you build the album, when you compose it, you never see things like that. It’s much more subtle. For “Oczy Mlody”, we really wanted to go towards this idea of the concept album. We wanted to create a new world.”

“Once we knew that we were going to start ‘The Castle’ with ‘Her eyes were butterflies, her smile was a rainbow,’ that was the leap forward. On one level, that was like my version – which I’ve done a million times – of “Puff, the Magic Dragon” by Peter, Paul and Mary. It’s a song that, because I was so young when I heard it, it just penetrated so far into my emotional subconscious. Once we stumbled on that, I could sing about this sad childlike fairytale world and it could be full of adult drugs and freakiness at the same time.”

Coyne On Making The Album Cohesive

“Steven and I struggle a lot to make [an album] sound like ‘This is of a piece. This is of a mood, a mind,’ because we like records like that — like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon or Miles Davis’ Sketches Of Spain. On the past couple of records we made some effort to say, ‘Man, I really like this mood’ and try to push it into one area more than another. This time we just worked on whatever songs we stumbled upon and then put them together into this album. I think it’s still cohesive, like we like, but sometimes it’s so much more fun just to make some cool-sounding music and see what that evokes.”

Coyne On Album Packaging

“It’s just to say, ‘Given a choice, can we create another experience that connects you with our music?’ The way you put out your records – not just the way they sound, but the way they feel and look – is part of your creative desire. Having the urgency to execute your idea, no matter what form it takes, is really all there is. Otherwise there’s no reason to do this.”

I designed quite a few of our album covers. This time, it’s different. We had a fairly accurate idea of what we wanted for a while, we imagined it quite well. And then I came across an Instagram of a boy. The account was full of pictures, there were even pockets of Tame Impala. I thought it was just pictures, images caught here and there. When I came across the image that was to become our cover, I was convinced that it was the cover of an existing album. Since none of my friends knew the album in question, I ended up questioning the account holder Instagram [Robert Beatty]. Who was in fact the author of all the illustrations of the account. The guy also made album covers for Tame Impala! It’s gone like that. I ended up being convinced that it was he who had to make our album cover. We were lucky on that one.”

Coyne On Recording Oczy Mlody

“We have a couple of tracks on this record that go back even to 2012. Now that it’s 2017, it seems like such a long time ago. Now it seems like five years since we started working on it. It’s like, Jesus man.”

The Soft Bulletin we started working on at the end of 1996 and didn’t come out until 1999, and we put out Zaireeka in that time, and Zaireeka was just a little stop. We were just continuing to work. I think this record benefitted from the same flow. Even while we were working on the covers album with the Sgt. Pepper’s stuff [With a Little Help From My Fwends], and going right into working with Miley, [we’d have] little gems and not know where they were were going to go. This record was happening all through that. It’s not a single flow. It’s a lot of stuff and, in the end, you make it seem like it’s a cohesive story, but a lot of times you struggle along collecting little bits of things that are expressive in the same sort of color.”

Coyne On Lyric Writing

“I felt like in the way that the melodies weren’t everything, that you already knew everything about the story. Sometimes I will shape [a song] like a movie: you know where it is, you know what the characters are doing, you know what they’re wearing you know who killed everybody, but sometimes in movies characters just say funny lines and you remember them even though they have nothing to do with the story. So with this song I felt like we already knew what the story was. It’s an unspeakable emotional story. I was just like, “I don’t fucking know what to say, so I’m just going to go out there and sing any fucking ridiculous thing that the character within this story could say,” and that’s just what I did.”

“In some of these songs, we have literally just gibberish going, and we know we have emotional markers within the melody, and you could almost say anything, and it would have the same impact or be the same mood. And that sometimes is the free ticket: Now say outrageous things. I wanted it to feel like an emotional outburst. Lyrics can mess up a song. You can want to sing along, and sometimes they’re just — not that they’re dumb. I mean, I sing along with Journey songs all the time, because they’re so dumb that it doesn’t matter. But I have trouble with songs that are trying to say something, and then you just feel awkward about the whole thing.
With “Kill your rock ’n’ roll,” those types of lyrics make you say: “Why did you say that? What do you mean?” I don’t have an answer. I just like that idea.”

“Whatever you spurt out of your mouth in the momentum of the creation is what the song starts to become. With some songs, like this “How??” song, it’s this floating, melancholy thing. Everything about it was already flowing like we already knew what the lyrics were going to be, but I didn’t have any lyrics. Steven and Michael [Ivins, Lips bassist] were messing around and Steven came up with this great chord progression and this great haunting, slightly optimistic and slightly sad melody, but nothing was set. This is just mumblings. And the song the whole time is becoming more finished even though there’s no real lyrics. I had the bit [sings “I tried to tell you, but I don’t know how!”]. So it’s this great emotional crescendo of that thing, and I think a lot of people can relate to that.”

