When it comes to creating music that pushes the sonic envelope, Wayne Coyne and The Flaming Lips have been on the literal cutting edge of aural adventurousness for decades. Their new album, the evocatively titled Oczy Mlody — available today in various formats from Warner Bros., including a hi-res 96/24 download — continues that trend, with 57-plus minutes of music that tests the limits of the stereo soundfield.
In Part I of our exclusive interview for HRAC, Coyne — who happens to be celebrating his 56th birthday today — and I discuss 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.
Mike Mettler: We’ve talked about this in previous interviews, but especially with a record as expansive as Oczy Mlody that has such a wide dynamic range, it seems almost criminal to contain it to a low-grade, MP3 presentation. I wound up syncing your official Oczy videos on YouTube with the hi-res downloads so I could get the better audio quality while I watched them.
Wayne Coyne: (laughs) You know, I guess I’ve never thought of YouTube as being that lo-fi. Usually, since I travel a lot, I’m listening to things out of my phone speaker anyway. I’m always just glad it seems like it works! But your take is, there is a difference.
Mettler: I think so. We’ve talked about the hi-res and surround mixes you’ve guys have done in the past, and since there is such a wide dynamic range on this album, it almost seems like stereo is holding it back a bit.
Coyne: (chuckles) Well, we do believe that it works because we have just two ears! But we’ve always experimented with surround sound, and we believe we made breakthroughs with sound coming from below and above you. It’s very particular to where you’re standing, or your state of mind (MM laughs), or whether you care about any of that.
But I do think people always respond to good sound, whether they think it’s good or not. Most records nowadays — it’s not hard to get great sound for them. It’s pretty great. A long time ago, it was difficult to get it, but there are plenty of gadgets and gear out there now to help you do that.
Mettler: That is a good point. Considering what happens in Dolby Atmos theaters, you could even do a 360-degree presentation if you were so inclined.
Coyne: Even at the height of the things that Pink Floyd would do, I also remember people talking about some things that would happen at Rush concerts — but they would really just be moments throughout the concerts. They wouldn’t run all the way through it. I guess they used a quadraphonic system, or something.
Mettler: That’s right — Pink Floyd pioneered the use of live quad. [MM notes: Follow that previous link to read our exclusive interview with Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason about live quad.]
Coyne: The one thing is, you don’t want people to turn around. You want their attention looking at you. You don’t want them to turn around and go, “Oh, I wonder what’s happening back there.” But I think they like it as a moment, and going, “Oh, this is filling in all around me.”
It’s a strange perception thing. What you’re looking at is usually what you want to be listening to. Sometimes, it’s alarming to people to say, “Hey, what was that behind me?” (laughs)
Mettler: Yeah, it’s like a drive-by, or something like that.
Coyne: It is, in a way. I just got through driving for an hour in L.A. in traffic, listening to music and listening to the rain, and, you know — you have to be hyper-aware sometimes. And I don’t like to listen to loud music when I’m driving, because you have all of these signals going on in front of you and behind you, and that can be a distraction.
Mettler: That’s true, especially when you’re driving in L.A., or New York, or even Las Vegas, where I am right now — which I think happens to be the perfect backdrop for listening to an Oczy Mlody song like “Listening to the Frogs With Demon Eyes.”
Coyne: Oh, well, thank you — that sounds like a cool experience!
Mettler: It is! And speaking of Pink Floyd, I think of “Frogs” as being like “Arnold Layne” in its spaghetti western version.
Coyne: (laughs heartily) Well, I will take some lengths to remember that! Though some of the people I’m talking to wouldn’t have the older classic rock references like that — but certainly I do, and so do you. And that’s a great, great compliment, for sure.
Mettler: Please partake and share with whomever you wish. (Coyne laughs) In terms of another listening arena, we now live in a streaming universe, and you guys are huge in that world. How do you feel about people streaming this record?
Coyne: I think people struggle with this all of the time. You want it to be as convenient and as easy as you can make it, and you also want it to sound good, so you’re always struggling with quality versus convenience. But I think all of the streaming services sound remarkably great, and most of them work remarkably well, most of the time.
I mean, we travel so much and we’re often sitting on airplanes, so streaming isn’t something we can think about, because you can’t always listen to something the exact moment you want to when you have no wi-fi. But most people don’t have that dilemma — they’re sitting in their office or in their house, or in the same type of listening environment most of the time.
I think it’s amazing, and I hope more and more people are open to listening in many different ways, from streaming to downloading to vinyl. You can do all kinds of ways. There isn’t just one way to say you’re doing it “right” or “wrong.”
Mettler: That’s the best way of putting it. You can access Flaming Lips music anywhere you want, and now that they’ve announced hi-res streaming, listeners can go that whole route if they choose to. There’s no compromise needed.
Coyne: Yeah! I think what people don’t like about streaming is that it can use up all of your wi-fi or your data plan, but it is getting easier and cheaper, just like you were talking about. You can get it anywhere where it sounds great as well.
But I remember when I was quite young, and my brother’s friends had some reasonably hi-fi systems, and we would listen to Beatles records on them. And we would also listen on my mother’s old AM radio in her kitchen, on one high-endy broken-down distorted speaker.
I still love listening to songs like that. There’s room for a thousand different listening experiences. I remember hearing a Whitney Houston song on a sort of distorted — you know, when you’re out pumping gas, on one of those big things, where there’s music pumping in from those speakers above you. It wasn’t that long ago I was hearing that Whitney Houston song really distorted that way, and I thought it was a remix! (MM laughs) But no, it was just that the speakers were distorted — and I really liked it, you know?
Mettler: Was it “The Greatest Love of All?” That sounds like a cover you have to do. I think The Flaming Lips and Miley Cyrus need to cover that one together. That’s gold, right there. . .
Coyne: (laughs heartily) It wasn’t that one. I think it was “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” I really thought someone had done a strange remix of it.
Mettler: Well, either way, you guys have to cover it for sure! (Coyne laughs again)
Come back tomorrow for Part II, wherein Wayne and I will discuss working with Miley Cyrus on Oczy‘s final track “We a Famly” and how the band’s use of orchestral plug-ins have fooled even the most discerning of ears.