“I don’t really drink beer, per se,” says Wayne Coyne, leader of the Flaming Lips. “I know people really, really love it, but it just fills me up too much.”
It’s an admission that won’t be particularly surprising to anyone familiar with the long-running Oklahoma City-based band’s experimental brand of alternative rock, which has often seemed to be fueled by substances far more mind-expanding than simple malts and hops. But that doesn’t mean that Coyne doesn’t appreciate beer culture—quite the opposite, in fact.
“I like the other side of it,” he says, “The side that’s not just about the beer—it’s about the personalities, it’s about the character of the company. There’s a point where people will drink anything they can, because it’s cheap; and then there’s a point where people drink certain things because it means something to them. And I can totally understand that. When I was growing up, people would pick sides between Budweiser and Coors. I would be like, ‘It’s just beer. Why does it matter?’ But for a lot of people, that would be their thing—that’s what they identified with.”
So last fall, when Dogfish Head founder and CEO Sam Calagione reached out to Coyne to suggest a music and beer collaboration between the Flaming Lips and the craft brewery, Coyne was immediately receptive to the concept. “Dogfish Head is a very cool company, one that has that same kind of thing where people really identify with it,” he explains. Plus, Coyne says, he immediately sensed that Calagione was something of a kindred spirit. “Sam is such an enthusiastic freak,” he chuckles. “When we started talking about this project, he would go on these sort of enthusiastic rants, like, ‘We could do this! We could do that!’ And virtually everything he said, I was like, ‘Cool! Well let’s do that!’ I think my enthusiasm sort of fused with his—it felt like anything we wanted to do, we could probably make it work!”
The official brewery of Record Store Day since 2015, Dogfish Head has previously released beers in celebration of Miles Davis, Robert Johnson, the Grateful Dead, Pearl Jam, Guided By Voices and Deltron 3030 as part of the brewery’s Music Series. Calagione—who couldn’t be reached for comment on this story, but who described himself in the press release for this collaboration as “a raging beer geek with a music problem”— sked Coyne and the Flaming Lips to compose and record a couple of songs for Record Store Day 2018, which would be released in conjunction with Dragons & YumYums, the brewery’s new, Flaming Lips-inspired beer. A tropical pale ale brewed with a combination of dragonfruit, yumberry, passionfruit, pear and black carrot juice. “He sent me a big list of the ingredients that are actually in the beer,” Coyne remembers. “It was quite a big list, but they all had these colorful names. He said, ‘You could make a crazy little song out of it,’ and I said, ‘I think I could!’”
While some artists might have bristled at such outside input, Coyne and the Flaming Lips—who have a long history of collaborating with artists ranging from Miley Cyrus to Henry Rollins—actually welcomed it. “I think with [Sam] knowing the history of us doing these collaborations, he had a sense that I would want to be as involved as I could to make it special,” says Coyne. “Sometimes that sort of thing is just too confrontational, but I kind of welcome it. I spend so much of my time dictating, ‘It’s gonna be this! It’s gonna be that!’ So I love it sometimes when someone says, ‘No, it can be this!’ The worst thing in the world is for people to say, ‘Oh, do whatever you want.’ Well, I don’t know what I want!” he laughs. “So sometimes, having some vibe or some story or some world that you know it’s gonna be in, it’s really helpful.”
The resulting songs, “The Story of Yum Yum and Dragon” and “Pouring Beer in Your Ear,” will be released for Record Store Day on April 21 as a limited-edition seven-inch vinyl single. Coyne teased snippets of the dreamy-sounding A-side, which follows the adventures of characters inspired by the beer’s ingredients, in a couple of Instagram posts last November. He describes “Pouring,” a composition written with Lips multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd, as “a great little song, kind of a slightly pub-ish thing.” Not content with just doing a regular seven-inch for this beer and music collaboration, Coyne also convinced Dogfish Head to press up 100 translucent copies of the record that will actually be filled with the pink-hued Dragons & YumYums beer, and which will be made available at several special events leading up to Record Store Day.
“When Sam and I started talking about us doing the record, I said, ‘Well, why don’t we do one that’s got beer in it?’ I knew it was possible, because we’d done something like that before.” Indeed, back in 2012, the Lips pressed up about twenty copies of The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends—a double-album featuring cameos from over a dozen other artists, including Yoko Ono, Kesha, Nick Cave and Coldplay’s Chris Martin—with small amounts of human blood sandwiched between the grooves. “And if a little bit of beer leaks out of this one, it’s not as freaky as other people’s blood,” Coyne laughs. “I mean, who doesn’t have a little beer spilled around their house?”
The beer itself was released at Dogfish Head’s Milton brewery tasting room last week and will remain available through August. Dragons & YumYums bottles feature appropriately psychedelic label artwork from Marq Spusta, designed as part of Dogfish Head’s Off-Centered Art Series. “It’s utterly exactly the thing we were hoping it would be,” says Coyne of the beer and music collaboration. “The record, the beer, the packaging — the whole thing is really fun.”
And despite not being “a beer expert on any level,” Coyne says he genuinely likes the taste of Dragons & YumYums. “Sometimes I’ll taste a beer and I’ll think that someone has poured, like, a ginger ale into in, and I’m like, ‘That’s not right!’” he laughs. “I kind of like beer to just taste like beer, you know? But I think the beer they’ve made for us is a really great-tasting beer, and I was actually surprised at how much I liked it. I think it’s great — and I think a lot of beer people would agree with me.”