Music Video Wire sat down with Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips to find out what makes him and the Lips tick. Coyne regales us with stories of the making of their videos and what it’s like to be on the alternative fringe.
The Lips new CD + DVD Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots features B-sides, acoustic versions of songs, making of videos, the trailer to their upcoming feature film Christmas on Mars, in addition to their fun chaotic videos.
Wayne Coyne: Most of the videos we do are really lumped into what is called “promoting your record”. We make videos so people can show them and talk about our record. This is the unfortunate side of why videos get made, as it is attached to something else.
The stuff we did on our DVD (Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots 5.1) probably ups the ante a little on just making videos, because they look great and tell a story and have some sort of affect other than being simply promotional. Because of the way our latest DVD came out, we will probably change our approach next time around, because the more the DVD embraces the visual aspects instead of just the audio aspects the better.
MVW: Why do you think this particular DVD has been such a hit?
WC: It came out at the beginning of November 2003. Seeing it’s success, I think it sold more than any DVD audio already out there, is because it has so much fun stuff that you can look at on TV at the same time is kind of what is driving people to check it out. We included a pretty radical remix, lots of “making of” videos and other visual things we’ve made over the years which really helped with this DVD.
MVW: There are two discs, that’s a lot of material.
WC: Well, it has a lot of B-sides. There were 3 or 4 extra tracks, which were included on the DVD audio and the other B-sides that we did while creating this record. There are all the videos, including the movie trailer from “Christmas On Mars,” and the “making of” the DVD itself. All these things can be entertaining. People aren’t demanding it that much, they just like to sit for a couple minutes and have some insight as to why we are interesting. The DVD gave us an opportunity to do silly little things that aren’t attached to promotion. It can be interesting for it’s own sake.
MVW: This proves you can have fun and make money with a low budget.
WC: I am lucky to have done videos and all this stuff for so long because a lot of the guys I work with are filmmakers themselves and they want to be doing something interesting. Because I am a director myself we can just get together and do stuff. We just grab some cameras and our friends and do the video. It is amazing how much you can get done without money if you have ideas and determination.
MVW: The last video with this type of concept is “Do you Realize” and from there on it seems you did your own thing.
WC: A few months before releasing the “Pink Robot” video we were getting ready to put out the single for “Do you Realize” and Warner Bros. called to let us know they wanted to do a DVD single. We didn’t have a video for it, but the label said that was okay, they could do it for another song or use a video we already had. I explained that we didn’t have a video for anything. However, I quickly called Bradley Beasley, the guy who helps make the videos, and we quickly threw something together that evening. The concept was based around the idea of going to an abandoned farm in Pauls Valley, which is about 60 miles from where we lived. I would act like an alien that had landed from deep space, like a glowing guitar man walking through a field where some farm girls were sitting around getting stoned. Then two guys dressed in giant Rabbit suits holding mirror balls all lit up with weird effects and I walk through the farm singing the song. The women are so thrilled that they take off all their clothes and follow us around naked.
We did not know how many of these women we could get on short notice, but there were about three or four. It was about as low budget as a video can be made. With that said, if you have nice stuff to look at, all you have to do is film it and it doesn’t have to cost you millions of dollars.
Bradley took the film to Dallas that night and had it developed and transferred and within a couple of days we had a video ready to go for the English release.
Warner Bros. liked the idea and wanted the video to be remade by a real video guy, which ruined it a bit because we went to Las Vegas and had these nicely dressed model types and no rabbits, which takes away a bit of the “David Lynchness” feel of it. In our version, you get the feeling that something really disturbing and exciting happened. Nothing really did, it’s just the way the videos turn out when we make them. There is a clumsiness about the commercial version that makes you only feel the promotional reasons for making it.
MVW: Could you describe the differences between your version and the label’s version.
WC: My version was simple. We walk through the farm and the gals get attached to us, but it was almost a single shot. If you take the concept of a guy who just keeps walking from a farm in Oklahoma until he ends up on the streets of Las Vegas and take out the weird effects, it is kind of like Elvis Presley in Las Vegas with elephants and dancing girls, isn’t it?
This is the trouble with music videos, if you don’t know the reason why it is supposed to be intriguing, it gets a little bit lost. But it wasn’t my idea. I enjoy being in music videos as much as I like making them, so when someone else asks if I want to do something, I agree to do what is asked of me.
MVW: Didn’t you crank out three more videos right after this?
WC: Exactly! The cumulative budget of these 3 videos was probably 30K.
On a Thursday, we made the video for the song called “Are You a Hypnotist?” We stood in a room all painted white at my house. Our computer guy, George, did about 50 takes on his video camera of us doing the song and then edited them with a strobe effect where there is an edit every tenth of a second. It is a great effect, but you can only bear it for about a minute. After that it beats you down, like eating cotton candy, a little bit is great but too much and you feel nauseated. We have a warning before you watch the video that it might upset your stomach.
That Friday, we shot the “Fight Test” video where my nephew’s hand uses horseshit to fight his nemesis. We had thought out what we were going to do before we got there. We got a couple of nice sunset shots. A good number of people showed up who kicked up dust and fought behind us while we sang. It all worked out pretty well, but as usual the video shoot didn’t finish until 3 or 4 in the morning. So by the time we got home it was about 6am.
On Saturday, we had another shoot at 12 noon for the “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” video at a Samurai Saki House rock ‘n’ roll bar. We invited as many people as possible to show up and throw food around. That went fairly easy as well, but it is a lot of scheduling to do when you have three days and then have to fly back to Los Angeles.
MVW: How is the Christmas in Mars movie coming along?
WC: I am perpetually in progress of making this movie. As we speak, I am editing it. I have a shoot in mid-March that is in collaboration with everybody meeting at the South by Southwest conference in Austin. As the year goes on, I hope to finish it and we will have a feature length movie with a sound track. One of the great twists of being in a band for as long as we have has allowed us to do lots of interesting things. Bands get caught up in the cycle of you make a record, you go on tour, you make a record, you go on tour. For some people it can get very frustrating. I think we are lucky we never had to do that.
MVW: How was the New Year’s Eve experience performing live?
WC: It was as bombastic and over the top as it should have been. Us playing with The White Stripes on New Year’s Eve was the place to be. We know how to do a celebration. We practice it so that every time we play it’s like New Year’s Eve, so by the time it gets to actually be New Year’s Eve, we know what we are doing. “The Flaming Lips” and New Year’s Eve, that’s a good combination.