WASHINGTON — You could say that in some ways the past has caught up with The Flaming Lips.
After the Lips’ double album “Embryonic” (Warner Bros.) in 2009, the alternative rock band found itself exploring music projects with a distinct throwback flavor.
First came a cover recording of a rock masterpiece, Pink Floyd’s 1973 album “The Dark Side of the Moon,” in December 2009, which the Lips (guitarist and frontman Wayne Coyne, drummer Steven Drozd, bassist and keyboardist Michael Ivins, percussionist Kliph Scurlock, guitarist and keyboardist Derek Brown) produced in collaboration with guest artists.
This spring, the Oklahoma City-based band has been anthologized with the re-release of a five-record collection, “Heady Nuggs: The First 5 Warner Bros. Records, 1992-2002.”
And then came a special tour announcement: An invitation for the band to perform its popular 1999 album “The Soft Bulletin” in its entirety at this year’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties” music extravaganza in London in July has spawned a select number of gigs this summer in which the Lips will feature not only “The Soft Bulletin,” but also “Dark Side” concerts.
Initially, the group’s decision to perform “The Soft Bulletin” at “All Tomorrow’s Parties” was not an easy one.
“At first, I think we were like ‘Oh boy, do we want to do it?’” Coyne recalled during a recent tour stop. “Not that we don’t want to do that record. It’s just we know it’s a lot of work. Some of those songs we know don’t work that well live, and we really never played them (live). And some of them are just songs that we’ve only recorded, and never really looked at them again. So we know it’s a big commitment to say ‘Yeah, we’re going to do it.’ But I think we just decided, ‘Why not.’”
The choice to play “Dark Side” shows held its own appeal for the band, especially given how the themes and epic quality of the Pink Floyd classic share an almost natural symmetry with the Lips’ eclectic musical tastes.
The original decision to re-record “Dark Side” actually came about in a capricious moment during a conversation with an iTunes producer, who had called on the Lips looking for additional material in the wake of “Embryonic.”
The band explained that it had pretty much exhausted its music stockpile on “Embryonic,” and didn’t have much to offer. Just then, Coyne proposed an intriguing idea.
Large balloon bounce and float about as The Flaming Lips perform at The National in Richmond, Virginia, Sunday, May 15, 2011. (Chuck Myers/MCT)
“I just said in a whim, ‘Why don’t we do a re-record of ‘The Dark Side of the Moon,’ and we’ll do a freaked-out version of it,” Coyne remembered. “And everyone was just like ‘Well ...” And then, about a week later, they were like, ‘Well, why don’t we do that. That sounds like a good idea.’ In the meantime, we had started to think about it. We were only home for a couple of days, and I had thought about Henry Rollins and Peaches, and how we’d do it with my nephew’s group, Star Death and White Dwarfs.”
Do it the Lips did, and the resulting endeavor served as a brilliant homage to Roger Waters and company.
“There were songs that we purposely tried to (mess) with, and say that we have to do in kind of a more punk-rock way, as if we were doing what we were doing in 1987,” Coyne said. “Some of it we couldn’t do anything with. Stuff like ‘Us and Them,’ I mean, these are such perfect painstaking words. You kind of feel it would do it no good by changing it. But that’s just us.”
As an added element, the Lips worked with three contributors on the album, including alt-rock virtuoso Henry Rollins.
“He loves music so much, but I knew that he was not interested in Pink Floyd,” Coyne said of Rollins’ role in the project. “When we called him and asked him to do it, he was like, ‘You’ll have to send me the words you want me to sing. I’m not familiar with this record, though, I’ll have my assistant go out and buy it.’ ... I could see that it was an area of music that just didn’t speak to him. But that’s why it was so perfect for him to be this voice from beyond that speaks on the record.”
The collaborative quality of “Dark Side” led to chatter about the Lips teaming up with other artists on future projects. One name floated about has scored particular notice — former Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page.
Coyne said working with Page has strong appeal, but it may require time to arrange.
“It’s a long chain of people you have to go through. Our new president at Warner Bros. used to work for Atlantic, so she has these connects with Jimmy Page and his people. So, I hope so. I mean, a lot of these things you can do over the computer.”
The Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne performs with oversized prop hands equipped with laser lights during a concert at The National in Richmond, Virginia, Sunday, May 15, 2011. (Chuck Myers/MCT)
Guest-artist wish lists aside, the Lips have stayed busy with other recording and marketing ventures, including “Heady Nuggs: The First 5 Warner Bros. Records, 1992-2002,” which provides a fresh outlet for the some of the group’s most celebrated albums.
The Lips’ are pleased enough with the collection. Yet, Coyne feels the record company should have considered including all its Lips releases to date in the package.
