It's been twenty years since The Flaming Lips released what's considered by many to be the band's magnum opus, The Soft Bulletin. It's the album that found Wayne Coyne and company digging deeper into the group's dissonant experimentalism to unearth beautiful and lovingly crafted soundscapes.
Coyne sat down with the Rhino Podcast to reflect on two decades since that pivotal moment in Flaming Lips' history.
On the wild, prior album Zaireeka and The Soft Bulletin’s different direction:
“Zaireeka [being] an experimental record is an understatement.
[Its] format was four CD’s...meant to be played on four separate CD players, all at the same time. It’s even hard for me to imagine how we convinced ourselves that we should do this.
Coming off of Zaireeka, we were throwing songs in a pile that weren’t working for the four CD thing and these would end up being like “A Race for the Prize,” the first song off The Soft Bulletin, “A Spoonful Weighs a Ton,” the second song…”
On the emotional inspiration of The Soft Bulletin:
“My father had died in 1996. It’s a fairly normal thing for adult men to lose their parents. In a way, that’s why The Soft Bulletin works.
I belonged to the first generation of people that didn’t have to worry about going off to the war. By the late 70’s, all that’s said and done. I’m living the most uninterrupted, luxurious, freeing, freak life, probably that anybody could have lived up until that time. I never had any interruption of anything coming in and saying, ‘You can’t just sit around and make art.’
My father dying when I was 35 or 36...was the first brutal reality stop in my life, up until then. And it’s not just me. Steven is feeling the same confrontation and Dave Fridmann, our producer, is also feeling that. You’ve got three creative, intense entities all searching...for another version of ‘What is life now?’”
On the vulnerability of the album being so personal:
“When you’re being absolutely honest, you’re embarrassed about the way you feel. Of course, it’s not cool...but then you come to find out, that’s exactly what is cool and why anybody else would want to listen.
When you’re willing to talk about that sort of internal pain, that pain from loss, that pain from confrontation with ‘The world is different from what I thought it was…’ it’s probably one of the reasons why there is so much great emotional music out there.
That’s why it works, that’s why I think it speaks to people.”
On the album’s breakthrough:
“It just would never have occurred to us that people would like this somber, sad music, and they did. We weren’t used to people accepting it.
If you would have told me in 1999, ‘20 years from now, Wayne, you’re going to be talking about this record,’ I would have said, ‘No! That’s too much!’”
Listen to the full podcast here.