Flaming Lips’ Steven Drozd Opens Up About New Band Electric Wurms
Steven Drozd has been rocking with Oklahoma’s Flaming Lips since the early ’90s. Album after album, mind-blowing tour after mind-blowing tour, Drozd has carved a place for himself in the multi-instrumental world of the Lips. Now, alongside Lips frontman Wayne Coyne, he is expanding his resume to include vocalist as he leads the new psychedelic project known as the Electric Wurms.
Taking some time in-between preparing for the release of his new band’s debut album and performing with the Lips, Drozd caught up with Diffuser to enlighten us on all things Electric Wurms. From assuming the role of the frontman — as Coyne stands to the side and plays bass — to what it’s like working with Nashville’s Linear Downfall, Drozd fills us in on everything we need to know about the Wurms.
The question everyone wants answered is how did this band come to fruition?
The way it started is a little bit different than how it’s ended up. Sometimes you’re just having conversations, you know, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we did this or did that?” I do that all the time. I’ll be talking to Wayne and I’ll say something cool and he’ll say, “Yeah, that’d be great, somebody should do that.” So I came up with this idea and he actually said let’s do it. We started talking about having this prog-psych-crazy music outfit that would be us with some different people, Flaming Lips-related but not the actual Flaming Lips show.
I kind of started from there. We thought I could do most of the singing. At this point, though, Wayne would be conducting the band. It’s a cool thing. We’re still working it out, you know, he’s playing percussion and some samples and stuff. There’s a lot of energy to it. We did some rehearsing and we got this group, Linear Downfall, all young musicians that can play anything. They have a lot of energy. They did some recording with us and that’s kind of how it came about. From talking about it to figuring out how we can just do it ourselves.
How did you get hooked up with Linear Downfall?
We’ve known them for a few years. I think they’ve been coming to see us for awhile. We did eight concerts in 24 hours a couple of years ago and they were involved when we played in Memphis or Nashville. They played one of those shows with us and that was the first time I talked to them. I remember thinking that these guys can f–king play, they’re great. Wayne stayed in touch with them and befriended them over the next year or so. When we started trying to get other musicians involved in our ensemble, their name was brought up. They’re young, they can play and they have a lot of energy. Wayne didn’t think they had a lot of baggage so we decided to try them out. I think this was a good move. All they care about is playing music.
And I’m guessing they jumped at the opportunity.
Yeah, exactly. They’re so excited to be a part of it.
Is it weird for you to step into the frontman role?
It was at first. We’ll see. For me, I felt self-conscious and I told everybody this, but I can see why people like to be the lead singer. All this music is around you and you’re not necessarily making the music, you just get to sing while this music is playing underneath you. I think I’ll be a little self-conscious, but not too much. I don’t have much I want to do, I’m just going to stand there and try to sing really well, that’ll be my thing, you know? As we were doing it, Wayne was really into it and I figured that was a pretty good gauge as far as if it was entertaining or not. He was just like, stand there and sing and do that.
Even though it’s a different “position” for you, you’ve been making music for a few years now.
[Laughs] Yeah, but like you said, if you’re standing on-stage and singing into a microphone, it’s a different trip than being the musicians standing off to the side. I don’t think it’ll be that much different, though.
When I first listened to the Wurms album, it really was unlike anything I’ve heard, and I mean that as a compliment. It has tinges of certain things and genres, but it seems to stand out in today’s saturated music world. Where did you find inspiration to create the sonic atmospheres on this album?
Well, I wish I had a good answer for that to make you think that I’m some craftsman or master musician. A lot of it, we’d just play until we played something that we got a feeling from. With Linear Downfall, we played for hours and sometimes we’d just play and play and play. To me, it’s about getting a feeling from it. When that happens, then you go in that area for awhile. That’s it. It’s really going on some instinct, it’s not knowing what we’re doing, we didn’t have any master plan. I had a couple of chord progressions but nothing concrete. It was just play until you got that feeling and that’s kind of how the whole thing went. That’s all I can say. We just hoped something magical would happen and when it did we’d record it and work on it.
What were you and Wayne talking about that led to the Wurms’ sound?
