photo & text by nacrowe
TRANSMISSIONS FROM THE SATELLITE HEART (WARNER BROS, 1993) was a bit of TRANSITIONAL record for THE FLAMING LIPS when it came out in the early 1990s.
for one it is the first record to include both guitarist RONALD JONES and drummer STEVEN DROZD in the fold. JONES would last one more record before DROZD took over on guitar ever since and became the prominent secret SAVANT-LEVEL multi-instrumentalist, composer and co-writing partner to band leader WAYNE COYNE ever since. given such personnel shifts, this record marks what i would consider the beginning point in the evolution of the band as it has existed sonically and conceptually ever since, which is to say that they shifted from being a JANE'S ADDICTION inspired BUTTHOLE SURFERS retread to a band that pushed the genre and audience experience further with each successive recording that has only gotten WEIRDER, FREAKIER and LESS PREDICTABLE over the intervening years.
having been signed to WARNER BROS in the midst of the pre-NIRVANA rumblings of the ALTERNATIVE ROCK explosion (i.e. JANE'S ADDICTION, FAITH NO MORE, THE BUTTHOLE SURFERS, etc), TRANSMISSIONS FROM THE SATELLITE HEART was their improbable second major label release. somehow someway it managed to include the equally unlikely novelty radio hit "SHE DON'T USE JELLY" which essentially allowed the band some leeway with WARNER BROS to pursue more EXPERIMENTAL sounds and concepts on later releases, if barely. and i really believe that tension is at the heart of what makes THE FLAMING LIPS so great. they have managed to create objectively weird releases that have garnered enough crossover appeal to satiate a cutthroat major label environment that is not looking to support artist development. if anything, THE FLAMING LIPS had the luck of being at the tail end of a recording industry with a longer leash than today. with tracks like "PILOT CAN AT THE QUEER OF GOD," "TURN IT ON," "SHE DON'T USE JELLY," "CHEWIN' THE APPLE OF YER EYE," "BE MY HEAD," and "SLOW NERVE ACTION" coupled with a decidedly haphazard PSYCHEDELIC and handmade DIY aesthetic to their visuals created quite a synergy that played well in the anything-goes zeitgeist of the 1990s. this record felt at home amongst emerging EXPERIMENTAL cultural forces at the time including BECK, TRICKY, CIBO MATTO, CORNELIUS or even the BEASTIE BOYS.
in retrospect im still amazed that something this UNORTHODOX was even released on a major label. period.
the follow-up CLOUDS TASTE METALLIC (WARNER BROS, 1995) was even more sonically DISSONANT and conceptually OPAQUE before the band ditched guitars (mostly) and came up with their first magnum opus THE SOFT BULLETIN (WARNER BROS, 1999). but to understand those later records and the evolution of the band, the plot really began with TRANSMISSIONS FROM THE SATELLITE HEART and the influence of DROZD, who remains today one of the most critically UNDERRATED musicians and songwriters of his generation.
the dude is a revelation. definitely check out TRANSMISSIONS FROM THE SATELLITE HEART and every subsequent FLAMING LIPS record. they are all most definitely worthy of your time, irrespective of your interest in ALTERNATIVE ROCK, INDIE ROCK or AVANT GARDE music.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
in the mid 1990s THE FLAMING LIPS were band in flux. their guitar player, whose unique playing style defined their aesthetic, left them after one modestly commercially successful record and a follow-up that flopped. it was at this point that THE FLAMING LIPS did what few bands in danger of being dropped from a major label have the courage to do.
they got weird. like really weird.
