Flaming Lips (The) Biography
The band is known for their lush, multi-layered, psychedelic arrangements, spacey lyrics and bizarre song and album titles (for example, "Psychiatric Explorations of the Fetus with Needles", "Free Radicals (A Hallucination of the Christmas Skeleton Pleading with a Suicide Bomber)" and "Yeah, I Know It's a Drag... But Wastin' Pigs Is Still Radical"). They are also acclaimed for their elaborate live shows, which feature costumes, balloons, puppets, video projections, complex stage light configurations, giant hands, large amounts of confetti, and frontman Wayne Coyne's signature man-sized plastic bubble, in which he traverses the audience. In 2002, Q magazine named The Flaming Lips one of the "50 Bands to See Before You Die".
The group recorded several albums and EPs on an indie label in the 1980s and early 1990s. After signing to Warner Brothers, they scored a hit in 1993 with "She Don't Use Jelly". Although it has been their only hit single in the U.S., the band has maintained critical respect and, to a lesser extent, commercial viability through albums such as 1999’s The Soft Bulletin (which was NME Magazine's Album of the Year) and 2002’s Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. They have had more hit singles in the UK and Europe than in the U.S. In February of 2007, they were nominated for a BRIT Award in the "Best International Act" category. As of 2007[update] the group has collected three Grammy Awards, including two for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
The Flaming Lips formed in Norman, Oklahoma in 1983 with Wayne Coyne's brother Mark singing lead vocals and Michael Ivins on bass guitar. The band debuted at Oklahoma City's Blue Note Lounge. After going through a host of different drummers, Richard English joined the band in 1984. That same year they recorded their only release with Mark Coyne singing lead vocals – The Flaming Lips.
After his brother's departure, Wayne assumed the vocal duties and the band released their first full-length album, Hear It Is, on Pink Dust Records (the psychedelic-rock imprint of Enigma Records) in 1986. This line-up recorded two more albums; 1987's Oh My Gawd!!! and 1989's Telepathic Surgery, the latter originally planned to be a thirty minute sound collage.
Nathan Roberts replaced English and Jonathan Donahue (also a member of the alternative rock band Mercury Rev) joined in 1989. In a Priest Driven Ambulance, their first album with producer Dave Fridmann, was recorded at the State University of New York in Fredonia for $5 an hour on a $10,000 budget. The album was host to a marked expansion in the band's sound and their previous experiments in tape loops and effects were given a more prominent role. During this period, Coyne made his transition to a higher, more strained vocal style akin to Neil Young, which he first used on Telepathic Surgery's "Chrome Plated Suicide" and has employed ever since.
In 1990 the band caught the attention of Warner Bros. Records and were signed promptly after a representative of the label witnessed a show at which the band almost burned down the venue (American Legion Hall in Norman, OK) with the use of pyrotechnics.
In 1992, the band released their major label debut Hit to Death in the Future Head after the recording of which Donahue left the band to concentrate on Mercury Rev. Roberts left the band as well, citing creative differences. They were replaced by Ronald Jones and Steven Drozd respectively.
In 1993, they released Transmissions from the Satellite Heart. This was the only studio album since In a Priest Driven Ambulance to date in which Dave Fridmann has not been involved. Due to the success of the album and the single "She Don't Use Jelly", the band was featured on three popular television series: Beverly Hills 90210, The Late Show with David Letterman and Beavis and Butt-head. The success of this record led to long stints of touring, opening for bands including the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Candlebox.
Clouds Taste Metallic was released to much critical fanfare in late 1995, though it did not achieve the commercial success of its predecessor. The strain of the year-long Clouds tour added to the stress from the three years touring in support of Transmissions was a major factor in the departure of Ronald Jones in late 1996. He was said to be suffering from a severe case of agoraphobia, although the documentary Fearless Freaks states that he left due to growing paranoia over Drozd's drug use.
The departure of Jones and a general dissatisfaction with standard "rock" music led to the three remaining members of the group to redefine the direction of the band with the experimental Zaireeka (1997), a four-CD album which is intended to be heard by playing all four CDs in four separate CD players simultaneously. The music incorporated both traditional musical elements and "found" sounds (as in musique concrete), often heavily manipulated with recording studio electronics.
