Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Wayne Coyne talks about his near death experience and close friendship with Miley Cyrus

Last weekend at Riot Fest, I was able to sit down for an in-depth interview with lead singer of The Flaming Lips, Wayne Coyne. We chatted about his childhood, being robbed at gun point and his friendship with Miley Cyrus.

B:Have you played at Riot Fest before?

W: I don’t know if I have. We just played one in Toronto. I think it was the same type of thing, but I don’t think I’ve been to one here. I don’t know what it is, really. I thought it used to be emo bands or something. Now I think it is more than just those sorts of bands. We played in Toronto last week and it was The Cure, us and Die Antwoord. Just a bunch of freaks.

B: Out of all the bands playing today, is there anyone you particularly would like to see?

W: I want to see Die Antwoord. I saw them at Bonnaroo, but I get to be on the side stage, today.

B: What do you like about what Die Antwoord is doing?

W: I just like that they are freaks and that they don’t give a fuck. I mean this is their backstage pass, “VIP n****, suck my dick.” It’s fucking funny. I mean I don’t listen to all of their music, but I like some of it a lot. She’s so fucking weird. She’s got that wonderful little voice. She’s so little and he’s so mean. Yeah, it’s great. 


B: Do you think it is important to make your audience a little uncomfortable?

W:I don’t know about that, I don’t feel uncomfortable about their music. They’re just freaks and they are doing what they like. I don’t know if those things are real. I don’t know if any musician is approaching music and thinks I’m going to challenge people. I think they just love music and decide to do it.

B: What drew you to music as a child?

W: Just that sorta thing. I grew up and had older brothers and an older sister and they all had friends that did drugs and listened to music and did crazy things all the time. I just loved music and art. Even when I was little I would draw pictures and listen to music and i’m still doing that now. I think mostly I was just used to being around a bunch of freaks all the time. It was just a crazy house. I mean, it was a wonderful house. It was really full of love, but it was crazy. I’ve constantly been around a bunch of freaks and living in chaos. That’s just what I like. It’s not just music. It’s a lifestyle and many other things. I just love music and I love making it. I think I am obsessive and creative at the same time, so I always gotta be fucking doing something. I think anybody who does music just feels like they have to do it. I don’t know if there is any other agenda. I think I would do it even if people didn’t like it. I am so glad people like it and I am able to make a lot of money and stuff, but I think I would do it no matter what.

B: Going along the vein of working with creative types, I know you sang on the album, Dark Night of the Souls, which was written by Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse. What was it like working with Mark Linkous when he was still alive?

W: Well, he had worked with our producer Dave Fridmann. We would see him at festivals every summer. We would play at the same festivals. We just liked each others music. We did tours together when he would be on the bus with us and it would be just him and another guys doing stuff on a computer.

 I think in a sense he’s a lot like us. He’s just a freak trying to do his music, but he was a lot more laid back than I am.  You can tell in his music, he was just going at his own pace, man. I’m more like, “ah fuck.” But you know, on a lot of levels I think we are a lot alike. I think is a very sad thing. I forget that he is not with us. His music is always around so it is easy to forget.

B: What was the first song you can remember really grabbing you?

W: Like I said, I had older brothers and a sister and they all had friends. Back then, no one had giant record collections. You got to listen to the records you had around your house. I remember listening to the Beatles, “Strawberry Fields Forever.” I was born in 1961, so I’ve been alive a long time. My brothers absolutely loved the Beatles and all that stuff. During this time, when “Strawberry Fields Forever” came out, it was rumored that Paul McCartney was dead and at the end of this song, John Lennon supposedly says that he buried Paul McCartney. We would listen to that, we probably listened to it ten thousand times, over and over, thinking Paul McCartney was dead, marveling in the whole mystery of it all. 

I still think that song is just a well crafted, mysterious, freaky song. That’s why it has always had such an impact on me, because there is no other song you can play that will remind you of that. There is a lot of music out there, and a lot of bands are doing a certain sound. So you’re hearing it all the time, but with some music, like Aphex Twins and the Beatles, its different. There are a couple of bands that if they aren’t doing that sound it isn’t in the world. Thats what is has such an impact on me. It’s because it’s such a saturated thing and I don’t hear it anywhere else.

