Flaming Lips offshoot takes you through the Würmhole

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The world of The Flaming Lips is as big and boundless as the one we all live in, a free-roaming plane of existence void of borders, gravity or order. If they have a motto, it’s “Why not?” — and they are prone to saying yes with those internal inquisitions.

An album designed to be played on four separate stereos at once? Check. Collaborations with artists as varied and unlikely as Miley Cyrus, Ke$ha and Bon Iver? Sure. Music encased in a gummy skull? A 24-hour song? Recreating classic albums like The Dark Side of the Moon and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band with a little help from their fwends? Yes, yes and yes.

Wayne Coyne & Co. have released every type of music in every medium and performed those songs with every freaky prop and delivery mechanism they can pull from the deepest, darkest crevices and synapses of that collective marijuana-soaked mind of theirs.

And that makes Electric Würms — a side project featuring Coyne and maestro Steven Drozd — and its debut album, Musik, die Schwer zu Twerk (roughly translating to “music that is hard to twerk to”), something of a shock. It’s a comparatively commonplace experiment that has somehow been entirely skipped over all this time, the volcano science project to decades of DNA splicing.

The new music doesn’t represent any seismic shift from the Lips’ willfully eclectic back catalog. You don’t find Drozd spitting rhymes over a Timbaland beat or Coyne crooning country ballads. In fact, the Würms’ earliest output slots in neatly beside The Flaming Lips’ two most recent studio LPs, Embryonic and The Terror.

Yet a line in the sand was drawn, a border constructed in that sprawling Flaming Lips world where everything goes, which begs the question Why Electric Würms? Why now?

“It was this weird moment where Wayne and I both wanted to do a different thing but wound up doing that together,” Drozd said. “It was a way to make music without it being The Flaming Lips.”

 

Early Würm

The idea first circled about in spring 2012, with Drozd and Coyne both searching for a new outlet despite a playing in a band that hadn’t ever self-imposed creative boundaries.

But even the largest and freest of kingdoms carries a history with it. Oklahoma City’s freakiest native sons’ biggest hits also represent some of the band’s heaviest baggage. A new project represented a chance at partial liberation, an opportunity to explore the most discordant, noisy and ambitious sides of themselves without the tether to the cheerier splinter of the pair’s creative psyche.

“I don’t know that it’s different enough to be categorized as a different thing, but we wanted to be able to play a show and not necessarily have to play ‘She Don’t Use Jelly’ or ‘Do You Realize??,’” Drozd said. “There’s a freedom to do whatever you want to do.”

That means diving into the deepest depths of sonic oddity. The most feverish Miles Davis outtakes, the most feral ends of ’70s prog and the ghostliest corners of krautrock — that’s where Electric Würms derived its sound and material for Musik, which was released this week.

The Flaming Lips are no strangers to those layered, frenetic downpours of sound used to blanket their lucid melodies, but the Würms are content to let their songs sit in that rain for no other reason than to get wet, as heard in lead single and Yes cover “Heart of the Sunrise.”

“There’s a disconnect from pop music or songs, per se,” Drozd said. “There’s moments where there’s not a melody, not a structure. It’s mainly about sound. Granted, the Flaming Lips do a lot as well, but it’s more so here, more worried about creating a vibe than a song.”

Coyne and Drozd aren’t in this alone, though. New Fumes and Stardeath and White Dwarfs make appearances on the LP, as do Nashville rockers Linear Downfall, with whom Drozd and Coyne became intimately acquainted after they opened for the Lips.

“It’s just pure, driving energy and rhythms,” Drozd said. “We wanted it to be these musicians at the peak of their musicianship just making noise. That felt like a good jumping-off point for trying to see if we could do a different kind of music.”

 

Lipshift

Distinctive aural outposts aside, Electric Würms do operate in a different manner than Coyne and Drozd are accustomed to. Namely, the roles are reversed: Drozd assumes the bulk of vocal duties, while Coyne is mostly devoted to auxiliary guitar, percussion and general racketmaking.

Coyne is also quick to give Drozd most of the credit when it comes to the Würms, though Steven feels it’s as true a collaboration as it has ever been.

“The way you imagine it and the way it is are pretty different. It’s not black-and-white, where all of a sudden I’m the star of the show. We’ll see if Wayne can actually stand off to the side and let someone else be in the spotlight,” Drozd joked. “I don’t know if he can actually allow that to happen.”

It’s precisely there that Drozd thinks Electric Würms will truly come into its own slithery skin, the usual antics of The Flaming Lips’ famed live set substituted for a more straightforward, snarling dose of enveloping audio. And for those prone to artistic invention, to have a new territory to conquer is always a good thing.

“I’m really hoping this is just the beginning of something — something that we can do for a while,” Drozd said. “We’ll play some shows and see if it’s an utter disaster, but I don’t think it will be. It’s a great energy that’s hard to describe, and I think it can stand alone.”

Print headline:

Through the Würmhole

Joshua Boydston

This article was written by an Oklahoma Gazette contributor. To reach an editor, please email jchancellor@okgazette.com with this story's headline in your subject line.

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