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Non-Sequitur Non Disputandum Est

"In the end this is just dumb entertainment. It's rock and roll and rock and roll is extra; it's like cigarettes. People don't need it."

The Flaming Lips are an alternative institution, an oxymoron as striking as an intelligent Bush quote. Since the early ‘80s they’ve been producing a steady stream of psychedelic indie rock, stuff so unclassifiable it has taken nearly a decade for the world to adapt to it. And therein lies the rub. With a discography accentuated by bold, experimental soundscapes that make Sonic Youth seem tame and sweeping, gorgeous concept albums like their latest Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, the Flaming Lips have held the creative high ground and calmly invited the world to accept them on their own terms. Paradoxically, they remain one of the most open, approachable, and appreciative bands recording today, as devoid of ego and pretension as your neighborhood garage band. They will be performing in Prague for the first time on March 2nd at Akropolis. Wayne Coyne fielded questions from the Pill from his Oklahoma City kitchen as 11 “Frogs of the World” croaked out the hour behind him.

Pill: You’ve written that the new album, Yoshimi, was inspired by the rather mysterious death of a Japanese fan and the way you and the band discovered that she’d died. This, even if a rumor, suggests a more than extraordinary relationship with your fan base.

Coyne: Well, not exactly the whole album – it came from a song I wrote after I first heard about her death. We were in the studio at the time and the recording, which was originally intended to be a b-side, ended up turning into “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.” Any band – any performer, for that matter – who has an audience come and see them ought to be thrilled. We are. We are amazed every time people come out to see us play, and grateful.

Pill: The practice of publishing copious commentaries on your songs, which anyone can find online and, in some cases, in the liner notes, is reviled by many artists who arguably have less interesting things to say. Why do you do it? Does it add to people’s appreciation of your music to have the thought and structure behind it exposed?

Coyne: I want our albums to be accessible, to be fun. The whole notion of art that can’t be understood is self-defeating. That exclusive, snobbish attitude doesn’t do anyone any good and it is, in the end, just an insult to the listeners. I think we owe it to our audience to give them insights into what we’re saying and why we’re saying it – to let them make up their own minds or to ignore it completely.

Pill: Friends who witnessed your parking-lot experiment at South by Southwest raved about the inspiring brand of “frontier” energy you created there. (The band played 30 different tapes from 30 different cars at the annual Austin, Texas music festival in 1997.) What advice do you have for autodidacts and DIY freaks here in Central Europe who don’t have the benefit of such inspiring venues?

Coyne: The parking-lot thing started out with just a few cars. It was the only way to create the sounds we wanted. The best thing about it for me was that it was listenable music, heard in a different way. It wasn’t something that made people feel like they’d just witnessed something “artistic” or “important”; they could go get a drink with their girlfriends later in a bar and talk about it. As for advice... do you hear that? [There is a strange racket in the background.] It’s 11 o’clock. That’s my Frogs of the World clock. Soon the trains will go off too. [They do, and Coyne describes his collection of clocks of the world.]

Pill: What is the legacy of bands like the Boredoms or the Butthole Surfers, who you supported on tour in the ‘80s?

Coyne: I see Gibby (Haynes) and Paul Leary (of the Butthole Surfers) pretty often still. The experience of playing with them then, of seeing their concerts when they were at the peak of their powers, so to speak, was an amazing thing for us. Sure, it was an influence, but I think I will remember them best as a great rock-and-roll band.

Pill: What can we expect from your show? How would you describe the experience to someone who’s never seen the Lips play before?

Coyne: It depends a lot on the venue. We bring the animal suits and all that, and sometimes we’ll get 25 people up on stage with us, it all depends. We just draft willing people from the audience – it isn’t all scripted out.

Pill: So we’re making an official Pill announcement now – to any of our readers who want to dress up like animals, make yourselves known! In a country where a western CD costs up to one-tenth of the average monthly salary, is it any surprise that your music is little known over here? I know you have little to do with it, but do you see any way around the problem of promotion the major labels have created for themselves here?

Coyne: In the end, this is just dumb entertainment. It’s rock and roll and rock and roll is extra; it’s like cigarettes. People don’t need it, and it’s no great expression of culture. If people want to interpret it that way, to read so much meaning into it, they have that right, by all means, but we’re playing because it’s fun, because we can. If you can’t afford to come, don’t come. No one should be made to feel that they are missing out on anything if they can’t afford a ticket. As for the promoters, they should be doing it to make money. Anybody who puts on a show like this and claims that it’s for cultural reasons is fooling themselves or trying to fool the audience. The albums are the same thing – if it costs too much, don’t buy it, download it off the Internet or something. We have our album online for anyone to download and I’ve got plenty of friends savvy enough to get just about anything they want off the Internet. I think it’s great that we have such freedom.

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