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Record Store Day exclusive: Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne shares the oral history of the 'King's Mouth' art installation and album

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Wayne Coyne with the King's Mouth at The Womb, Saturday, March 9, 2019. Photo by Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman
Wayne Coyne with the King's Mouth at The Womb, Saturday, March 9, 2019. Photo by Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman

Into the 'King's Mouth': 
Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne shares the wild and winding history of his hometown art project, traveling installation and new album

About four years ago, Wayne Coyne penned and painted a fantastical fable of a giant future monarch, his noble sacrifice and “a mega funeral parade” to accompany his hometown art installation the “King’s Mouth.”

The origin story of The Flaming Lips’ regal Oklahoma City artwork, which has spawned a traveling version, a companion book, cereal-scented tie-in merchandise and now a golden Record Store Day vinyl album release, is less majestic.

But since that back story involves a bizarre Japanese game show, smelly dancers and hundreds of foil balloons, it’s maybe not that much weirder than the otherworldly mythology Coyne conjured.  

“Often times, you’ll see something and you’ll just think, ‘How did they think of that?’ But the good news is that you don’t ever really think of it all at the same time. You thought of this, that didn’t all work, but a bit of it worked, and then that evolved into this thing,” Coyne said in a recent interview inside The Womb arts center, the OKC landmark that houses the original “King’s Mouth” audio-visual artwork.    

“If you walk in here now, and you’re 10 years old, I’m hoping it completely blows your mind ‘cause you’re like, ‘Oh my God! How do you do this!?’ … But it’s what all great art does: it’s an evolution that in the end exposes itself as this insanely magical, original thing. But it’s just little by little, little by little, little by little, and having time to keep working on it, having imagination to keep trying it again.”

Wayne Coyne poses with the origina "King's Mouth" art installation at The Womb, Saturday, March 9, 2019. [Photo by Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]
Wayne Coyne poses with the origina "King's Mouth" art installation at The Womb, Saturday, March 9, 2019. [Photo by Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]

Unusual inspiration

When the Grammy-winning art rockers were brainstorming music video ideas for their 2006 single “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song (With All Your Power),” they found inspiration in a strange Japanese TV program in which kneeling people stick their heads through a table, have meat strapped to their foreheads and a giant lizard is unleashed in their midst. 

“The dragon would run toward them and they would scream and they would pull their heads out or whatever. So, I think it was probably like the last one that left their head in there probably won, something ridiculous like that,” Coyne said.

“I thought it was hilarious, so we made a video that sort of did stuff like this. But at the same time, we thought, ‘Why don’t we build something like that for The Womb?’ and, you know, you just start making it.”


So, development on what became the “King’s Mouth” started shortly after The Womb opened back in 2011, but Coyne said it was initially just the large cylinder that now makes up the kingly cranium, with a table like the game show inside.

“As we got along, we really thought, ‘You know, no one really want us to have a dragon bite them in the face,’ really. I think it’d be a great story, but I don’t think it was very realistic,” Coyne said.

For one event, a dancer performed in the cylinder while people watched with their heads poking out of the table.

“I think someone actually performed a show in there, like someone with a guitar who sang,” Coyne recalled. “It was kind of smelly. It was kind of hot. And a lot of people like sitting there looking at each other like, ‘Hi, how you doing?,’ and it just wasn’t very fun. Cool idea, but in reality, just not very fun.”

So, the cylinder was converted so that people could lie inside it and watch video projections. Once a door was cut into it for easier access, the musician and visual artist said the band and crew quickly made it into a giant silvery face, using everyday items like aluminum foil, cardboard, duct tape and hundreds of silvery balloons frequently deployed in Flaming Lips shows.

“Someone came in and they talked about it as the ‘King’s Head,’ and I was like, ‘What do you mean, the “King’s Head?”’ And they were like, ‘You know, the big crowned face out there,” Coyne said, adding that the moniker morphed from there into the “King’s Mouth.”

“For a couple of years, you’d crawl in there, but there was no setup. So, little by little we said, ‘Well, let’s a big, rubber tongue to it.’ And then that led to this (space) being more elaborate with a rainbow around it. And all these things just led to, ‘Oh, this is going to be so attractive – and then there’s something that happens when you go in there.’”

Wayne Coyne talks about how the "King's Mouth" idea developed at The Womb, Saturday, March 9, 2019. [Photo by Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]
Wayne Coyne talks about how the "King's Mouth" idea developed at The Womb, Saturday, March 9, 2019. [Photo by Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]

Artistic experimentation

When John Lewis, a curator at Baltimore’s American Visionary Art Museum, visited a few years later, he pondered what could be done to convert the “King’s Mouth” into a real art installation. Coyne said he found more regal inspiration center stage at the Lips’ bombastic concerts, underneath kaleidoscopic strands of cascading LED lights.

