Psychedelic rock band The Flaming Lips plays a New Year's Eve show at The Warfield in San Francisco on Jan. 31, 2014. Known for experimental, science fiction-inspired pop albums (the band has released 15 since forming in 1983) and special-effects-fueled concerts, the band has won three Grammy Awards and cultivated a fervent fan base. We talked to the band’s powerhouse multi-instrumentalist and musical mastermind, Steven Drozd, about his San Francisco memories and new musical project.
Flaming Lips is known for elaborate live performances that often feature spectacular lights, balloons, confetti, dancers and a giant bubble for crowd surfing. What should fans expect?
We’ve been honing in on this new show—it will be very well put together. The light show is bigger and crazier than ever. It will be a big Flaming Lips party, but a little stranger than it was a couple of years ago. It’s mixed with some of the newer sadder music that we came up with last year, but don’t think that it’s some serious show. We still have elements of the absurd there.
San Francisco was a headquarters for psychedelic music and subculture in the 1960s. Do you feel a connection with the city?
San Francisco was one of first cities to really kind of champion the Flaming Lips in the late ’80s and early ’90s. It’s always been a magnet for stranger music, the outer reaches of weird psychedelic rock. We do feel a connection to San Francisco because of that. People have even asked us if we were from San Francisco before. Because we’re weird.
Ever hang out in Haight-Ashbury?
The first time I came to San Francisco was in the summer of 1990, and I stayed in the Haight-Ashbury, right in the middle of some street fair. If you grew up imagining what the ’60s must have been like, it was like entering that—this crazy hippie, wild experience. It was a stereotype and exaggeration of what San Francisco is.
Any favorite local hangouts?
Back in the ’90s there were a couple of gay bars we used to go to. You’d either go see a show at The Kennel Club [now The Independent], Great American Music Hall or Bimbo’s. We did a boombox show at Bimbo’s back in 1998.
What do you think of the local music scene?
In the late ’80s, early ’90s, there was this series of really crazy bands—the Melvins were there briefly, and this band called Bomb. To me that’s as weird as it gets. I was a big fan of that. Going back to 1965 and fast forwarding, there’s just years and years of crazy stuff from San Francisco.
Can you tell us about your new band, “Electric Wurms” and the album came out in summer 2014?
Wayne [Coyne] and I got together with this younger band in Nashville called Linear Downfall. We’ve got a six-song EP that’s done. We wanted to try a project of psychedelic music that we wouldn’t necessarily make with the Flaming Lips and just see where it went. A lot of Flaming Lips is kind of pop song-ish. This is not really so much pop songs. I mean there’s pop elements, it’s got melodies and stuff, but it might be 20 minutes of just one riff played over and over again. We don’t know exactly where it’s going yet. But it’s fun for sure.
Your band has been around for more than 30 years. Do you listen to any younger, current artists?
Deerhoof and Tame Impala, an Australian band. I’m a big Foxygen fan—they’re from LA and really young. The older I get the less I feel like there’s old people and young people listening to music. It’s all kind of getting lumped together. A 15 year-old has access to Led Zeppelin and all the classic rock stuff, and a guy in his 60s now can be turned onto a band like Foxygen. It’s all becoming a big hodgepodge of stuff instead of being so generational.
Speaking of younger artists, can you tell us about working with Miley Cyrus?
We did a couple of Beatles covers with her and a couple of other individual songs, and we’re going to try to make a full record. She’s really actually a great singer. People assume that it’s all auto-tuned, but it’s not. She’s funny and easygoing, fun to be around. It’s kind of hard to believe.
What is something that most people don’t know about the band?
We’re real down to earth. If you spent 30 minutes with us, you’d be surprised how normal we are.