“Music is amazing. There’s some metaphysical comfort where it allows you to be isolated and alone while telling you that you are not alone” – Wayne Coyne
The co-founder and lead vocalist of the American psychedelic and experimental rock band The Flaming Lips, Wayne Coyne discovered the power of music at an early age. Music was a lifejacket that kept him afloat in a sea of troubles. According to the musician, it also acted as his guiding light by teaching him “how to live and how to think.” A creatively fertile mind, Coyne’s explanation about the role of music, is quite innovative and cinematic. He said when speaking with Music Radar about his 10 favourite albums, “It’s almost as if you’re in your own movie, and there’s this soundtrack that fills in all the spaces and propels you forward. As things are happening in your life, they’re taking place to the music you listen to.”
Such a pivotal figure in music, Coyne’s view on the profundity of music is heartening and is also reflected in the list of 10 records that changed his life. Speaking with Music Radar, the singer offered up a crystalline view into his life both as a music maker and a fan.
Artists are always influenced by the work of their predecessors as well as contemporaries. These influences, coupled with their own unique thought and style, brings about something new. Coyne once opened up about his musical inspirations, saying: “A single song can be just as important as an album if it provides you some sort of profound experience – sad, joyful, whatever the case may be.” Coyne continues with the aplomb of an acute artist: “And, of course, if you’re talking about something like ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ [by The Beatles], do you really even need a whole album to go with it? There’s plenty right there to last you a lifetime.”
Here are ten such songs and albums that changed Wayne Coyne’s life and shaped him as an artist.
Strawberry Fields Forever – The Beatles
The Beatles is unarguably the common source of inspiration for most musicians to date. Turns out Coyne is a member of the same club! Based on Lennon’s childhood memories of playing in a strawberry field of Salvation Army Children’s Home, the song was released as a single in 1967.
“Selecting one Beatles record as ‘the best’ or ‘most important’ is almost a fool’s mission; at any given point, almost all of their songs and albums could go to the top of the list. But Strawberry Fields Forever, in and of itself, is just deeply profound – as a song, a recording and a mood” said Coyne while talking about the song. It’s a track that has always been loved by Beatles fans and, as the list progresses, you’ll note that Coyne is certainly one of those.
The Beatles – The Beatles
As Coyne made it abundantly clear in his previous remark, it is indeed very difficult to pick only one Beatles album or song among the masterful bunch. So, he took his second pick, this time an album to share a little more of his love for the band. The 1968 release, also known as The White Album was actually the only double album by the band. Most of the songs were written from March to April in 1968 when the band was visiting India where they practised transcendental meditation under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in his Rishikesh ashram.
“This was the first Beatles record that I kind of went in and sort of grasped on my own, without being influenced or prejudiced by friends. It’s a long, deep record, but I found myself wanting to experience the whole thing, whereas my friends would listen to the more popular songs” recalled Coyne. The singer also appreciated the range of songs the album presented and how it went against the image the band had previously created.
“The fact that it’s not as polished or produced as their albums serves to magnify the band’s talents,” the simplicity of sound belies the emotion that the song evokes. As Coyne notes, “You think, ‘All right, there must be some trick to it.’ But there wasn’t – it was just real talent” it’s clear that he holds special admiration for the Fab Four..
Debut – Bjork
The 1993 debut studio album by the Icelandic musician Bjork had quite a different soundscape from the Beatles. The album contained house music, jazz, electronic pop and trip-hop. One of her bestselling albums, many of its songs like ‘Human Behaviour’, ‘Violently Happy’, ‘Play Dead’ and ‘Big Time Sensuality’ were also released as singles.
Coyne confessed that it was a record that blew him away: “I recently listened to this album quite a bit because I ran into Bjork in Iceland. She’s such a great, great, unique singer, and that really comes through on this album. You listen to it and go, ‘Well, there’s sure nobody that sounds like her.’ She’s pretty uncanny in how special and different she is.”
Marvelling at the creative genius and the ease with which the album was produced Coyne also noted that it wasn’t just the songs that caught his attention but the moments “in-between there they just allowed things to happen.” The Flaming Lips man has good reason too, claiming when music “happens for its own reasons – when it just kind of happens – that’s when music can be at its best, I feel.”
Check Your Head – Beastie Boys
“This one blew my mind,” recalled Coyne upon hearing the record for the first time. “We were on tour with the Beastie Boys back in ’94. At that time, they were considered to be like DJs or something – they recorded music and sampled it and sort of rapped over it. Steven [Drozd] and I would listen to this, and our feeling was, ‘This is just like rock music. We don’t really care how it got here.’ It just made us feel really good.”
The third studio album by the American rap rock group was released in1992. Instrumental contribution by all the three members is what makes the album special. It also saw them finding their way back to punk roots. “What’s really impressive was that it came from guys who weren’t all about rock. To us, their rap started to feel like a cooler version of punk music.”
Coyne has never been afraid to breach new genres or styles and it’s clear that he respected the Beastie Boys’ determination to do so.