B: What is one of your most poignant memories from when you were first starting off as a band?

W: Well, in the last interview I did, the guy asked me who was a better front man, Iggy Pop or Henry Rollins. I had seen Henry Rollins with Black Flag probably 10 times in the early 80’s. Right when we were forming the Flaming Lips we saw them one night and there were not very many people at this show. It was just a little local show and they turned up really late. Back then you had to call and say hey our van broke down, and we’re going to be late. We waited there, I think 3 or 4 hours for them and then they showed up. Since the whole crowd was there, everyone saw every moment of what they did. They pulled up in their van and they got our of their van and they got their equipment out and they set it up themselves. They got it all ready and within about twenty minutes of setting up they were playing. When they got done they took it all down and put it back in their van. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but when your a band, you don’t know what to do. You don’t know how it works. To me, I don’t know if Henry was driving, but he definitely got out of the van and set stuff up. When he was doing that he was just a dude setting up stuff, but then somehow the minute he went up to sing, he was fucking Henry. The first time I saw Sonic Youth was a similar sort of thing. 

B: Do you think music is more powerful to the individual or as a force for collective consciousness?

W: Well, I think it’s both really. If a million people love a certain type of music it has a certain…well popularity is its own type of deal. I work with people like Miley Cyrus who are an omnipresent thing in the world. It’s hard to believe she’s an actual person because it’s like a description of the world, or something. Then, I work with other people who are just my friends that make really great music, but there is a point when they are exactly the same to me. I can understand where people believe that music has this voice, but I think that it is just music and as much as people want to believe that music can change the world, music alone doesn’t do that. It might change you, and then if you feel compelled to change the world that may happen, but we give music too much power if we believe it is going to do the work for us.

If you want to tell someone you love them a song is great, but it’s a lot better to just tell them you love them. Maybe, do both! Do twenty things that say you love them! But a song is a subjective experience.

I think we will discover what the mystery of music is before too long, but somehow it engages everything about us at the same time. It allows you to feel an emotion based on these little things that happen in the music in just a second. In real life you don’t feel emotions that fast. You never go from being like “man, I’m just sitting here stoned” to crying. A song can do that to you and movies do that especially. You can go into a movie not giving a fuck about anything and then an hour later a dog just died and you can’t fucking deal with it. It’s working on you, but you are letting it get into you. Part of it is you surrender, and it’s potent. We want to escape. We want to have another world in us. There is a lot to it. For some people, their music is the greatest thing ever, but it doesn’t do anything for me. That doesn’t mean I am right. If you love that music, fucking live by it. That’s just the nature of music. It either speaks to you or it doesn’t. 

B: What kind of impact do you think music has the power to make?

W: I don’t think of it like that. I think this is a mistake that a lot of people make. I hear people say “dude, I want to make music that has never been done,” but I really don’t care about that. I am just glad I get to make music. If people says it sounds like someone else I think, well it probably does. I am just doing the best I can. I didn’t really have an agenda to be the best ever or to change the world. I think most musicians are doing it out of absolute love and they are not wanting to destroy anything out there. They are just embracing all this stuff and music is part of that love. 

But, there are people who want to use music as the sword of justice that will bring some sort of thing to the world. I don’t think you can really do that. Music is such an impossible thing to do. Especially to become popular at all. Even to play at a festival like this is just an impossible thing. So, if you aren’t doing it because you would absolutely die without it, you wouldn’t do it. It’s just too impossible. 

This is like raising a child. It’s your child, and you absolutely love it, but it takes all your time, all your love, and all your energy. You have to wipe up vomit and shit all the time. But, you also get to have this wonderful, wonderful thing. So all that stuff about changing the world, it might be that, and people may say it’s that, but it ultimately comes from this place of absolute love. If you don’t do it, then it’s like you’re killing yourself. I tell people that all the time. 

