It isn’t every album that ends with the performer in question sharing a dreamily distorted synth duet about being “family” with enigmatic pop star Miley Cyrus. Check that: There’s only one album in existence that does that, and it belongs to legendary experimental rockers the Flaming Lips, who’ll be swinging by the Orpheum Theater this Friday.
“We never really knew what the fuck we were going to do,” says lead Lipper Wayne Coyne, calling to discuss his band’s unusual and free-form creative process. “Whatever we were doing, we always knew we might be making the next record.”
The “next record” turned out to be Oczy Mlody — that’s Polish for “eyes of the young” — a jumpy, almost childlike paean to everything from unicorns and castles to wizards and demons.
“That’s going back beyond our usual records,” says Coyne, not really needing to mention that the band’s previous efforts have tackled, among other things, the existential trappings of becoming a frog and a female karate expert taking down an army of hungry pink automatons. “Bits of it feel like a futuristic fairy tale. We hadn’t dared to do this. I mean, unicorns — we would have been hard pressed to think of that out of the blue.”
And yet “out of the blue” remains an apt descriptor for most of the Lips’ massive catalogue of experimental rock — a catalogue that dates back to 1983. But that’s always been the secret to Coyne’s particular genius: He takes his time and follows whatever moves him.
“We are kind of spastic — we jump all around,” Coyne admits. “We don’t really care what our music does. Sometimes, it’s a revelation when it all sounds like a piece. We’re just very lucky we’ve been left alone to do what we want to do.”
And then there’s the collaboration with Cyrus, which sprung out of Cyrus’ 2015 Soundcloud-only effort Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz. Coyne and company provided guitars and production assistance to Cyrus’ unexpected turn into psychedelia, but he actually felt a creative connection to Cyrus much earlier than that. It sparked when he caught her performing on The Today Show with backup dancers dressed as rainbows and mushrooms.
“I remember us going, ‘That’s fucking cool — we should do that!’” Coyne recalls. “Two years later, we were doing the same kinds of things.”
Coyne has some fond memories of Madison he’s hoping to improve on, including an, um, sparsely attended double bill with Minneapolis’ Soul Asylum in 1985, just two years after Coyne formed the Flaming Lips.
“We exchanged like eight audience members each between us,” Coyne laughs. “And the best part was, none of us felt like that was a defeat.”
They’ll have significantly more in the audience this Friday. And all of them are going to be primed for a magical, childlike ride. With rainbows, mushrooms and unicorns. Naturally.