The Flaming Lips is the most original rock band making music for the masses today. It may sound like hyperbole — or a stretch, at the very least — but it’s not.
Name another rock group on a major label taking more risks, making crazier music, forging a more sincere connection with its fans, than the Lips. Sure, the Oklahoma City band’s live shows are confetti- packed carnivals of spectacle, but the music in there — a spectral collision of pop, noise, electronic and progressive rock — is as bold as it gets in mainstream 2011.
Not that the Lips are full-on mainstream, but they have released 10 records on Warner Bros., headlined major music festivals the world over and transformed their most accessible pop opus, “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,” into what will soon be a Broadway musical.
The band, which headlines the first-ever Snow Ball Music Festival this weekend in Avon, is also coming up on its 30th birthday.
And with age comes … maturity?
“You do these milestones along the way. At first you’re glad to have been together for six months, and then it’s a year and it becomes five and 10 years,” Lips frontman Wayne Coyne said recently from New York City.
“But other bands have been together for longer, like Sonic Youth or U2 or the Beastie Boys. And I guess it should be celebrated as this great thing, but at other times it’s just a shock.
“I’m used to seeing signs on the side of a furniture store, ‘Doing business for 50 years,’ and it’s weird. It’s like, ‘That’s a bunch of old people, and they must have it so together.’ But with us, it’s always felt like we’re about to fall apart.”
The Lips’ concentrated lack of focus has produced one of the most consistent and challenging catalogs in modern rock. It’s no surprise that the band’s latest original record, 2009’s “Embryonic,” is also one of its most demanding LPs. It’s also no surprise that Coyne and his bandmates released another divergent record in 2010 — a furiously psyched-out, aurally perverted album that covers Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.”
With a history that includes both “Christmas on Mars” (a human-meets-aliens cult movie/soundtrack starring the band’s Steven Drozd as the human and Coyne as the alien) and “Zaireeka” (a four-disc set meant to be played simultaneously on four separate stereos), it’s clear that the Lips are following their muse — wherever it may take them.
“It’s the plight of the artist,” Coyne said. “You’re always curious and obsessed and searching. Otherwise you’re not an artist. I’m not proud of it. It’s an affliction I have.
“And it’s great that this obsession of mine can sometimes be celebrated. Because I know I’m really pursuing (stuff) that I’m into, and I’m lucky that a lot of the world will occasionally like it as well. But I don’t think you can ever be fully satisfied with that. I keep doing the things I want to do, and little by little, it goes from being something that’s in your mind to something that’s real. And then there’s a big crescendo and you’re on to the next thing.”
The Lips are sharing Snow Ball headlining duties with Colorado DJ/producer Pretty Lights and San Francisco dubstep king Bassnectar. This is the three-day festival’s inaugural year, and its strong, buzzy lineup — which also includes Diplo, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, Local Natives, Savoy and others — forecasts a weekend of epic music and snow days in and around Vail/Beaver Creek.
It won’t be the first festival love Colorado has given the Lips. They headlined the Monolith Festival a few years ago, and before that rocked the Unlimited Sunshine Tour — both at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. That they’re a festival favorite is a given. Their connection to their fans is nothing if not unique.
“That’s the thing about being creative,” Coyne said. “I don’t know if a person has a choice but to want to be around other energetic, creative, crazy people, because it lets you be you. And I feed off that energy. It’s part of why we like playing to our audience so much, because our audience is made up of weirdos like us — musicians and artists and filmmakers.”
It’s this kind of unflinching support that has allowed the band to pursue its passions. A case in point is “Embryonic,” a record so inaccessible that fans and critics alike have compared it to the band’s wilder early work.
“Our fans would rather see us fail spectacularly than play it safe,” Coyne said. “We’ve had a wonderful, free evolution, so to speak, of following whatever dimensions of creating music wherever it lead us. So I can see someone listening to the very first EP we released in 1984 and saying, ‘There’s no way these guys are going to make records like ‘The Soft Bulletin’ and ‘Yoshimi.’
“But as we went along, like anybody who is curious, we kept exploring different combinations and textures. And once you’re immersed in this medium, you start to explore new ways of what this medium is about. … What I want from us is to not be done yet.”