Touring musicians have a great gig. Rock and roll! It’s doubly great when they’re interested in exploring the international culinary world. We do realize some bands subsist solely on Taco Bell and Coke Zero. Shame on them! There’s Hatch chile to sample in New Mexico. Pappy Van Winkle in Kentucky. Doppelbock outside Hamburg. In Good Food, Rocks, we track down a band member serious about their grub — and who has held a job in the food industry too.
Wayne Coyne formed his band the Flaming Lips in 1983 and for over three decades has served as one of the most breathlessly prolific experimental rockers in American music (with a few crossover radio hits along the way to pay the bills). His latest Lips release is the complete reimagining — some call it covering — of the Beatles’ psychedelic classic Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Called With a Little Help from My Fwends, the collaboration features tracks from My Morning Jacket, Moby, Miley Cyrus and Maynard James Keenan. It’s out now and all artists’ royalties will be donated to The Bella Foundation, a non-profit organization based in the band’s hometown of Oklahoma City that assists low-income, elderly or terminally ill pet owners with the cost of veterinary care. We support that, and spoke to the singer recently about his past as a Long John Silver's line cook.
I don’t want to assume that food is important to you, because I don’t assume every musician wants to talk about food and Instagramming food and going on tour only to hit up the best food cities, all that stuff. Do you consider yourself a “food person”?
If I’m following someone on Instagram and they show me too much of what they’re eating for dinner, I’m like dude, I’m gonna unfollow you, you motherfucker (laughing). But I think food is as much of an art, and as much of a cool thing as playing music. I don’t spend that much time thinking about it. There are people that I know who do. There are restaurants I go to and stuff. But for me, I’m just easily satisfied.
Let’s look at Oklahoman cuisine, for example. Can you name an iconic Oklahoman dish?
People aren’t aware of this, but in the early 1970s, when the Vietnam War was trying to wind down, there were these [Vietnamese] people called the Boat People that moved to Oklahoma. And I know this because I worked at a Long John Silver’s restaurant that ended up being in the middle of the Vietnamese community in Oklahoma City. I started working there in 1977, and after I worked there for about two or three years, everybody I worked with was Vietnamese. And to this day, after having eaten all around the world, I think that it is true we have some of the best Vietnamese and Thai food in the world right here in Oklahoma City. It’s not like a generic, knee-jerk reaction when you think of Oklahoma or the Americans there.
Yeah, it’s not part of popular opinion, or the foodie zeitgeist, that you’re going to find some outrageous Vietnamese food in Oklahoma. When you were working at Long John Silver’s, did you make any Vietnamese food in the back?
That was definitely some food that you don’t want to make at your house. It takes your whole day; by the time you are eating it you’re just so sick of smelling all the things it takes to make it. And Vietnamese food is especially like that. We ended up making good French fries. French fries are like [the music of] John Lennon, that’s what I say. It seems like anybody could do it, but once you get in there, it’s like man that shit is hard to do.
So, I can assume you’ve have some Long John Silver's hush puppies in your past.
Yeah, and I still frickin’ love it! I mean, I’m not allowed to eat it. I think you eat it and then you feel like shit for three days, and then you remember oh yeah, I shouldn’t eat that. But yeah! It’s full of grease and I ate it all the time and I had heartburn, but I loved it. I’m easily satisfied. It doesn’t have to be like the best thing ever. I’m easy.
Where do you like to go for food when you’re on tour? Are there any particular countries you like to visit?
Most of the time, you’re not eating anything. You’re eating these dishes that you’re given in the hotel room or backstage or whatever, and it’s not about eating. So if you get a nice treat, you will go to a restaurant and sit there and drink and eat for three or four hours, which I don’t really like to do. You know, I don’t really like sitting in restaurants for three hours. I’d rather just get some food and go do something more exciting.
Anything particularly weird?
When we went to Iceland for the first time, I think it was in 2000, there’s nothing there except fish! And everywhere you go, it just smells like dead fish. You’re in your hotel room and everything smells like dead fish. Yeah, everybody there has been eating dead fish for a thousand years.
Dead and pickled and fermented, and everything like that.
Totally! And they love it! I remember, we had to eat some rotten shark when we were in Iceland. It’s just so disgusting that I actually threw up, you know.
Oh shit, you threw up in your hotel room? Or backstage?
Well I threw up while we were eating it on a TV show. We had been talking about this rotten rotten stinky rotten shark. It’s something that everybody there just eats up like it’s a Snickers bar. We were told that we were going to get this very very strong black death liquor that would destroy any sense of what came before it. We were told that it was a rite of passage. If you can do this, you’re a Viking, you’re a man, you know. And it wasn’t true! There was no black liquor to throw it down with!
Did you get to eat at The Peach Pit when you appeared on Beverly Hills 90210?
I think there was probably some food available by the end of our set at the Peach Pit, but as far as I could tell it wasn’t really anything other than just the room that they said this is the Peach Pit. It was just another stage in a studio.
Oh, it wasn’t an actual restaurant?
Well, I don’t believe it was. We were there quite a while, and it didn’t really seem like it was a real thing. It was like we were just in another sound stage that they used for something else the next day.
It’s kind of an incredible moment of television. I must say as a fan of your music and as a fan of Beverly Hills 90210, it was an incredible moment in my life.
Well yeah, I think it was really a turning moment for us too. When they asked us to do it, we were right at this stage where we were trying to decide – would we accept that there is a lot of stupid bullshit you have to do to be in a band, or were we gonna stop accepting that and say we didn’t want to be a part of in this world. And I think when they asked us to do it, part of us just relaxed and said this is going to be a lot of fucking fun! And just one of the most absurd things we could ever do. And I swear to god if they would have called us a day earlier, we’d maybe pull some business bullshit and say no. But suddenly we didn’t care.