Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips is extremely fond of Miley Cyrus. The two got together to record a couple Beatles songs for the Flaming Lips' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band tribute album, titled With a Little Help from My Fwends, out October 28. Let's not forget Moby, though. Because Moby's in there with Miley and the Flaming Lips on "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." Miley stars as this tribute album's girl with kaleidoscope eyes. Fwends' roll call also includes a My Morning Jacket/J Mascis combo. Then there's Tegan and Sara, Foxygen, Phantogram, Tool's Maynard Keenan, and Ben Goldwasser from MGMT making appearances as well. The Flaming Lips and friends take these Beatles songs for a psycho ride full of twists and sonic foraging. All proceeds from the album go to the Bella Foundation, which assists low-income pet owners in Oklahoma City. Wayne Coyne spoke from his car. He was driving around Oklahoma City.
How did you decide Sgt. Pepper's was the album to do?
Last New Year's Eve, the Flaming Lips played two nights. On the second night, we did a John Lennon/Beatles set. "Lucy in the Sky" stood out and stuck with us. When we were able to get this day in the studio with Miley Cyrus, we did four or five things with her. One of them was "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." Miley is fucking cool and crazy. We were so into it, and it turned out so great. Sometimes with benefit albums, the music suffers. But with this, we have the people, the reasons, and the resources to fight the fight because we all love the music, and the cause.
You and Miley have a cool thing going. You're like her de facto uncle.
Well, yeah. She really is a freak, you know. Given the amount of energy she has, and the amount of energy I have, it's like, fuck, almost anything can happen. She's very open and willing and she's not too precious about anything. She just goes for it, and that makes all the difference. We've already done quite a few things together. I've only really known her since last January. Miley and I knew we wanted to make music together. I look at it kind of like David Bowie getting together with Iggy Pop, only I'm Iggy Pop. People say, "No, dude, you're the old dude." No. She's the fucking freak, and she goes for it. It's a beautiful thing. I'm just an amateur figuring shit out [laughs].
She sounds solid on "A Day in the Life," too. You'd never know that was Hannah Montana.
Steven Drozd and I put together that portion of the track. I think she did it in one take. She's so brave and she's fun and she's badass. She can just sing, period. Anybody that thinks she's in the category of Britney Spears is off. Miley can fucking sing her ass off. I don't know Britney, but I know she's a bit more challenged on what she can do. Working with Miley was easy, and too much fun.
I can't wait to see what Miley will be doing in five years.
If she lives that long, there's no telling. I think the world already loves her. But there's always a little bit of dismissal. In time, people will see she's doing her thing. She's strong, she's talented. I've been around a lot of people that want to be like that, or claim to be like that, like a pop star. Miley is the real deal. She's not fake. I've been around so many big stars who faked their way through all that. I don't know if Miley knows how to be fake. When you're there with her, you see how much she cares about her crew, and her band, and her stage, and everybody involved. Then you hear her with the fans, it just makes you cry. She'll talk to fans all day. She's not just in there going, "Hey, I'm Miley Cyrus, what the fuck." I mean, she cries with them. That's why I want to be around her and want to know her. I want to be part of her thing. I don't give a fuck what people say. They think I'm retarded, and I'm like, "Fuck it, I am."
Talk about the "Sgt. Pepper's" track with My Morning Jacket and J Mascis.
I've known Jim James for a little while. I'd run into him after we knew we were gonna do this and say, "Hey, dude, why don't you guys just pick a song and set to it." Then I ran into J Mascis and said, "Why don't you play a fucking guitar solo on 'Sgt. Pepper's' and I'll see if I can cram it in there." I think he ended up doing eight or nine takes. Dave Fridmann put them all together.
[Wayne is out of his car. A woman approaches and offers him a dog. He tells her he already has five or six dogs and can't take another. They talk for a while. He helps her figure out what to do with it.]
You got some dog issues there?
Well, she's got a little pit bull she rescued from some people that were abusing it, and she's looking to find it a home. That's kind of the nuts and bolts of the shitty situation with people and their animals in Oklahoma City. It's horrible. Bella Foundation does good things.
Was there one of the Beatles songs that was more complicated to record than you thought it would be?
A lot of them were like that. When you casually play these songs, or just listen to them, they have this evocative nature. What they're actually playing isn't quite what you're hearing. And that's why the Beatles, and George Martin, and John and Paul, are in another realm. They have that seeming ease. I'm not sure if they were always happy with it. What I mean by that is sometimes you can put the color red on something, with the color blue right next to it. From a quick distance there's this sort of blending in the middle that isn't really there. It's a trick that's being played by your perception. Music does the same thing. There isn't really any purple in the song, but by them playing the essence of one color next to the other, you hear purple. If you go in there and analyze it, you hear that no one's actually playing purple [laughs]. That's the best way I can describe Beatles music. The one that surprised us the most was "A Day in the Life."
When did you first hear Sgt. Pepper's? What did you think? Were there colors?
I first heard it on my older brother's eight-track cassette stereo. Except one side of the stereo didn't work. I listened to that Sgt. Pepper's album for six months not knowing I was missing things because I hadn't heard it anywhere else. Later, somebody played it for me on a full stereo, and I was like, "What the fuck?" I didn't really like the full version at first. I liked it strange and separated. With only one speaker working, I thought, "Why is his voice coming in and out of the mix?" Really, it's just going from the left to the right side of the stereo. If you listen to it on headphones, you can hear it go through the center of your head. Colors happen then if you let them [laughs].
Did Miley see colors?
Very possibly. She came in and didn't have any baggage or memories connected to it. To her, it's just another awesome fucking record she gets to listen to. So I'm saying something from when I was 8 years old, and you've got her singing, and she's 21, and they're both brand-new in a sense. I love that. When you delve into something like Sgt. Pepper's, you learn so much. It's just a marvel. You hear what they're doing, and it's fucking insane, and you're in awe because it sounds so beautiful and mysterious. The sounds the Beatles would choose and the way they would play and sing, it's just uncanny. Once you get inside it a bit, and study it, it's even greater than you thought.
So now, when the Flaming Lips play live, you're hooked up to all the light tubes—those umbilical light-intestine things. What do you call them?
I don't know if we've come up with a good name. I'd say... electronic jungle tentacles.
People on mushrooms love you.
I think that's kind of why we do it. We know the audiences want a little more—something that they've never seen before. I'm the same way—I don't know if it requires drugs or not. It's the power of the optimistic mind. The lights are pretty fucking magical. After a while, I sort of get trapped up there, though. We built the whole stage around me being there, with the lights connected to me. There are times I'm like, "Fuck, I don't want to sing another song stuck up here." But you gotta go a thousand percent one way before you can go ten percent the other.