Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne On The Future Of Record Production, Timely Releases (Part 1 of 2)

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In this week's paper, something of a special treat: an exclusive interview with Wayne Coyne, frontman for noted Oklahoma's psych-pop heroes The Flaming Lips.

Coyne, as you may know, has been spending a whole lot of time in Dallas lately. And not just for his fairly standard trips to the Urban Outfitters location at Mockingbird Station, either (although, interestingly enough, those trips too play a role in some of the Lips' more interesting goings-on this year). And he's got his reasons for these regular trips -- ones that extend well beyond his well-know affection for the city.

In short: Coyne's been down here on business. Throughout 2011, as part of his band's stated mission to put out new, limited edition releases each month, he's been making regular trips to Dallas' mom-and-pop vinyl manufacturer, A&R Records, where each vinyl record his band has released this year has been pressed. His reasons for using A&R are plentiful -- the proximity of the shop to his home, the shop's quick turnaround time, its ability to create unique color creations -- and the results, Coyne told us, have been quite fruitful. So, too, have his trips to record stores around the region, including his stops at Dallas' Good Records, where Coyne's stopped a few times this year to personally drop off his band's latest offerings.

Our conversation touches on all these topics and more -- including, in some places, the problems with and the future of the music industry, as well as his earlier-this-year collaboration with the Denton-bred Neon Indian. And it was a fairly lengthy conversation, too, which is why we've cut it up into more digestible sizes. Today, after this here jump, we've posted Part One of our conversation. We've also got another story on the history of A&R Records. Give both a read.

Then, tomorrow, again right here on DC9, come back and check out the second part of our conversation, along with an exclusive slideshow of some of the behind-the-scenes happenings at A&R.

You've been in Dallas a lot lately.
We've been searching for, and unsuccessfully for a long time, a place that's not really local but it's close enough that we could just go and kind of physically supervise this whole process. Not just making music and mastering, but also the plastic and all this junk involved, you know?

And you found that with A&R Records?
Yeah. It's mostly Stan [Getz]. I know he has a lot of great helpers. I don't know how old all of the equipment is; it looks like it's been there since the '40s, which is really a long time. He knows how it all works, and he really does take great care in it. And I would say to anybody who is a vinyl expert, I would say that this isn't the greatest vinyl that's ever been pressed. I think that it's got some little nuances that are specific just to Stan's place.
     I like that it has Stan's love and his care, and it has our love and our care, and at the end of the day we could go to some perfect machine that made perfect pieces of plastic, and personally I don't care. There's a million ways to get perfect things these days--slide it into a mega-computer and it comes out the other side--and this is done by old machines, and people who know what they're doing.
     I don't want everyone to think that we're these megalomaniac control freaks. You may believe that by the end of this conversation. I think that, with a little bit of extra care, and a little bit of extra knowledge, I think we can find other ways that we can make these--I call them products but they're more like art projects--better and more unique. So that's why I get involved. That's why we're all involved. I have a guy down there, who, probably even as we speak, is making each one of these colored vinyl releases fantastic and unique. It's not just plastic being thrown into a bucket that comes out the other side, you know?

That had to be the draw of A&R--that they had capabilities beyond straight black vinyl. How did you come across them?
Well, a friend of mine [Daniel Huffman] down in Dallas, his band is called New Fumes, and I've known him for a long time and he's having a record made. And I just asked him, "Well, where'd you get it made?" And he said, "Oh, there's this place in Dallas, and I helped them make the colored vinyl." And I was like, "What? I didn't know you could help."

It seemed like a foreign concept?
Well, you get the feeling that it's this big machine room and no humans are allowed. I'd never really considered that you could just stand there and throw these little vinyl pellets into a giant machine. And, until he said that, I thought, "Wow, maybe we should do that."
     With Daniel's help and with Stan's help, and us just being a couple of hours away, it seemed like, "Fuck, why don't we see what happens?" All of that was kind of new to me.
     I mean, we had done colored vinyl--don't get me wrong, we've done it since our first record. Our first record was pressed on green vinyl back in late 1983. But we never knew that you could just sort of stand there and make each one. Well, I guess I knew. I guess it had just never occurred to me that we could stand there and make each one kind of unique--the shape, the way that the colors actually went on to there.