As part of the development of this project, the band conducted a series of "parking lot experiments" and then later, "boombox experiments". In the parking lot experiments up to 40 volunteers were given cassettes created by the band to be played at a parking lot in their cars' stereo systems simultaneously. In the "boom box experiments" an orchestra composed of up to 40 volunteers with modified "boombox"-type tape players was "conducted" – directed to vary the volume, speed or tone of the tape they were playing (again composed by the band) – by Wayne Coyne.
In the meanwhile, a series of strange incidents (recounted in the 1999 song “The Spiderbite Song”) beset the band. Drozd's arm was almost amputated needlessly due to what he claimed was a spider bite (it turned out to be abscessed as a result of Drozd's heroin use, Ivins was trapped in his car for several hours after the wheel spun off of another vehicle into his windshield, and Coyne's father died after a long battle with cancer.
 Artistic breakthrough (The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi)
Though their experimental endeavors received some press coverage, their real breakthrough came with the massively acclaimed 1999 release, The Soft Bulletin. Marrying more traditional catchy melodies with synthetic strings, hypnotic, carefully manipulated beats, booming cymbals and oddball but philosophical lyrics (sung much more strongly than on earlier releases), the album quickly became one of the underground hits of the year, even widely considered to be one of the best albums of the entire decade.
Compared by many to The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds due to the addition of harmonies and orchestrated sounds, The Soft Bulletin also featured greater use of synthesizers, drum machines, sound effects and more studio manipulation. After this album was released, Coyne stated that, "if someone was to ask me what instrument do I play, I would say the recording studio." Realizing that an attempt to recreate this complex album live solely with additional musicians would be prohibitively complex and expensive, the group decided to tour as a three-piece and make extensive use of pre-recorded music to fill out the parts not being performed live by the members of the band. Perhaps most notably, this led to the decision to have Drozd (ostensibly the drummer, but a talented multi-instrumentalist) play primarily keyboards and guitar live instead of the drums. This, in turn, led to a decision to utilize video recordings and projections of Steven playing the drums for some of their older, more "standard rock" songs.
In a further attempt to enhance the live experience for the audience and to more accurately reproduce the sound of The Soft Bulletin live, the Lips devised the concept of the "Headphone Concert". A low-powered FM transmitter was set up at shows, and the concert was simultaneously broadcast to small Walkman-style receivers and headphones available for free to audience members. This would, in theory, allow the audiences greater sonic clarity while still feeling the power of a full live P.A.. This concept was debuted in Dallas, Texas and at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas in March of 1999, and was subsequently used on the International Music Against Brain Degeneration Revue tour.
Three years later, in the summer of 2002, The Flaming Lips joined bands Cake and Modest Mouse on the Unlimited Sunshine Tour. They also released the full-length Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots to much critical acclaim. Featuring guest musician Yoshimi P-We and demonstrating more use of electronic instruments and computer manipulation than The Soft Bulletin, Yoshimi is widely considered to be The Flaming Lips' first critical and commercial success after nearly twenty years of existing as a band. The final track on the album, "Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon (Utopia Planitia)" earned a 2002 Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance, and the album was certified gold on April 10, 2006. In March 2007, the band revealed that they have recently teamed up with screenwriter Aaron Sorkin to produce a Broadway musical based on the album.
Both The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots have been released on DVD-Audio for an enhanced listening experience.
Shortly after Yoshimi, The Soft Bulletin was estimated to have sold 300,000 copies in the United States, and later went gold in May 2007. The Flaming Lips released two EPs in the same vein of their previous album's robotic theme and containing remixed songs from Yoshimi, Fight Test and Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell. They also appeared on the track "Marching the Hate Machines (Into the Sun)" on the Thievery Corporation album The Cosmic Game. In addition to their EPs, The Lips have been working for several years on a feature film entitled Christmas on Mars. Filming for the movie ended in late September 2005 and premiered on May 25, 2008 at the Sasquatch! Music Festival.
In 2002, they performed as the opening act, as well as the backup band for singer Beck on his Sea Change tour. In the summer of 2004, it was announced that The Flaming Lips would appear among the headliners on the 2004 Lollapalooza tour, alongside such legendary artists as Sonic Youth and Morrissey; however, the tour was canceled due to lack of revenue. Following the concerts' cancellation, the band entered Tarbox Road Studio with producer Dave Fridmann and began work on their eleventh album, the more organic-sounding At War with the Mystics. The record, aimed to be a more guitar-based and heavier effort than recent albums, featured more politically-conscious lyrics than any of their previous releases, and was released in April 2006 to a mixed yet mostly positive reception. Also in 2004, the band recorded the song "SpongeBob and Patrick Confront the Psychic Wall of Energy" for the soundtrack of The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie.
