Q&A: Wayne Coyne on ‘Sgt. Peppers’ Covers, Why Miley Cyrus is a Bigger Freak Than He Is

By Brian Ives 

The Flaming Lips seem to occupy their own universe: they’ve traveled beneath the radar for over three decades now, occasionally intersecting with it (their 1993 hit “She Don’t Use Jelly,” frontman Wayne Coyne appearing in a 2013 Virgin Mobile commercial), but generally doing their own thing. By not panderring to the music industry writ large, they’ve managed to build a following, and one that’s happy to follow them through some downright zany ideas. On the low-end of the zany scale is 1997’s Zaireeka, a four-CD collection that’s meant to be listened to by playing all four CDs at the same timeOn the high-end are weed-flavored gummy skulls.

But as avant-garde as they get, they’re never what you would call snobby. On their 2012 release The Flaming Lips & Heady Fwends, they collaborated with Nick Cave and Yoko One, indie icons Bon Iver and Jim James, and they also invited Kesha and Biz Markie to the party.

Related: Wayne Coyne Talks Shelved Kesha Project, Sides with Singer in Dr. Luke Controversy

On their latest album, With a Little Help From My Fwendsthey cover the Beatles‘ entire Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band with a little help from their “fwends,” including J. Mascis, My Morning Jacket, Foxygen, Phantogram and Maynard James Keenan, and Miley Cyrus. All artists’ royalties from the album will be donated to The Bella Foundation, a non-profit organization based in the band’s hometown of Oklahoma City that assists low-income, elderly, or terminally ill pet owners with the cost of veterinary care. We spoke with frontman Wayne Coyne about the album, doing covers, pets and some of his famous collaborators.

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Radio.com: Your renditions of the songs on Sgt. Pepper reminded me of the cover you did of “Smoke on the Water” from the Deep Purple tribute album Re-Machined. Everyone else on that album played it pretty straight, and you took their most iconic song and really warped it. 

Wayne Coyne: Well, thank you for saying that. I don’t know if I heard that much of the rest of that Deep Purple tribute. I think sometimes, sadly, that is what musicians think they should do. For me, that just doesn’t seem very interesting. When we talk about the Beatles, I think we’re doing what they probably intended for their music to do. They probably said, “Listen to this music: it’s gonna blow your mind, it’s gonna make you want to make music, it’s gonna make you want to paint pictures, it’s gonna make you want to do drugs, it’s gonna make you re-think your whole life!” And I think that’s what we do! Even though we know how “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” goes, we’re not changing the lyrics or the melody, or the chord structure, but we’re changing the sounds and the tempos and the dynamics of it. That’s what we’re supposed to do! That’s what we’re inspired to do! That’s the fun of doing a cover song: you can inject your imagination into this thing that everybody recognizes.

This record is raising funds for the Bella Foundation; one of the things I like about the organization is that the website actually tells you what they’ve accomplished, as far as how many pets they’ve adopted out or gotten into foster homes, how much money they’ve spent on vet bills and how many pets they’ve vaccinated. But how did you choose that particular organization?  

Well, I think it’s because of those things in particular. Oklahoma City, where I live, has the worst homeless dog and cat over-population problem that I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been all around the world, a lot of times. And I think that most people that I talk to are like you, they love animals, and they have at least a couple of dogs or cats that they’ve rescued. And I’m like you, if I need to take another one in, I have the room and I can do it, or if one of them gets sick, I can do it [pay the vet bills].

But I think this organization has really hit on something. These are people who work at the shelters every day, trying to get homes for these dogs and cats, and get them adopted into a home. That’s where these dogs and cats want to be. They want to be in a home, with you, watching Netflix! I’ve used the same veterinarian now for probably twenty years, and I asked her, of all the shelters around here, which one would be helped the most by this thing that I’m doing? She thought that what the Bella Foundation is doing was really working.

I haven’t heard of many organizations who specifically work with pet owners in financial hot water; it’s probably a problem that doesn’t get much attention. 

I agree, I had a conversation with the main guy there, and that was a thing that happened to him. One of their cats had gotten really ill, and they couldn’t afford to take care of it, but they did anyway, and the experience really stuck with him. It changed his life. He started this organization.

Are there plans for any shows with some of the characters from the album? 

There are plans for some shows in the works. I think we’re gonna be on the Conan O’Brien show doing “A Day in the Life” with Miley. I think we’re doing our New Year’s Eve show with Foxygen and Phantogram, so I’m intending to do our songs together. As the year goes on, I think more and more of that will happen. We’ll probably organize a couple of concerts, I don’t think we’ll ever be able to get everybody together, but we can probably get three or four of the artists together and do a show like that.  For the next couple of years, it will be easy to say, “Let’s get a few of these groups together and do a show.” That’s why I like it so much, because these are people we like anyway, and now we have this bond, and now we have songs we can do together.

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