Yesterday, in Part I of our exclusive interview for HRAC, Wayne Coyne of the The Flaming Lips and I discussed the sonics of the band’s evocatively titled new album Oczy Mlody — available now in various formats from Warner Bros., including a hi-res 96/24 download — as well as when and when not to utilize live surround sound, the potential of hi-res streaming, and when (and where) hearing distortion can be a good thing.
Here in Part II, Coyne and I continue our exclusive conversation, this time focusing on the band’s and Miley Cyrus’s creative process while working on Oczy‘s final track “We a Famly,” following your instincts in the studio, and how the band’s use of orchestral plug-ins have fooled even the most discerning of ears.
Mike Mettler: Speaking of working with Miley Cyrus, I think you guys have done it again with “We a Famly.” And that line “we both travelin’ ” fits so perfectly right about now, I think.
Wayne Coyne: Oh, well, she’s got such a great voice, and it’s easy to get something with her that sounds like it’s full of love.
The track, I have to say, was a little bit complicated for us when we started to do it. She was on tour when we recorded the very first thing we did with her — the “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” track we did for The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s tribute thing [2014’s With a Little Help From My Fwends]. It was in Tulsa, Oklahoma, when she was on the one leg of that big tour [i.e., the Bangerz Tour].
And when she was in Australia, she went into a studio to do a vocal take on a song that was up for a movie, or something like that. While she was in there, we sent her this song — which wasn’t called “We a Famly” then; it was called “Jesus and the Spaceships Demo,” or something like that. It was the very, very beginnings of trying to work out being the song that was at the end of our record, “We a Famly.”
I think the vocal take that’s on the track now, when she first comes in now [at 2:36], was even from that first take from Australia about 3 years ago. It’s something that’s pure and enthusiastic and longing about it.
She and I and some of our engineer friends all listened to that so see if, in a sense, we could recapture what she did there, and we collectively thought, “Well, there’s something on that first take there that’s just perfect.”
The last thing we recorded for it was Miley singing the “we a famly” chorus on there, and the very first thing we recorded that ended up being on this Flaming Lips record was her singing the demo version of it 3 years ago. So it’s pretty remarkable what you can do with technology now.
Mettler: And I think you’re right — when she first comes in on the track, it sounds pure and innocent. Her voice is very girlish and tentative, and that just lends more character to the song overall.
Coyne: Totally! You hit it right — that’s exactly the word. That judgment about what’s “character” and what’s a “mistake” — for me, I hear things like that and I go, “Oh, I like it!” I can’t say why or why not. Sometimes I think that’s the best thing we have to account for — that judgment about, “I don’t know whether that’s right or wrong; I just know that I like it.” And it’s nice when you hear from other people like you who like it the way you do, the way you like that authenticity.
Mettler: That’s the perfect word for it, authenticity. And as you well know, you can play the feel right out of something, especially on a record like this one that’s so experimental and visceral in its vibe. It’s almost hard to sit still when I’m listening to it, because I feel like I should be moving back in forth in some sort of a wave.
Coyne: Oh, thank you! And a vibe is what it is — it’s some kind of cotton candy, mysterious thing. It’s like a lot of things — once you go and try to analyze it, you get lost in the tail of it and can’t find your way back unless you take an outsider’s point of view.
We, as The Flaming Lips, when we’re recording, a lot of times, we’ll have five or six things we’re messing with at the same time, and you’ll come back to something to listen to after a little while, and you can hear that newness and that freshness — that vibe you’re talking about.
But oftentimes, you can get lost in it and forget where its charm is, trying to fix up all the things that are “wrong” with it. I think there’s so much great technology now that those are our dilemmas. Working with Miley, a lot of times, what she’s doing on her very first take is full of some excitement, it’s full of a little caution — it’s all these things you want in a song.
And now, with the technology we have, it’s easy to take out the things that are glaringly wrong or weren’t intended. Music has moved into a really great time where you can keep all the great expressive things, and get rid of the clunky things.
Mettler: Do you subscribe to the rule of “first thought, best thought”?
Coyne: Well, I don’t know if it’s true in all things you should do in your life (both laugh), but a lot of times, if you’re creating music and creating art, something that has a little power and surprise, even for the people who are making it. But for filmmakers who keep refining and refining things, it would be hard to keep a perspective. It’s a wonder any good films, or music, or art, or any of it works — especially when you’re in there working and can see how it easy it is to fuck it all up.
Mettler: And then when you get to the other side of it, there’s a mystery there where you go, “How the fuck did that just happen? I don’t know, but let’s just leave it alone. It just happened.”
Coyne: I think if you’re lucky, those kinds of things are just happening as you go, and you grab them. I always say most of our records are full of 200, 300 lucky accidents. (MM laughs) And we’ve gotten rid of all the boring stuff that no one would want to hear in between them.
Coyne: Oh yeah. Not everybody is so in love with that stuff, but we love all of the formats. That’s one of the great things that’s happening at the moment. It’s more accepted, it’s easier to do a variety of things, and even the way the packaging with the big album covers — it’s just stunning. The inks, the shine on the posters; all the little things. And to have it all come together where you can hold it and behold it in your hand there — it’s wonderful. Thank you.
Mettler: It’s a smorgasbord of choice. If you want digital, we’ve got that over here. You want physical, we’ve got that too. You want a CD to thrown on in the car, we’ve got that over there. You’re full service. I know we’re getting close to the end, so, quickly — we hear some strings on “Listening to Frogs.” Are those sampled, or were you able to put together an orchestra this time around?
Coyne: Most of the stuff we’re able to do now comes from playing with these modules, these plug-in things. They sound amazing. When we did a lot of the orchestration that would up being on The Soft Bulletin way back in 1999, it was the very, very beginning of these really great-sounding modules. I mean, you still have to play 200 tracks and overdub them a lot, which is something we really kind of embraced.
People will listen to the strings on The Soft Bulletin now, and they’re convinced a real orchestra is on there. We play with real orchestras all of the time, and they’ll congratulate us on recording a really good live orchestra. Sometimes we feel sort of embarrassed to tell them it’s not a real orchestra.
Mettler: You just have to make up the name of an orchestra for them is all. . .
Coyne: (chuckles) We’ve regretted that we’ve kind of tricked them into thinking it’s real, but I think some of it absolutely sounds like a real orchestra. And that’s part of our vibe, you know?
Mettler: Yes yes, so we’re right at the end, so I have to say I think my favorite line on the record is, “It should be loud as fuck!” [from “There Should Be Unicorns”]. As an instruction for everybody who listens to it, I think it should be loud as fuck. That’s my final thought.
Coyne: (laughs heartily) Well, I agree. I agree! Thank you! And thanks, that was a fun conversation.