The twenty year journey of The Flaming Lips encompasses more than is immediately apparent in their musical legacy. The ways in which the band have chosen to express themselves have diversified thoughout the years, resulting in a rich tapestry of work that is often only summarized by their euphoric live shows. In the early hours of 2001, leading member Wayne Coyne was struck by the idea of making a movie to add to this collection, which finally sees the light of day next month as ‘Christmas on Mars: A Fantastical Film Freakout featuring The Flaming Lips.’ Gigwise shared some words with Mr Coyne whilst he relaxed at his home in Oklahoma City, to try to unravel the story to such a fascinating project.
‘It was insanely hard work,’ Coyne explains, ‘Probably the hardest thing we’ve done. But part of the reason I did it was because the only way I can be with my family and my friends is to have them helping me with something like this.’ Starting a film with such intentions led Gigwise to think that the real motive to this project was not to add yet another milestone of artistic achievement to the already bursting Flaming Lips catalogue. With a storyline including a colonized Mars, faulty oxygen generators and a compassionate alien superbeing (played by Coyne of course, who else?), it would be easy to think it may simply be a remake of an Ed Wood forgotten gem. However, Coyne is adamant this is not the case. ‘It’s not really like a B-Movie at all. People think I’m part of an Ed Wood appreciation school, but I’m not really like that, I’m more abstract. I know a lot of guys who have helped me do music videos through the years, and so the film is shot by some great photographers, great sound and lighting crews, and the only thing that’s utterly amateur is me! It’s a normal movie with a story, it’s emotional and it has characters that talk. It may not be a normal movie but it’s definately shaped like one.’
With a track record as impeccable as that of The Flaming Lips, Gigwise are inclined to take his word for it. Coyne not only stars in it, but he also directed the film alongside George Salisbury, known for his work as the bands audiovisual technician. Michael Ivins and Steven Drozd, the remaining full time members of the band, are also amongst the list of leading actors. The impression is that this is a movie heavily drenched in, rather than peppered by, the Flaming Lips influence and so should be held as an equal to their musical offerings, rather than viewed as a side project. Coyne explains, ‘To me these things are really the same, its all about being The Flaming Lips, it’s all that there is to me. I think there’s value in becoming a product by which you see a philosophical colouring in it over time, whether it’s music, or a show, or a film. I think it might have been different if we’d started a couple of years ago, but I’ve been in the band since I was 22, now I’m 48, so it’s interesting to take this image (if we have one) and change it into whatever it is we want to be at that time.’
It’s remarkable that a band with ambitions as diverse and unique as theirs are allowed to roam free and pursue their avenues of choice, expecially as they have been signed to a major record label (an institution under heavy fire of late) since the early 90’s. ‘People can’t realise how much that kind of belief and encouragement can change you,’ states Coyne matter of factly. It’s this belief from those around them, as well as their fans, that has allowed them to hit such heights throughout their career. Heralded as heroes in their home town, and with fans across the world, the band have had their songs heard by more people than they could ever have imagined. In coversation Coyne seems mystified by this at times, but speaks openly about how he’d like his work to be interpreted. ‘I want the audience to put their own experiences to it, I prefer it when the listener is open to the meanings and can then colour it with their own experiences. When we were doing ‘Do You Realize,’ there was no way we could have imagined what it was to become. When I first played it to Steven, he simply thought of it as a stereotypical Wayne line, a classic Flaming Lips song. But writing it is only half the job, and once your song’s done it’s up to the world what they do with it. Even if nobody had ever listened to it I’d still be happy that we did it.’
It’s easy to question such statments in light of the obvious success of recent years. Lesser bands, or indeed people, would have crumbled under the pressures that The Flaming Lips have endured. The making and release of this film is more than just the culmination of the continued desire to express oneself, coupled with the level of freedom achieved by writing Grammy Award winning songs. It’s part of a journey which has at times seemed destined to end, and one that Coyne is happy to elaborate on.
‘Bad things will happen that you think should destroy you, and sometimes they give you a morale resolve to say, ‘Fuck it, I know I’m dong this for myself.’ Sometimes failure encourages you more, as success is a very strange thing because you don’t know what it means or where it’s gonna go. I don’t know if I could speak for everyone, but after ‘She Don’t Use Jelly’ (1993’s breakthrough single) we did all think ‘Now what do we do?’ To which we said, ‘Lets just be in a group and see what happens.’ We were never trying to be the biggest group in the world, and it did happen to us when we were older, as if we’d been 22 it would have been very different.
But we love making music, and being the Flaming Lips, and we know that we like it and it’s what we like to do. I know of three or four different times where we didn’t know whats gonna happen, like in 2001 when Steven was at the height of his heroin addiction, right when we started shooting this film, I half expected to wake up in the morning to a phone call saying that he’d died of an overdose. You don’t know what you’d do in the aftermath of that. Would it be too difficult to throw his body overboard and keep on trudging along, or does it affect you so much that you can’t conceive the idea of those same identities moving ahead in the same way? I know that we’ve been utterly lucky, that at times when it’s seemed like it isn’t gonna work out it becomes better than we could ever have dreamed.’
There is no denying the truth to these sentiments. They are said with such conviction that it’s impossible to doubt the man’s integrity, especially in light of the events that have threatened the bands existance through the years. The film may not offer any insights into the reality of The Flaming Lips to the same level that 2005’s documentary ‘The Fearless Freaks’ did, but as an insight into The Flaming Lips’ subconcious, as it splashes out across your TV screen, it must surely be worth some investigation.
Originally published on www.gigwise.com