The Flaming Lips’ latest comes embedded in a gummy skull. How does that happen? [Updated]
Over the last three decades, Oklahoma City rock band the Flaming Lips has not only created a vast body of work that includes classic albums such as “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” and “The Soft Bulletin,” but it has pushed at the edges of the concert experience through a number of wildly imaginative pieces.
Masterminds Wayne Coyne and Michael Ivins have performed boombox symphonies in which the audience becomes members of the orchestra and “plays” cassette stereos while the band conducts; they’ve done shows in which ancillary musical arrangements were broadcast via FM transmitter to the audience members’ headphones. Their four-CD release Zaireeka requires that all the discs be played simultaneously. And on Tuesday and Wednesday, the band performs at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where it will take over the Hollywood burial grounds for two nights of concerts and multiple performance pieces.
The Flaming Lips latest release is perhaps its most unique yet: a gummy skull featuring new music embedded on a miniature drive entombed in the center. Fans wanting to hear the music will have to eat their way to it. Recently, Coyne explained the genesis of the idea on the phone from Oklahoma City.
The genesis of the skull: Every other month we're doing a big, elaborate 12-inch vinyl release, and then in between, every other month is going to be this other Flaming Lips object. The only one we've done so far is the gummy skull.
Search for the sculptor: In the beginning, the possibilities are endless, but then, little by little, you stumble across these ideas and you hope that they could work. Luckily, we ran into this guy while searching for bubble gum manufacturers. In the beginning we were going to make the skull out of bubble gum — a skull that you chewed into to get the USB [drive] out. But we couldn't find a bubble gum place to do it.
Fate intervenes: The bubble gum people were like, 'Man, our machines just don't do that. We can't make our machines turn it into a skull.’ And looking for a bubble gum place, [we] stumbled upon this place that does giant gummy stuff. They were doing giant gummy bears, and worms, and they actually had a brain. It wasn't a very good-looking brain, but they had one.
A promising collaborator: We called him up and said, 'Hey, would you want to do this?' We told him we’re the group the Flaming Lips, and that changed everything. He was like, 'I love you guys. I'd love to be involved doing something absurd with you.’ That changes everything — when you find someone who already is doing something, and they want to inject this fantastical thing into it.
Perfecting gummy technology: Really, within a couple days of speaking to him, we had a prototype already made, because he had the factory there, and we sent them a mold that we made in my own shop right here. We knew that it would work. He messed around with it to get the brain in there, to find a way to put the USB in there without it cooking too hot — a lot of technical things you've gotta sort out.
The completed package: We designed the boxes — they're made here just about a mile away from my house — went up to the printing place to design the boxes, and we picked the cardboard. Everything about these things is made as if I'm doing a painting or something just here in my house. But they're these strange limited-edition objects that also hold this brand new music that we're kind of making at the same time as we're making these objects.
-- Randall Roberts
Updated, 7:45 a.m. June 14: The original version of this post misspelled the Flaming Lips' bassist's name. It is Michael Ivins, not Michael Ivans.
Photo credit: J. Michelle Martin-Coyne / WBR/MCT