It seems appropriate that on the weekend Game of Thrones starts to wrap, the Flaming Lips unveil King’s Mouth: Music and Songs — whose “All For the Life of the City” is premiering exclusively below.
The Oklahoma art rock band’s latest set — limited to 4,000 gold vinyl copies for Record Store Day before a wide release during July — has its own epic tale. ‘King’s Mouth’ is the title of an art installation the Lips launched during 2015 at The Womb, the group’s headquarters in Oklahoma City. It’s morphed and grown into a large-scale head that visitors can open via a foam mouth, then experience a seven-minute LED light and visual show, and it’s since been shown at museums in Baltimore, Portland and Santa Fe.
The trio, of course, included music in the presentation, and frontman Wayne Coyne tells Billboard it was inevitable that it would grow to become a concept album — in this case, about a benevolent despot whose tragic death, while trying to save his subjects from a snow avalanche, was widely mourned and his head removed and preserved as a testament to their regard for him. “We started out with a half-hour’s worth of abstract musical, dynamic stuff, and that ended up being 10 minutes by the time we got to the first museum opening in Baltimore. Then everywhere we’d go people would think, ‘This is going to be an album…’ We didn’t plan it that way, but I think it became more and more apparent that it could be a record.”
King’s Mouth had to wait for a minute, however, as the Lips were busy working as Miley Cyrus’ Dead Petz, on its own Oczy Mlody album and some archival projects. But it stayed on Coyne and bandmates Michael Ivins and Steven Drozd’s radar, finally coming to fruition with an unexpected twist — narration from Mick Jones of the Clash and Big Audio Dynamite.
“That was just serendipitous, dumb luck,” says Coyne, noting that the connection to Jones came through a neighbor of Big Audio Dynamite co-founder Don Letts, who served as “an ambassador” to recruit Jones’ participation. “It was a weird coincidence, because we were listening to a lot of Clash music, and one of the songs has some narration in it,” Coyne recalls. “We were already planning to have a narrator for (King’s Mouth) because it felt a little bit like a storybook, and I felt like this eccentric British guy would be the right kind of character for the role. So we mailed (Jones) the text and everything — songs we hadn’t even written yet, just some outlines — and we didn’t really know what was going to happen, then about a month later it all came back, already recorded, and it was perfect.”
“All For the Life of the City,” a mid-album song about the king’s sacrifice in stopping the avalanche, was “probably the first track we wanted to turn into part of the King’s Mouth story,” according to Coyne. ”This is the center of the story, the middle of the record where he’s celebrated, then he gets buried by the snow. At the very beginning it was a more sinister-sounding track; We still struggle with making it more fun.”
There are currently two King’s Mouth installations, one in Oklahoma City and the other headed to the Rough Trade NYC record store in New York, where Coyne plans to be for Record Store Day. No King’s Mouth concert tour is planned at the moment, though Coyne anticipates putting some of its songs into the Lips’ future live sets.
“Playing brand new songs that nobody knows, we don’t do that very often,” Coyne says. “Once the records out for a little while we’ll say, ‘Hey, maybe you’ll know this song…’ and play it. Even myself, I’ve never liked it that much when artists concentrate too much on the brand new thing. The last time I saw Paul McCartney — and I’m not begrudging him, I think it’s wonderful he makes new music — but I could tell that’s when everybody goes to get the second hot dog of the night. So we may take a minute before we start to put too many of the (King’s Mouth) stuff into the show.”