A (nearly) brief history of the Flaming Lips
The Flaming Lips have been going since some time in 1983, although it didn't kick off properly until the following year. What you'll find below is an attempt to reconcile the various accounts, conflicting 'facts', and strange stories that make up the interesting story of one band's development in their 'accidental career'.... you can also get some kind of insight into the current members of the band, although you might need a barrel of salt to go with these particular biographies:
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So, on with the story…
1983 was the year. It is said that it started after a gatecrashed party. The parents of a young Michael Ivins were out of town, people got drunk, and a guy called Mark Coyne arrived uninvited. Windows got broken, and our story more or less begins, "..the next day Wayne [Coyne] shows up with a drummer guy and said, hey, I've heard you've gotta bass." And so the Batman theme came to be played. A lot. Mark started to do the singing, and then they made a four song demo tape.
Despite calling themselves the Flaming Lips, a first gig eventually materialized. It was at a transvestite club in Oklahoma City, called the Blue Note. Then there was the gig in the all-black Blues bar. This was all pretty weird, but somehow fitting, for four skinny twenty-something (well, except for the drummer who was pushing thirty) white guys. Soon after all that, the drummer guy moved on and (as far as anyone knows) joined the airforce. More drummers came and went but by 1984 the Flaming Lips were settled into the line-up which would cut their first record - with Richard English now fulfilling the percussive duties. 'The Flaming Lips' was self-released in late 1984, pressed on green vinyl, after Wayne's Dad sent them into a local studio to use up his credit on the collapsing OKC trade barter system.
Having the only PA in the Oklahoma punk rock circles that they were moving in gave these four young men the opportunity, while opening for bands such as Husker Du and Black Flag, to inflict their curious (formerly death rock but now) punk noise (with added classic rock tendencies) on various unsuspecting hardcore fans. A good review in Maximum Rock'n'Roll upped the ante a bit while they kept playing shows and pressed another 1,000 records (on red vinyl in 1985) before getting a chance to go and support the Jesus and Mary Chain in San Francisco. Mark quit shortly after this, as he was getting married, but the band kept on playing more shows along the West Coast. Someone from Restless Records finally happened upon one of those shows (probably in LA), and they were soon signed up with 'Hear It Is' emerging in that same year, 1986. Recorded in two to three days, the album featured an exquisitely wasted-looking Ivins in the foreground of the cover photo. Around this time, Michele Vlasimsky took up the management reins as the Lips continued to play further afield and both coasts were fully explored - some of it under the wing of the (then very scary) Butthole Surfers. In no time at all, the Lips had also made another record. Spending almost two weeks to use up the $10,000 Restless gave them, "We booked ourselves into the biggest, most sophisticated studio we could find," they ended up with "Oh My Gawd..." and a definite shift in sound. While some pointed at some kind of revivalist rock label, the reality was that they had ("accidentally" they claim) made a quite strange sounding record. This began a great tradition of a change in emphasis for every record, with the defining highlight 'One Million Billionth Of A Millisecond on A Sunday Morning' seeming quite far out for 1987.
Their travels around this time took them to Buffalo University in the state of New York, where a young man promoting shows was keen to book them, paying enough money to make the drive well worthwhile. The band struck up a friendship with Jonathan Donahue and good times were had after the gigs, with odd nights spent jamming with Jon and some of his other musician friends.
By the time they came to making the next record, for which they had dreamed up a concept of making an entire side of noise collage ('Hells Angels Cracker Factory' was later reduced to a CD bonus track), Donahue was in the van doing the sound for the shows. 'Telepathic Surgery' came out in 1988 and, a few dates into the tour to promote it, Richard English quit the band following some creative friction and little involvement on the last two tracks they had recorded for it. So Wayne and Michael went on and played as a twosome - aided by Jon's adept mixing, until they were joined by new stickman Nathan Roberts. It was on this leg of the tour, in Canada, that Donahue came on stage with the band to play some fairly freaky noises on a second guitar. The possibilities for new sound were fairly quickly recognized and, for a while to come, the band was then built on the concept of being a four piece.
When the 'Telepathic' tours drew to a close in 1989, the four players returned to Oklahoma, moved in together and began to concoct tunes together on Jon's 4-track. The feeling was that their time with Restless Records was almost up, and they wanted to create one last triumphant record with the songs written and sounding just right. Restless duly stumped up the cash, and the band headed into the studio with David Freedman and Keith Cleverly in tow to help produce and engineer their grand musical statement. 'In A Priest Driven Ambulance' was recorded over a longer time than previous efforts, with parts of the first Mercury Rev record ('Yourself Is Steam') recorded on the Lips' days away from the studio. Over several studio stints and a couple of months, the Lips (and Freedman) explored new ways of arranging and recording their songs, while living off a $10,000 publishing deal Wayne has been known to describe as "ludicrous". The end result has been variously described as "the epitome of cool" and "almost perfect". The Flaming Lips had succeeded in their lofty aims to carve a totally new sound in the shape of their sonic vision, with only one slight problem: Restless Records was essentially being wound up. When the band showed up to support the Soup Dragons' US tour, no one knew they were coming, and they ended up going home. Michele Vlasimsky quit as their manager and the future looked bleak. Mostly they just played around OKC and tried to persuade A&R type people to come and watch them.