Coyne on Musical Arrangements

“‘The Castle’ for example. With a different arrangement it certainly would not have as much power. It could even be very boring, very classic rock. But with these beats it gets really interesting. When I do not sing I listen and I lose myself completely in the piece. We could make sad lullabies, things pretty nice and melodic, but it would bore us very, very quickly. What I hope to do is transmit our excitement to those who listen to us.”

“In ‘The Castle’ for example we recorded this very simple and chunky track and were surprised at how many emotions and thoughts we could still evoke. This was more of an accident, to be honest. Sometimes we also got a kind of hip-hop ballad, which we then make a sad lullaby, and there, a Flaming Lips song was born.”

Coyne On Musical Influences

“Experimentation can have its limits. We try to detach ourselves from all possible influences, but do we succeed each time?”

Coyne On Mystery, Reinvention And The Influence Of Rap

“We get tired of everything always being so musical. Steven and I would say that about music we heard, as a putdown: ‘It just sounds like music to me.’ It could be anything, including things we were working on. We’d say: ‘Who cares? It’s just music.’ That doesn’t interest us. There would be no element in there which would be a mystery.”

“Part of our struggle is always to break out of this routine as we make music. The music will just become boring with time. It is a battle between the craftsman and the artist. We feel very attracted to the simple, emotional, and melancholic melodies. But such songs are often boring. If we are lucky, we stumble every now and then on new ways to create a track. I mean, think of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”, that’s not just a song, that’s more of a feeling. This song expresses so many emotions at the same time that it becomes completely irrelevant how the melody sounds or how the text is constructed. It’s just about what this song does with you, what mood it brings you. Such songs are pure gold and we always strive to create such a “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” That does not always work out.”

“This felt like a new beginning, too. We’re like, ‘Okay, whatever The Flaming Lips were, now they are over. Let’s start another Flaming Lips.’ That always kind of feels great when you can do that, and you don’t have to keep your same balance that you used to have to keep.”

“To me, the great revelation about rap music is that rappers don’t look at it like: ‘We’re a band, and there’s a drummer and a bass part and a guitar part and somebody sings. Rappers are like: ‘There’s a track, I don’t give a fuck how it got there but I’m going to do something cool on top of it.’ We liked the idea that we’d be both sides of it. On this record, we’d go in as the Flaming Lips and make a track, then we’d hand it to the other part of the Flaming Lips to sing on top of it.”

“For me, being around Miley and [producer] Mike Will [Made It], a lot of times we’d be working on hip-hop/rap-ish sounding tracks, and for me they have no reference, like, “They sound like this or that.” They’re really right now, they’re just sounds. I like that there’s no reference to it being a group. There’s no bass player playing bass. There’s not a drummer playing drums. I really love that, to escape from Steven [Drozd] and I always considering, “What’s the guitar player doing? What’s the bass player doing? What’s the kick drum doing?” It’s just another sound. We wanted to get to a more pure. … Get rid of the rock band image, even to ourselves, and just let it be sounds.”

Coyne On Whimsy

“’Wacky’ isn’t such a compliment. And ‘jokey’ isn’t a compliment. But whimsical, to me, has character to it. Like Charles Dickens or “Alice in Wonderland,” there’s a sense that it is fantasy, but it’s rooted in childlike desire. The best stuff we’ve done has whimsicalness about it, for sure. The boring stuff, I don’t think does.
Music needs to have these elements in it, or it doesn’t fire up all the little triggers in your mind. Sometimes with our music, I throw in curse words, [expletive] this and [expletive] that, because it charges up a different piece of your brain.”

“I was singing from the depths of our hearts, but I think when we get there by accident, we don’t really know it at first. Sometimes we do something that we should be embarrassed about, but we don’t realize we’re doing it, and then everybody likes it, and by the time we realize what it is, we’re like, “Oh shit!” I’ll sing a song about this universal meaning of love and life, and we always feel a little like, “Jesus, what are we doing now?!” The way the music swims around in your brain has to ignite your senses in different ways for any of it to really work, or maybe that’s just the way it has to work for me. And so, sometimes even our saddest songs, I’ve got to throw in some cuss word or my brain just doesn’t come alive. I don’t know what it is. I have to say motherfucker to feel safe. Even in the beginning of “How?” when I say, “Kill your rock and roll motherfucking hip-hop sounds,” I just came alive. It suddenly had a different texture about it, even though I don’t know what it’s supposed to be saying. But it felt different, which is what we’re in this for.”

