Interview w/ Michael Ivins, Flaming Lips
The Flaming Lips formed in Oklahoma City in 1983, when founder and guitarist Wayne Coyne allegedly stole a collection of musical instruments from an area church hall and enlisted his brother Mark and bassist Michael Ivins to start a band. Naming themselves the Flaming Lips (its origin variously attributed to a porn film, an obscure drug reference or a dream in which a fiery Virgin Mary plants a kiss on Wayne in the backseat of his car), the band made their live debut at a local transvestite club. After progressing through an endless string of drummers for nearly 10 years (during which time Mark Coyne left the band to start a family of his own), Wayne and Michael finally settled on multi-instrumentalist Steven Drodz to fill the role of percussionist/keyboardist in '93, prior to the release of "Transmissions" from the Satellite Heart. Since then, the band has appeared on an episode of 90210, numerous late night talk shows, and has even provided the soundtrack for a slew of mid-morning news shows across the country.
The following interview was actually supposed to be with percussionist/keyboardist Steven Drodz, but for some reason, his home phone number had been disconnected and neither his manager or the rep at Warner could find him. Luckily, bassist and founding member Michael Ivins agreed to talk to me at the last minute.
[Holly Day] How did you first get into playing music?
[Michael Ivins] I guess the way anyone gets started. It just seemed like it'd be cool, and if anyone asks me why I picked bass, all I can say is, hey, it only has four strings. How hard can it be to play? Which, of course, isn't really true anymore, because now I like it because of so many other things, but I think that might have been the initial attraction. But to actually play in a band, to start the Flaming Lips—I think I started doing that because of punk rock, the punk rock scene, because punk rock made it seem like you really only had to have the instruments and the desire to play to start a band, you didn't really have to know how to play. And you could play anything you wanted, too—there were just no rules to it at the time we started. I think that appealed to everyone in the band.
[HD] What do you think is the reason you guys have been playing together for so long? What's kept it going for you?
[MI] I think at this point, it's just because there's really nothing else we can do. We're getting a bit old to go back to work, or chase down some new career path. We kind of make jokes about it, like, you know the drummer from Pink Floyd? Whatever his name is. But anyway, he's been with the group for years and years and years, and technically, if you take apart what he's playing and what he's all about, he's really not all that great. But he is the best drummer for Pink Floyd. And I think that's how we feel about ourselves, is that we wouldn't really do as good playing in a different band with other people, but the chemistry seems to really work somehow when we play with each other.
[HD] Well, some guys join bands when they go through their mid-life crisis—maybe you can all quit playing music and become accountants when you're in your fifties.
[MI] Well, I don't know about accounting, but I'm really getting into computers. Not programming or anything tricky, but from a musical standpoint. So I can see doing that whenever I have downtime from the band, just because I really like everything to do with making records and producing and all the technical aspects of it. It's funny, but instead of being overwhelmed by chances in technology, I feel more like technology has slowly been catching up to the Flaming Lips and what we've been trying to do all these years. We all love to sit around and make mixtapes in our spare time, and all the technology makes it so much easier and cheaper to experiment with sounds that used to take us forever to create on our own.
[HD] So do you think you guys are going to be like the Rolling Stones in 40 years?
[MI] (laughs) I don't know if we're going to be like the Rolling Stones, but we're coming up on 20 years as a band here, and I think we'll still be doing something collectively, as a group, in 40 years. It might not be music, but we'll still be working together on something when we're in our 60s. I think there will always be a Flaming Lips, though, doing something strange and crazy. I'm pretty sure about that.
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