In 2005 the band was the subject of a documentary called Fearless Freaks, featuring appearances by other artists and celebrities such as Gibby Haynes, The White Stripes, Beck, Christina Ricci, Liz Phair, Juliette Lewis, Steve Burns, Starlight Mints, and Adam Goldberg. In that same year, The Flaming Lips contributed a version of "Bohemian Rhapsody" to the album Killer Queen: A Tribute to Queen. Also in this year, The Flaming Lips released the DVD VOID (Video Overview in Deceleration), which chronicles all of their ventures into music video that have been produced since they signed with Warner Bros. in 1991. In October 2005, The Flaming Lips recorded a cover of "If I Only Had a Brain" for the soundtrack of the video game Stubbs the Zombie, which features modern rock bands covering songs from the 1950s and 1960s. Additionally, the band released one new song, "Mr. Ambulance Driver", for the soundtrack of the 2005 film Wedding Crashers (a slightly edited version of the song found its way on the new record).
The band released two singles from At War With the Mystics: "The W.A.N.D.", which was featured in a Dell commercial and which was originally put out as a download-only single in early 2006, and "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song", which became their highest-charting single on the UK Singles Chart, peaking at #16. A 4-track EP, entitled It Overtakes Me, was released later in the UK that year. The only instrumental on the album, "The Wizard Turns On... The Giant Silver Flashlight and Puts on His Werewolf Moccasins," earned a 2006 Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance, making it twice in a row the Lips have been nominated in that category and won.
Following the April 4, 2006 release of At War with the Mystics, the band began a tour to support the album in the United Kingdom, including a finale at the Royal Albert Hall and performances at the O2 Wireless Festival. At the Leeds England date of the festival, the band opened for The Who, of whom they are long standing fans.
The band continued to tour throughout the fall of 2006 stopping in Montreal, the Virgin Festival on the Toronto Islands, Atlantic City's House of Blues, The University of Vermont in Burlington, their hometown Oklahoma City, the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Austin, Texas, and New York City, NY as well as several other cities. The homecoming show in Oklahoma City was performed at the Zoo Amphitheater and included the unveiling of a new UFO stage prop, and would provide footage for the U.F.O.s at the Zoo concert DVD.
On December 5, 2006, Oklahoma City honored the band with a downtown alley named after the band. Vince Gill and Charlie Christian were also given street names by the city. Flaming Lips Alley is at the center of Oklahoma City's entertainment district, Bricktown. At the official dedication in 2007, Coyne said of Oklahoma City, "...We’re on the way to becoming, I think, the fucking coolest city in America."
In 2001, The Flaming Lips began filming a low-budget indie film entitled Christmas on Mars. Completed in 2008, the film tells the story of the first Christmas of a colony set-up on the surface of Mars. The band as well as many of their associates and friends act in the movie, and it is written and directed by Wayne Coyne. The band brought the film to rock festivals across America during the summer of 2008 and screened it in a large circus tent they had bought for that purpose.
Christmas On Mars was co-directed by Wayne Coyne, Bradley Beesley and George Salisbury. The film was released on DVD on November 11, 2008, along with a soundtrack written and performed by The Flaming Lips.
They performed at Bonnaroo 2003 and 2007 in Manchester, Tennessee. At their most recent appearance, they played a full version of "War Pigs" 90 minutes prior to their midnight show, which they told the audience was "just a sound test" but was seen as a continuance of their oddity and love of their audiences.
The band released their first live concert DVD, UFO's at the Zoo: The Legendary Concert in Oklahoma City, on August 7, 2007. The DVD also came with extra content including the entire concert in .MP3 format, a program for creating a remix of the "Yeah Yeah Yeah Song", desktop wallpaper, and ringtones.
On November 16, 2007 the Flaming Lips performed at the 2007 Oklahoma Centennial at the Ford Center in downtown Oklahoma City with other famous Oklahoma artists to celebrate Oklahoma turning 100 years old.