And you're taking advantage of that, with colored vinyl and, more recently, with the gummy skulls. It's obviously important to you, with this string of releases, that each has its own little bent.
I think that the people who are buying these things almost demand that. The way that music is now, you don't even have to be computer-savvy. You can literally get music any second you want for free. It's just so easily available. We hardly think of it as something that would be illegal. It's just so simple.
     We don't understand or know if it will ever go back to where you have to pay for music every time you want to hear it. So we've been talking about, "What do you want to do about that?" And I say, "Well, if we make these cool objects, obviously people who have money, if it appeals to them, will probably buy it." People who don't have any money aren't going to buy it, no matter what you put out there.
     I encourage people to go and listen to music for free. I think that's a great thing. In my household, when I was young, I wish I could have heard all the music that was out there.

It sounds like a mix of frustration and having some fun with it.
     I don't know about the frustration. We're a very lucky group. We get to kind of do as we please. We've been successful enough to kind of master the things that are interesting, and hopefully avoid the things that aren't. But, in a way, it really adds up to experience. I know you can press a record in a day if you want to. You just have to fucking know what you're doing. You just have to go quick and go with some intensity. So a lot of places, I would say, "Can you make a record?" and they'd say, "Yeah, give us eight weeks," and I'd say, "I can't wait. I gotta get this thing out and get another one ready in a couple of weeks."

These random, monthly releases--has it been a fun experiment?
     It goes back and forth between, "Oh my God, what the fuck are we going to do three weeks from now?" and "Isn't it so amazing to be pushed along by the inertia of what you have to do?" And it's about music and it's about art, and about pushing your creativity, and pushing everybody to say, "Fuck! What are we going to do now?"
     You build up to it little by little. I can't say for sure how many records we've made. I think it's 14 by now.

And a couple of skulls...
And quickly moving into other types of skulls, for sure! In the very beginning, you're just astonished that you can make music. And I remember when we got our first records. They shipped them in the boxes to my house, and I jumped for joy and said, "Oh my God, look! We've made music and it's on a record! It'll be here until plastic disintegrates!"
     For the longest time, you don't focus on this way of presenting it to the world. You think of "What is the music?" and "What is the art?" Because it's so overwhelming, and you kind of feel like it's a little bit out of your control, anyway. And I think the more that we had done it--and, frankly, the more that you do it and fuck it up--that's when you start to think, "Well, oh, that didn't work out the way we thought. Let's try that again, and see which way makes our record sound better, which way people would buy it."
     We're not doing it, saying, "Look, our shit is cooler than yours." We're just saying we've made a lot of records, we have dealt with the process of going from just music in our head to something that you hold in your hands. We've done that for almost 30 years. It wouldn't be that easy for someone who had never made records before to go through this. It'd be difficult for a young kid to say, "Yeah, I want my music inside of a gummy skull. Do that for me." I'm involved in every step of the way, hopefully pushing it along, hopefully helping it become a thing, just because of knowing what I know and being who I am, and frankly having a lot of fucking people help me do it.

And the music is also experimental, to go with the experimental releases.
I don't know if it's purposely that way. I think we kind of go back and forth. You go on one tangent that's kind of exciting, and then you go on another one that pulls you in a different direction. I would say it's more stream of consciousness, you know, we're not trying to mull this stuff over for a year or six months or whatever.
     The spirit of what we're trying to do is, let's do it, and if we're satisfied with it or whatever, so be it. In the past, that's never happened to us. That only happened if we were doing a live radio show or something like that. We'd be like, "Fuck, I hope it works out to where it doesn't, you know, shine too bright of a light on how retarded we really are."
     We talk about these releases that John Lennon did in the early '70s, or even the way Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young did the song "Ohio." It was written about the Kent State incident, and I think four days later their song was out. It seemed like, at some point, this was exactly what the music industry was doing. It was the exact response to whatever was happening in the world.
     Even though [there are] so many ways that we all find out what's happening in the world now, it seems like the music industry had got to where it was set on, "Let's think about marketing for the next two years before we release our next product."
     We're to blame for that. We've always had control over our releases, but you just get to where you're making this music, and it piles up, and you rethink it, and you rethink it, and you rethink it. And I'm not saying that's not part of what art is--art is you deciding, "Now's the time." So, in this way, we're saying, "We're putting this out every month, hope it's good, hope we think it's good, hope it stands the test of time," all that shit.
     But we don't fucking know. That's part of the thrill of it. I don't know. We've made a lot of records the other way, and we thought, "Well, we'll make some this way."

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