The Flaming Lips

Talk festivals and, of course, alien super beings

Summer’s on its way, which means the ever-expanding festival season is just around the corner.

So Clash caught up with Wayne Coyne, ringleader of one of the world’s greatest festival bands, The Flaming Lips, who return to the UK for two headline shows in July and asked for some of his favourite Festival memories.

If we’re going to do it, then let’s really do it

At Glastonbury in 2003, with the night closing in as they played the Pyramid Stage, Coyne took a few minutes out of the show to conduct a communal ‘Happy Birthday’ to the five-year-old son of one of their crew members. It’s a night Coyne remembers fondly.

“We were on just before Radiohead, who were the band of the decade,” he says. “It was at the time when they were embracing the fact that they played stadiums and saying, ‘If we’re going to do it, then let’s really do it’. We decided to stay at the side of the stage after our show to watch them play and it was just fantastic to watch the crowd knowing the words to every song. The energy and the triumphant mood that was there, we thought we could live the rest of our lives knowing we had seen this moment. Times like that make you realise that festivals do have a power that’s different from a regular show.”

In the pairing of The Flaming Lips and Camp Bestival, it is a match made in heaven. The inaugural running of Bestival’s sister event in Dorset, which follows the trend started by the Big Chill of taking over the grounds of a splendid stately home for a long weekend, promises jousting, Bollywood dancing and all manner of circus-style performances. It’s little wonder then that Rob da Bank has made little secret of his delight at finally obtaining the Lips’ services after years of asking.

“This will be the third summer we’ve been playing live since the release of ‘At War With The Mystics’, which is good as it means we’re getting to pick some really unique festivals,” says Coyne. “I think these things are wonderful; playing at Glastonbury is still a thrill if you’re at the right time, but these little festivals seem to be about an experience that maybe isn’t going to change your life, but is instead about the music and more esoteric kind of tastes.”

He admits to finding their earliest festival appearances horribly stressful, a result partly of the pressure of wanting to play sad, delicate songs to an audience of people who have been drunk for two days. But the willingness of people to embrace what The Flaming Lips do has always surprised him.

Over the years it became like, if there’s 5,000 people there that’s great, but if there’s 50,000 even better

“When we played after the Red Hot Chili Peppers at a festival back in 1995 we thought it would be a disaster, but the people who were still there at 2am loved it,” he says. “Over the years it became like, if there’s 5,000 people there that’s great, but if there’s 50,000 even better. Sometimes the larger the place, the more it can affect the nuances of a band, but with us it works and I think that’s just through dumb luck. We do like to experience new things so, as we started to move further up the bill, instead of thinking, “Oh my God, we’re on before REM”, we just figured it would be great, that even if it was a disaster it would be an experience. You know, who cares if it goes bad? It’s more exciting to take a chance and lose. Defeat is all in your mind. If things don’t work, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a failure, but another path to go down. It’s the little mistakes down the way that bind us all.”


The full version of this interview can be found in Issue 27 of Clash Magazine onsale now.

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