Will repeated listening to the Flaming Lips‘ dark, depressing and intense new album drive you insane? MAGNET’s Matthew Fritch aims to find out. Welcome to the Terrordome.
You can only navelgaze about an album for so long. Turns out I actually know someone who went to the source of The Terror, so I decided to ask him about it. Jonathan Valania interviewed Wayne Coyne at his Oklahoma City compound for MAGNET #98’s cover story; he also did a MAGNET cover story on the Lips circa The Soft Bulletin.
A short preface to this Q&A: I have a little theory that The Terror is heavily influenced by drummer Steven Drozd’s drug-addiction relapse, and that it is akin to the influence that Jay Bennett had on the recording of Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Maybe there was a little bit of chemical dependence going on, maybe it drove some of the darker, more experimental tendencies. Seeing as how Valania also spent time with Wilco circa Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, I decided to float this theory by him as well.
The cover story you wrote—when it came time to discuss The Terror, you told Wayne Coyne, “I like it, but I’m not sure anyone else will.” Sounds like faint praise. What do you really think of the album?
Valania: I like it for what it is. A return to the bad-trip psychedelia of yore, but much more skilled and accomplished. It asks a lot of the listener: a) That you listen to it beginning to end because it doesn’t really work in small doses, and b) that the listener wallow in the album’s unrelenting bleakness. Both of which are a big ask in these times of fractured attention spans and unrelenting bleakness that most people turn to music to forget about.
Things got pretty emotional with Wayne toward the end of the piece, when he’s talking about the psychic. Outside of what you already wrote, what were your impressions of Wayne’s state of mind during the time you spent with him? Do you think The Terror is manufactured gloom, or do you think it’s real?
He was charming and witty and friendly and funny as per usual, but there is obviously some deep well of sadness that broke to the surface when he was relating the psychic experience. I got the sense that he is pretty raw emotionally these days. And no, I don’t think the album’s gloom is manufactured; I think it comes from an honest place.
I’m too lazy to read the whole article again, but did you discuss Steven Drozd’s relapse and what effect that might have had on the album’s mood? I have a theory that is basically Drozd: The Terror::Jay Bennett: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. There’s just the same kind of change of dynamic that happened with Wilco, where two guys converge on an experiment in the midst of grief or addiction or whatever.
Not so sure about that. Best I can tell, Drozd has been pretty much writing/performing all the music on Lips albums, except bass, since Ronald left after Clouds Taste Metallic. I think Bennett played a hugely important role in the greatness of Summerteeth and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but by the end nobody in the band, especially Tweedy, could stomach his presence. I don’t think those interpersonal issues apply with the Flaming Lips. As for Drozd’s relapse impacting the album, I learned the hard way that you can’t expect an addict to tell a relative stranger the truth about their addiction. When I did the first Lips cover story around the time of The Soft Bulletin, Drozd assured me he had kicked heroin. After the fact, I came to learn that wasn’t true. So I didn’t even want to go there this time and instead focused on Wayne.
You did a Lips cover story circa The Soft Bulletin as well. What’s the biggest difference you could sense in the band between then and now?
This time around, I didn’t have any interaction with anybody in the band outside of Wayne, so I couldn’t really say. However, it is clear that Wayne enjoys being Wayne, which is good because nobody does it better. He was built for rock stardom and had it not arrived after years and years of hard work, he’d still be manning the fryer at Long John Silver’s (which has long since been converted to a Pho, by the way).