Aroused by Nymphs. J. Michelle Martin-Coyne

French composer Claude Debussy wrote a piece of music in 1894 called "Prélude à L'Après-Midi d'un Faune" ("Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun"). It was a musical response to a poem written by Stéphane Mallarmé, about a pipe-playing faun in the woods that's aroused by nymphs. Who's not aroused by nymphs? The piece was groundbreaking and composed for a smaller ensemble, emphasizing the instrument tones and coloring. It broke the mold of the overused and large late-romantic-period orchestras. "Prelude" sounds almost free-form at first, but the piece is made of complex structural movements and themes. Debussy was economic and flawless with his note placement and melodic phrasing. Many consider "Prelude" a turning point in the history of music.

In 2002, Oklahoma band the Flaming Lips marked another turning point in musical history with their electro-psychedelic, alt-rock masterpiece, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Like Debussy, the Lips were groundbreaking with their use of sounds and nuanced complexities. Never before had electronic elements and concepts been woven into a psychedelic pop-rock album with so much feel. The Lips were economical as well, composing stadium-sized gigantics as a three-piece. Frontman Wayne Coyne is a modern-day Claude Debussy singing in a poised, calm register about existence, love, and artificial emotion. The faun in the Flaming Lips' story is Yoshimi P-We of Boredoms and OOIOO. Her character fights for good against corporate greed, disease, and unfairness. Like "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun," Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots is art feeding on art, with a Broadway musical adaptation in the offing directed by Des McAnuff (The Who's Tommy).

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The Flaming Lips have gone on to sell millions and attain worldwide stardom. Oklahoma City has named a section of its downtown "Flaming Lips Alley," and the Oklahoma State Senate voted the Lips song "Do You Realize??" to be the "Official Rock Song of Oklahoma." In 2009, the band released a track-for-track cover of Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon. This year, the Lips are releasing a song every month. February's is entitled "Two Blobs Fucking." The song was put out as 12 separate parts on YouTube and is intended to be played simultaneously. Claude Debussy would approve. Flaming Lips drummer Kliph Scurlock spoke in preparation for Sasquatch. No fauns were harmed.

If you had the power to become invisible, what would you do?

I would love to find a way to do some sort of Dickens-esque Ghost of Christmas Past–type thing and educate all the morons who think that the current economic state is Obama's fault. We drove from Oklahoma City to a studio in Fredonia, New York, several days ago, and I saw so many hateful billboards that were all basically saying that everything's Obama's fault and we need to get rid of him. One that I didn't manage to get a picture of, because I was driving, actually had the word lynch on it. Needless to say, my mind was blown. So, I would like to find some way to make those people see that we're in this state because of the actions of the previous dude, and not the current dude. And then I would hope against all hope that those people don't vote some crackpot like Sarah Palin into office, as you know that'll only make things way worse. I don't know what being invisible has to do with that. Oh, I would also haunt the houses of the mostly Republicans who are trying to shut down women's reproductive rights and make sure those fuckers never sleep, ever.

You have done so much touring, living life on the road for long stretches. What's the craziest, most drug-addled thing you've ever done? Have you ever licked the psychedelic frog? Or stuck a frog in a microwave?

In the mid-'90s, I was in a band called Contortion Horse. We were drug-crazed and fearless. Once I tried to drive and snort lines of crystal meth off of a cassette case at the same time. We passed a cop, and I was doing 85 miles an hour. I would long for the nights when we had an overnight drive so I could take a few hits of acid and drive listening to Spacemen 3's Dreamweapon over and over again. This stuff doesn't seem crazy so much as just stupid. No frog stories. I'm lucky to have gotten through all this without injuring myself or someone else, or being arrested. Gustave Flaubert once said, "Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work." I can't say that works for everyone, but it works for me.

How did you become the Flaming Lips' drummer?