“We’d have all these strands during our Flaming Lips show, and the audience sees it as this big, crazy thing. But I would occasionally be standing in the middle of it, and sometimes, depending on where we’d be playing, the ceiling would be very high and they’d be way up there. But sometimes they’d be quite low, and I’d be standing on a platform and I’d be in the middle of them. And I’d stand there at soundcheck and I’d just be like, ‘(Expletive), look at this. This is crazy.’ To be in middle of it, and it’s video and it’s movement and it’s all this stuff … and I said, ‘we’ve got to (expletive) figure out a way to do this,’” Coyne said.


He recalled pulling one of band’s video wizards, Sachem Arvidson, onto the platform to look up into the dangling lights. Since the “King’s Mouth” was configured so that people laid down and looked up, it would be the perfect vehicle for recreating Coyne’s unique view.

“Since we’re The Flaming Lips and we’re always making music, we made like a 10-minute track, to say, ‘Let’s start to program lights and movement and action to go with this music’ – which is what we do anyway. We’re already doing that,” he said.

“Since we’re making it, we would just sit in there watching it, and I’d go, ‘Well, maybe this music, we could tweak it this way.’ And we’d just go to the studio and do it and bring it back. And since we’re working with the video guy, he’d say, ‘Well, since you did that to the music, why don’t I do this?’ And all of this is just evolving one on top of each other. … So, we’re just sort of doing it layer by layer: We do something, something accidentally really works, we do more of what’s working, less of what’s not working.”

“King’s Mouth: Immersive Head Trip Fantasy Experience,” the companion book for The Flaming Lips' art installation "King's Mouth," is on sale at The Womb gift shop, operated by the Factory Obscura artist collective. [Cover art provided]
“King’s Mouth: Immersive Head Trip Fantasy Experience,” the companion book for The Flaming Lips' art installation "King's Mouth," is on sale at The Womb gift shop, operated by the Factory Obscura artist collective. [Cover art provided]

Traveling artwork

When he saw the next evolution of the “King’s Mouth,” Coyne recalled that Lewis wanted to bring it to the Baltimore museum but had some suggestions.

 “He was like, ‘Well, Wayne, I think I see a story in this. Why don’t you just come up with a story?’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, OK, I’ll just make it up.’ But artists, I think, we like the idea that we know what the ending is; this is what it ends up being. And I just started to draw and make up anything that (expletive) came to my mind,” Coyne recalled.

While he was creating a 10-painting series in his kitchen to go with the supernatural story, the Lips team was developing a portable version of the “King’s Mouth,” since the original is secured to the floor at The Womb with concrete nails.


“This one is built in a way that you couldn’t really take it apart and throw it in truck – but that’s what The Flaming Lips crew does every night when The Flaming Lips play. We have this elaborate stuff that all folds down, goes in a truck and then you get it out the next day. So, it wasn’t very much of a stretch for us to think, ‘How would we make this so we could take it to a museum, it could be there for six months, and then take it down and take it somewhere else?’” Coyne said.

When the singer-songwriter made his exhibition debut in 2015, the “King’s Mouth” became one of the most popular attractions in the history of the Baltimore museum, where upwards of 120,000 people experienced the majestic installation.

The kingly artwork has since traveled to the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oregon, and Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, New Mexico, while the OKC artist collective Factory Obscura last month reopened the long-closed Womb with free admission to the first phase of its upcoming immersive art experience “Mix-Tape” as well as the original “King’s Mouth.” Factory Obscura Co-Founder and Director of Logistical Creativity Kelsey Karper estimated at least 5,000 people have visited the OKC landmark in the past month.

“People are loving the ‘King’s Mouth.’ They’re just having their minds blown every time, and it’s been really fun. People are just so excited that they have an opportunity to come into this building. People have been so curious about this building for so long, for it to be open regular hours, people are thrilled about that,” Karper said.

The Womb gift shop carries the companion book “Kings Mouth: Immersive Head Trip Fantasy Experience,” plus limited edition signed screenprints, soap dishes and air fresheners.

“The soap and the air freshener both smell like Froot Loops,” Karper said.

A visitor watches the light show inside the "King's Mouth" exhibit at The Womb, Saturday, March 9, 2019. [Photo by Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]
A visitor watches the light show inside the "King's Mouth" exhibit at The Womb, Saturday, March 9, 2019. [Photo by Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]

Record Store Day exclusive

Since the “King’s Mouth” debuted in Baltimore, Coyne said he has consistently received requests.

