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Tough Questions for… Wayne Coyne


If you’re hankering to see a low-budget sci-fi movie featuring a suicidal Santa that very loosely concerns the fate of the first baby conceived in space, then by all means, check out Christmas on Mars. That such an offbeat film is the directorial debut of Wayne Coyne, frontman of psych-rock oddballs the Flaming Lips, should surprise no one. “I don’t know if people will like the movie,” he says, “but it’ll be a significant experience for them.” Wearing a gray suit and ten days of stubble, Coyne spoke to us about his movie and career at Warner Bros.’ New York office.

Given the movie’s setting, how hard did you bone up on astrophysics?

When we talk about, say, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and how it’s trying to be scientifically true — you know, I didn’t give a shit. I thought of Mars as just being a state of mind that I get to tell my cartoon story into.

Fair enough. This must be the first movie in history to feature a marching band whose members have vagina-shaped heads. Are you proud of that?

You know, I can’t really justify it. But it’s not like anyone tried to stop me. I’d explain it to people, and they’d go, “Yeah, of course. Sure. That sounds great.” I never got, “Wayne, you’re crazy!”

So costar Fred Armisen didn’t question why his character inexplicably belts out “Silent Night” during the climactic scene?

I think most people wouldn’t be there if they didn’talready sort of believe. I think he knows it doesn’t always have to make sense. And I almost prefer it when people don’t wonder, “Well, what’s my motivation?” I’m a Woody Allen kind of director. Your motivation is, “It’s fucking four in the morning. Let’s go! We’re tired!”

It took seven years to make. What happened?

I say we were interrupted by success. When we first started it, we had done the Soft Bulletin, and we weren’t trying to be the biggest rock band in the world anymore. So we were going into this other world with the movie, thinking, “It’ll take us a couple years.” But then Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots came out and just kept growing. There were years where we didn’t work on the movie at all. Once it got over five years, I thought, “Well, now it’s a good story. Now, no matter what happens to the movie,I can make it seem like, you know,I went insane.”

Speaking of which, what’s the band’s confetti budget?

Quite a bit. These dumb little things can become such a big part of our shows. Some- times audiences want to see some absurd shit that not everybody’s doing. And so we’ll shoot off $3,000 worth of confetti in ten minutes.

Do other bands ever get on you about it?

We recently did a festival in Mexico…and fucking Nine Inch Nails and Stone Temple Pilots were worried about our confetti getting on their little guitar setups. And I’m just like, “Who gives a fuck?”

Regarding disputes, i read that you and Beck clashed a bit on your 2002 tour together.

I was purposely doing an Ali/Frazier kind of thing. There was so much work going into playing not just our set, but also his [as Beck’s backing band]. At the end of the day, you’ve got to have some fucking fun. He was not very much fun to be around because he’s all just, you know, overwhelmed with being famous and being cool or whatever. So I started fucking with him. And everybody was in on it! There would be moments where you thought he was in on it, too. And then he’d go talk to someone, and they’d set his mind on some other thing, and he’d be really hurt by it. It would be as though me and you were joking about something. And then five minutes later, suddenly you didn’t realize that it was a joke.

You used to be a fry cook at Long John Silver’s. Ever spit in somebody’s food?

I never spit. But I would do experiments with the coleslaw. I made 50 pounds at a time, and I worked there for almost 12 years, so I made a lot of that. And I would get bored. So I’d dump ashtrays literally right into the coleslaw and run it through the cutter, just to see if people would notice. They’d say, “Oh, something was in my coleslaw!” and I’d be like, “I don’t know about that.”

And yet somehow Oklahoma City honored you with Flaming Lips Alley, which intersects with Mickey Mantle Drive. Who will have more hits when all is said and done?

Definitely, he will. But aren’t we cooler than Mickey Mantle? I mean, come on. There’s popularity and then there’s statistics.