When we spoke, Wayne Coyne was on the way to his Oklahoma City gallery to participate in what he describes as "Friday-night drunk yoga." And though he says he's "as old as Dracula," the 55-year-old lead singer of the Flaming Lips still speaks as enthusiastically about the power of rock 'n' roll as any millennial out there.
He's had his fair share of exposure over the years. Born in 1961 to a mother who had the radio on 24 hours a day, Coyne credits his older brother and sister for the bulk of his musical education. "They had a hundred friends around who were always listening to music and taking drugs. I was like Tarzan raised by apes. Growing up in the '60s, I thought the Beatles should be on Mount Rushmore."
In 1983, his obsession morphed into something more tangible, and he formed the Flaming Lips. "We were inspired by punk rock," Coyne says. "Bands like Sonic Youth would come through Oklahoma City, and we'd help them unload their gear. You can't know how inspiring it was to us to see regular people making music. We made our first record after six months."
It took a while for the Flaming Lips to find an audience. Coyne had to work at Long John Silver's for a decade before music became his full-time job. In 1994, the Lips' song "She Don't Use Jelly" got some play, but a small taste of success didn't stop them from experimenting. In '97, the band released Zaireeka, a dizzying and insanely ambitious collection of four CDs meant to be played simultaneously. "It sounds absurd now," Coyne admits. "At the time, it seemed logical. I thought it should be 100 CDs at first, then compromised to four. We thought everyone would be creating this mix of surround sound. We thought it was magical. It wasn't like we handed it to Warner Bros. as a way of saying, 'Fuck you. Try to market this.'"
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More recently, though, the Flaming Lips have found a collaborator who should be easier to market: Miley Cyrus. Last year, the band released a collaborative effort of 23 songs as Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz.
The pairing, as unlikely as it might have seemed a decade ago, began on Twitter. "I share the same birthday as her boyfriend. She tweeted a happy birthday to me as her favorite musician ever. We saw it and said, 'Let's do something together.'" Their relationship moved from digital to physical, and it's been one of Coyne's career highlights. "She's wonderful. She's Jimi Hendrix. She's Madonna. She's not some broken teen star."
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Coyne isn't quite sure if Miley Cyrus fans have hitched on to the Flaming Lips bandwagon, digging into the band's trippy 14-album-deep catalog. But when they do, he thinks they'll be disappointed — at first — and then, he hopes, grow to appreciate his brand of experimental confessional bubblegum rock. "Most Miley Cyrus fans probably think we're horrible. In time, anyone listening to music is going to evolve. That young audience will grow up with Miley."
But anyone, fan or not, could be converted through the live Flaming Lips experience. Miami will have the chance to witness it during the Lips' upcoming concert at Miami's inaugural House of Creatives Music Festival, coming to the Bandshell Park this Friday and Saturday. "We're a Walt Disney cartoon meeting a not-quite-violent punk-rock group," Coyne says. "We look like we're putting on a show for a children's carnival. We have an inflatable rainbow we blow up onstage. You wouldn't think it's that magical, but it enhances the music so much. It got a hole in it recently, but I was like, 'We have to have the rainbow.'"
The band's newest album, Oczy Mlody, is set to drop in January. And neither Coyne nor the Flaming Lips plan to slow down anytime soon. The drunk yoga must be working. "We want the thrill of an audience going crazy. If you've ever had 20,000 people crying, you're like, 'That's cool. Let's keep doing that'."
House of Creatives Music Festival. Friday and Saturday, November 18 and 19, at the North Beach Bandshell, 7275 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-672-5202; hocfest.com. Tickets cost $55 for Friday admission, $70 for Saturday admission, and $110 for a weekend pass via flavorus.com.