By Hannah Leone
For 30 years, The Flaming Lips have brought psychedelic rock from Oklahoma to the masses. They have won three Grammy awards and a devoted following. But with lyrics such as “Always there, in our hearts, there is evil that wants out” and “However long they love you, we are all standing alone,” their new material is a little bit icier than fans are used to. Multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Steven Drozd, who joined the Lips 21 years ago, doesn’t think they’ve ever played the Capitol Hill Block Party before, and is “hoping it will be a wild fun time.” He talked to us about Seattle, solace and the Lips’ dark latest album, “The Terror.”
The Flaming Lips play Capitol Hill Block Party Sunday at 8:15 p.m. on the main stage.
Q: What is your favorite Seattle venue to play?
A: I used to love that place – it’s probably not even open anymore – is it called the Showbox?
Q: Oh yeah it’s absolutely still open. There are two of them now.
A: I used to love playing there. We did a boombox show there in 1997 and I think the tour played there in ‘99. We played the Paramount, but it feels kind of big, maybe a little too big for us to have really intense shows.
Q: How do you like Seattle?
A: I love it. It is one of my favorite cities.
Q: What is your favorite thing about it?
A: Well it used to be the drugs, but I’m not doing that anymore, so… um. There is good coffee, there is good food everywhere, when you are walking around in Seattle there is just a feeling like everyone has this sort of vibe that “We live in a pretty cool city and we are all pretty cool people here, so don’t [mess] with me,” and I like that, the vibe people kind of put out. I just felt like the rain, I like the weather, I like the way it feels there, I like walking to what’s it called – the market there, you know?
Q: Pike Place?
A: I like walking around there, and getting coffee, and it just feels good. I had a whole weird obsession with Nirvana too, so that’s always kind of fun.
Q: Did you ever meet any of Nirvana?
A: I met Krist Noveselic a couple of times after Kurt Cobain died, and then the Lips played a couple of shows with Nirvana when they were just starting out, before anyone really knew what was going on with them. But I never met them.
Q: Since you’ve been playing with the Lips, how have you seen the Seattle music scene change?
A: Like in ‘90-91, before I joined the Lips, I lived in Austin. I remember a bunch of friends of mine moving to Seattle and just being like “Man, that’s going to be, that place is going to explode, you know, that’s the place to go.” And I’m sure by ‘90, ‘91, it was already too late. But it was like Seattle was kind of saddled with this grunge thing for so many years that it took people 10 years to realize there was other stuff going on in Seattle besides that. But I think Seattle was always a couple years ahead of the rest of the country in a lot of ways. Cities like New York, and other hipster places, it seemed like Seattle was always a couple years ahead of the curve. Even when I go there now, it’s still like there is going to be something going on that I didn’t know about before.
Q: It does. So would you still define your sound as psychedelic rock?
A: I think under the umbrella of psychedelic rock you can put a lot of things, so that’s a good catch-all for all the stuff we’ve done. Psychedelic rock I think is a pretty good overall theme because it can be the stuff from the mid-90s that was more guitar, or it could be “The Terror” which is a lot less guitar and more funky stuff.
Q: “The Terror” is such a different, darker sound from your more upbeat earlier albums. Did that become a conscious decision at some point?
A: At some point it was, yeah. At the very beginning, we were just kind of messing around, with no agenda, making a new record. Usually when you’re working on something, you already kind of know what it’s going to be for. When we first started on this stuff, there wasn’t an agenda. It was just making music just to mess around in the studio, which can be a great thing. You don’t really have to worry about what it’s going to become. But then after a couple of songs of being in that stylistic arena, we decided we were going to make a whole record like that and that was sort of the conscious decision.
Q: How long did it take to put the album together?
A: We did the whole thing in a couple of months, which for us is very fast. We didn’t really do a lot of second-guessing – we just did the songs and that was it. There was not a lot of agonizing over it, and I think that is one of the reasons I like it so much. We didn’t nitpick over it – we’d find a cool sound, record it and make a song out of it, you know? And it just poured out of us really easily.
Q: What inspired the lyrics of “You Are Alone?”
A: You know, sometimes I will just do these melodies and I will sing whatever melody into the microphone and record it. And sometimes there are lyrics that shape with the melody, you know? And Wayne wrote the lyrics for “You Are Alone” as well. I think he is just trying to express whatever he heard in that song that sounds so desperate. He was just trying to express that, but in a cool poetic way, and I think he wrote his lyrics from the point of view of someone who knows they are completely wrong, they are absolutely in the wrong, and they don’t want to be forgiven, they just want to… I don’t know, they just want to exist. I can’t really describe it; it’s hard to sum up his lyrics sometimes. It’s a desperate cry type of thing, what he’s trying to get at.
Q: In the lyrics, it goes back and forth saying, “You are alone, you are not alone.” Is there a story behind that?
A: That was me, actually. I came up with those lines when I was working on the original demo. The only thing I could say is I didn’t have any lyrics in front of me, I’m just making stuff up as I go along, and that just came out. I like the idea that there are these two voices inside your head and one of them is like “I don’t know,” you know, “I’m not alone.” And there is this other voice that is like “Yes, you are alone.” I like the idea that there are sort of two voices in my head and one of them is telling me “You’re going to be fine. Everything is great, people love you.” And the other voice is like “You are going to die lonely and miserable, and you are alone and they’ll forget you.” I guess thinking about it, that was sort of what I was thinking at the time. And I guess Wayne heard that and really liked it, so he wrote the rest of the lyrics from that.
Q: Will you be playing many songs from “The Terror” at Block Party?
A: We’ll probably play like five songs off the new record and we’ll be doing select older things that kind of go with our new show.
Q: I read you were going through a relapse while making “The Terror.” How did that affect your contributions to the album?
A: That was at the very beginning, and then for the rest of the record I was really in a different space and actually quite happy but that part of it, the very beginning, definitely I think shaped how simple the music was. It was really based on this emotional outpour – instead of thinking about the chords you’re going to play, you’re just kind of yelping in the dark. It definitely affected it. At the very beginning it definitely had a hand in “You Are Alone,” that song kind of came out of the end of that episode for me.
Q: What do you want people to feel when they listen to the album?
A: Well when we finished it and first were done with it, it seemed to me like this sort of really heavy thing. Then I listened to it a couple weeks ago, and it didn’t strike me as so one-sided and dark and heavy, it seemed there was some sort of hope. So I hope people will perceive it as we were trying to do something different, and I guess the other thing is that for every voice that says that you are alone in your head, there is another one that says you are not alone, and you just have to figure out how to navigate your way through that. I hope people hear the different layers of emotion and sound going on on the record instead of sort of dismissing it saying “Oh, it’s just bunch of noise, they didn’t play any chords.”
Q: In the future, do you plan to stick with the darker sound or do you think you’ll go back to your more upbeat music?
A: I think we’ll do both, really. You never do something and then just completely forget about it. We are always kind of dragging the old with us. So I could see our next record being somewhere in between.
Hannah Leone: 206-464-2299 or firstname.lastname@example.org.