I remember he said, “You could be this John McLaughlin kind of character. You’re the guitar player and leader of the band and you’ve got this crazy band.” Then we started talking about me singing more and he asked if I wanted to be standing in the front and singing with a cape on with some crazy lights on me. I thought that sounded like fun and he was all for playing bass and standing off to the side. I mean, that’s how it started out as far as the stage set-up goes. When it comes to recording, that is a different thing. I think that was just like, let’s make a record that’s just a psychedelic rock record that the Flaming Lips wouldn’t make in this day and age. I mean, it does have melodies, but it’s mostly just a vibe and an atmosphere, like you said. It’s more of a mood than anything else. Initially talking, we just had these wild conversations about what it could be.
The name of the album is ‘Musik, Die Shwer Zu Twerk,’ which I believe is roughly translated to “music that’s hard to twerk to.” How much of an influence did Lips’ friend and master twerker Miley Cyrus have on this album?
I don’t think much. I don’t think we were really thinking too much of Miley when we were doing this stuff. That’s not to say that I don’t see her getting involved with any part of this, but those things didn’t really connect. [Laughs]
The standout track to me is ‘Transform.’ It takes every musical element from the album and blends it into one captivating rock tune.
Yeah, I guess that would be the most “rock” song, definitely. That was all feel. There’s no song at all, it’s just a bass and drum groove with congas and guitar. We were just trying to make the groove interesting enough to listen to for three or four minutes.
And it seems like every song has an interesting and unique groove to it. You mentioned that the band would just jam for hours on end until something magical happened; was that just the writing process or was that part of the recording process, too?
We’re not the kind of band that does demos and then does a record. We record and that’s the record, especially in this day and age. We don’t worry about a process or time period. We start recording at home. I might record on my phone and then take it over to Wayne’s home and we’ll use that, you know?
That’s how it was recording this. Everything was recorded at one place, at Pink Floor, the studio at Wayne’s place. It was that, we would just play and record. As soon as we heard something we liked, it would be recorded and we’d shape it from there. We didn’t know if a song would be five minutes or 10 minutes. Everything was up-in-the-air and up-for-grabs until it was done. We don’t record the drums first and then send the drummer home. Everything is up for grabs at any moment. ‘I Could Only See Clouds’ is the 20th version of that song. Everything was re-recorded over and over until we found something that moved us. We did different vocals, one through a mic, even one through my iPhone into ProTools. There’s no writing process, no recording process. Everything is constant and up-in-the-air until it’s done.
The Wurms have a debut album and a handful of live shows in the future. Do you look at this as a side-project or is it more to you?
I’m hoping there’s more to it. We’re going to do a few shows and maybe book a tour in the States. We definitely want to record more stuff at some point. Hopefully this will be a thing, you know?
The Lips are known for their transforming live shows. How similar will the live Wurms’ experience be?
I don’t think they’ll be similar. We’ll be in smaller spaces. I’m sure we’ll try to make it as colorful as we can, but it won’t even compete with a Lips show. It’ll just be, we’ll be up there and lit up and hopefully look cool and play some wild music. We won’t have a bunch of costumes, not that many props. It won’t be that similar other than Wayne and I’ll be on-stage, but that’ll even look different.
As a veteran in the music industry and someone who has been with the same band for nearly a quarter of a century — and who is still making new music and touring — what’s your opinion on the state of the business?
I wish I knew. If I was some young guy starting a band and trying to make money, selling records or whatever, I don’t f–king know what. I’ve always existed in this world where I haven’t had to worry about it too much. I’m in the Flaming Lips, you know, and I hang around Wayne Coyne and Scott Booker, our manager. People have to let go of the idea — this might be taken wrong — but people have to let go of the idea that they can make money from recorded music. [Laughs] That’s something that can’t survive. The future is going out to perform. Unless some new thing comes along that nobody can imagine, it just seems like people paying for music is dying out.
The Electric Wurms’ debut album, ‘Musik Die Shwer zu Twerk,’ will be available via Warner Bros. Records on Aug. 19 in digital, CD and vinyl formats. Get details here.
Go Behind-the-Scenes with the Electric Wurms