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Feb 1 / Christiana

Wayne Coyne Talks Ethiopian, Cosmopolitans and The Perfect Fry

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Wayne Coyne, creator and lead singer of The Flaming Lips, lays low in Oklahoma City during his off time from his musical career. Whether he’s relaxing in his humble abode or on the road doing what he does best, he’s pretty easy to please when it comes to wining and dining. From barbecue to Ethiopian to rotting fish in Iceland, Wayne knows what he likes (and doesn’t like) and he usually knows where to get it. Stay tuned for Wayne’s upcoming projects this year- new releases, new shows, new collaborations, and possibly a new movie! Sit back and relax while Wayne explains the culinary perks that his musical career provides… and there’s many!

As American As Mac N’ Cheese

Epicurean Musician: Did you grow up with homemade meals or were you cooking a lot?

Wayne Coyne: No, my family was giant. I’m one of six children and so my mother cooked all the time. As I got older I realized it was never anything very good. It was a lot of macaroni & cheese and bologna sandwiches and things like that. It wasn’t to say that she couldn’t cook good; I think she tried to cook things that everybody would like and when you’re with a bunch of people that don’t like very much stuff, you end up eating bland hamburgers and stuff like that. It wasn’t until later that I discovered, oh my god, my brothers and sisters never tasted any real food. But you know, that’s what happens to people though. They don’t have any experiences with food and they think they don’t like anything.

EM: Exactly! It is kind of a food phobia, in a way. It’s definitely safety. Sticking to these all-American foods. You know what to expect and it’s comfort. So where exactly in your life did you start to branch out and explore other cuisines?

WC: Well it was probably by the late 80s when I met the woman who is my current girlfriend of 22 years. I think one of the very first times we ate dinner together in a restaurant was Ethiopian. This place called Queen of Sheba. Every Ethiopian restaurant is called Queen of Sheba, we’ve discovered. But see, me being, like you talked about, this person who’s used to comfort food and comfort and all that and not thinking food is a place to be adventurous, I was thinking “Well we’re going to go eat Ethiopian food and it must just consist of dirt and bugs and you know, something inedible.” And to my joy and still, like you said, one of your favorite things that you could eat EVER, it was amazing! And so I think, in a way, being with someone who was saying “Look, you should try this, this is going to be good,” and if not, being a bunch of naysayers who just want to eat the same thing over and over. That changed everything for me.

Perfecting The Turkey Burger

EM: So what are some of your favorite recipes or favorite ingredients to use or to have in something that you’re eating?

WC: When we are at the studio a lot and there’s maybe the six guys or whatever, I will a lot of times volunteer to cook because all day long I’ve just been giving orders all day and saying, “Hey do this, do that” and it’s my way of saying, “Look, I love you and I’ll do this for you”. So I would try my best to make this turkey barbeque grilled hamburger… just very thick hamburger with a big buttery bun and all that. So through the years I’ve kind of perfected my….. and obviously it’s not MY recipe but you know, it’s the way of getting the turkey meat and honey and the barbecue sauce and the Emeril Lagasse seasoning in there and making it to the point where it’s cooked enough that you get all the flavor but juicy enough. It isn’t just what you put in it, it’s the time that you cook it, it’s all those sorts of things.

When you cook things on the grill there’s the smoke and the anticipation. So there’s an element, I mean I don’t mind cooking inside but that idea of it cooking on the porch while the smoke’s going everywhere. Smoke is such a magical flavor; it’s hard to put smoke into stuff. I know there’s liquid smoke but it’s hard to put that smoke into things without it really being smoke, you know what I mean? And that has to go back from when the cavemen were cooking the wooly mammoth.

Nothin’ Like a Fresh Tomato

EM: So do you find yourself frequenting farmers’ markets when you’re at home or do you have a garden or anything?

WC: No, luckily my girlfriend, Michelle is very acutely aware that there are seasons when these things are good. She’s not a foodie, she just has a very wide range of things that she likes to get pleasure from, I would say that. So she’s always aware of, “Oh we need to get these tomatoes right now. Let’s go get them.” And she’ll throw them into some spaghetti or a little goulash thing that she made the other day with some sausage. And really when vegetables and things are fresh, they’re doing all the work!  The way we live now you can get bananas and tomatoes and things any time you want. They’re just available to you. Maybe not everywhere in the world but certainly where we live. I don’t know if they’re fresh or if they’re grown in a laboratory, I don’t really know.

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Good Eats On The Road

EM: So when you’re on tour with you and your crew, do you find yourself preferring to eat out or do you guys try to cook a lot or is it kind of a mix of the two?

WC: It would be Michael or Chris will collect up a few things saying, “Hey we’re gonna be in..,” I don’t know where we’d be… Vancouver, Canada or even San Francisco or whatever and say, “Why don’t we all go out to eat tonight at 7?” And we’ll make a point of it being some place that, even if it’s expensive, we’ll take all the guys. A lot of the crew guys don’t want to spend $100 on dinner, they’ll just spend $8 at Arby’s, they don’t really care. A lot of the time the fellas just eat whatever is brought to the venue and it’s not necessarily even a moment, it is just some shit to put in your body.

EM: So what are some of your favorite cities in the US or internationally when it comes to eating food in general?

WC: I would say in years past, I don’t think it is as much now, we would look forward to going to, say, Austin, Texas because there’s this great barbecue place there that does this barbecue chicken that’s out in the middle of nowhere. That was called Vic’s Bar-B-Que. It’s still a very famous place. You go there and sometimes there’s 500 people there. It’s a very famous barbecue place in Austin, Texas and it’s wonderful. It’s all smoked meat and you can see this giant grill they’ve been cooking on for over 80 years and it’s just this seeping… you could eat the bricks! That’s much how much flavor is in the thing that they’re cooking with. The bricks themselves, you just make a sandwich out of one of the bricks and it’d be great. (laughs) And obviously we go to London a lot and there’s endless great Indian Restaurants.

