The Northeast Goes Midwest: An Underground conversation with The Flaming Lips' Steven Drozd
Gone are such light-hearted song titles like “She Don’t Use Jelly,” “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” and “This Here Giraffe,” replaced by more dread-inducing sobriquets like “Turning Violent,” “You Are Alone” and “Butterfly, How Long It Takes To Die” amongst others.
Also undergoing an evolution of sorts is the Lips’ live show, which the band brings to a headlining slot at the Maha Music Festival in Omaha, Neb. on August 17.
For the past several years, the group’s concerts have been highlighted by lead singer Wayne Coyne encasing himself in a giant space bubble, confetti cannons showering the audience, and a collection of dancers gyrating on stage.
“If you saw us in 2009 or something, and you’re expecting the same kind of show, it’s not that,” said Lips’ multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Steven Drozd during a recent phone interview from his home in Oklahoma.
“Wayne doesn’t get in the space bubble anymore,” he continued. “We don’t have the dancers on stage. We’ve got a whole new light show with a whole new video set-up, and all this stuff.”
The motivation for these changes is the mood of the Lips’ new material, which has been described by reviewers as dark, heavy, and depressing. While critics have also referred to songs from The Terror as among the band’s best, crowd reactions to the group’s new set have been mixed.
According to Drozd, after The Flaming Lips’ first new show at the SXSW music festival in Austin, Texas in March, “there were a lot of people scratching their heads.”
“I think it put some people off,” he said. “But some of our hardcore fans, I think, were just so excited we were doing something completely new that that sort of trumped everything else. So we’re kind of getting a combination of those two things as we go. We’re working out the dynamics of where we can get the most intensity from it for our live show.”
Another misconception that Drozd addressed during his interview was that since the mood of The Terror appears so bleak, many in the media have posited that making the record must have been an arduous process.
He said, “I can’t say it’s our best record. When someone says that, it’s hard to take them seriously. I would say it’s the easiest record I’ve made with the Lips, and also there’s really nothing I would change about the record.”
One particular change that Drozd wouldn’t make is altering the amount of guitar used on The Terror. Instead of employing the prototypical rock band setup of bass, drums, guitar and vocals, Drozd and company turned to a variety of keyboards and synthesizers to fill out their album’s overall sound.
“I think after a few songs we realized there wasn’t any guitar, and we liked it,” said Drozd. “We were drawn to these two or three keyboards that were up at the studio, these three old synthesizers that kind of just kept calling to us, beckoning to us, to use them or something.”
Watch the official video for “Turning Violent” by The Flaming Lips here:
Also beckoning to Drozd is the future. Apart from touring with the Lips for the rest of the year, the multi-instrumentalist is preparing to start recording a side project of his and singer Coyne’s in the coming weeks. Dubbed The Electric Wurmz, the project is to consist of a rotating ensemble of musicians including Coyne on bass, and Drozd supplying guitar, keyboards, and lead vocals.
He said, “We’re just going to try and create this weird collective of psychedelic, prog, Kraut, Miles Davis, electric, punk rock sort of music. We’ll have some recording material, and maybe even be playing shows by the end of year or something.”
Until then, Drozd remains proud of his primary band’s continued relevancy. Despite 30 years of existence and numerous evolutions in its sound, The Flaming Lips is a group that is still capable of evoking a strong reaction in fans and critics alike. And the multi-instrumentalist couldn’t be prouder.
“I think it gets harder in some ways to keep making output that people would be interested in,” Drozd noted near the end of his interview. “It’s hard to keep that up, but I feel like we’re doing a pretty good job of it right now. We’ll see what happens in the next couple of years, but I hope people will still look to us as a band that’s creating new music that they might want to hear.”
The Flaming Lips play at the Maha Music Festival, Stinson Park in Aksarben Village, Saturday, August 17. General Admission tickets cost $45/ advance, $55/ day of show. Visit mahamusicfestival.com.
For more information on The Flaming Lips or to see future tour dates please visit http://www.flaminglips.com.
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