“This was a Warner Bros.’ suggestion to do those records. I guess they have a five vinyl cardboard holder. I could never get at the exact reason. But, I thought it was absurd too ... I guess, when you’re young you don’t think about these endless greatest-hits things like they do with the Rolling Stones. But we’re lucky that we have control of all our records. ... When something is done, we get to present it to the world.”
Ironically, Warner Bros. didn’t have the original cover art readily available for all five records. Fortunately for Warner though, the Lips did.
“Luckily, my girlfriend is a great photographer and keeps all that stuff,” Coyne said. “So we rebuilt these album covers, because they simply don’t exist anymore.”
While the “Dark Side” project references a rock classic and “Heady Nuggs” revisits the Lips’ musical path, these undertakings hardly reflect a creative turn to mine the past. On the contrary, the group remains firmly rooted in the present with its sound, and with an eye to the future.
To this end, the band has released a limited-edition 12-inch color vinyl in collaborate with the electronic pop duo Neon Indian, featuring four new tracks: “Is David Bowie Dead?,” “Alan’s Theremin,” “You Don’t Respond” and “Do You Want New Wave or Do You Want the Truth Part 2.”
Although the vinyl provides a novel method to debut the group’s latest work, it hardly compares to the attention-grabbing format the Lips came up with to release further new material — on a USB drive inside a life-size, 7-pound skull made of solid edible gummy. Just getting to the auditory implant loaded with four Lips songs could prove entertaining in itself. But be advised: Munching your way through the gummy mass will take effort and require careful pacing.
Even in the midst of the current tour, The Lips continue to develop new songs almost on a daily basis.
“We’re always sort of recording, even though we may be out playing,” Coyne said. “It isn’t as though we’re always on the run, because we don’t play that many shows. But it’s just a continual thing. And sometimes the very time we’re playing shows is the very time we’re trying to master and put a couple of things together. ... We’re putting out this music so quickly. So, the stuff we’re going to record today, will really be out in a couple of weeks.”
The Flaming Lips bassist Michael Ivins, left, plays along with costumed performers during the band’s sold out gig at The National in Richmond, Virginia, Sunday, May 15, 2011. (Chuck Myers/MCT)
New exclusive songs recorded by The Flaming Lips on the USB drive inside the 7-pound Gummy Skull:
—“In Our Bodies, Out Of Our Heads”
—“Walk With Me”
—“Hillary’s Time Machine Machine”
(Note: The Gummy Skull is a limited edition item, available only through The Flaming Lips website (www.flaminglips.com) or at Lips concerts.)
The Flaming Lips albums that comprise “Heady Nuggs: The First 5 Warner Bros. Records, 1992-2002”:
—“Hit To Death In The Future Head” (1992)
—“Transmissions From The Satellite Heart” (1993)
—“Clouds Taste Metallic” (1995)
—“The Soft Bulletin” (1999)
—“Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots” (2002)
FLAMING LIPS TOUR DATES:
—June 14: Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood, Calif. (Performance of “The Soft Bulletin”)
—June 15: Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood, Calif. (Performance of “The Dark Side Of The Moon”)
—June 17: Cosmopolitan/The Pool, Las Vegas, Nev.
—June 24: Dave Matthews Band Caravan, Atlantic City, N.J.
—June 25: Main Street Armory, Rochester, N.Y.
—June 30: Eden Project: St. Austell, Cornwall, UK
—July 1: All Tomorrow’s Parties/Alexandra Palace, London, UK (“The Soft Bulletin”)
—July 2: Jodrell Bank Observatory, Cheshire, UK
—July 5: Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest, Ottawa, Canada
—July 7: Aragon Ballroom, Chicago (“The Soft Bulletin”)
—July 8: Aragon Ballroom, Chicago
—July 9: Summerfest, Milwaukee, Wis.
—July 10: Dave Matthews Band Caravan, Chicago (“The Dark Side Of The Moon”)
—July 27: Bank Of America Pavilion, Boston
—July 28: PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, N.J.
—July 29: Nikon at Jones Beach, Wantagh, N.Y.
—July 31: Osheaga Festival, Montreal, Canada (“The Soft Bulletin”)
—Aug 3: Red Rocks Amphitheater, Morrison, Colo. (“The Dark Side Of The Moon”)
—Aug 4: Harrah’s Council Bluffs, Council Bluffs, Iowa
—Aug 5: Kanrocksas/Kansas Speedway, Kansas City, Kan.
—Aug 6: Brady District Block Party, Tulsa, Okla.
—Aug 20: Somerset Festival, Somerset, Wis.
—Sept. 10: Hopscotch Festival, Raleigh, N.C.
—Sept. 16: Telluride Blues & Brews Festival, Telluride, Colo.
—Sept. 19: Eagle River Pavilion, Eagle, Idaho