Rock

The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne Calls Tony Nomination for 'SpongeBob Squarepants' Musical 'So Cool'

Wayne Coyne
Erika Goldring/WireImage

Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips performs during Okeechobee Festival at Sunshine Grove on March 3, 2018 in Okeechobee, Fla.

If you'd have told 19-year-old Wayne Coyne that someday his band would be nominated for a Tony Award for writing a sunshiny ballad that appears in the Broadway adaptation of a popular Nickelodeon cartoon about the underwater adventures of a plucky talking sponge, he probably would have been like, "Whatever, man." But there Coyne was on Tuesday morning (May 1), waking up at home in Oklahoma to the news that the Flaming Lips' contribution to SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical, "Tomorrow Is," had landed the long-running rock band their first Tony nom.

"It would have been weird then, but it doesn’t seem that strange necessarily today," Coyne tells Billboard about his feelings upon learning that the prestigious nod could put his group halfway to an EGOT. "The first time you get nominated for a Grammy it's a shock, but a pleasant shock. If all this would have happened in the first couple years when we were a young group, we would have had a reaction like, 'We’re cooler than that. We’re more punk rock.' But after being a band for a long time, it's different and we can think about what it means, and even today getting all these texts early in the morning I was thinking, 'Man, this is so cool.' You don't ever really get used to that."

?The Lips were nominated in the best original score category for the lyrics and music they wrote for the show alongside an impressive roster of other contributors that includes Yolanda Adams, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Alex Ebert of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Plain White T's, They Might Be Giants, T.I., John Legend, Cyndi Lauper and Rob Hyman, Lady Antebellum and others.

"It's hard for me to take credit for it, because it's been such an insane production and the stuff they did with the music... we provided them with layers of demos and lyrical ideas over time, but the story kept evolving," Coyne says of the years-long collaboration that resulted in the inspiring song with lyrics such as, "We only have tomorrow/ To try to save the day/ The world will end tomorrow/ SpongeBob we have to find a way." Coyne has enjoyed watching how the show has evolved since it first opened in Chicago two years ago. 

"There were all these texts back and forth where they would give me a scenario -- like in the beginning when SpongeBob and Patrick talked to a fortune teller on Bikini Bottom who tells them that the world will end tomorrow, which sets everything in motion -- and that gave us this idea about how if the world is ending tomorrow we should make the most of today," he says; the fortune teller got cut, but the Lips' song remained.

That scenario immediately felt like a fit for a band whose psychedelic rock has often pondered life and death in the same breath. "I think the Flaming Lips were the perfect people to make this an optimistic song," says Coyne. "That's the greatest compliment you can have." Without knowing the final plot, the Lips crafted their tune and by sheer "dumb luck" their demo ended up working perfectly with the story about a volcano eruption that threatens to wipe out Bikini Bottom. 

Coyne was excited that such friends as Ebert were nominated alongside him, as well as Legend, whose "(I Guess) I Miss You" is one of the singer's favorite set pieces from the show, which he recalled watching for the first time on Broadway in the most Coyne-y scenario possible. "I was sitting there and you have a list of songs and I would look at the program and didn't know when ours came up and then I was like, 'Cool,' because I honestly forgot about our song and as it was rolling out my girlfriend said, 'Here comes your song.' In my head I'm like, 'I like this one, I wish we'd written it, it's cool!'"

The idea that a track the Lips wrote for the smash Broadway hit is connecting with audiences young and old is like sunshine for Coyne's soul. "I don't think that a younger audience thinks of something like SpongeBob being on Broadway is so absurd," he says. "Even though you and I might think it's fucking weird. I certainly hope we win, it certainly deserves it." If nothing else, Coyne can appreciate the insane amount of work that goes into a Broadway show, what with the singing, the dancing, the acting, the playing a lobster and all the million other factors that have to come together.

When it's suggested that most of that sounds sort of like the multimedia concerts the Lips have been putting on for years, complete with characters in costume dancing along to elaborate light shows, Coyne admits that's no accident. "I think some of them told me they would be at Flaming Lips shows and they'd get some of these ideas," he says. "I think that’s great."

Listen to the cast recording of "Tomorrow Is" below. The Tonys will air live June 10 on CBS.