I can tell you when I’m around Miley Cyrus, we cry. We cry because we know if we weren’t able to do our music it would be like someone was killing us. So, every time we get a chance to build upon it we do it. I think it’s cool to say otherwise. To be revolutionary and all that, but I don’t want to hurt anybody. I don’t want guns. I want to have fun and be with my friends and have our dogs and get high.

B: If you had to, how would you boil down your life philosophy at this moment?

 W: I don’t like this about myself all the time, but I’m very intense and driven to do my thing. The people that are around me, the reason they like to be around me, is because if Wayne says he is going to do something he does it. It doesn’t mean it is any good, but I know I’m going to do it. I’m glad everyone is not like that because it would drive you crazy. My philosophy, and I don’t think that I have just one, is that if you are not fighting the fight then whatever it is that is out there is going to win.

We had a tree in our yard that we planted. It was a big willow tree and we thought it would take twenty years to become this big tree. Still, we planted it and for some reason, the dirt and the sky and the wind and everything, it grew to be a giant tree in just five years. I never thought about it. There were all these trees and I guess someone planted them, but I thought, “we planted that tree and it wouldn’t be here if we didn’t do it!” We loved it and took care of it. We watered it and we trimmed the dead things on it, but then it got sick and died anyway. It was the biggest tree in the neighborhood and everyone was like “what happened to that tree”? I said, “well I don’t know. It grew really well and then something happened and it died. 

Since having that tree, whenever I see a beautiful tree, I think about how they’re not just here. Especially in neighborhoods. They’re here because somebody wants them and takes care of them and all these things are like that. Life is a way of being open to it and remembering that this is all here and this is all wonderful.

B:Do you consider your life to be long or short?

 W: well I think it depends. When you really have to take a pee and there’s nowhere to pee, a minute is like a fucking hour. But, when you’re having fun and you’re doing stuff, a whole night goes by like “fuck.” That’s the power of your mind. 

It’s like when people are talking about like having near death experiences, time slows down. That’s your mind. Your mind is open to all types of things. For me, as I get older, life seems very short. People talk about things that happened in like the year 2002. We made a record that came out in 2002 and we still play songs from it. It’s like “fuck, it’s already a long time ago!” 

I know people who weren’t born until like 1990. I had already made like 6 records by then. When I look back, 2002 doesn’t seem very long ago, but to this generation it probably seems like “I was like 5, fuck!”. I think as your brain gets filled up, it changes the meanings of things. That’s the best thing ever! I mean, young people waste their time trying to be old before they’re old. I think to myself “you’re gonna get old, don’t worry about it.” Then, old people waste their time trying to be young. It’s like “dude just try to fucking live in the time that you’re doing it and not worry about it so much,” cause that’s me, I worry about everything (laughter).

B: how would you describe your relationship with death? Do you embrace it? Do you fear it? How do you think it colors your experience?

 W: Well, I think it depends on what’s happened to you. You know, when I was sixteen, I was working at this fast food restaurant and there was a bunch of robberies happening around Oklahoma City where I lived in 1977. It was a long time ago. Not only would they rob the place, they would take people into a room and they would shoot them in the back of the head. 

Three or four of these happened within a couple of months. So one night I was working when I was only sixteen years old, and this these two pissed-off dudes with big fucking guns—and they were just so pissed off. They come in and were said “get on the fucking floor motherfuckers, get on the fucking floor! I’ll fucking shoot your fucking…” You know, everything was just like maximum “don’t fuck with us.” We all laid on the floor and I thought for sure that these things that had been happening were gonna happen to us, and especially to me. I thought well this is the end of my life. I thought fuck I was just a dude working at this restaurant. I didn’t do anything to these people and now they were gonna kill me. 

I would go to my mother’s house after I got done working, before I went to my house, and she would always wait no matter how long it was. She would always wake up and we’d talk and then I’d go to my house. At that time, in my mind, I knew she was gonna be like “what happened, how come he’s not here?” and that just kills you. It’s not you just dying. It’s their world that doesn’t have you in it. 

