When you think of Oklahoma, you don't think of lush, multi-layered, psychedelic songs with some of the strangest titles going. But that's the combination you get from Oklahoma City's very own Flaming Lips who have penned such gems as "Free Radicals (A Hallucination of the Christmas Skeleton Pleading with a Suicide Bomber)." The city even gave them a street in the entertainment district: Flaming Lips Alley.
Forming in 1983, the band consisted of Wayne and Mark Coyne, along with Michael Ivins. Drummer Richard English signed on in 1984 after a few misfires behind the kit. Mark departed the band prior to their first full-length release, 1986's Here It Is.
After two more releases, the line-up switched again. Nathan Roberts replaced English, while Jonathan Donahue from Mercury Rev added on. The resulting recording, In a Priest Driven Ambulance, marked an expansion of their sound and an uptick in the band's use of tape loops. It was also during this period that Coyne shifted his vocal style to one in a higher register.
With a signing to Warner Bros. Records two years earlier, the Flaming Lips released 1992's Hit to Death in the Future Head. Both Donahue and Roberts left the band, replaced by Ronald Jones and Steven Drozd.
The follow-up, 1993's Transmissions from the Satellite Heart, saw their first breakthrough. The single "She Don't Use Jelly" got them some great television and touring exposure. Coupled with dates supporting the next album, Clouds Taste Metallic, four years of touring ensued. The stress caused Jones to leave the band, though reports also suggest that Drozd's drug use informed his departure.
An artistic paradigm shift came with 1997's Zaireeka. The four-disc album is meant to be played simultaneously. After surviving a series of freakish incidents, the band had an important breakthrough in 1999 with The Soft Bulletin. It was an underground sensation and has even been touted as one of the best records of the decade.
Because The Soft Bulletin relied largely on effects and studio trickery, recreating the work live posed a bit of a problem. The band opted to incorporate pre-recorded parts to support the live trio. They also developed the "Headphone Concert" wherein audience members could listen to the show via an on-site, low-power FM transmitter to supplement the PA system in the clarity department.
In 2002, along with the release of the critically acclaimed Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Flaming Lips teamed up with Modest Mouse and Cake for the Unlimited Sunshine Tour. Yoshimi is noted as the band's first success on both critical and commercial fronts. One track, "Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon (Utopia Planitia)," even won them a 2002 Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
The record was certified gold in 2006 and, in 2007, it was announced that Flaming Lips and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin would be adapting the album into a Broadway musical. The Soft Bulletin joined Yoshimi in gold-record territory in 2007.
After a couple of EPs, a number of collaborations, and lots more touring, the band released their 11th studio album, 2006's At War with the Mystics. The more political set was met with a mostly positive response. Another album cut, "The Wizard Turns On... The Giant Silver Flashlight and Puts on His Werewolf Moccasins," won another Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
Eventually, work began on their next collection which Coyne described by saying "some of it sounds like John Lennon but if he got together with Miles Davis and they went back in time, but there was a supercomputer that they could figure out how to work!" Embryonic dropped in October, 2009 followed in December by a remake of Waters' The Dark Side of the Moon.