Getting Psychedelic with Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips
What is psychedelic music?
Part of it is letting go of there being just a guitar player, a bass player, a drummer. It’s the freedom of “we don’t care, we’re just here to make sounds. We don’t care if it’s made by drums or computers or animals or anything. We don’t care. We’re just here to make sound.” That, to me, is what I see in it. It’s not what instruments we’re playing, it’s what sounds can be made.
When we think of psychedelic music, I guess it depends how old you are, and if you consider the Grateful Dead to be psychedelic. On some levels they are, but in some ways they’re very traditional. A lot of it is based on bluegrass and blues and country, which isn’t very psychedelic at all. When I saw the Dead in the ‘70s, I thought it was going to be freaked out shit, like what ended up being like the Butthole Surfers or Can or Faust or something, but it was kind of like country music, only the guys were on drugs. I’m not saying that’s bad, I was just always surprised at how traditional that was. For me, that would be only one small definition, but if you discard that definition and say “psychedelic music,” it’s just boundless. It just does not have any area that it won’t try.
You wouldn’t want to go bluesy or reggae. Those occupy another sphere. I can think of My Bloody Valentine, i can think of Bjork, I can think of Boris. To me, it almost encompasses everything but these very specific genres of punk rock or blues. Even Led Zeppelin pushes on those things a little bit. But then we get into this hairy indefinable vague bullshit notion of all of us trying to say “what is psychedelic music.”
All that can sort of correspond to your state of mind. That’s what music does. It’s like the cereal aisle of your grocery store now. There’s a lot there. You can get five different kind of Rice Krispies. There’s a lot to pick from. To have it categorized for you is good. Because if you don’t put it in some category, it’s like “whaaaat the fuck is this?” There’s so much, not just new music, but music that’s been made over the past 60 years. I think you do a service by narrowing it down—his is not John Mayer, this is something else.
How is that people are still discovering “new” psychedelic releases from the ‘60s and ‘70s?
I think little by little you’d discover that no matter what niche you were interested in, you’d go, “Oh my god, there’s this endless girth of this stuff.” Once you become interested in it, it opens up this endless world. I wouldn’t say that it’s all endlessly compelling. It is personality driven and it is circumstance driven—like Can. they’re from some exotic time where their synthesizers were hard to find and what they did when they did, as if a group today was like, “hey, we’re like Can.” it doesn’t appeal to me as much as can does in 1972.
It comes down to the value you put on your subjective experience. I’ve been in the audience in the jamband world where what the group is playing isn’t as important as this communal idea of everybody being together, having an experience, and the fact that music doesn’t say “hey, pay attention to what we’re doing up here,” because it frees the audience up to pay attention to each other, which is actually a wonderful thing. Because the audience is saying, “Hey, this music is the sound of us having our experiences together,” whether they’re drugs or sex or friendships or adventures. The music you listen to driving down the road is just the sound of your friendship having some scenery around it. That’s really probably more powerful than watching a performance, because it’s your own life that you’re enriching. It’s another version of yourself.
I think a lot of jambands are saying “your life is happening right now, we’re playing to it, you’re happening, we’re just up here jamming away” and I think they know there’s a difference between that sort of communication. and I would say that that more power to them, and I’d also say that we play festivals where the band before us is a jamband and the audience loves it and we go out and play this obliterating set we do that’s about smoke and lights and gadgets and singalongs that is about the audience and the group at the same time. I think the audience nowadays is open to a great variety of experiences that work in both ways.
I didn’t used to think that. I don’t want the whole world to be a musician. I think musicians are drawn to different things than people who are just enjoying music. People should have their own experiences. It doesn’t all have to be life-changing-coolest-band-ever. It could be “my friends and I had the best time of our lives.” To me, hey, that’s good enough.
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