JUNE/JULY 2006

Ben Gibbard

[DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE]

talks with

Wayne Coyne

[THE FLAMING LIPS]

“THIS IDEA THAT THE MAJOR LABELS ARE OBVIOUSLY THE ENEMY OF INDIE MUSIC—WELL, WHOEVER STILL BELIEVES THAT IS OBVIOUSLY TRIPPING ANYWAY.”
Is it worth it to pay:
Two dollars for bottled water?
Six dollars for a bag of popcorn?
Three hundred dollars to see the Rolling Stones?

Ben Gibbard fronts Death Cab for Cutie, a band from the Pacific Northwest whose moody, rigorously introspective music rose up in the patch of scorched earth left by ’90s alt-rock behemoths Nirvana and Pavement, coming into play as a sort of post-millennial soundtrack for young people. After releasing several successful records on indie label Barsuk, they made the decision to enter the major label arena in 2005, releasing the wildly successful Plans on Atlantic Records. Gibbard also shares songwriting duties with laptop innovator Jimmy Tamborello in the Postal Service.

Wayne Coyne has been, for the past quarter-century, the central creative force behind the Flaming Lips. Their most recent album, At War with the Mystics, finds them at war with contemporary popular music, as they retool and reverse-engineer the form with an invigorating recklessness. The Lips’ determination to make music as vast and cataclysmic as a Venusian storm front will not surprise auditors of albums such as In a Priest-Driven Ambulance, Clouds Taste Metallic, or The Soft Bulletin, but the crazed vocal harmonies and startling atmospheric flourishes of At War with the Mystics remind us that we haven’t yet mined a fraction of what’s possible in rock.

The following conversation occurred by phone; Coyne sat in a hotel room in San Francisco, having just taken part in the Noise Pop festival. Gibbard had just arrived in Austin as part of a tour of the Southwest.

*

BEN GIBBARD: I feel bad for any group that has to go on after the Flaming Lips because I don’t think that there is any band that can compare with the experience that you give the people in the audience. I just can’t believe that you guys can pull that off—that any human being can pull that off. I remember the first time that we ever played with you guys at this festival in Spain, maybe four or five years ago. I remember watching you guys and being like, wow; it was as if this guy Wayne Coyne came off a spaceship and landed onstage, played the show, and then was beamed back up. We were watching your DVD, The Fearless Freaks, in the tour bus, and we were all talking about how we’d always wondered things like, “I can’t imagine Wayne Coyne mowing his lawn, or doing his nails,” and you put it all out there in the film. I was really impressed with the amount of access that you were giving Lips fans to your personal life. I mean, you go so far as showing the cross streets where you live.

WAYNE COYNE: Maybe we’ll live to regret that, but, you know, most of the people in Oklahoma City who would be watching that movie already know where I live. It isn’t one of those cities where there are a lot of people coming through. I’ve thought occasionally about some kid driving from Chicago to Los Angeles feeling compelled to stop by—but, you know, I’ve done that same thing. I remember we were on tour and we were going to be driving through the town where Dr. Seuss lived, and I thought, “We should drive by his house!” I thought, “Maybe he’s going to be out there mowing the lawn or something.” Me and one of my older brothers, we were going to drive up to New York to see if we could spot John Lennon walking around Central Park—just a couple of months before he got shot. So I can see where people—and I don’t look at myself as being some fanatical weird fan—I just think it’s interesting to see, “There’s their house, and that’s what kind of car they drive, and look, they got some trash over there on the side of the house that they haven’t picked up.” Anything that gives you a bit more insight into what they’re really like.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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