As the '90s went along‚ we were lucky to have someone like Steven [Drozd] in the band‚ and then Ronald Jones who was in the band for a while - these really superior‚ imaginative musicians who came into this basically amateur punk-rock aesthetic to music‚ fueled with crazy imagination. We simply got lucky that we were able to keep all that together‚ keep control of it‚ keep making our own records‚ and then lucky enough to be embraced by an audience that gave us this wonderful life. I try to remind the Flaming Lips audience that they've given me this life. Everything that I have‚ everything that I've done‚ has been because they believed in me. It really does give us a sense not just of obligation‚ but just like‚ this is a great moment to have all this going on. So we never take it lightly that we can spend a couple years to make a record‚ we can spend five years making a movie‚ and we can do these elaborate shows. It's all because the Flaming Lips audience has given it to us‚ has allowed us to do it.
Let's talk about the first song to be released from the album‚ which is "Mr. Ambulance Driver." It definitely tackles one of your oft-used issues‚ of life and trying to cheat death and trying to deal in many ways with what comes after death. It kind of reminds me a lot of "Race for the Prize‚" where in trying to fight all this so much‚ you forget how to live.
Well‚ see‚ that right there is why I like talking to people so much‚ because you've given me some insight into the song that I hadn't really thought of that much. The thing that you just said‚ that was great. Where you think about staving off death so much that you forget to live in the moment‚ and it breaks what you have right now.
When we initially did this song‚ we based the idea of the song and some of the rhythms and the timing around an actual ambulance siren. The sense I was getting from the song had to do with the atmosphere of that siren going into the song. And I'm always reminded of some of these horrible car accidents you see when you're ten years old or something and the idea of the guy lying in the road and his wife is dying and he's waiting on the ambulance to come. Especially if you travel around a lot‚ you see a lot of horrible things out there‚ and you always try to have some sympathy or some empathy with the people who are experiencing these things. I don't know if it's a metaphor‚ but there's something in that line where he knows… I think the story is he's there with his gal and she's obviously dying. He's called the ambulance and they're coming‚ but he fears that it's going to be too late because she's already dead and he wants the people who are coming to save her‚ to give him some comfort on this idea. Is he responsible for her death? And him being alive‚ now what's his life worth if he survives and she's dead? And all these sorts of things.
I know a lot of it plays into the time when my mother died just at the end of July a year ago‚ and she had been sick for eight or nine months. It was pretty serious the whole time‚ and it was always a life and death struggle. Not a hopeless struggle‚ but enough that your life is focused on this. I remember thinking of that song and thinking of this scenario‚ feeling like my mother was going to die and I was going to survive and how that was going to transform the way I thought or how it was going to transform our family and the people who survive around us. All the great mysteries‚ the big existential dramas‚ play out so well within music‚ and you really feel like you're in some movie or something when you put your internal life in songs like that. I'm just lucky that we really do get to say what's on our minds‚ and‚ if we're lucky‚ it moves other people at the same time.
It's beautiful and very powerful. I think one of the most powerful lines is when he says if he could switch places‚ he would.
Well‚ right. This idea that I can't know what your experiences are‚ and you can't know mine‚ but if we tell each other about them and we reveal things about each other to ourselves‚ we can see how a lot of our lives are so much the same. So many times people want to point out the things that are different. You know‚ like‚ I don't agree with you on this; I hate you because of this. But on some real basic level‚ we're all going through this shit together. We may as well see what each other thinks. So I try to be as honest and as revealing and as truthful about those things as I can‚ especially in music because music gives you this great‚ epic presentation. I can tell you about almost any insignificant thing in my life‚ and with the right music and the right momentum it sounds like we're speaking about something from the Bible. It's fucking awesome.
Sure. One of the things I've read is that Queen has become a profound influence on you guys. You recently recorded "Bohemian Rhapsody‚" and I read that you said it really has carried over into the album.
When I was growing up‚ to hear a song like that… You have to think‚ it's like the summer of 1975‚ so I'm 14 years old or something. It is an absurd thought. People talk about weird music. That is one of the weirdest pieces of music you could ever concoct‚ really. But at the same time‚ it's one of the most popular pieces of music ever recorded. Everywhere in the world everyone bought "Bohemian Rhapsody‚" and still do to this day. So it does show the power - you don't have to be a populist band to be popular. At the same time‚ I think people - musicians and anybody who does any sort of recording - have always looked at "Bohemian Rhapsody" as being one of these holy grails of achievement. Because not only is it musical talent and skill and imagination‚ but it's also production value of tape manipulation and overdubbing and tape speed and all these sorts of things that really are kind of an ambitious leap of creation.
