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Tuesday, September 22, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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A&E >  Music

The Flaming Lips’ light can’t be extinguished

UPDATED: Thu., Sept. 10, 2020

The Flaming Lips’ latest album, “American Head,” is available on Friday.  (George Salisbury)
The Flaming Lips’ latest album, “American Head,” is available on Friday. (George Salisbury)

The seemingly endless drives toward Spokane have been epic and occasionally eventful for the Flaming Lips. “It’s always an adventure coming in from Minneapolis or Canada toward Washington,” the Flaming Lips vocalist-guitarist Wayne Coyne said. “It’s always an experience that you have to embrace.

“I don’t know if we could have done it without music (playing in their vehicle). But I remember one time we were coming west from lower Canada, and we were looking on in the distance at what I thought was the lights of a city reflecting off some low moving clouds. It was the first time any of us saw the Northern Lights. It was spectacular.

“We stepped out of our blue Ford van and just stood there for 45 minutes even though it was about 5 degrees outside. We were mesmerized. It was like aliens were coming down from space to take us home.”

The Flaming Lips sometimes sound like they are the aliens from outer space. Few bands are as delightfully weird as the Flaming Lips, who have rescheduled their date from April at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox to March 19.

The quirky and amusing “She Don’t Use Jelly,” which somehow landed in the top 40, launched the band into the mainstream. And then there is the four-CD collection of 1997’s “Zaireeka,” which must be experienced by playing all four discs in four separate CD players simultaneously.

However, the Flaming Lips, which also includes longtime members multi-instrumentalists Steven Drozd and Michael Ivins, as well as guitarist Derek Brown, keyboardist Jake Ingalls, drummer Matt Duckworth Kirksey and percussionist Nick Ley, aren’t solely an avant-bizarro rock act.

There is another side of the band that crafts melodic rock, which can be filed under singer-songwriter, such as the band’s latest album, “American Heart,’ which drops Friday.

“We like making these kind of albums,” Coyne said while calling from his Oklahoma City home. “Sometimes our albums are more abstract and are just more, well, weird! When we make those type of albums, we come back with, well, just songs.”

The new collection of tunes ranges from mournful to optimistic to epic. The Flaming Lips returned to telling stories, which is the band’s strong suit.

That’s evident while looking back at the moody “Waitin’ for a Superman” from 1999’s exceptional “The Soft Bulletin” and the gorgeous “Do You Realize” from 2002’s terrific “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.” They are examples of how the band’s straightforward songcraft yields moving songs, which are timeless.

“American Head” is cut from the same cloth as “The Soft Bulletin” and “YBTPR.” The inclusive ballad “My Religion Is You” is deep and hopeful. The majestic “Will You Return/When You Come Down” is worth a spin. And then there’s Kacey Musgraves’ backing vocals on the catchy “God and the Policeman.”

Musgraves is the latest maverick female artist to work with the Flaming Lips, who have recorded with Miley Cyrus, Erykah Badu and Kesha.

“I guess we have worked with some notable females,” Coyne said. “Some of the women we’ve worked with are crazy. I don’t think Kacey is crazy like Miley, Kesha or Erykah. But crazy people are often interesting, and they can also get things done. …

“Miley is crazy. She’s fun, and she has so much energy. Part of her is very normal, but she was Hannah Montana. No matter what anyone says, Miley has an amazing voice. She has a great tone to her voice, and she can nail just about anything in one take.

“I remember she would come down to the studio and nail something in one take and go back to the party at her house while we would be in the studio all day and night.”

The Flaming Lips have worked with their share of eccentric males, as well.

“We’re dudes, and so we have recorded with some interesting dudes over the years,” Coyne said “We’ve worked with so many talented people like Nick Cave, Chris Martin from Coldplay and Kevin (Turner) from Tame Impala. It’s been a pretty amazing career. In some ways, I feel like I’m just getting started.”

In terms of paternity, the 59-year-old songwriter is doing just that. Coyne became a father for the first time in 2019.

“I know I’m up there, but I’m still so full of energy,” Coyne said. “It wasn’t as if I was against having a kid while I was in my 20s, 30s or 40s. It just didn’t happen. My son is a year and three months, and his name is Bloom, like a flower. My wife and I are ecstatic. Our son has been very inspiring.”

The road, which Coyne sorely misses, has moved him throughout much of his career. “There is nothing like seeing the world,” Coyne said. “There’s nothing like experiencing this country. We’re fortunate since we’ve been up and down and all over America. It’s exhausting, but when you get out there, it’s an experience going from town to town.

“It’s sad since we’re so used to it. We were supposed to go out in March, and the coronavirus obviously changed everything. But I have to say it’s been pretty awesome for my wife and I since we get to enjoy our baby, and for the first time, I’ve been able to get into a routine. I’ve been in the house a lot since I have a studio there.”

Coyne leaves his home to do interviews in his car. “It’s air conditioned, and you don’t hear a baby or anything else in the house,” he said. “It’s like my office.”

If his songwriting isn’t enough, it’s evident through his day-to-day actions that Coyne is left of center. “Crazy people are usually fun,” Coyne said.

“Look at the history of rock, and so many of the rock stars are crazy. It makes sense if you’re a little crazy in this business since it’s different, and I can’t imagine doing anything else. I love making music, playing it and even the long drives we’ve endured.”

Sometimes there’s a payoff like the evening the Flaming Lips were enthralled by the Northern Lights. “If I stayed home and just lived here in Oklahoma, I never would have seen those. It’s part of the perks of being a touring musician.”

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