Black Sabbath– Black Sabbath
Coyne has never been interested in fads and only truly rejoices in originality. One such artists who had that in bucketloads, certainly at the beginning of his career was Ozzy Osbourme. “There’s so much hype connected to Ozzy Osbourne, so it’s hard to get back to the kernel of originality that started the whole thing,” recalled Coyne. “But when you go back and listen to this record, you think, ‘Yeah, this really did change the sound in a big way ’” said Coyne while talking about Black Sabbath’s impressive debut album from 1970.
Coyne goes on to explain how the band’s guitarist Tony Iommi is an absolute genius noting the struggles Iommi faced after he suffered a finger injury which left him without the perfect use of most of his digits on his right hand. “He’s playing not just great, unique guitar, but he’s doing it with fucked-up fingers!” says Coyne, also sharing how that changed Iommi’s style into something unique, “But it’s because his fingers were fucked up that he just said, ‘Well, I have to play this way.'”
According to Coyne, the album is worthwhile because it has a soul and an essence and is not just “devil-worshipping” “drugged out” music as it’s known to be. “It’s about a dude who was determined to make music, and he was forced to make music his own way. How lucky for us.”
Bitches Brew – Miles Davis
Another album that released the same year but completely offered a completely different musical experience from Black Sabbath’s, was the American Jazz trumpeter Miles Davis’ double studio album. Experimenting with electrical instruments Davis departed from traditional jazz to explore rock-influenced arrangements.
“Bitches Brew overtook all the other stuff in my evolution of who I was going to become and how I made music,” revealed Coyne. “Miles, at this time, was starting to get rid of the form of music, so it became more abstract and interpretive, but no less powerful” said the singer, clearly enamoured by the jazzman’s originality.
It’s a style that hugely informed Coyne’s own musical journey, despite struggling with it initially: “At first, it was difficult for me to understand, because I was still thinking, ‘How do you make music? ‘ Little by little, it sunk in, and then it became, ‘Well, there is no one way. There’s just your way.’” Coyne eventually understood that any musician who stood by their creativity for long ended up in the same position as Davis where forms and structures do not impress them anymore.
As Coyne puts it perfectly, “it’s more about the expression.”
Lonerism – Tame Impala
Jumping from the 1970s to 2012, the Australian musical project Tame Impala’s second studio album made it to Coyne’s list. Talking about the critically acclaimed bestseller Coyne said, “Kevin Parker, has got a depth and an attention to sound that is familiar, like psychedelic-rock guitar music, but what really draws me in is that it’s not like that stuff at all. There’s no real emphasis on the drumming or guitar playing; it’s this strange, two-dimensional concoction.”
Coyne recalled the particular moment when he was bewitched by the songs in the album. The Flaming Lips was playing with Tame Impala at a concert and with each song of the latter the former was like “What’s that?” and each time the reply would be “Oh, that’s on the new record.” The transcendental quality of this album is what draws Coyne to it like a moth to a flame: “There’s an unspeakable quality to it. I never know what the fuck they’re saying in the lyrics, so there’s a mystical thing going on. I think I’m singing along, but then I’m like, ‘What are the words?’”
Feather Float – OOIOO
One noticeable thing about Coyne’s choice of music is the variety. Not only does he listen and appreciate a wide variety of english music but also Japanese music. Introducing OOIOO he said, “They’re a Japanese offshoot of another band [the Boredoms], and they’ve got a number of great albums. Feather Float is their masterpiece, in my opinion.
The creative-force of the band, a woman named Yoshimi P-We, was part of a Flaming Lips project called Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots. Yoshimi fascinated Coyne so much that the band named their album after her. “It was made in 1999, but you could listen to it now and think it’s brand new; it still sounds like it’s from the future. What a great, bizarre, unexpected entity.”
Coyne added, “Yoshimi is one of those strange genius musicians that you just don’t see that much. At one time she’s a drummer, and then she’s a guitar player, a singer and a trumpet player. That’s a rare thing.” It’s one thing to influence an artist and its another to garner the kind of respect Coyne clearly holds for P-We.
Planet Of The Apes – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
“I was drawn to this when it was reissued on CD about 10 or 12 years ago. Jerry Goldsmith was the composer and conductor, and man, he made a real mindfuck of an album” said Coyne about the soundtrack of the 2001 Tim Burton science fiction, making it one of the more unusual picks.
Coyne was upset as the film didn’t feature as much of the album as it should have. He said, “When you hear this 35 minutes of music, you can just imagine that every other composer in the world knew that this was a landmark. It was ahead of its time – you’ve heard it in all kinds of music since then.”
It’s a record that desrves its place in Coyne’s list and perhaps in your future listening.
Bloom – Beach House
The dominant letter ‘B’ makes its return to close off Coyne’s list. This time its the American dream pop duo and the album of choice is the duo’s 2012 release ‘Bloom.’ Pointing out the sheer contrast between the duo’s personality and the music they make Coyne said, “I get texts from Victoria [Legrand], who is such a great, funny, sweet person. But Beach House’s music is just the opposite: It’s so, so sad that it’s almost serious.
“When you can get to the bottom of what Victoria’s singing about, though, you find that there’s a great sense of humour in there. I think that’s why the music is so perfect.”
It’s a contrast that Coyne too has taken into his own work leaving The Flaming Lips as one of the most indefinable bands of modern times.