The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne Talks Collaborating With Miley Cyrus: 'We're Either Ruining Each Other or Helping Each Other'

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
Miley Cyrus and Wayne Coyne perform at Staples Center on Feb. 22, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. 

Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne doesn't exactly know what will become of all of his band's current work with Miley Cyrus, only that they continue to write together.

"At the moment we just sort of work on things as they come up, so part of this seems like something we're working on with Miley, but we're also working on it as a production. We make it as a song and then she gets added to it, we add more to it, and then she gets added to it again," Coyne explained to Billboard when we hung with him in the Rose Bowl dressing room at Shaun White's Air + Style recently. "I almost think it might be the series of songs that are Miley Cyrus songs, Flaming Lips songs on her record, then there's the series of the same songs on our record. Ours sound like the Flaming Lips and hers sound like Miley Cyrus, but they're the same songs."

Given the Lips' famed propensity over the years for unusual packaging and collections, i.e. the Skull Box, unconventional releases don't scare them at all. When it's suggested that perhaps a Lips album and Cyrus collection featuring their own versions of the same songs is intriguing Coyne becomes very excited.

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"We're considering that type of thing," he says. "And part of it would be like she's written part of the song, then we Flaming Lips-ized it. Part of it we've written part of the song and she's Miley-ized it. To me, to try and squish them together and say, 'That's all that,' I don't think it could work that way. Why don't we say it's going to happen? If we say it's going to happen it'll probably happen."

At this point in the band's career, the Lips have have long surpassed any goals the Oklahoma group might have set in the beginning. "The Flaming Lips have made 16 or 17 records already and we don't have this grand design anymore," explains Coyne.

The Flaming Lips singer spoke to Billboard about why he and Cyrus work so well together, their plans to team up on a tour and how they influence each other's musical styles.

How far along are you on new music?

Well, we have quite a few things, but we don't really have a release date or anything in mind. We're doing a bunch of stuff with Miley Cyrus, writing music with her and sort of doing both records at the same time. I think she's probably influencing us more than we'll be able to influence her. But that's for the better.

How so?

She just goes a million miles an hour and doesn't have much insecurity about it. She has no filter, no limits, she never thinks about, "I can't say this." [It's more like], "I'm just gonna fucking say it." Because she influences the way I sing and then I influence the way she sings, we're either ruining each other or helping each other (laughs).

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Would you guys tour together a la Dylan and Petty, so Lips back Miley, then do your own set?

That seems very much more like if you like Bob Dylan you probably love Tom Petty too and they would be in the same realm together already, whereas I think with the Flaming Lips and Miley Cyrus that really is two different versions of hell combining (laughs). But a real Flaming Lips fan loves Miley because she's fucking crazy. And there's a part of Miley's fan base that love us because we don't give a fuck and we're freaks too. I've been to her concerts and I could imagine anywhere Miley Cyrus goes is filled up immediately with girls that are 17 years old and in love with Miley and they probably wouldn't even notice that the Flaming Lips are there. And I don't know how many of the Flaming Lips fans would want to endure that onslaught because they scream so loud you can't actually hear what she's doing some of the time. It's just a night of screaming, which is great and emotional, but if you're there to really listen to music I don't know that's always the place. So I think we would probably do something where it's like, "This is a Miley night and the Flaming Lips are there with her. And this is a Miley/Flaming Lips night and it would be in a different sort of setting." It sounds insane, but I'd rather do something that sounds insane and try to make it work.

Why do you work so well musically together? 

At the core, her real thing is she's an emotional singer. She absolutely loves the Flaming Lips. I'll be driving in the car with her and she'll play tracks that are not obvious, you have to dig for them and find them. She'll know the lyrics and be singing. I'm the singer, I'm one of the main songwriters, I'm one of the main producers, I make the videos, I make the album art, I construct the stage, I do the interviews: I think part of what she wants is to do like I do. I think that's the appeal to her and to me when I see her I say, "You're already doing that." I think that's why we like each other, because it's a struggle for me to do it because I'm on this different level and it's a struggle for her because she's on this giant level. 

I remember seeing Eric Clapton play guitar for Roger Waters and he discussed how it was nice to not have the whole spotlight. Do you feel that way getting to share with another singer?

In a way I think all artists like that. You really get to have another identity and you get to think in their way. Even thinking of lyrics that she would sing as opposed to what I would sing, I do them and then people hear them and it's like, "That's a cool lyric." I'm like, "I know, but it's not for me, it's for her." All artists are trying to do that anyway, you're trying to become a different character and whatever avenue gets you there, you fucking take it.

Fast-forwarding to this hypothetical concert…

(Laughs) I don't know if it's so hypothetical. We talk about it a lot, we just keep moving in this direction. So we've talked about that there'd be these giant 20-foot tall heads that we would be inside of. I'd be inside of her head with a thing over it singing from inside her brain and she would be inside of my giant head singing from inside our brains. At some point we would come down and shoot out of each other's mouths and be there on stage.

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When you start getting into production aspects, it has to happen.

Exactly, if you have ideas and you don't pursue them then you're not doing the thing. To me, that's why we have people landing on the moon, that's why we have these great computers, because someone said, "I want to do this." And when we talk about these ideas it's like, "Well, we'd have to do something."

What is the one Flaming Lips song you'd be excited to hear her sing?

When we were down in Miami we did this show at the Art Basel and she picked the song "Evil," off Embryonic, which is a very sad song. It sounds like it's this damning thing about human nature, which really is a story about a hippopotamus being killed, which relates back to our love of animals and how repulsed we are by people who can be cruel to animals and act like this is part of nature. And it just appalls you to the point you can't think, you want to kill somebody. There would be tons of them. We've already sang "Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots" together. I've heard her sing "In The Morning Of The Magicians." I really love the way she sings, so to me it's always easy and good. She's such a great singer, and when she gets emotional I get emotional.

It will be interesting to see how writing with her will affect your writing when you go back to writing on your own.

I think it already has. Anything that you stumble across while you're doing stuff is a great relief. When I go through all the little partial bits of songs that we've worked on and I play them for people, a lot of people think it's old music that I've just discovered, like some cool artist that no one knew. And I'll be like, "That's this thing that we're working on." And she'll listen to old Flaming Lips music and she'll sing another song to our song. She'll be like, "Can we make something like that?" Because we're the Flaming Lips, we have virtually everything we ever recorded. We have it, we're the producers, we're the keepers. We've done this in the past, where we've taken a drum track from a record we did five years ago and just used the drum track on a record we're doing today. There's endless stuff to pick from, and if she heard a song of ours and said, "I want to sing another song to that," I'd be like, "Of course, let's try it." 


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