Coyne On Childlike Purity 

“You do not really know why, but in time, either you start hating everything or you start to love everything in this world. I belong to this second category. Because you know that any moment promises a new experience that will trigger something new in you, or remind you of something. The Flaming Lips are not new. Every time we write something or hear other groups, it brings us back to things of the past, to references. It’s normal. But our music is not at all nostalgic. Rather it’s linked to our modern and dreamlike arrangements. Sometimes I wonder if we are not making music for children. Or galactic rap. Each piece is synonymous with a new experience, even a door to another world. As can be some pieces of rap today. A$AP Rocky, for example, is mind blowing.”

“Sometimes Steven will come up with these melodies that go all the way back in time to where you’re just a small, emotional child, and some of them are just very melancholy melodies. He and I have trouble letting out those songs because we feel they need to be more than just about our stupid lives. As we kept working on the production and the music part of it, some of the music to me sounds like music that we’ve never made before. It sounds like some future, fucking weird shit that we have never made before. I think it allowed us to really go back into our souls and inside our childlike melodies, and at the same time be completely out of ourselves in the future. That’s why we started to get comfortable with the way the songs were going. It’s hard to be really melodic and melancholy at the same time. I think that’s why the contrast works. The way that the bass booms allowed us to be more deep into these melancholy ideas.”

“Listening to the Frogs With Demon Eyes” ends up being sinister and mystical at the same time. “The Castle,” to me, I feel like we’re doing — do you remember the Peter, Paul and Mary song, “Puff, the Magic Dragon”? All through my life, I liked the song, and when I talked to people, they’d say, “Oh, that’s meant to be a children’s song, but it’s really talking about smoking marijuana.” I never liked that part of it. To me, I liked the idea that it really is about this kid growing up and how sad it is that he has to leave the dragon and the cave. That to me is the whole reason I would like it. And “The Castle” is in our own way trying to be that pure.”

“I’d run into people who’d say, “Oh, that’s [‘Puff, The Magic Dragon’] them singing about marijuana,” and even though I would outwardly laugh, it was never that to me; and I’d never want that, or purposely do music that did. To me, it is about a dragon and it’s very sad and emotional. I knew those things existed, but our music doesn’t do that. If it did, it’d be an accident.”

Coyne On Drugs

I would never legalize all drugs, especially not heroin or crystal meth. And some of the legal painkillers are also prohibited because they are so addictive. In “How” you have to look like this: the text in this song is not really serious. There are more keywords to make the brain aware again. Keywords that are torn apart as if they were serious statements, but put together does not really make sense. It was pretty difficult with this song to be honest. None of the lyrics wanted to fit, everything was too predictable. In one of the vocal sessions, I simply sung all possible idiotic things into the microphone, which just occurred to me. They are mainly trashy, but also some true statements come about.”

“The drugs we prefer are not the ones that pull us down, but those that make us forget the stress of modern life. It is not only the positive aspects of childhood, it is especially the moments when you begin to understand that we must love our world.”

“People have said that [ayahuasca is] not that intense, like acid. Whenever I would do acid, which was the late Seventies, it would just be too long for me. After a couple hours, I’d be like, “Ah, that was fun,” and then the long, long … my mind just goes to too much worry. But [with ayahuasca] I thought, “Well, okay,” I’d sort of let go some of fear of going insane or whatever. I thought, “Eh, I’m old, if I go insane, I’ll probably get over it.” This was two summers ago. We were doing stuff with Miley that ended up on her Dead Petz record.
Because it’s in this absolutely controlled environment, and you put your trust in … they say ‘shaman,’ but that’s a hokey word. He’s aware of the levels that the drug is having. He’s always going around. By singing the songs, he can judge your reaction to it and how much you’re fighting and struggling. He lets you figure out on your own how much you can dissolve into it. I was thinking, “I’m not sure if I feel anything” and he was doing these little rhythmic things [snaps fingers] and it started to do the echo, and he could tell I was liking it. Everything about it just made absolute sense to me. Mushrooms have that effect, where it starts making absolute sense on such a deep level, and that’s a good trip.
We were with Miley and with a couple of friends, and we all did this at her house. I think we’d do it again in the same sort of way, if we’re with some cool people, and we’re all in the same boat. I think we all collectively were like, “We’re not leaving the house, we’re locked in here for 12 hours with our animals and this guy and our friends.”