I thought I was going to die, and then, I didn’t die. You can’t do that on purpose, you can’t make that happen, but I think it was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. Before then, I never realized that I was alive. I was like “oh there’s trees, there’s grass, there’s sky, there’s hair, there’s music, fuck it.” For a little while I lived like a super human. I didn’t give a shit about all these little insecurities. I mean before then, I remember thinking in my mind “I want to do music, but maybe everybody will think i’m stupid or maybe I’m not a very good artist and everybody will think I’m stupid” and this would be half of my mind all the time. After that, not forever, but for like six months or so, I thought “I don’t give a fuck i’m gonna do my thing and if they don’t like it, well I don’t care.”

I think having that happen to me when I was young helped me get over a hump cause none of my family did music. I think I would have been very content to be with them and just do what they were doing. After that experience all that stuff just erased. A little bit after that I formed the Flaming Lips. Now, here we are.

B: On a lighter note, do you have a favorite curse word?

 W: Yeah definitely: “motherfucker.” It just combines the sacred and the fucking absolutely filthy. It’s like “I’m gonna fuck your mother,” like that’s the fucking worst thing you could do to someone or something. It’s has that connotation, but its just beautiful. People who are able to say that, it’s like “I got no limits”. Still, to me it’s just words, man. You could say any words you want to me. I’m either gonna laugh, or not be affected. So people that get up on that shit, it’s fucking funny. It should be funny. And everybody wants to make these rules about what you can say and all that, I’m like fuck man you gotta be fucking kidding.

B: Eminem is one of the most notorious musicians to have pushed the boundaries of free speech. Do you have an opinion what he’s done?

 W: I don’t really know him. I’ve never met him and stuff. I know some of his music, but I don’t know that much about him. My girlfriend, she talks, but she doesn’t talk as much as I do. We went to a Karaoke night, and some guy did an Eminem song. I was like “fuck man, that’s too many words”. There’s more words in an Eminem song than my girlfriend says in six months, you know. I think he’s cool, but you know I don’t listen to his music that much. Some of it I think is amazing, you know like his simple combination of shit. He’s doing his thing you know.

B: Do you tend to like people from the start, or do people have to prove themselves to you?

W: I don’t know. I feel as though I give. I go all the way. I think sometimes people are out to trick you, but I’m not like that. I don’t know why anyone would do that, but people do in fact do that. I just feel like you have to go all the way or you won’t know what will happen. I’m just open. I’m not guarded. 

B: Is there anything you would’t tell anyone ever?

W: I don’t know. Some people think I killed a guy in Oklahoma City. We know the guy who actually did it, but people who don’t know the story think I did it. Somehow I must have got away with it (laughing).

No,  there are things that I regret doing, but nothing monumental.

B: You talk about being very open. Do you think that being so open with everyone makes it difficult to be close to one person?

W: I think you can do both. Me personally, I have long, long, long relationships. I think you can have a lot of close relationships, but if you are out having sex with everyone that is going to mess things up. I think people get too intense about that.

B: What are your feelings about relationships in general?

It’s better to be with someone that isn’t like you because you get to learn a lot about what you are. As you get older you have to figure out what it is that you like and don’t like. It’s practice. If you aren’t with someone long enough, you won’t know what to do. If you are with someone for a year you can say, “well, I know what it’s like to be with someone for a year.” If you are with someone 5 years than you know what that’s like. I think it just comes down to your personality. If you are lucky, your personality will attract people that have the same personality. So, when people tell me “you and Miley Cyrus are the same person,” I think to myself, “I know.” I’m attracted to her personality and she’s attracted to mine because we do the same fucking things. We will be drawing pictures, and not even knowing it, i’ll send one to her and she’ll be drawing the same fucking thing.

B: So personally, do you feel as though you are drawn to people more similar or dissimilar to you?

W: I think naturally you are drawn to people like you, but when you are younger that annoys you, so you seek out people that are different. As you get older, you’ll see that you don’t want to be around people that aren’t like you. I think your brain just has an evolution that it goes through. It has a time where it is seeking and growing, you know. But, then you run into someone who thinks like you do and you think, “wow, that’s so cool,” and you help each other and you understand each other.

B: Alright. Thank you so much for your time! I think it’s about time to see Die Antwoord!

Director of Digital | Radio Milwaukee