In addition, the Flaming Lips' single "The W.A.N.D" was featured in a new Dell Inspiron commercial that aired during the summer and autumn of 2007, along with their song "Do You Realize??" featured on a Mitsubishi commercial and a Range Rover Commercial. Also, "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song" was used for a Kraft salad dressing commercial. The Flaming Lips also contributed original songs to the soundtracks of several 2007 films: "The Supreme Being Teaches Spider-Man How to be in Love" for Spider-Man 3, "I Was Zapped by the Super Lucky Rainbow" for Good Luck Chuck, and "Love the World You Find" for Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium. The Flaming Lips also contributed two songs to the soundtrack of The Heartbreak Kid (2007 film): "Maybe I'm Not the One" and "Tale of the Horny Frog." In addition, "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song" was featured during the opening credits of The Brothers Solomon.
The band headlined the Jam on the River festival on May 24, 2008 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
In June 2008 the band headlined at City Stages, an annual music festival in downtown Birmingham, Alabama. Coyne opened the show by playfully joking with the crowd, stating that rumors of the band ignoring the entire state of Alabama were simply not true as he vaguely recalled they played in Birmingham some time around 1987. The Flaming Lips also played at Virgin Festival in Calgary, Alberta on June 21, 2008.
On July 4, 2008, the band was a featured headliner at the inaugural 80/35 Music Festival in downtown Des Moines, Iowa. Their opening included the throwing of 250 large orange and yellow balloons into the audience and a multitude of audience members in various Teletubbies outfits. They played for 100 minutes.
Performed "Medley From Tommy" 12 July, 2008 at the Pauley Pavilion, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA in honour of the The Who at the 2008 VH1 Rock Honors. Taping took place 12 July, followed by a network broadcast on the 17th. The telecast included short interviews of Wayne Coyne in psychedelic loungewear and their covers of the iconic Who material (including "Pinball Wizard" and "See Me, Feel Me").
On July 14, Wayne Coyne announced the band have started work on the follow-up to At War With the Mystics, stating that "some of it sounds like John Lennon but if he got together with Miles Davis and they went back in time, but there was a supercomputer that they could figure out how to work!" NME.COM In September 2008, Coyne mentioned that a new album could be ready for release as early as June 2009, with recording scheduled for March.
In 2008, Entertainment Weekly named The Soft Bulletin the 23rd-best album of the previous 25 years.
In December 2008 it was announced that the band are to act as guest curators at the September 2009 All Tomorrow's Parties New York Music Festival, headlining and choosing all of the bands for the final day of the event.
On Saturday, April 18, 2009, they headlined Vanderbilt University's Rites of Spring Music Festival. A various assortment of Teletubbies accompanied them, and two of the Teletubbies got engaged on stage. On Sunday, April 19, 2009, they headlined the Green Apple Music Festival on the National Mall in Washington, DC. They also headlined the Rock Ness festival on the banks of Loch Ness in Scotland in June 2009. Once again appearing with Teletubbies on stage, Wayne Coyne made several speechs about his delight about playing next to the Loch and the band played an extended two hour slot. The band is confirmed to play the 2009 Voodoo Experience Festival in New Orleans on Halloween.
They were the headline show at Pitchfork Music Festival on July 18, 2009, performing on the main stage in Chicago's Union Park. Fans had the opportunity to vote for their favorite Flaming Lips song in order to create the set list for the night. The band was one of the headlining acts at 2009's Electric Picnic, Ireland's premier indie rock and arts festival held every September 4th, 5th, and 6th.
In a May interview with Entertainment Weekly, Wayne announced that the title for the new album would be Embryonic and that a September 2009 release date was likely. On September 16, 2009, The Flaming Lips performed on The Colbert Report and announced that they would stream the full album Embryonic from the show's website. Embryonic was released on October 13, 2009.
The Flaming Lips curated the 2009 US All Tomorrow's Parties festival at Kutshers in Monticello, NY.
In September of 2009, they appeared on the Colbert Report on Comedy Central. The band performed the song "Convinced of the Hex" from their new album Embryonic.
Their album Embryonic was available for streaming on the website colbertnation.com after the performance.
The band's followup to Embryonic is a complete remake of Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon featuring Stardeath and the White Dwarfs, Henry Rollins and Peaches. The album will likely be iTunes-exclusive.
The Flaming Lips are to appear as one of the headliners at Voodoo Fest 2009 alongside acts such as Eminem and Kiss. It will take place at City Park in New Orleans, Louisiana over Halloween weekend.