The Flaming Lips still claim that the Warner Bros. employee who decided to come and see them had no idea that they had spent several hours attempting to reach someone in the WBR A&R department with what were practically prank calls. Despite Wayne & Co. spending a not inconsiderable time interrogating her about why she had bothered to come to see them, and almost burning down the venue with some questionable on-stage pyrotechnics, they found themselves on their way to L.A. for some meetings. They enlisted the guile of Scott Booker (manager of local record store Rainbow Records) to communicate with the suits and eventually came home with a $175,000 advance, having asked for Warner Bros.' initial offer to be increased. Despite seeing a four album history of weirdness, the label committed to the unpredictable future of the Flaming Lips.
What happened next is often shrouded in some minor mystique. The band went through a series of demos and recording ideas that were binned before they finally decamped to New York State. There they made use of an entire studio complex in a university. After much chaos - people in hallways screaming, guitars in toilets with water being dripped on them - the band had carved out the sprawling masterpiece 'Hit To Death In The Future Head', the fruit of an attempt to realize the music they heard in their heads. Along the way, orchestras had been hired and sent away again, the band had rebuffed the label's attempts to help (help that came in the form of sending $1,000 a day drum techs to them), and the whole affair got a bit out of hand at times. Understandably, Wayne looks back on this album as a bit of a mess but also as an incredible experience with some occasionally astounding results. One of the side-effects of the hedonistic production was a problem with the clearance of a sample from Michael Kamen's 'Brazil' score. It took the best part of a year to sort out the red tape, by which time Wayne and Michael (Ivins!) found themselves in a familiar situation. Jonathan took off to make the most of Mercury Rev's UK success, and Nathan had experienced one argument too many and decided to make a clean break with his impending marriage.
Once more, as in 1988, the Flaming Lips had a new record and were without a complete band to tour it. To compound their misery, this big bucks major label debut was grabbing hold of the critics' attention. Enter, in mid-1992, Steven Drozd and Ronald Jones - both of whom Wayne knew from around town and so forth. The new unit hit the road and was soon being hailed as the Lips to last, although the record pretty much grounded in the face of the burgeoning grunge 'scene'. However, within a year, the band made a quick return to the studio. They cut 'Transmissions From The Satellite Heart' with Keith Cleverly over a strange Oklahoman summer. The fresh blood aided yet another fresh approach to the song writing, and Transmissions was a skewed pop daydream of a record that led to yet more critical recognition. That attention still hadn't provided the necessary springboard to success that the label was starting to look for, despite the band being on the road for almost a solid year. In 1994, a DJ started to play 'She Don't Use Jelly' on an Oklahoma City Top 40 Radio station. Some people in Chicago followed suit, and the Lips had a minor hit on their hands. The second stage headline slot at Lollapalooza beckoned and the Flaming Lips were on the road again - confetti, bubble machines and all. They had to take a bit of time out to appear on Beverly Hills 90210 and the David Letterman Show, and then they did some more touring. They then realized they had been on the road for the best part of three years, not counting the two short months they had allowed to record 'Transmissions'.
A retreat to Chicago then, and time to start work on the next step. Seeing as everyone else was starting to lift their sound, it was no great surprise to find the Lips arcing off in a new direction once more. 'Clouds Taste Metallic' was a fairly rock-oriented record that came off as a kind of crunchy Beach Boys in outer-space sort of thing. Much world touring followed once again, despite rumors (right after 'Clouds' came out) that Ronald didn't want to be on the road and would rather leave the band. A year of shows followed, taking in most corners of the globe, before some final festival dates around Europe. Final was the operative word, as the Flaming Lips have not played a conventional show since the summer of 1996 when Ronald followed through with his long-held desire to leave the band.
Once again missing a component in the band, Wayne was fairly disappointed with the fracture in what he and Michael had hoped would be the line-up that would endure. While everyone else took stock, his thoughts returned to some long buried dreams of a wider musical nature. When a flyer began dropping through the mailboxes of various known Lips fans living in the Oklahoma City area, word began to spread of something unusual. By the time that the second Parking Lot Experiment took place, Wayne was proving that the idea of utilizing multiple pre-recorded sound sources, triggered by members of the audience, could actually work and do so to great effect. As Wayne composed more 'songs' for these expositions, more and more ideas were starting to fall into place. Negotiations with Warner Bros. concluded in late October 1996, and the light was green: The Flaming Lips had embarked on their most ambitious record to date.
When 1997 began, the band was soon heading to David Freedman's newly constructed studio in the state of New York. There they began to piece together a vast variety of songs and sounds that would eventually become 'Zaire'. The actual release of an album that was to be played simultaneously through four separate sound systems was quite unprecedented. Despite virtually zero label promotion, word of mouth ensured that sales of Zaire soon outstripped the initial 5,000 copy print run. As they thought about writing more songs for the conventional follow up, Wayne turned his attentions to taking this show on the road. To play the songs from Zaire as a band would be impossible, while playing the album as a four piece sound exposition would be pointless. The answer lay in the Parking Lot Experiments, although not quite with forty cars. The songs from Zaire would not be used, as many more than four sound sources would be involved. After some initial testing, the full 'Boombox Experiment' experience was unveiled in Oklahoma City. This was then sporadically taken on the road over the entire twelve months following Zaireeka's release.
In between these forays into the wider world, the band worked hard on the next record. They already had several songs and song ideas from the Zaireeka sessions, but that sound was soon outstripped and built upon. By the end of a long 1998, the band was in a position to take a well earned Christmas break before starting 1999 with some more hard work in the form of preparing to tour the record that they would release in the Spring..…
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