Q: Do you project into the future? Do you think about the next ten years, the next twenty years?
A: Well, yeah, your mind doesn’t stop shooting in all directions, ever. I see it mostly because we always have animals around our house and I know it’s ridiculous to talk about, but these animals don’t live as long as we do. We’ve been through three sets of dogs at our house and you get them when they’re little and vital and funny and you see them grow old and it is very sad and they die. And I’m aware that that’s always happening. My parents died eight years apart from each other, and they weren’t even very old. And I have older brothers that are in various stages of being really vital and healthy but sometimes I worry that they’re going to die. Not because they’re all that old, it’s just things happen to people. I mean, in that sense I’m very aware that all this shit is temporary. My health has everything to do with my energy level and my ability to do all these things, and if I wasn’t able to get up and jump out of bed and do shit, it wouldn’t happen. I mean, me being involved in these things, me being right there in front of people, I can’t tell you how much that changes everything about the situation. Me being there with people says, “We’re going to do this. I’m going to find a way. I’m here with you. Your energy and my energy, together, we’ll find a way.” I think about the time I wasted when I was young. I think about how I don’t know how much longer I have. I’m 50 years old and if I’m lucky I can do this for another 20 years, I don’t know. Maybe 30. Maybe 5. I mean, I don’t know. You’re kind of at the mercy of the genes. I just say fuck it, I’m going to keep going, you know?
Q: That sense of your mortality and everybody else’s mortality makes it into the work, too.
A: Yeah. I mean, part of the folklore of the Flaming Lips’ philosophy is this experience that happened to me when I worked at Long John Silver’s, when I was 16 and these guys came in and robbed the place. They put us on the ground and they told us we were going to die. They had these giant guns and I lay on the ground for what seemed like an eternity. It was probably only about 30 seconds. And I knew, for certain, that I’m dying, this is the end. And when they left, and we didn’t die, we didn’t get our brains blown out, I’m sure that it changed me. And I know from then on I thought, “Why was I so worried about these stupid, petty things?” And of course, you always go back to what your normal thinking was. But I was profoundly changed for a little while about what I would do with my life. Previous to that, it was, like, “Well, should I be in a band? What will people think of me? Will I be cool? And what if I’m not any good at it?” And after that I said, “Fuck it, I don’t care if I’m good at it or not. I’m just going to do it because, fuck, I don’t know if I’m going to live another couple of weeks or not. I may as well just do it.” So yeah, I would say this awareness that we are going to die colors everything with us. I think that’s why we called our initial record company and our publishing company to this day is called Lovely Sorts of Death. Even though it’s a play on drugs and this other dimension, it really is about this awareness that this is going away. Whatever you’re doing, it’s leaving, it’s temporary. You may as well indulge yourself, believe in yourself, whatever it is you want to do, do it.. Action is, I think, the hardest thing for people. Like, “I want to do this, but how can I be doing it as opposed to just thinking about doing it?”
Q: Change is obviously a constant for your band. What doesn’t change? What’s the through-line?
A: Well, this idea of trust and stability. Because you have to remember in our art we’re not really taking any chances. I mean, no one is really going to get hurt. The worst thing that could happen is people would say that you suck and we’d say, “Sorry about that. We’ll try again next time,” and not worry about it. But this idea that people can trust each other and say, “You know, I’m going to try this thing. I may look like an idiot, and everybody says, ‘No, that’s cool. It’s better to look like an idiot than sit here and play it safe.’” I think the secret is that we are very stable. We’re putting out a box set of our first records that came out under Warner Bros. And on the very first album cover that we did for Warner Bros., there’s a picture of a toilet seat, this sort of silly toilet seat that’s on the cover. 1992 is when it came out, so we probably took the picture of it in 1991. Well, we’re reissuing these almost 20 years later, in 2011, and we couldn’t find the original picture of this toilet seat which was taken back when I lived in this rented house in Norman, Oklahoma. Well, we still have that toilet seat. It’s on the upstairs toilet in my house. And that’s not that remarkable if you think about, yeah, I guess toilet seats last a long time. But it represents this idea, that what Wayne was shitting on in 1991 he’s still shitting on and it’s 2011. When I think of someone like, I don’t know, like a Keith Richards or an Iggy Pop, I can’t imagine that they have a toilet that they’ve been shitting on for that long. It’s just a ridiculous thing to think about. Me and Michael have been in the Flaming Lips now for almost 30 years, and you just think it’s absurd. I mean, you see signs for furniture companies that say, “Been in existence since 1985″ and you think, “Wow, that’s a long time.” And then people will say, “You guys have been going since 1983.” I’m like, “That’s fucking pathetic,” you know? So I do think there is a drive to be stable and to trust each other, to want this thing to keep going. And I think without that our art wouldn’t be as free and as radical. I could see where if everything in your life was completely falling apart all the time, these things that you created would probably be more about “can’t we hold it together? Can’t we go back to a more pure time?” With me, I have no desire to go back. I mean, where I would go back to is still with me. I’m still shitting on that toilet. I don’t need to go back because it’s still with me.
Q: I think it must have something to do with the search for equilibrium. If you’ve got a stable foundation you can send your tentacles into the ether and see what’s out there. But if you’re falling apart, you tend to seek out stability in other areas. It must have something to do with balance.
A: Joan, you’re right. I don’t know if these analogies are really true, but we talk about the roots of a tree allowing it to be tall, or whatever. I don’t know. I just think for me, I’m just not afraid of failing. I think that’s what the risk means. That if we did a stupid movie like “Christmas on Mars” and we failed, what happens? We’ll think of something else.
Q: Also, from my vantage point, you’re as engaged in the process as you are in the product. It’s not just about the movie, it’s about making the movie.
A: Well, totally. I don’t want to just sit here and go, “this sucks but the end product is worth it.” I’ve been involved in situations where the end product is not worth it, and we still spent all the time making it. So to me, the moments that I spend doing it count just as much as it. I’m not just on hold until something great happens. Something great may not happen. I still want to live and I want my days to matter. I don’t want to just add them up at the end and say, “Look what I got now.” I remember there were a couple of times when we’d made what we’d call compromises, where someone says, “Yeah, but if you did this maybe you could win a Grammy. Or if you did this, maybe you’d get played on the radio.” These are all things that all groups consider. And I remember us going, “Man, I don’t want to do that, but fuck it, we’ll do it.” And there was some anguish about it. If it works, we’ll be glad we made these pathetic sacrifices. If it doesn’t work, what then? Well, they never really work. And then you go, “Fuck, why did we do that?” So that doesn’t mean that we don’t compromise. I think we make compromises all the time. But we’d never compromise the now for the future. We’d never say, “You know, what we’re doing right now might suck, but in the future it’s going to be great.” I don’t know what’s going to happen. So if the future’s great, good. But we never leave living for right now.