So‚ we had shied away from doing "Bohemian Rhapsody" when they initially asked us about this Queen tribute‚ just because we knew what a behemoth of a production it is. It's hard enough to sing and play those things; it's deadly hard to recreate them and figure out how they did them. Luckily‚ we'd been working on this for a couple years on and off‚ and some of the things we had done previous to recording "Bohemian Rhapsody" were not that unlike the things they would do with their vocal harmonies and these swirls and these backward cymbal things and all these things that we kind of accidentally had become curious about anyway. We took on "Bohemian Rhapsody" and started thinking‚ well‚ it seems as though if anybody could do it these days‚ we should be able to do it. And certainly we have the musical skill. We have the production skill. Now‚ just can we do it? And I think we found some of it to be a little bit of a relief because we don't have to think about what we're going to play. The way Queen had to approach it‚ they had to create it from the molecules up‚ where we're just sort of copying what they did and figuring out how they layered these things in there and what they played underneath it and stuff. And that's a lot of fun. To be a musician and get to really study and dissect someone else's recording is cool.
We figured it would take us four or five days‚ doing about twelve hours a day of tracking and playing and replaying and overdubbing and stuff. But while we were doing it‚ this horrible snowstorm happened at the beginning of April up there in Fredonia‚ New York‚ which is the lake-effect snow off of Lake Erie. So the studio was actually shut down for a couple days right in the middle of the recording. Dave had enough computers and everything going up there to help NASA get the space shuttle off the ground if he needed to. So when the power starts going on and off‚ he has a battery system that allows us about 20 minutes to save everything that we did‚ shut some things off so it doesn't all disappear into the ether world of computerland There was a time when the power was coming on and off and so we set up a mini version of what the recording studio had just started to record - Steven doing a pedal steel guitar version of the guitar solo that Brian May had done. He had done a million overdubs of this damn thing in this intermittent time when we weren't sure if the power was going to stay on or not. And again‚ we do some of these things to just amuse ourselves‚ just see how far you can go with some of this stuff and still have it be entertaining. It's just another absurd element that we add into what was already an over-the-top‚ exaggerated‚ absurd song.
Right‚ sure. One of the other interesting things I've seen is you guys always tackle religion and the big life issues. You've also recently become more political. You've been covering "War Pigs" since the fall‚ and I've read where the song "The Wand" on the new album kind of has political undertones. Can you discuss that tune and how politics fits into the Lips philosophy?
It does. It would be hard for anybody to make music or to make art these days and not feel like you have to. You should see the stuff that's going on. And when we play to an audience like we did a couple weeks ago at the All Good Festival or something‚ you see the audience is these young guys and gals. And you say‚ fuck‚ if this thing keeps going‚ sooner or later they're going to have to have a draft or something. And it isn't just going to be just these unfortunate guys who signed up for some sort of weekend duty going over to Iraq and getting killed. And I see how many of them are getting killed and how little impact it seems to have over here. And I'm not blaming us for it. I mean‚ you do at some point have to get on with your life as it's happening to you. And I don't know how we're going to convince the people who vote and have all the money out there that this should stop. I hope sooner or later that this whole momentum of George Bush's vision just runs out of steam simply because he can't be reelected and someone's going to have to get in there and say something different. And I hope before too long that someone says let's fucking bring these people home and rethink this whole thing. And instead of it just being like‚ let's bring them home to humiliate the Republican party‚ I say let's just bring them home and say‚ George‚ look‚ it didn't work and we're sorry. If we keep playing it back and forth like it's Democrats versus Republicans‚ all I see is a bunch of young kids getting killed in the middle.
And so I try to remind the audience. I know that this is the audience that is probably still in shock that George Bush is even in the office at all‚ but we can't just turn our backs and say that it's George Bush's problem. This past weekend a friend of ours who works down in Norman‚ Oklahoma‚ one of the guys she works with‚ his son was killed. Twenty-five years old. Just last week. It's going on and on. We have to remind ourselves that we have power within ourselves to do whatever we feel like we need to do. We don't have to wait for the right guy to be elected before we can do these things. It sort of felt like the same thing that happened in 1968 when Robert Kennedy was killed‚ how a lot of activists and a lot of‚ for lack of a better word‚ hippies at the time that were so involved in the anti-war and anti-racial stuff just sort of gave up. They said our guy got killed‚ so fuck it. It's not our problem. I feel like the same sort of thing happened last November when Bush got elected; everybody said fuck it. He's not my guy‚ so what happens isn't my problem. These are always going to be our problems because these are always going to be our friends and perhaps ourselves who are getting the bullets in the head. So we have to remember that we have the power. We give them too much power when we say they're in charge. We're the one in charge and you have to take that as a big responsibility and a big luxury at the same time.