Wayne Coyne cuts an unusual figure in the world of rock music, even when he's not dressed as a Martian or floating around a concert venue inside a giant, translucent bubble. With his dapper suits, his neat mane of gray curls and his sly, crooked smile, the 45-year-old lead singer of the Flaming Lips may look like a distinguished elder statesman among his messy indie-rock peers, but the stylish exterior hides one of pop's strangest musical minds. Wayne spoke to Salon via phone about his new album, "At War With the Mystics," in which he takes on Bush and suicide bombers, as well as the usual array of wizards, aliens and robots.
A review of your new album describes your ascent in rock as "tortoise-like." You're pretty unique in the rock scene for having been around for 20-odd years, and your profile has pretty much steadily increased the entire time. How has that affected your outlook, especially considering the number of bands that seem to rise to fame so incredibly quickly nowadays?
Well, I think when we were very young we would have wished for nothing more, you know. Like, "Let's be famous right now, and where's the money and where's the women and the drugs?" I think we would have loved to have been Axl Rose, if the world would have wished it to be so. Or even the Beatles or Pink Floyd or whatever would have come our way. But I think as we went along, the increments of fame that were bestowed upon us all seemed to be plenty.
Obviously, when you're young you read about Nirvana and Led Zeppelin, all these sorts of things, that type of ascension. I think we were very lucky in a sense, because I know if we had been successful early on, I'm sure it just would have destroyed us, like it destroys everybody else. It's hard to maintain your vision, and your ego gets all out of whack, and drugs are very powerful, and money is very destructive. It's hard to deal with that much freedom, and that much power, and that stress. I think the only thing that has worked for us, to tell you the truth, is this little-by-little getting more and more attention, getting more and more money, getting more and more freedom, getting more and more power, just little by little. But I say that only because I think it's like respect. You don't want to be given respect, you want to earn it.
It seems that the music is only a part of the Flaming Lips artistic project. If you couldn't make music, for whatever reason, what other creative avenues would you be most keen to explore?
I think we are pursuing it anyway, even by making the movie "Christmas on Mars." I think we are already looking -- not ahead, but at another avenue. We've been given opportunities to make music for movies and stuff, but a lot of times we don't like the movies, or the music that you want to make isn't the kind of music that they want you to make, so it becomes a little bit of a struggle. I think we just thought, Well, why don't we make our own movie? Then we can make a soundtrack for our own movie, and it can just be whatever we wish it to be.
About the politics of this record: Do you consider this a protest record, and what inspired you in terms of the history of music with a political conscience?
When I think of Iggy [Pop] singing "1969," there's something political about it, but there's something that's also going inside of him -- [sings] "It's 1969, OK," you know -- "Another year for me and you / another year of nothing to do." It's kind of political, but it's also just going inside yourself at the same time. I think that's the sort of political music that appealed to us, that you could be saying something that feels as though it's about right now, but it's also about something that's inside of you, that is an eternal statement.
I don't think I'm really singing anything that's going to change George Bush's mind, but I think in a sense no music has ever done that. The music, if we're lucky, can change you, and then if you want to change the world, well you can do whatever you want, whether that's getting a shotgun and killing somebody, or whatever.
-- Matt Glazebrook