THE SOFT BULLETIN (PITCHFORK, 2012) documentary is an oral history with THE FLAMING LIPS frontman WAYNE COYNE, guitarist STEVEN DROZD, bassist MICHAEL IVINS and producer/engineer DAVE FRIDMANN all testifying to their headspace at the time and how that informed the spirit of experimentation that resulted in the "parking lot experiments" and ultimately two of the most sonically ambitious albums of the 1990s, ZAIREEKA (WARNER BROS, 1997) and THE SOFT BULLETIN (WARNER BROS, 1999).
personally i just think it was some stroke of mad carnival genius that they even convinced (WARNER BROS to put out ZAIREEKA, a four CD set meant to be listened to simultaneously on separate systems, in the first place. i tried it once at a friend's apartment after work the summer after college and it sounded so foreign to me. it still sounds that way to me. but THE SOFT BULLETIN is another matter altogether, since guitarist RONALD JONES left the group they made the unconventional decision to make a guitar-less rock album. previous albums had either a lo-fi aesthetic in the vein of THE BUTTHOLE SURFERS or a more song-oriented fuzzed-out numbers not far from onetime label-mates JANE'S ADDICTION.
this guitar-less approach instead of resulting a sound that was cold, distant and inhuman like GARY NUMAN, they went the orchestral route, as in film soundtracks. it was like they went from videocassette to cinemascope. the palette widened and so did the level of lyrical and sonic ambition. all this was thanks to midi and a healthy dose of hutzpah at diving in the deep end of recording "dont's" with engineer FRIDMANN. like detuning keyboards from each other. who does that?
the documentary basically goes into lyrical content and basic production techniques in the standout tracks "RACE FOR THE PRIZE," "A SPOONFUL WEIGHS A TON," "THE SPIDERBITE SONG," "FEELING YOURSELF DISINTEGRATE" and "WAITIN' FOR A SUPERMAN," all fan favorites and staples of their legendary live shows.
what always gets me about THE FLAMING LIPS is the earnestness of their lyrics to the point of naivety which ironically cut the deepest. maybe its because they are so direct and unadorned that they bypass whatever bullshit meter we all have hardwired in our skulls. the music matches and even overpowers these ambitions, creating a loop that only amplifies and heightens the listener to their message. its an upbeat, celebratory record about deep despair. its quite a feat.
this documentary is well worth checking out if you are fan of the band or great INDIE ROCK and ALTERNATIVE ROCK in general. whats great about THE FLAMING LIPS is that in the intervening years they have only gotten weirder and more ambitious. im always interested in what they cooking up next.
collage by nacrowe
earlier this summer i did a DEER GOD RADIO show on a topic i am particularly passionate about, INDIE ROCK.
i've spotlighted several bands in this genre (LA LUZ, JAPANESE BREAKFAST, EL GUINCHO, GIRL IN A COMA, DRAB MAJESTY, GRAHAM COXON) with several more planned in the coming weeks (WARPAINT, LA VIDA BOHÈME, THE COATHANGERS, IRON REAGAN, ANA TIJOUX, BATTLES, LE BUTCHERETTES). i've also written several book reviews on this topic (GIRL IN A BAND, LOVE ROCK REVOLUTION, MEET ME IN THE BATHROOM) with have several more lined up (SET THE BOY FREE, THIS BAND COULD BE YOUR LIFE, CLOSER YOU ARE, HUNGER MAKES ME A MODERN GIRL). all due to the fact that this is arguably my favorite genre. for me what edges it above METAL and HARDCORE is the experimental aspect of it, the fact that like HIP HOP, it is a form that at its core challenges the musician and listener alike to seek new sounds. this fact makes it infinitely intriguing to read about and explore as people came to it from different viewpoints along gender, class, geographic, political lines that ultimately complicated and strengthened the fabric of the by definition open community.
looking back, this was one of my favorite playlists yet. i see this specific show as being a sister piece to a previous episode dedicated to 1980s HARDCORE, since both were concurrent scenes that supported and in many cases had a similar DIY ETHIC surrounding it. if anything, i see MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC as a community built on that same ethos of independence, integrity and passion.
if the artwork didn't clue you into the playlist, you can always catch that at the episode's page HERE. take it all in and enjoy this show. i definitely had fun with it.
art by nacrowe
tonight's episode of DEER GOD RADIO at 8PM on MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC with a playlist focused on nothing but INDIE ROCK promises to be an awesome one. seriously can't wait.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST, and THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW are available here at the DEER GOD website.