IF Wayne Coyne is to be believed, your life is dull compared to his. The Flaming Lips frontman has a colourful history that involves crack addict relatives, armed robberies in chip shops, blood-letting for money and a fake corpse to scare the local kids at Hallowe’en.
But like I say, that’s if Wayne Coyne is to be believed. Because The Flaming Lips’ story is rich in truths, half-truths and downright fantasy. Take the most recent reports of a spat with Beck while on tour in the US. The Lips both supported Beck and played in his backing band and reports flew out of all quarters that there had been fisticuffs between Coyne and the short-one. Absolute tosh, says Coyne.
“Well, we tried to start rumours that we would get in to fist fights. I just thought it would be interesting. During one show I had thrown a lot of confetti and some of it got lodged in my eye. And I forgot I had it in there. The next morning I woke up and my eye had swollen up. When Beck saw me he said ‘what happened?’ I said ‘look, why don’t I tell them that we got in a fight and you hit me in the eye?’ I don’t think anyone ever bought it.”
He is reported in the NME this week telling another story to stir things up, calling Beck a “diva” and said he had cancelled plans to tour Europe because his last album hadn’t sold well.
But he insists it’s not all lies.
Like the chip shop tale. After leaving school with few prospects, Coyne began working in a local fish and chip restaurant.
“It was called Long John Silver’s and I worked there for 11 years from the age of 16. “They would sell real fish and chips. No one knew what chips were in America. When I come to England I still love getting fish and chips.”
He’s off on a chip run. Let me tell you the tale. One average day three men barge in with masks and sawn-off shot guns, demanding money.
“I thought I was going to die,” he says.
Can’t imagine that happening down your local? You should live down Wayne’s ’hood. He lives in the Gatewood district of Oklahoma city which is riddled with crack-heads and prostitutes.
“Yeah, but it’s always been like that. If you came there it might seem like, ‘Gosh, how do you live there?’. But I’ve always lived there so it’s not strange to me.”
He lives in a big 1930s house with his wife, a dog and three cats. Bought for $20,000 several years ago as an HQ, it used to house all three members of the band.
“Just the other day I was cleaning the back porch and I found a bullet.”
He adds: “I’ve never been mugged but I think it’s by sheer luck.”
Only recently his neighbour skinned a skunk and left it in the sun to rot. Nice.
“It’s where I’m from. And I really love it.”
He fits in, by all accounts: Every Hallowe’en he produces a life-size naked dead rubber bloke that he fills with spaghetti and blood and a fake heart, just to entertain the local kids.
But the drugs and prostitution have never really attracted him.
“One of my older brothers is a crack addict,” he says matter-of-factly. “I don’t do drugs but it doesn’t mean I have a stance that people shouldn’t enjoy themselves.”
Which is contrary to stories from the early days that the whole band were a bunch of freaks on LSD.
“There’s a lot of lies mixed with the truth,” he admits.
“When we started the band we needed some sort of PA. Some friends of my brothers would steal things. And stories were circulated that they stole them from a funeral home. The more we travelled around the more people were drawn to the idea of this freak rock band from Oklahoma. They would come to see us just to look at us.”
He hasn’t changed. At the Rock City show last autumn Coyne sang while fake blood poured out of his mouth and performed Somewhere Over The Rainbow in a snowstorm. More recently the band have taken to the stage in rabbit suits.
“I want you guys to come to the show and leave saying I have never seen anything like that before in my life.”
He is driving in a van on the way to Scotland. The band have just settled down to watch Brit gangster flick Essex Boys. “You quickly get caught up in it because it’s a bunch of gangsters beating the sh** out of each other. What is there not to like?".
News has just arrived that the new single Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt1 is likely to go in to the UK chart at around 14 on Sunday.
“Awwright! That’s good news, huh?”
The Flaming Lips go pop? “Well for a couple of days anyway.”
He seems genuinely delighted. But it has been a long time. Nearly 20 years since they formed.
Last year’s album Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots was their tenth. It was one of the critics’ albums of the year, as was The Soft Bulletin in 1999. Does fame and fortune grate?
“Early on you get the idea you want to be in a band you want to be a rock star and rich and famous. I’m sure it is great to be rich and famous. But some people are rich and famous and don’t deserve it all. Other people, you think ‘now these deserve to be’ and they don’t have anything. I know it sounds hokey but I really do feel lucky to have all this stuff happen to us. We’re not trying that hard to please the masses.”
He adds: “We really are a group of weirdos. We really do like strange music.”
But The Bee Gees are cited as his favourite group? Another bit of Flaming fairyland?
“It’s true. Even the disco stuff.”
So did the death of Maurice Gibb affect him?
“Well, I don’t know them. It’s sad but it’s not really sad to me. But we used to listen to the Bee Gees a lot. We would always say we love the Butthole Surfers but we loved the Bee Gees at the same time. To me both of those bands have made beautiful, powerful music that has changed my life for sure. We’d go to these shows and it would be Husker Du or some American hardcore bands and we’d be sitting in the parking lot listening to stuff like the Beatles or the Bee Gees, almost in seclusion because if anybody saw us they’d likely beat the sh** out of us for listening to that.”
Truth or tripe, it doesn’t really matter.
Somehow the image of these three drop-out weirdos sat in a car park nodding away to Jive Talkin’ is too good to ignore.
* The band is Wayne Coyne, Michael Ivins and Steven Drozd
* The name comes from a dream where the Virgin Mary spoke to Wayne Coyne in the back of a taxi cab and fire came from her mouth as she kissed him. They also said that it came from a porn movie but Coyne apparently just made it up
* Coyne grew up with four brothers, a sister, a dog, two cats, and a snake.
* He was awarded a diamond pin for length of service at Long John Silver’s fish and chip restaurant.
* At the end of the 1980s Coyne took to giving blood regularly to fund the band. He also grew himself dreadlocks and let his clothes wash themselves. After being thrown out of Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas for scaring the customers he was nicknamed Stinky.
* Michael Ivins is the son of a military intelligence officer and lived in both Saigon and Hawaii when he was growing up Steven Drozd’s nickname at school was Bender
* His father died of a heroin overdose. He is a former heroin addict.
* Former members of The Flaming Lips are today working in the air force, as a handyman, a computer programmer and with fellow Cosmic rockers Mercury Rev.