“We’ve never really been part of a scene,” said Michael Ivins, bassist and co-founder of The Flaming Lips. “We’ve sort of, in a lot of ways, always charted our own course.” Tonight Ivins and his bandmates, vocalist/guitarist Wayne Coyne and drummer Steven Drodz, will be performing with Beck in the Motor City’s unlikliest of rock venues – the Detroit Opera House.
The Flaming Lips – who have spent much of their career in the obscurity of a homogenized music industry – formed in 1983, in the unlikely confines of Oklahoma City. The eccentric musicians began their experimental musical career when frontman Coyne supposedly stole musical instruments from a local church. “When we were making our first few albums it would be like, ‘Check this band out, The Birthday Party. That’s some weird shit, why don’t we try and do something like that,'” added Ivins.
Since their humble beginnings, The Lips have released 10 studio albums, ranging in sonic tones from the drug-induced-psychedelia of 1987’s Oh My Gawd!!! to the pop-perfect bliss of 1999’s The Soft Bulletin. Ivins explains, “Not to sound too pretentious, we’ve sort of moved into a realm where, in a way, we’re just trying to make Flaming Lips music.”
Their most recent album, 2002’s aptly-titled Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, received mass critical praise for its kitsch, catchiness and originality. The Lips have certainly earned more notice from critics than from the public over the years. Sans their improbable Top 40-hit “She Don’t Use Jelly” (from the brilliant album Transmissions from the Satellite Heart) the group has been virtually ignored by mainstream audiophiles.
The Flaming Lips are hoping to spread their music to unfamiliar ears as they tour the country with the sullen singer/songwriter Beck. But they are more than just an opening act, as they will be assuming the role of Beck’s backing band as well.
“He called up and asked us to take it the one step beyond of ‘Can you open for me’ to ‘Can you actually be the band,'” Ivins told of how the tour came to fruition. “It’s just one of those things where you go ‘I wonder what would happen?’ Which seems to be a lot of our career.”
Beck, whose fifth major studio release Sea Change came out only weeks ago, has undergone many of the same experiences in his career, struggling with his folk poetry until his slacker single “Loser” hit airwaves in 1994. His last show in the area was an acoustic set at the Michigan Theater in August.
“We’re just fans of music,” Ivins said. “When we opened up for Candlebox it was too weird to pass up.” The Flaming Lips are willing and able to perform if simply for the sake of being strange. They have played at Lollapalooza and toured Europe with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Ivins concluded, “If Pink called up and said hey let’s go out on tour, that would be weird. I think it would be kinda fun.”