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Brian Wilson Vs. Wayne Coyne Vs. Stop Smiling: Part Two

Wayne Coyne

Photograph by Heidie Lee Locke

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Friday, December 03, 2004

By JC Gabel

Below is part two of a piece originally published in Stop Smiling Issue #9 (?The Millennium Made Me Do It? Issue, 2000) as ?Playing Both Sides of the Coyne.? In part one, which was featured yesterday, Flaming Lips' frontman Wayne Coyne sat down with Brian Wilson.

Part Two: Wayne Coyne Vs. Stop Smiling

[Please Note: The conversation starts abruptly, as Wayne and I sip wine in the basement of Chicago?s Metro/Smart Bar.]

Wayne Coyne: Major labels ? they happen to make music and not soup. They?re there to make money. That?s to be expected.

STOP SMILING: You?re one of the first ?old-skool types? to profess such an attitude. In a business sense, it totally makes sense.

WC: But it?s only business, really. They shouldn?t take offense to that. It doesn?t matter whether the label hated them or not. The labels saw an opportunity to make some money off a product. And that?s why I compare it to soup: if chicken soup with onions suddenly became popular, and everyone wants your soup ? and then tastes change. So you can see ? it?s not you, it?s what?s popular at the time, what?s impressionable. I don?t think that this ?us against them? scenario even exists anymore. I don?t know if it ever did.

SS: So it?s in the nature of the bands to make themselves more important than they really are?

WC: Yes, and no one wants to ever talk money, either. It heightens the drama for these bands. Everybody says it?s for ?the art,? because they wanna change the world because it?s fucked. Well, let me tell you something: The world isn?t that fucked. The world is fine without rock ?n roll; the world wouldn?t be very much different, I think. Your world might be and my world might be, but we would adapt, we?d be fine in no time. It?s something that everyone indulges in. It?s entertainment, really. I don?t see myself as being any different than a guy at a traveling circus: people come, they pay money, good, hard-earned money, to see you, and you should entertain them. And then they can go home, and that should be it.

I?m glad that my audience has a life. Sometimes people go to shows and then they?re like, ?God, this band changed my life.? Well, if you?re 14 ?that?s fine. But if you?re 24, I hope you are stable enough and secure enough with your fucking identity that a rock band doesn?t change your fucking existence.

You don?t need to emulate these people. Go to your job, listen to music. I don?t think that a guy that works at a bank is any less important than a guy that?s in a band is. He likes banking; this guy likes music. We all have to have something that we enjoy. I don?t look at the major label thing the same way I did; especially when I got on one. Even in the beginning, they approached us, and we are, of course, ?Fuck you. We?re the Flaming Lips; you can?t touch us. We want money, ha!? And they looked at us like we were crazy. And even back then they were thinking, ?These guys are gonna make some music that some people will like, and eventually we?ll make money off them.? I don?t think they looked at us and said, ?I think we?re going to take them under our wing and make them artists and make them change the world.? It?s not about, ?Do they love me?? It?s about making money. It?s the same with a magazine, JC.

SS: Well, then, from what you?ve told me, it seems that you guys were perhaps a little more privy to the pitfalls of the ever-turbulent music industry, starting out. You were smarter.

WC: Kinda. But we were lucky that we weren?t tempted at the wrong time. And I think that people ? bands think that way, and then they get tempted and then they?re forced to go one way or the other. We could take everything in and observe, observe, observe. So by the time we were tempted to do some things that would be compromising art and commerce ? and then we got it ? alright, so ? it?s not like every punk rock band that?s ever been dropped before said it was. It?s about money.

It?s really about nothing else. Money works because it has value and people can agree on its value. You might think that a record by Einsturzende Neubauten is priceless; and I might think that it?s worthless. And so, it has different value to it. But money is: this is $10 to you and this is $10 to me and we can get on with our business.

SS: Don?t you think that artists, but musicians especially, are afraid to use money as a bargaining chip in their breakdown of why they play music, or why they render that painting? It seems to me that money isn?t even part of the equation.

WC: And people then think, ?Oh, you?re selling out.? No. We have to raise/make money in our society. I don?t wanna live in some free-form hippie commune where you have to wait in line for food. I would like to excel if I can.

SS: From your interview with Brian Wilson, the one for HBO ? do you really think that Brian is a ?genius??

WC: I think genius is weird. It is something that? happens. But I don?t think people are born that way. I?m not in contempt of him, though. I just hate that if someone is drug-damaged, or eccentric, or possibly mad, people will let them shit all over themselves thinking, ?Isn?t he [and out of respect, she] cool??

Humans should have some sort of behavioral standards at some point in time. I don?t care what you do. I don?t care if you?re the greatest artist. You have to be a good human first! But I don?t think that people are geniuses, per se. I think anyone is capable of doing anything that could be considered ?genius.? I think it?s a combination of persistence and some intention, and then some luck and then a little bit more luck, and then just the world being ready for what it is, and then it?s considered genius. And it?s a lot of accidents and a lot of timing.

