“It’s outrageous,” Lips frontman Wayne Coyne, who of course knows a thing or two about outrageous, tells Billboard. “I wasn’t looking for another group to be in; being in the Flaming Lips is plenty of stuff to do. But it’s a great fit. I think the music and the way that she is, it’s been such a natural thing. I think she’s so much into the way that we do things, and I”m so much into the way she does things. We discover all the time how much coincidence there is about how we feel the same way about things.”
That, of course, has translated into spectacle-laden shows that have blended Cyrus’ penchant for dress-up with the Lips’ love of confetti and glitter and both of their affection for characters to fill the stage, furry and otherwise. “I think a lot of the stuff is Flaming Lips stuff,” says Coyne. “If we went back two or three years, you could sort of see the influence of the Flaming Lips on Miley Cyrus and then the influence of Miley Cyrus on the Flaming Lips. I think we’ve met now at the height of both of those. If we had gone on separate tours right now, people would think that our show looks like a Miley Cyrus show and a Miley Cyrus show look like a Flaming Lips show, we’ve had such an influence on each other.”
The Cyrus-Lips collaboration dates back to the Lips’ 2014 reimagining of the Beatles‘ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, for which Cyrus sang “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.” They began working on more material in both Los Angeles and in Coyne’s Oklahoma studio, resulting in the Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz album that was surprise-released after she hosted the MTV Video Music Awards in August. “She really is awesome, and it really is about music and friendship,” Coyne says. “It does seem weird, but we’ve been in the weird category for a little while now, so…why not, y’know?” Steven Drozd, Coyne’s Flaming Lips mate and fellow Dead Petz member, concurs, acknowledging that, “I was surprised at first, but now I’m pretty into it. She’s fun to be in the studio with. She’s easygoing, mellow, tries really hard. She’s funny. I think people would be really surprised if they could spend five minutes with her and see how much fun it is.”
Cyrus and company resume the tour on Dec. 5 in Philadelphia and wraps two weeks later in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, there’s more music where the Dead Petz album came from, and more has been recorded since, according to Coyne. But there are no concrete future plans yet.
“We’re getting through these shows and as we do them sort of see a way of doing shows in the future,” Coyne says. “The idea of going out on a tour that’s another year and a half long wasn’t appealing to her. It wasn’t appealing to us either. We haven’t stopped making songs as we go, so I just think we’ll always do stuff together, not just us being her group but being part of the music we each making. We talk to each other literally every day, just as people that love each other and people that are involved in each other’s stuff. It just goes on and on.”
Drozd adds that, “It’s not like we were trying to write pop songs for Miley Cyrus. We write the songs we like and if she can sing them, it works. It’s just about what she wants the next phase of her career to be. It’s just another crazy thing Flaming Lips can have to talk about.”
Cyrus isn’t the only thing on the Lips’ plate, however. The group has just released Heady Nuggs: 20 Years After Clouds Taste Metallic 1994-1997, a three-disc celebration of its classic seventh album in a three-disc package with rarities and a live show from 1996. “That was like the great, freaky rock era of the Flaming Lips, like punk rock meets prog rock, dynamic, fucking loud group — and that’s an era that never came back, mostly because we didn’t have guitarist Ronald Jones after that,” Coyne says. “After Clouds Taste Metallic we moved into more of the computerized world, which has become the way everybody makes records — which we were glad to do. I don’t think we would’ve been able to make a record like The Soft Bulletin if we had to do it the same way we did Cloud Taste Metallic. It was a real shift for us, so (Heady Nuggs) really has that last blast of an era of the band that a lot of people love — and we do, too.”