In 2003, Bonnaroo’s second year, The Flaming Lips performed in the festival’s That Tent – a far cry from the headlining sets the group has delivered in the years since. The band returned in 2007 to play Which Stage, where frontman Wayne Coyne landed onstage in an UFO, and in 2010, the psychedelic rock group offered a nearly four-hour set on the Which Stage. That most recent performance included both the band’s own material and a dynamically compelling rendition of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, which the musicians had also played their first year at Bonnaroo.
The Lips have become an important facet of the Bonnaroo lineup throughout the years, growing with the festival each time they’ve returned. With this in mind, we wanted to know what it was like to tour with The Lips in their early years. Singer and multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd, who has been in the band since 1991, gave us the scoop on how it felt to tour before The Flaming Lips became a household name (they can thank their Super Bowl Hyundai commercial for cementing that status this year). Plus, he sent us some old photos from the road.
What is your best memory of the early years touring with The Flaming Lips?
The best memory is just the energy of being young and joining your favorite group – that fueled me for the for the first couple of years of being in the band. Probably my favorite specific memory was playing at The Metro in late ’92. We had missed an earlier show there because of travel problems and had to reschedule, so when we came back a month later the crowd there were just insane and so excited to see us. That was an intense show.
The worst memory is the tour of fall 1994 opening for Candlebox. As Wayne says, that tour changed us. We had just done Lollapalooza and were still high from that, then drove up to Washington state to begin three months with Candlebox. The guys in the band were really nice to us, but the drudgery of opening for them to a crowd of unreceptive, sometimes hostile meatheads started to really beat us down. That tour was the first time I started to wonder if I really wanted to be in a touring rock band for the rest of my life.
How much has the dynamic of touring changed since then?
Everything is different. Of course your priorities change from the age of 25 to the age of 43. Back then I would say that I lived for the band experience and the music. Now, I still love playing music but I have a life outside of the band. That said, we all still get along wonderfully and the Lips are really part of my family. The dynamic is different in that it doesn’t feel as “us against the world” as it used to. We all still really concern ourselves with the shows, but I pace myself in a more realistic way nowadays. If I’d kept burning at the same energy level I did in the early ‘90s I’d be dead by now.
What was your experience playing Bonnaroo for the first time?
There was much excitement, but I remember being really nervous because we were doing Dark Side Of The Moon stuff. My first impression was “This is incredible, like the Reading Festival but right out in the country of Tennessee!” By the way, I had a great time that year.
The cool thing is that Bonnaroo established itself as a very forward-thinking festival early on. We were certainly aware that it was the first big festival to embrace jam band culture and indie rock, among other things. In fact, I really credit Bonnaroo with expanding our fan base and turning on a lot of people who otherwise would not have ever had a chance to check us out. After 2003 we started playing a much bigger variety of festivals and I thank Bonnaroo for that. Now that I’ve said that I bet a lot of artists would agree with me. That’s why it’s so influential on artists’ careers – you are getting a chance to share your particular trip with an incredible variety of fans and bands. I think fans who are in their early 20′s don’t think twice about it, but there was a time when you wouldn’t have Radiohead and The Beach Boys headlining the same festival. At least not on purpose. So… well done, Bonnaroo.