After two albums of lushly orchestrated pop that brought them to a new level of acclaim, the Flaming Lips are returning to guitar-based rock'n'roll as they finish up their next studio set.
After two albums of lushly orchestrated pop that brought them to a new level of acclaim, the Flaming Lips are returning to guitar-based rock'n'roll as they finish up their next studio set. "At War With the Mystics" is due in February or March via Warner Bros. Lips frontman Wayne Coyne tells Billboard.com the group was inspired to plug in after featuring a cover of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" in its live shows.
"You can't tell if [the members of Sabbath] are farmers, wizards, hippies or members of a cult," Coyne says. "It's mysterious territory. Part of that, we really fell in love with. So, there are some tracks we've delved into production-wise, where we're trying to get some of that heavy rock'n'roll with heavy guitar riffs, but not just to be aggressive. On the last couple of records, we've tried to be more expressive in beautiful ways. But sometimes, volume and intensity are great too."
The idea for one particularly Sabbath-influenced cut, "The Wand," came to Coyne after observing a homeless man wandering around Oklahoma City who always carries a giant stick with him.
"I feel like the stick, to him, is a magic wand," Coyne says. "So much of your confidence is in how much you believe in yourself, and there was something about the day I saw him holding this old stick. He thought it was magic, so it seemed like he could do things that a less confident person couldn't do. It's just a dumb old stick, but it was like, 'I've got some power here. My magic stick will get me through the troubles of the day.' If only we all had something like that. Within the song, hopefully this is an empowering mysticism and not something silly from the Dark Ages."
Among the other cuts set for inclusion are the provisionally titled "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song," which was inspired by the elaborate layered vocal harmonies the Lips recorded for a cover of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" that appeared on a recent tribute album.
"We were perfectly able to conquer the challenges Queen presented, so [group member] Steven [Drozd] continued doing these strange vocal arrangements of him singing into a microphone 30 times or something," Coyne says. "We took that vocal treatment and made a song out of it. It ends up being a self-empowering thing -- almost like an MC5 thing, but it's not talking about external things. It's talking about the power within you. What would you do if you had the power?"
Another song, "Time Travel," may wind up featuring contributions from "Blue's Clues" star Steve Burns. "One version was me sort of acting like a deranged priest, talking about the idea of time travel being something we're all able to do in our own minds," Coyne says. "Since then, we've had Steve Burns try it and now we're putting different music to it, so we'll see how that works out."
And while it would be easy to read political implications into the album title, Coyne says he hopes the material will be able to transcend current events.
"It's so easy to point fingers, especially with the current administration being such buffoons," he says. :But I remind people, what would we do instead? It does get to be an abstract thing because it's not your problem. We talk about gas prices being high, but damn, turn on that air conditioner. Some of these songs, even though they feel as though they're talking about current events, hopefully, like all good songs, they last forever, because they talk about what's happening inside of you."