While walking his dog Daisy two years ago, Wayne Coyne, the joyfully mad frontman of rock band the Flaming Lips, heard a chorus of croaking frogs along the creek behind his home in Oklahoma City, and immediately considered its song potential. The eyes of the frogs glowed a sinister red, “like demon eyes,” Coyne recalls. Inspiration struck, yielding “Listening to the Frogs With Demon Eyes,” an acid trip of a song combining ambient frog noises, sputtering drum machines and Coyne’s reedy vocals.
“It implies something much more sinister and mysterious, but that it came from such a normal, dorky reality made it perfect for me,” Coyne says of the song, which appears on the Flaming Lips’ 2017 album, “Oczy Mlody.” “When my songs really start to really work, it’s because they’re evocative of some mysterious story, even if it originated as a silly idea. That’s the only way you can make my art.”
The success of the band over the past 30 years can be ascribed to Coyne’s willingness to say yes to bizarre ideas like these. The Flaming Lips, performing Saturday, March 3, at the Okeechobee Arts and Music Festival, have evolved from early-1980s punk ensemble to one-hit wonders (with their 1993 single “She Don’t Use Jelly”) to surrealist art-rock troupe, augmented by live shows high on spectacle: video projections, flashy costumes, Coyne surfing crowds in giant plastic bubbles.
Coyne says the Flaming Lips have turned defiantly experimental since the release of their 1999 breakthrough album, “The Soft Bulletin,” for which the group created a fusion of punk, Beach Boys-style symphonic pop and cosmic-sounding electronica. Coyne describes it as “the real beginning of the Flaming Lips.” Since then, Coyne has, in no particular order, released album-length covers of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” and the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” rendered in the band’s own Day-Glo colors; produced an unexpected 23-song album with pop star Miley Cyrus titled “Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz”; and released a six-hour experimental song. Last December on Instagram, Coyne posted images of spin art he designed with his actual blood.
“It is intoxicating, the blood. To me, it’s not gory and it’s not scary,” Coyne says. “It’s beautiful and weird, like water, such a wild f------ thing. I remember seeing an old photo of Miles Davis performing in a white suit after a policeman smacked him on the head with a billy club. His head was bleeding, and the blood was on his shirt. So I like to evoke a radical image of Miles Davis by putting blood on myself.”
For the Flaming Lips’ performance in Okeechobee, Coyne says he’ll draw some of the set list from “Oczy Mlody” (in Polish, the title translates to “eyes of the young,” he says), 12 songs populated with references to unicorns, wizards and other fairy-tale figures.
But the concert will start with a patriotic bang. Inspired by Fergie’s widely mocked rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at February’s NBA All-Star Game, Coyne says the band will debut their version of the national anthem at the festival. Multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd will perform the Francis Scott Key lyrics through a gizmo called a talkbox, which simulates a “talking” musical instrument, while Coyne plans to shoot lasers from large foam fingers during the “rockets’ red glare” crescendo.
“A couple of weeks ago, people laughed at Fergie. But I say, ‘Do it your way.’ That’s what matters,” Coyne says. “It doesn’t mean it’s right. But when you add sparser beats and bigger sounds, it will zip along in a Flaming Lips way.”
The Flaming Lips will perform 7:15 p.m. Saturday, March 3, on the Be Stage at Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival at Sunshine Grove, 12517 NE 91st Ave., in Okeechobee. Four-day passes cost $269-$699, plus extra for car and RV parking. Go to OkeechobeeFest.com.
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