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Flaming Lips Take a Bleak Turn on 'The Terror'

George Salisbury
Flaming Lips

Wayne Coyne's band of "weird dudes" turns 30; frontman tells Billboard the next tour will reflect the new album's "different mood"

The fact that 2013 marks the Flaming Lips' 30th anniversary is not lost on Wayne Coyne. Speaking from his home in Oklahoma City, the city where the psych-rock collective formed in 1983, the band's lead singer/songwriter/guitarist is reflecting on what's perhaps been the most prolific 12-month period in the illustrious career he's shared with founding members Steven Drozd, Michael Ivins and many others.

"We think about it all the time: 'Why are we still together?'" Coyne says as he pulls into his driveway. "It's become sort of a testament to my personality and my sense of family. The longer we're together, the more I see the way our road crew sees it -- as a crazy sort of family. Because in the beginning you're just making music with some weird dudes."

Those "weird dudes" are prepping their 13th studio album, "The Terror" (Warner Bros.), for release April 2, which in traditional terms is the group's first proper album since 2009's "Embryonic." But anyone who's followed the Lips' itinerary in the period since that album knows that the band's output has been anything but traditional.

The past three years have seen the group releasing albums made of candy (2011's "Gummy Skull") and celebrity blood (limited-edition vinyl pressings of 2012's "The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends" reportedly incorporated blood samples from Chris Martin, Ke$ha and others), producing a musical inspired by 2002's Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and prepping two documentaries, "A Year in the Life of Wayne's Phone," filmed entirely on Coyne's iPhone, and an as-yet-untitled MTV chronicle of the group's record-breaking trek across the Mississippi Delta, in which the act played eight gigs in eight cities in 24 hours. And just this past January, the Lips starred in the very first commercial to air during the Super Bowl, for Hyundai's Santa Fe crossover SUV, performing an original song called "The Sun Blows Up Today."

Although the bouncy, jangly track and the ad capture a sunny vibe similar to past unlikely Lips hits like "The W.A.N.D.," the Hyundai campaign is very much an unofficial start to the proper promotional campaign for "The Terror," an album Coyne has described as a "bleak, disturbing record" in promotional materials. Spanning 54 minutes across just nine tracks, The Terror is a cinematic, immersive listen from opening track "Look... The Sun Is Rising" onward, rarely even approaching the tempo or lightness of "The Sun Blows Up Today," which was nevertheless included as an iTunes bonus track to connect the buzz from the Hyundai campaign with the new album.

"It sort of flips the single, album, tour model on its head a little bit," Kerri Borsuk, marketing director for the Lips at Warner Bros. Records, says of the album's promotional strategy. Rather than focus on working one single at radio, the label kicked off its push by getting "The Terror" in front of the same retail partners that helped the Lips sell out the entire 10,000-copy run of "Heady Fwends" during last year's Record Store Day. At the Coalition of Independent Music Stores convention in Las Vegas last fall, Coyne played the album for more than 60 indie retailers-at an obnoxiously loud volume that ticked off the management of the Hard Rock Hotel, which hosted the event. "I'm not going to call Wayne a god, but it's like the gods, their hero, came to their party," Borsuk recalls.

Up next is a stop at South by Southwest to debut material from "The Terror" live, a set that will ultimately determine the direction of the Lips' next proper tour later this year.

"We're deciding what to do with 'The Terror' because it's something of a different mood," Coyne says. "When I see videos of Flaming Lips shows, it's a catastrophe of excitement -- it's light and confetti in your face. So we're going to take a left turn and not do shows like that for a little while. It can be something else -- some new version that we can yet again incorporate into this ever-moving thing that's part of our 30-year path."