As the Flaming Lips pulled into New Orleans for the final show on a marathon, eight-city, 24-hour jaunt across the Mississippi delta, lead singer Wayne Coyne had one thing on his mind: kicking the crap out of Jay-Z. Shaking off the cobwebs after only 12 minutes of sleep during the trip, the Herculean task of smashing Hova's Guinness World Record for the most shows performed in a 24-hour span required Coyne and the band to tough it out for just a bit longer.
The tour, which began on a late June evening in Memphis, packed all of the stress and strains of two nationwide outings into a one-day period. Organized by MTV and VH1 and aired exclusively online as part of the O Music Awards, the Flaming Lips were among a handful of bands pitched by the networks to break the record of seven. Never ones to shy away from a quirky concept, the Oklahoma natives embraced the challenge.
“We figured we'd make it fun and do songs we'd never done before,” Coyne says.
Each show was 15 minutes, timed to ensure the band played long enough to qualify as a gig per Guinness' guidelines. Once they played for the requisite amount of the time, the Flaming Lips hopped onto the tour bus and headed to the next city. Upon completing the last show in New Orleans, one that Coyne considers one of the band's best, they caught their collective breaths and, after making history and hobnobbing with network execs, plopped down to rest for a few hours. Then they headed home to Oklahoma City, where they promptly went back to work.
After a busy 2011 in which they released a new song every month instead of a proper album, the Flaming Lips haven't let up in 2012. They wanted to release something for Record Store Day on April 21, but the band didn't have any firm plans or an idea of what they were going to put out. But on Coyne's mid-January birthday, the pieces came together.
“We'd been doing collaborations with other musicians through the years, but we only had five or six finished,” the 51-year-old explains. “Ke$ha called me and Erykah Badu texted me on my birthday, and we were tracking down Justin Turner of Bon Iver in that same time, so I think we got lucky. In a span of about two weeks, we [went from not knowing] what we were going to do to having Ke$ha, Bon Iver and Chris Martin [of Coldplay] involved. Once we got them, we figured we could put out a great compilation.”
They worked feverishly until the last minute on both the compilation and the creative packaging—which included blood samples from some of the collaborators and vinyl in a unique pattern. The demand for it was so great that the band ended up releasing it to a wider audience on CD and MP3. They didn't realize it at the time, but the instrumentals and other snippets from the sessions ended up becoming the foundation for the Flaming Lips' 15th studio album, tentatively titled The Terror and expected to be released early next year.
In between recording sessions, the Flaming Lips have been playing a mix of headlining and festival dates in Europe and Stateside and will be stopping in Dana Point for Doheny Days. Sharing a bill with the likes of Jane's Addiction, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, and Jimmy Eat World, the band are making their first Orange County appearance since 2003. Even though it has been nearly a decade, fans can expect the band to bring the same energy their elaborate live shows are known for.
“We're already exploding as much shit as you can do virtually every night,” Coyne says. “We do anything we can absolutely get away with, and it should be great. And the fact that it's outside, that could be even more fun and more crazy.”
As busy as 2012 has been for them, it pales in comparison to what 2013 holds, when the band will celebrate their 30th anniversary. To honor this landmark, they plan to release not only a new album, but also a film (they're considering several concepts as of press time). They'll also rerelease their 2005 documentary, The Fearless Freaks, and a retrospective featuring every song they've recorded over their career. In a time when it's difficult for a band to have sustained longevity, the Flaming Lips continue to crank out endlessly-evolving psych rock that breaks music-industry molds—and records.
“When we thought about 10 years, we never thought it would make it to 30,” Coyne says. “Luckily, the group has a life of its own at this point. In the beginning, we thought the thing would maybe last for one record, and who would want to put up with that? But luckily for us, we were wrong.”
This article appeared in print as “Psych-Rock Road Warriors: Despite their latest Guinness World Record for touring, the Flaming Lips refuse to slow down.”
Daniel Kohn is a writer based in Southern California. With bylines in an assortment of outlets, Kohn primarily specializes in music with other interests ranging from sports to food. As a transplant, Kohn loves the beautiful weather and is glad he no longer has to deal with brutal winters. If you see him, say hi and of course, he’s always willing to down a beer or two…if you’re paying.