Beck had asked the Flaming Lips to be his backing band on a tour supporting Sea Change. I was a Lips roadie at the time, and their friend. I didn't think I would be drumming for anyone. Beck was so flaky, and Wayne couldn't get any concrete answers out of him about anything, so it seemed like a good idea to bring me to LA for the rehearsals. I would be there to get them sodas and food or whatever. When we got there and Beck didn't have a drummer lined up, they pointed at me and said, "Well, you play drums, and we need to get to work—get up there." The rehearsals had been set to go for two weeks, 12 hours a day. On day six, Beck brought some drummers in to try out. He wasn't there for the tryouts, of course, but the Lips guys were good sports and played with each of them. Beck finally showed up around 7:00 p.m. and asked which one they wanted. They said they wanted me. Beck argued that I was an unknown and not a professional drummer. Wayne really dug in his heels and explained to Beck that they already knew me, and that we knew how to work together—plus rehearsals were almost halfway over and we were all on the same page, and if one of the other guys came in, they'd have to go back to the beginning and teach him all of the songs. After about 15 minutes, Beck relented and said, "Sure, fine, whatever," and left for the evening. For those two weeks, by the way, Beck rarely showed up. We would work from noon to midnight every day, and he'd show up for an hour around 6:00 or 7:00, listen to what we had done, and chat.

On the first night of the tour, I was watching the place fill up and it suddenly hit me that for the first time in my life, I was going to earn a paycheck by playing drums. And I was going to be playing drums with my favorite band, to boot. The tour was set up so that the Lips would open the show and then reset the instruments to be Beck's band. About 20 minutes before the Lips were due to go on, I got kind of emotional with Wayne and started thanking him profusely for sticking up for me, and for giving me this opportunity to play with them and to actually play in front of an audience. He very glibly replied, "Yeah, sure. You should have told us you were a good drummer. We would have had you play with us sooner. Shit, we ought to have you play with us now. Steven Drozd is playing drums on 'Race for the Prize' and 'A Spoonful Weighs a Ton.' You should play the rest." And they've been stuck with me ever since.

I haven't played with Beck since that tour, and I think it's a very mutual decision. I have a ton of respect for his music, but he was very difficult to work with and he exists in a different world than I'm used to. If Wayne and I have a problem, we sit down and talk it out instead of having some roadie relay our messages back and forth, which is how Beck does things. I don't mean to talk shit, because he's Beck and he can do whatever he wants, but most of that tour was a miserable experience. Whatever, I made some money and I ended up being a Flaming Lip as a result of it.

The Lips' stage show is built in craziness. Does it ever reach a point where you're like, "I can't believe I'm seeing this?"

Well, I have to say that I'm usually so intensely focused on what I'm doing and what the rest of the band is doing that a lot of things go right past me. I mean, there was one occasion in Las Vegas when some guy got mad at Wayne's anti-war talk that he jumped up onstage and started yelling into the microphone. We later found out that he was planning on kicking Wayne's ass, but our road crew got to him before he could throw a punch. I oftentimes hear of crazy shit that the dancers did after the show is over, but I rarely notice it while it's happening. It's kind of a drag because I do hear about some truly fantastical stuff, but, like I said, I'm so intensely focused on the music that most other things just kind of cease to exist during the time that we're up there playing.

One thing that never stops getting to me, though, is the rare occasion when someone will have a negative reaction to all of our strobe lights and will pass out or go into an epileptic seizure. Nobody's ever been seriously, seriously injured and nobody's ever had to be taken away in an ambulance (that I'm aware of, anyway), but it's still a bummer for me when that happens. I like the show in general and the strobe lights in particular to be intense, but I don't like it when anyone in the audience has anything less than the time of their life.

Do you ever get to get in the Space Bubble? Or is that just for Wayne?

I was in the Space Bubble for a bit when Wayne first got it and we were trying it out to see how durable it would be. I was also in one for several hours when we shot a video for the song "Spongebob and Patrick Confront the Psychic Wall of Energy." Being in that thing for four hours with a faux fur coat on and lights blaring on me was enough, and I've never felt the desire to be in one again. Those things zip from the outside, so once you're in it, the only way to get out is if someone helps you out. I kept having panicked thoughts of the other guys fucking with me and leaving me in there as a joke. So yeah, I'm cool with only Wayne being in it.