“Flaming Lips fans would come in and be like, ‘Well, I want to buy the record.’ And it’d be like, ‘Well, there’s not a record; it’s just this.’ Every time we would do it, it would just sort of be like, ‘Well, where’s the album that goes with it?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know, but I’m gonna make one,’” he said with a laugh.

With all its elaborate tie-ins, he said the project actually seemed perfect for a Record Store Day release. Since 2008, Record Store Day has been an annual celebration of independent record stores that takes place one Saturday every April. The event, which has spun off a Black Friday edition in November, has grown to include dozens of exclusive vinyl and CD releases offered by musicians, while stores host special events like in-store concerts, meet-and-greets and DJ sets.

“Record Store Day needs stuff, and I think we’re the only group that has had a release on every single Record Store Day. … Some of them weren’t that big of a deal, but some of them were quite elaborate,” Coyne said.

The Lips’ 15th studio album, “King’s Mouth: Music and Songs,” drops today, which is Record Store Day 2019, in a limited-edition gold vinyl pressing of 4,000 copies. Coyne is spending the day signing copies at the Brooklyn record store Rough Trade NYC, where the traveling version of the “King’s Mouth” will make its next appearance.

The follow-up 2017’s “Oczy Mlody,” the “King’s Mouth” album features otherworldly music from the immersive installation, along with songs inspired by the art piece and The Clash’s Mick Jones narrating Coyne’s fictional tale of the massive silvery monarch. 

Before it receives a wider release in July, the new music fit for a “King’s Mouth” joins the ranks of the Lips’ legendary Record Store Day releases, which have ranged from songs on USB drives stuck inside gummy skulls and gummy fetuses to last year’s vinyl collectible filled with a special pink beer called Dragons & YumYums.


“I love record stores, and anything I can do to be involved in helping record stores do better and for people to experience going into a shop and buying stuff, I do,” said the Lips’ longtime manager Scott Booker, who managed the former OKC shop Rainbow Records before he started working with the band.

“The thing that’s so exciting right now is in a weird way I feel like the different types of art and artists are collaborating more now than ever before, like Factory Obscura and The Flaming Lips. … It just feels like we’re all connected in a way.”

The Lips frontman said he is thrilled that Factory Obscura has reopened and is staffing The Womb so that people can come and see the original “King’s Mouth.” He couldn’t give a timeline of how long the gleaming musical monarch’s reign would last inside the OKC landmark.

“This one is gonna be here, I don’t know how long. I don’t think we know how long. Maybe forever. … I feel like the program could change and if you saw it one year, you could come back six months later and it could be a different thing – and then the ‘King’s Mouth’ just being the holder of the new stuff that’s inside,” Coyne said. “I think this is the best thing that could have ever happened: instead of it slowly deteriorating, them taking it and saying, ‘We’re going to make it this thing. … I’m in love with it.”

The Flaming Lips’ 15th studio album, “King’s Mouth: Music and Songs,” was released today, which is Record Store Day 2019, in a limited-edition gold vinyl pressing of 4,000 copies. A wider release is planned in July. [Cover art provided by Warner Bros. Records]
The Flaming Lips’ 15th studio album, “King’s Mouth: Music and Songs,” was released today, which is Record Store Day 2019, in a limited-edition gold vinyl pressing of 4,000 copies. A wider release is planned in July. [Cover art provided by Warner Bros. Records]

KING’S MOUTH OKC

The original Flaming Lips “King’s Mouth” arts installation is housed at The Womb, 25 NW Ninth. Hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. Admission is free through mid-September. For more information, go to www.factoryobscura.com/mixtape.

RECORD STORE DAY

Since 2008, Record Store Day has been an annual celebration of independent record stores that takes place one Saturday every April. The event, which has spun off a Black Friday edition in November, has grown to include dozens of exclusive vinyl and CD releases offered by musicians, while stores host special events like in-store concerts, meet-and-greets and DJ sets.

Participating stores in the metro area for today’s event include Guestroom Records in OKC and Norman, CD Warehouse in Shawnee and 3 Dachshunds in Edmond. For more information, go to recordstoreday.com.

-BAM 

Related Photos
Wayne Coyne poses with the origina "King's Mouth" art installation at The Womb, Saturday, March 9, 2019. [Photo by Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]

Wayne Coyne poses with the origina "King's Mouth" art installation at The Womb, Saturday, March 9, 2019. [Photo by Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]

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Brandy McDonnell

Brandy McDonnell, also known by her initials BAM, writes stories and reviews on movies, music, the arts and other aspects of entertainment. She is NewsOK’s top blogger: Her 4-year-old entertainment news blog, BAM’s Blog, has notched more than 1... Read more ›

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