The Flaming Lips have conducted their share of strange experiments. First there was Zaireeka, an “album” consisting of four discs designed to be played simultaneously. Then the like-minded “parking lot experiments” followed (ask your nearest record store nerd for explanation on that doozy). Currently-and possibly more frightening-they're working on a Christmas movie.
But the strangest thing the Lips have done-by far-was collaborate with Steve Burns, host of the popular children's show “Blues Clues.”
“He basically came up to [Lips producer] Dave Fridmann's recording studio last winter,” says Steven Drozd, the band's multi-instrumentalist. “He's just a hell of a guy, and he's a big Flaming Lips fan ... We're really good friends now.
“He actually came down to Oklahoma, and he's gonna be in our movie with us. Some of the music really knocks me out.”
Drozd, singer Wayne Coyne and keyboardist/bassist Michael Ivins have been playing as a trio for the last six years, though the origins of the Oklahoma City band date back to 1983.
Their latest release, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, is a product of more electronic experimentation than ever before (no small feat). Songs like the title track and “Fight Test” fuse electro and pop, a sound far removed from their more psychedelic records of yore. Then there are tracks like “Do You Realize?” (which is currently getting its share of airplay on local modern rock stations) that are more sweeping and lushly arranged.
Of course, the critics who dig experimental stuff love the album. But in spite of the new sounds and textures, Yoshimi remains accessible.
“We do like to expand and be more experimental, but I don't like the idea of just that on its own,” Drozd explains. “I think you should still have great songs and something that people can latch onto. We can still have the avant-garde weirdness, but within the confines of trying to make good pop music. So the geeky 22-year-old music collector would like it, but the 40-year-old housewife could sing along and enjoy the melody.”
The Lips have long been a source of avant-garde creativity and genius, known for elaborate sonic ruses. But Drozd insists that Yoshimi's grandiose man-vs.-machine concept wasn't premeditated.
“The whole idea, or theme, or concept, didn't really happen till way late in the game,” he explains. “Most of the record was finished. We hadn't done that Yoshimi song. That was just kind of a song we had floating around that had no lyrics. And Wayne came up with it one day. Yoshimi's a person we actually know. She plays trumpet and she's in the Boredoms. That's where we got the basis for this character, even though it's not literally her.
“Then it was one of those things where, this cute little song, people began saying it was a concept record. Then Wayne said, ‘Yeah, I guess it is a concept record.' And then there's the cover which shows her fighting these robots.
“I think it's a metaphor to some people. To me it's just, ‘There's this story about this crazy Japanese girl and she has to fight these pink robots.' But I guess people were looking at it as a metaphor for the human race and this quest against the curse of technology.”
The Lips will be touring off-and-on for the next several months. In their off time, they plan to work on the Christmas movie, which they've been sporadically working on for about a year and a half.
To hardcore Lips fans, such a feel-good project shouldn't come as a huge surprise. Coyne is a self-proclaimed fan of Christmas music, and the band has been known to cover “White Christmas.” This is, however, their first foray into feature films.
“It's called Christmas on Mars and we're starring in it and doing all the music, and Wayne kind of wrote a screenplay,” Drozd says. “Basically, humans have finally made it to Mars and we've converted our spacecraft into living quarters.
“It's really just about what happens when you spend too much time in outer space,” Drozd adds, as if he would know.
“We're on this space station, and stuff gets weird and people start getting suicidal and one guy actually kills himself. We're writing as we go a long. I've heard it described as It's a Wonderful Life meets 2001 meets Eraserhead. We've got about one-third of it done, and we're planning on it coming out on Christmas of 2003.”
Some will never be able to fully understand the Flaming Lips. Christmas movies as suicide watch? Four discs to be played simultaneously? A collab with the Pee Wee Hermans of today?
They aren't exactly what most people would call “normal.” But maybe, for the Flaming Lips, normalcy is as ephemeral as their idea of song.