I wanted to get you to pick out a Flaming Lips song and break down how the recording came together, from your perspective, laying down the drums for it. Any song you want to talk about. Geek out please.

I don't know why, but "See the Leaves" was the first song that came to mind. For that one, it started with a jam Wayne and I were doing one evening. At some point, we hit on this cool bit and decided it would be a great tag to a song called "Embryonic Storm," which actually ended up being left off our last record, which is called Embryonic. I set the drums up in the upstairs portion of the studio, and Wayne had a bass and an amp in the usual tracking area downstairs. We played that bit for about 10 minutes with the intention of Dave Fridmann, the Lips' longtime producer, editing the best bits down to, like I said, a little one-minute tag for the end of another song. We went in to listen to it, and Dave said that—for his money—the first two and a half minutes were great and then it started to lose steam, so he picked that point and lopped off the rest. Then Steven started laying down his magical parts over the top of it. And Wayne quickly came up with some lyrics and sang the vocals. Steven added some harmonies. Then Steven had an idea for a bit at the end, which, after several more layers of his magic, turned into the second half of the song. Wayne came up with some lyrics for that part and sang it, Steven did his harmonies, and voilà, we had a whole song, rather than this one-minute tag. Dave mixed it, we left the original song off, and I guess it was history.

As far as drums. I used my C&C 24-inch kick drum and 13-inch rack tom, a 14-inch Ludwig snare and 14-inch Istanbul hi-hats and a 22-inch Istanbul Crash Ride. Dave used three mics on the drums, one close to the kick drum and two pointed at the walls to catch the reflection from them. He used a mic and a direct out on the bass amp. Most of Steven's cool bits were on keyboards and were recorded direct, though there are some guitar things that obviously used an amp. I think he went through the same amp that Wayne's bass went through.

For Lips shows, what do you like to have in your monitor?

We have videos synced up with the music and extra parts that aren't being played live on a tape. We'd love to have a few extra musicians and an orchestra with us to play these parts live, but it just isn't feasible. So we have some prerecorded bits. That being said, I wear in-ear monitors, and on the left channel, I have the click track that I play to, and everybody else just kind of follows me. On the right side, I have a mixture of the other guys and the track. I have a couple of monitors behind me that my drums are fed through so that I can feel them amplified and hear them a bit at the same time. In other situations, where all of the music has been played live, I usually just have everybody else in my monitor, as I tend to play loud most of the time anyway and can usually hear what I'm doing. I don't know that I really have a philosophy on monitors, per se, but having played many shows without them, I sure do like having them.

What have the recent Flaming Lips tours been like?

We haven't gone more than a couple of months without playing a show since 2006, so I look at what we're doing right now as a continuation of what we've been doing for a while, instead of being on a whole new trip for this year or something. We've been working on a lot of new music this year. I'm listening to the final mix being put on a song right now, but I don't know if there's any one direction all this new stuff is going in. Again, I guess it'd be a continuation of the path we started going down with Embryonic, where we're not trying to do three-minute pop songs. With the way we're planning on releasing music this year, it leaves things open to be a bit more free-form and loose, for lack of better terms. There are some things we've done that we quite simply don't think we could get away with if we were releasing a traditional record this year. So that freedom is nice. Basically, we're in an anything-goes mode right now, and if it sounds cool to us, we use it. Hopefully, other people will like it as well.

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You've played Sasquatch! before. What are your pre-Sasquatch!, pre-Gorge thoughts?

I'm excited to get the opportunity to play there again. This will be our fourth time playing Sasquatch!, and the other three times were just absolute pleasures. Well, the second time we played there was a bit rough, as there was a huge hail storm in the middle of the afternoon, which left everybody cold and wet. But even though everybody was freezing, it was a magical night and I wouldn't want to change any of it. Except for maybe Neko Case not getting beaten up by hail during her set and almost losing a tooth. She's really sweet and doesn't deserve something like that to happen to her. recommended