Now, for some people, genius works like this: when something genius happens and someone walks in and asks, ?Who did this?? You would know that you were trying to do something and something happened. But the gap between what was genius and what you were working on had this mystical in-between area where I think anyone can grab on and say, ?I know how to do that.? Yet, if they walked in and said, ?Some genius has been done here,? you get the idea.

SS: So do you view Brian more as a ?pop guru?? And what about Pet Sounds? I mean, it?s a great record, but I think the press has gone way overboard in recent years.

WC: Unfortunately, he?s driven by that press ? how he always needs to be in the limelight of things.

SS: He?s an American, though, born and raised.

WC: I think he can be a fool, because he needs people to pay attention to him. He?s got the Elvis Presley syndrome. He wants everyone to say, ?You?re great! You?re great!? I think he surrounds himself with people who are like, ?Brian, the way you eat cereal ? you?re a genius. Brian, the way that you wipe your ass, it?s genius.? I?ve found it off-putting at times.

But later on, I was like, ?Well, if he?s such a genius, why can?t he? talk.? He?s been asked about his music, like, everyday of his fucking life, so you?d think that he?d have something to say about it, besides, ?Well, the Beatles are great.? I know they are, Brian. Now, do you remember any of the ideas that you put into your music?

SS: What do you think of some of these newer bands out there that seem to emulate Wilson in every which way? And not just the Beach Boys, but the entire sound of the 1960s: Phil Spector, George Martin, etc? I don?t wanna name names, but you know who I?m talking about, right?

WC: It?s lame. It?s ridiculous. I mean, here?s an opportunity to talk about your music and to be original and all you wanna do is talk about your record collection. I?ve got no time for that. I?ve got records, too. But I don?t think you can judge a human being by their record collection. A lot of people do that. This sort of stuff is ridiculous and it is the sort of thing that people like to do when they?re young because there?s no gauge on what makes a person cool or not. They could kick your sister?s teeth out, but as long as you have the first R.E.M. B-side record, you?re all good.

When you get a little bit older, you realize how stupid all of this stuff is. Plus, anyone who wants to use equipment that was made in 1967, thinking that it?ll apply today, is ridiculous. If Brian Wilson used equipment in 1968 to record a record that was 30 years old, he?d be using recording equipment from 1938! It would be like one track. My point is this: these people [Brian Wilson, the Beatles] were thinking past their time, and that?s why we?ve applied them at all, especially in art. I can go and buy the Beach Boys records on my own, I don?t need all these bands to tell me about them.

SS: What of the similarities between the Beatles and the Flaming Lips? Whoever does your ?official website? seems to think there?s a lot of insight-driven idiosyncrasy between the two bands. What do you make of it?

WC: This guy is doing it on his own. I think it?s interesting, and, yes, some of it you could look at and say, ?It?s obviously true!? But some of it is sort of, loosely put, connected. Obviously, some of these things aren?t even secretly hidden ? you could listen to these songs and use them as references for some of your own ideas. But, no, I don?t think anything that anyone else hasn?t done a million times. Plus, I think that the Beatles covered so much ground because of their imaginations, it would be impossible not to be influenced by them in some ways, if you?ve ever listened to their records.

SS: I wanna get back to that point you made about Brian Wilson, how he always has to be in the spotlight. You know who else, deplorably, is and has been a part of that team for, oh ? how many years now? Paul McCartney. He?s obsessed, it seems, with controlling his media exposure, like no one else.

WC: I agree. I think Paul is on a bigger plane. He wants a service performed when he?s interviewed. ?If you wanna interview me about how much better John Lennon is than me, then I don?t have time for you.? He?s not out to talk to people. He?s out to keep that image of himself intact.

SS: You know, that?s crazy to me.

WC: If I were Paul, I wouldn?t leave the house. To be temped in the ways that he has to do his thing ? I don?t really have any sympathy for him because it seems to me that he?d like nothing more than to be on the cover of every magazine.

SS: That brings me to the press, the rock press. After reading papers like Melody Maker and NME out of the UK, you can almost trace the rock star persona, as told by the press. And it blows my fucking mind how they overdo everything, they place these artists on worshipping grounds.

WC: Exactly. But in a way, I see in mythology how regular guys can look at these people and go, ?These guys are lucid, different human beings from us.? But I don?t think that you can believe any of it. It?s almost like, ?Isn?t this a great fantasy,? like it?s a Dr. Seuss thing. I mean [cue sarcasm], isn?t this great?

Look at the Bible ? it?s fresh, it was new, but none of it?s believable: great writing, great imaginative things. That?s what I would like people to do with the Bible. Enjoy it. It does require a certain amount of creativity ? it?s accumulative, it comes together little by little.

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