What can a pop superstar teach the wild-haired 53-year-old frontman of one of the world’s biggest psych rock acts?
Wayne Coyne has been at the helm of Oklahoma City’s Flaming Lips since 1984. At 22, Miley Cyrus is a toddler by comparison, a former teen idol who rose to fame via Disney series Hannah Montana.
But the unlikely partnership has spawned matching tattoos, general debauchery and an ostentatious track-for-track remake of the Beatles’ 1967 classic Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
An elder statesman showing a bright young thing the ropes wouldn’t be anything new, but, as Coyne puts it: “I think I get more from it than her.”
It’s 3.40am on December 3, and he has just landed in Miami Beach.
Coyne is there to play for Tommy Hilfiger at some fancy hotel as part of Art Basel – “one big party” masquerading as an international art show.
“Miami is split into a couple of parts – one part is 24/7 everywhere, so we’re going to party for a few days,” he says through the haze of a long-haul flight.
“You get good rest over there in the UK, which is a good thing. I guess the working people over here would prefer that way of life.
“Places are different like that – in Hong Kong they’ll work ‘til 4am. I don’t think there are many people here working, though.
“It’s mainly just rich people partying.”
The next evening’s show – a party hosted by art dealer Jeffrey Dietch – will feature Miley Cyrus tackling some ‘rock classics’ before the Flaming Lips join her onstage for ‘four or five songs’.
Coyne then intends to spend a few days enjoying Miami Beach, pop star companion probably in tow.
The Lips are no strangers to glitz and glamour – the band have flirted with more established mainstream attention throughout their time in the industry.
After signing to Warner Brothers in 1993, they bizarrely performed breakout track She Don’t Use Jelly on Beverly Hills 90210.
“You know, I’ve never been a big fan of alternative music, but these guys rocked the house,” says one character off screen.
On the face of it, the Lips and Cyrus are a similarly unlikely team.
“Anyone who meets her will tell you she’s f***ing crazy,” says Coyne. “We’re not really open to working with anyone else as much as with her.
“We just forget she’s so huge – like, oh yeah, the paparazzi are over there.
“She’s just a lot of fun to be around. Very into music. It’s hard to hang around with her and not do music.
“But we’ve known her for barely a year. We feed off it. I probably get more from it than she does.
“Kesha, for instance, doesn’t have as much say in what she does because of her record label or whatever else. Miley Cyrus, if she wants to do it, she does it.
“Like me. I can do whatever I want because nobody gives a f***. She’s rich and famous, and can do whatever she wants because she doesn’t give a f***.
“She’s fun and a freak.
“She’s used to pursuing her ideas and not being afraid to fail or look like a fool. That’s very big for someone that famous.
“I’ve never been around anyone as crazy. She’s just completely into music and making her own way.
“She’s insane. She’ll call and say she’s coming to Oklahoma City, let’s do something crazy. I have to ask how more crazy she can get.”
Cyrus and the Flaming Lips first collaborated after the young pop star read a Rolling Stone interview in which Coyne said he’d enjoyed one of her shows.
That led to the Lips joining her onstage during a stop on her Bangerz tour to perform their classic Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.
A working relationship then developed into With a Little Help from My Fwends – a song-for-song remake of the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, on which Cyrus sings two tracks.
A video of the pair performing Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds was broadcast at the Billboard Music Awards this year.
Coyne is full of praise for his young muse.
“Inspiring, the word, I think is overused. She’s so alive and just doesn’t give a f***,” he says.
“She’s always trying things, doing things. They’re the same reasons you love any artist. That’s what being an artist is.
“As old as I am, and as young as she is, we are both at the same point. Neither of us care if we look like idiots.
“An egotistical kind of person will tell you ‘I know exactly what I’m doing’ – not us.
“We haven’t got a clue.”
Closer to home, and without Miley Cyrus, the Flaming Lips bring their psychedelic rock show to Liverpool Sound City in 2015.
It will be the first time they have played in the city for 15 years. And following their re-imagining of the Beatles, the significance is not lost on Coyne.
He says the group have not had much chance to launch the With a Little Help from my Fwends record, but will see what they can wangle over the weekend of May 23.
But for now, playing in the home of the Fab Four is enough for him.
“Growing up, of all the places in the world, we knew Santa lived in the North Pole and the Beatles came from Liverpool.
“Living in Oklahoma City, Liverpool was as impossible and mythological as Santa’s toyshop.
“We never thought we’d be able to be in the place the Beatles could be.”
He adds: “We were there once, in a cafe. Someone told us just over the road John Lennon did something or other. I don’t know if it was true, but I guess you get that everywhere.
“We played a show a few years ago at a festival in Loch Ness – I don’t know if it’s going anymore. But you ask people: ‘Do you believe in the monster?’
“Obviously they do. Most of them will tell you they saw it once.”[Source]