It has been twenty years since Wayne Coyne and Michael Ivins came together in Oklahoma City to form The Flaming Lips. Since then the band has ebbed and flowed through various lineups. And, as those changes occurred, the music has morphed incrementally, and grown from the quasi-psychedelic punk rock of their first full length release, Hear It Is, in 1986, to the experimental pop symphonies of The Lips' most recent efforts, The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots.
The addition of guitarist Steven Drozd in the early '90s has been a major part of that development providing the musical foil for Coyne's concepts.
Cult favorites for the majority of their career, the release of The Soft Bulletin in 1999, finally garnered the group critical (and some reasonable commercial) success that had alluded The Lips for so long.
"When we were making that record, everyone always says this, but we really had no idea that people would like it," admits Drozd as he washes a sink full of dishes in his new home in Ferdonia, New York. "We were doing it and we thought, 'Let's do something different. Let's make some music that we've never made before.' It wasn't new to the rest of the world — like, strings and horns and stuff like that — for us to use that stuff so heavily in our music, and to have such a Prog- Rock thing going was a big change for us. And, we thought we would put it out and 20,000 people would buy it, and Warner Brothers would tell us to pack it in, and that would be it. We would have had a good run, you know? We weren't expecting too much, so when it got all the crazy critical acclaim, especially in England, it really gave us the juice to do the next thing, and Warner Brother's was really behind us."
But last year it was a karate-chopping imp named Yoshimi that finally kicked the door wide open for the band.
"When (Yoshimi) came out we weren't expecting it to do as well as it has either," remembers Drozd. "We're still sitting here thinking, 'Wow, I can't really believe this is happening.' I mean, we won a Grammy! That's crazy."
Yep. The Flaming Lips won a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. A category that pitted them against Slash, Joe Satriani, Gov't Mule, and Tony Levin.
Drozd says at least one of the other nominees thought they had the award all sown up when the category was announced. "I noticed that Slash was sitting two rows ahead of us, and he started scooting over towards the middle of the aisle, like he was getting ready to walk up there. And, I thought, 'Damn, well, I guess if you win you know ahead of time. Well, I guess we didn't get it after all.
"So, we were sitting there expecting them to announce Slash's name. Then they announced, 'Approaching Pavonis Mons By Balloon (Utopia Plantia)!' I looked over at Slash, and he kinda looked down. I thought it was so cool. We ran to the stage, thanked everyone and ran off stage. It took about two hours for it to sink in that we had won."
Drozd has an interesting take on winning such a coveted award. His father is a working musician, and the younger Drozd was playing regular gigs in his dad's band by the age of ten. He started out on drums, but moved quickly to other instruments including piano, and the guitar.
Drozd plays virtually everything. And on The Soft Bulletin it became evident as he played nearly all of the instruments on the record. He feels indebted to his pop for the life he has in music.
"To be completely honest, I really don't care about (the Grammy) personally, but my dad is so proud of me. And, to me, that is the best. So, they are going to mail out awards to us. I'm just going to send mine to my dad, and he's going to love that. That's what it means to me. He can say, 'My son won a Grammy,' and it makes him really proud. That's good enough for me."
The past year the Flaming Lips have been extremely busy. In fact, the group developed two separate identities one as, well, The Flaming Lips, and the other as Beck's band backing up Beck Hansen on tour.
"I enjoyed it," says Drozd a bit tentatively. "It was a different experience than I thought it would be. But, he called us and said, 'I've got this new record coming out, and I'm looking for a band to go out on the road with on tour. I thought you guys would be great.' And, without thinking too much, we said, 'Yeah, that would be wonderful.' We didn't think about the fact we would have to play our show every night and then come back out and play with him. It was a pretty brutal schedule. We went out to LA, and learned about 25 his songs in about a week-and-a-half, and then we learned another 15 when we were out on the road with him. It was just a lot more work than any of us would've expected."
Drozd says that Beck proved to be nearly reclusive at times while they were on tour. "We would show up for soundcheck and would run through a couple of songs, and then he would say, 'OK, I'll see you guys at the show.' It wasn't like we hung out and partied together or anything like that. He was always on his own schedule. He's a pretty weird guy. I still don’t feel like I know him at all."
But in the end he says there were several positive aspects of having done the tour together. "It sounds kind of hokey, but I think it made us better musicians because we had to learn all of his songs and we were playing his set and ours so we were playing twice a day. Now that it has been a few months I can look back and say the bottom line was that we had fun. And, we got a lot of exposure — a lot of people that wouldn't have gotten to see us got to see the band, and it helped sell some records. So, it was good."