Coyne on Extremes

“What is certain is that I absolutely do not want to make a middle music, a warm and harmless thing. I want to be either Syd Barrett or A$AP Rocky. With or without drugs. The border is sometimes very fine.”

Coyne On Oczy Mlody’s Relationship To The Current Political Landscape

“Our music isn’t about that. I remember the year my father died. I had no idea what happened in music or politics, because it didn’t matter. It didn’t have impact on the real life that you have to live. And it does matter what Donald Trump says, but if you’re really immersed in the struggle and the pain of life, those things just don’t matter to you. So I try to go to that area, and say, “If you really need Flaming Lips music, if it can help you, you’re beyond caring about who the president is, or what scandal is going on between Kanye and the Kardashians.
I am caught up in it, absolutely, in my everyday frustrations. But in our music, we’ve tried to say, this is deeper than that. Four years from now, Donald Trump will be done, and this music will still be there.”

“I understand the fears of the population well, but I also find it a bit premature to paint the devil on the wall. I really doubt Trump will make all the terrible things he announced in his election program. If he actually tries, he would run so many walls that he either fails or simply changes his mind. I mean, so many government members and mayors have already said publicly that they will refuse to throw people out of the country if they feel it is unnecessary.
My Mexican neighbors left and right of me in Oklahoma City are still there. What people say and what they do in the end are two different things. And then there is, of course, still the possibility to change something in a situation in which you fight for it.”

Coyne On Oczy Mlody In The Current Musical Landscape

“I think that for us it never worked as well as now. I mean, we never sold 10 million albums. When it happened in the 90’s, you could really go in a tailspin. Look at the Smashing Pumpkins. It has never been our case. We always thought about the number of people listening to us. What was cool was to release good albums, to have people at our concerts, to feel their support. Wanting to become ultra-popular was out of the question. But we never fought to be as underground as possible. I am sure that some people sometimes hear our music, appreciate it, without even knowing who we are. When I worked with Miley Cyrus, it was not for Flaming Lips to sell more albums. It was only to do something interesting. It is the only way to evolve and grow: to feed on new, interesting things. When a group becomes bored, it begins to destroy itself from within. What kills you is pressure, business, sales. To save you, you must remain free, open to experimentation. Anything that makes you an artist.

Coyne On Miley Cyrus

“She’s insane and she’s got a lot of energy, like I do. Together, we can almost overcome anything; we can barrel through people’s doubts. She loves and knows a lot about music, and I guess part of it is, it gives you confidence. Because a lot of times, we are making music in this void of, we’re old dudes. You don’t really know, are these little twists of melody and chord changes resonating with anybody besides your weird, old self?”

“The thing that turns us on the most is that you get to play with your sounds. People would think it’s all about experiences piling up with knowledge, and it’s not. I think the thing that changed us the most is probably working with Miley Cyrus. She would have sounds that would turn a song into something we would never have worked with before. And then we would take that to Fridmann, and he will just be all over that shit. So, I think being able to play with new sounds let us be deeper inside of ourselves. Cool music is never made because you have a story to tell and you know every detail; music isn’t like that. Music is best when it’s abstract enough to be exactly my life and exactly your life at the same time. It wouldn’t work if it was just my life. The more you know, the more you realize what an idiot you are.”

“I mean, Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz is now not exactly the gold standard of excellence. It is not the least bit mainstream. So you can not really talk about a sellout. I think a lot of these people think we would like to benefit from Miley’s fame, and Miley actually profits from us. She did not even know how to write music right before this album, without a producer constantly sending back other versions of the same song. She often told me ‘Wayne, you know how it works, show me.’ and we tried that with the album. Miley is such a wonderful person with such great talent and this incredibly fantastic voice – I am frankly glad when we are associated with her. We all like to have them around us. And I can also tell you that there will be more common music with Miley and The Flaming Lips. We are already in the process of creating new music with her, I am curious about what is going on.”

Coyne On “We A Famly”

“[‘We A Famly’ originally] sounded a little different, a lot slower. It didn’t have the little hook that’s on it now. She sang a little demo of it. A good bit of the vocal you hear on the track is from that very first take she did the very first time she heard it. Through the marvels of technology now you can speed up and slow down and change things without really damaging the quality of the recording that she’d done. It took us a few times before we knew we were going with it. We finally took it to [co-producer] Dave Fridmann; He said, ‘No wonder nobody likes it. It’s too fucking slow!’ so we spend it up and there you go.”

