Known for their epic and surrealistic sound, The Flaming Lips are a monolith in modern American music looming over all the homogenized and synthetic crap which dominates popular music and culture. Through the span of their existence, they have evolved into a
virtuous and tactful rock band with no limits creating, in their music, cartoonish and abstract realms out of war, religion, politics, madness–all that occupies the habit of humanity.
They’ve produced whole works that are genius and have been nominated and even received a grammy for their efforts. In the music and performance of The Flaming Lips there is a modest thirst to entertain, explore, experiment, and discover. If you’ve seen a live show you may have left inspired and energized, and with rainbow confetti and glitter in your hair. But now, the rainbow confetti has turned black. The Flaming Lips’ The Terror has unleashed a dark side to the band that we always knew was there but were afraid to question. Even in the band’s previous darker musical moments, there has always been a wave of inspiration.
On their latest, they carry us on a journey away from the storybook ending and into lucid state of “darkness,”
“for lack of a better word,” says musical arranger and multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd via phone. Drozd created an anxious cocoon-like soundscape on The Terror, supporting the tension and dimension of Coyne’s doomed yet hopeful lyrics. He accesses an array of vintage synths and keyboards to create lo-fi, mournful, and terrifying science fiction-like, haunting sounds.
The Terror is at large. It exists everywhere. Even inside us.
And now … my turntable. As I said, I spoke with Steven Drozd of the Lips about The Terror and the general mood and experience making their 13th studio album. It turns out despite the album’s suggested “dark” tone, there’s actually more aspiration to it than there is despair.
Music reviews coined The Terror as a “dark” album, but I hear some kind of hope embedded in there beneath its ominous surface. In the concept there’s a duality between hope and despair.
Yeah, a lot of our records have that, for lack of a better word–sadness or something on the surface. At first the record seemed kind of dark, along with all the things people had attached to it.
I listened to it a few weeks ago for the first time in a long time and it didn’t strike me that way–the way it did when we were working on it. There is a sort of hope to it.
From what I read initially about the album, it sounded like you guys were prescribed Zoloft during the making of it.
Ha. Yeah that’s the other funny thing about the record is that everyone thought we were mired in depression working on the album, but we had a lot of fun.
On the surface, yeah it’s really dark sounding, but yeah, you know, like you said there’s always a duality for sure.
I can’t give you an answer and say, yeah we wanted to explore the darker side of our psyche. Wayne might have a different take on that.
In regards to your taste in synths and your writing, your work on The Terror sounds very reminiscent to early synth pioneer Delia Derbyshire of BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop. You must be familiar with her work. She played the Doctor Who theme in the late ’60s-early ’70s.
Of course. Yeah! A few years ago we were watching an old BBC documentary of her about the sounds she came up with–her sound collages and what she was pioneering. Yeah, man we listened to her a lot. You’re definitely hearing what we were hearing.
It’s evident on The Terror.
Early synthesizers have their own inherent quirky quality. The Wasp, one of the keyboards we used, has this mournful sound, almost like you are in Moscow in the 1970s. (laughs) Yeah, I think we did want to immerse ourselves in whatever that is. After making so many records, I just got to the point where I didn’t want to sit down at the piano and come up with chord progressions. We were just kind of sick of that.
But then we turn on this old keyboard and all this magic began to happen.
Was recording Zaireeka magic?
Well, to create that album was to create something out of a world that fell apart for us. You know when Ronald Jones left the band in 1996. We had to rethink what we were going to do anyway.
Do you ever look back at an album and feel that you didn’t complete it or maybe it seems like more could have been done with it?
Yeah, some things I hear years later I think, “Yeah, I don’t know if we really pulled that off.” On The Terror, we weren’t sure what we wanted to do–but to do something–you know, nothing usually turns into something. (laughs)
Right now, it’s one of my favorite Lips albums for sure.