“It’s funny, as young as she is and as old as I am, there is a sort of crossover of tone that we both really like. She sings quite low for a 24-year-old woman, and I sing quite high for an older guy. I’m like, ‘I want her to sing higher,’ and she’ll be like [imitates Cyrus] ‘I don’t like singing so high!’ But when she does I think she finds that more sort of piercing, emotional quality to it, and I know she likes it. It’s just one of those things we like in each other.”

Coyne On Meeting A$AP Rocky

“He’d just got a new set of gold teeth, braces things, and he was talking about taking acid. In between, Miley was whispering: ‘He’s never really taken acid. He’s just saying that because he wants to write music about taking acid.’ He would keep talking and she would go: ‘He doesn’t know anything about acid.’ She’d know. Cyrus has done acid plenty.”

Coyne On His Critics

“You do your coolest stuff when you’re not so serious because it doesn’t matter that much. And it’s great to have instant feedback all the time, whether it’s good or bad. You can tune in or tune out as much as you want. It’s just there, flowing, which is wonderful.
If you’re flying along, having everything you do greeted by so much love and success, then suddenly you’re confronted by someone saying, ‘Fuck you! I hate what you do!’ – it can be like getting slapped in the face.
I can only say, by comparison, the things that happen to me are nothing. I’m not in that flow. Even when things are going well for us, we’re always worried. Miley and Ke$ha are not – and I’ve definitely learned more being around them than they would from me. Luckily, the mountain of opinion out there mostly encourages us to keep doing what we’re doing. When it’s not, I can laugh at it most of the time.”

Coyne On Memories And Music

“The reason you sometimes like music is because it reminds you of things. It evokes memories. For me, it is the most important power of music, making you travel in time.”

Coyne On Metting Reggie Watts

“We were at this festival that’s outside of Seattle. I’d heard about Reggie and luckily we were playing later in the day and he was doing a set earlier in a big tent, and we all went over there. I think we caught most of his set, which, y’know, was probably 30 minutes of comedy, spoken-word and music, and he’s just sort of rambling along telling stories and all this stuff. We loved it. I immediately went backstage as he was walking off and didn’t know if he knew me or anything and just talked about how much we liked it. I got his phone number and said, “Hey, let’s do something. We both agreed we’d try.”

Coyne On ‘There Should Be Unicorns’

“There’s this song that they play in the new movie about Jackie Onassis; it’s called “Camelot”. It gives you all these little nuances about the way a party is going to be. In Camelot, they can control the flowers, the weather, everything, because it’s all a fantasy. And so this “Unicorn” song that we brought Reggie Watts into is like a party planner giving his big list of all the things he wants to happen at the celebrities billionaire party. You can control the weather, you can control the drugs, and you have unicorns. So, it’s anything that you want in this fairy tale that can happen. The idea that Reggie Watts is the one that’s giving you the list, I just thought it was perfect. There is the song by Gil Scott-Heron called “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”. It’s a great, poetic, protest, funky song, and when I mentioned it to him, he knew exactly what I was talking about. We both were like, “Let’s say this list as if we’re trying to change the world, even though if you pay attention to it, it just seems utterly stupid and absurd.” We thought, “Well, that’s where the fun starts.”

“I would keep trying to include [Reggie Watts] in stuff, and if he was able to he would, so he ended up on the album because I was just doing that again. We were in the middle of what was an unknown track and I had him in mind. So I sent him this thing and he ended up doing this stream-of-consciousness little ramble that I’d put together in a text. The track was rolling along and we got his stuff, and that compelled us to make it a little bit more of a song.”

Coyne On Oczy Mlody Tour Plans

“It will not be easy to reinvent out show but we will try. I’m not sure if we throw big pink balloons on the crowd this time. You tell me it’s spectacular, but on tour, I see it every night since I’m on stage. All our effects seem normal, not incredible. We sometimes played at festivals, in which case we only have one hour, one hour two minutes of show. There we swung everything in a short time. I imagine that the people who saw this must take us for madmen. When playing two hours it is more balanced, more coherent. All this show, these effects, is not for the public, it is above all for us, because we need to feel excitement, novelty, and fun to play. Music is a mystery. I remember we opened for Coldplay a decade ago. In Paris in particular. In huge stadiums with 70,000 people. We were not very familiar with their music. At one point, we play “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots” and everyone starts singing our song. Well, that’s what we thought. We realized after a few tens of seconds that they were singing a song by Coldplay. They were so tired of us playing that they started singing a piece by Coldplay!”

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