We’ve been to Helsinki, Finland a couple of times and of all the places that this Indian restaurant in Helsinki is hands down by far the best Indian restaurant we’ve ever eaten at. It’s called Namaskaar and the thing that we would order is the murgh milai tikka. People fly there specifically to go to Helsinki to get this food. I mean I don’t know what they’re eating up there. It’s dark for nine months out of the year and you would not think that you’d find anything remotely spicy or alive up there and it’s wonderful.

EM: So I’ve had a lot of different versions of Indian food, if you will, you know some of it very simple, some of it very thick and heavy. What do you think made this particular Indian restaurant in Helsinki so above the rest?

WC: Yeah, yeah! Well there’s this chicken… it’s got that red yogurt sauce. I guess it’s that it’s just so rich and it just seems so fresh and it’s rich! We’ve eaten at a couple of Indian restaurants where somehow it just is not intense enough flavor. Me and Michelle actually did this… we were eating at an Indian restaurant and when we got done, we were in New York, and when we got done we actually stopped and had a piece of pizza (laughs). We just craved more flavor than what we had! And so I don’t know without knowing all the spices and things that go into it, it’s just this great contrast; between the cold and the fresh and the spice and the heat and of course that’s with all food. There’s a lot of dimensions as to why it’s good but I think a lot of times you’ll be going into a lot of Indian restaurants and I don’t know why, there’s a lot of just buffet that goes on and it doesn’t feel as magnificently fresh.

Festival Food of Years Past

EM: So do you have a favorite festival food?

WC: We were lucky enough to be on the American Lollapalooza in 1994, long time ago now, and in 1994 you have to remember this is before everywhere you went there was this great coffee and everywhere you went there were these great organic fruit energy drinks… and on this Lollapalooza there was a great coffee stand, there was a great juice stand, but there was also this this African troupe that made this amazing plantain jerk chicken thing. Sounds good just talking about it, doesn’t it?

A lot of times when me and Michelle are able to eat at festivals now, especially the European ones, we usually just get a big bucket of salty French fries and a couple of strong beers and that’ll do us. You’re always worried about how close you are to toilets and things like that when you’re at festivals so you’re just worried about whatever goes in at four o’clock in the morning might have to come out and so we’re always a little bit aware of– we’re going to eat somewhere great the next couple days so whatever is at the festival that we know will work for us… and for me, and I think I speak for a lot of people, I think well-made French fries is one of the greatest things in the world anyway.

EM: Oh absolutely! And it’s still kind of a novelty. There are these little hole-in-the-wall places in these cities that you’ll find french fries fried in duck fat. It’s a whole new world.

WC: Yeah! People think of it as just being this fast food sort of thing and it’s hard to do! That’s why people will buy french fries at a restaurant because if you try to make them at your house, it’s hard to do! It’s not simple. But when it’s done well and just to the right crispness, it’s amazing!

Hometown Wining & Dining

EM: So do you have any favorite restaurants in your hometown?

WC: Well luckily we know most of the restaurants in town. We know the people now who are running them, the chefs themselves in the back that are doing all the stuff. We like Pachinko Parlor. We like Cheever’sThe Metro is one of these places that has been established here for probably 50 years. A lot of people look down on midwestern steakhouses but that’s just done good. It’s amazing! And not everybody does a steak with that much perfection.

We are lucky that we have, even though we’re in the middle middle middle of the midwest, wild west, south, about 35 years ago the refugees of the Vietnam war were kind of settled here in Oklahoma City. Then we had this giant Vietnamese community and so whenever you have Asian people around you’re going to start to have a lot of good asian food. So if I had to pick my absolute favorite place in town I would say, for me, I would have to say Tana Thai. That’s probably the name of every Thai restaurant. We go probably at least once a week if we’re lucky. And for whatever the reason, for whatever way that they’re doing things just in the back room there and you know, stir-frying and all that shit together… it is consistent and phenomenal and fast.

EM: What’s your favorite breakfast?

WC: For me it would be some really good strong coffee whether I make it or it’s made here. There’s a coffee shop in town and I don’t really even need food if it’s good coffee so to me it’d be- I’m drinking coffee and Michelle is smoking a cigarette.

EM: Favorite dessert?

WC: For me, it is ice cream. Maybe with a little something in it. I would just say good fat-filled vanilla ice cream with anything you’d want to put in there would probably be fine with me. Is that a dessert? That’s not really a dessert. Maybe crème brulee! I would say that. Vanilla bean crème brulee. If someone has that on the menu I’m into that.

EM: Worst meal you’ve ever had?

WC: Ooooh! It would only have to be worse because you thought it was going to be great. A lot of times you have no expectations and so of course it’s going to be bad. I’m trying to think but, to me, bad things never hover in my mind for long; it can always be replaced by something wonderful so I don’t think of it that often but let’s go to Reykjavik, Iceland (laughs). They don’t have a lot of local food there that isn’t made out of some kind of version of rotting fish. We were only there for two days and to have to eat quite a bit of this rotten fish was a bit of a struggle. So we had some lobster bisque at a restaurant called Perla.

We went to the restaurant because it turns around. Some of these restaurants, at the top of it, you can see the whole city because it’s turning around as you dine, you know what I mean? Rotating. But anyway, they brought out this big serving of this smelly, rotten lobster bisque and you would get your own bowl out of this big pile of it and it was just the beginning of what would end up being a series of bad, rotten Icelandic favorites. There was rotten shark and there was some goat’s heads… I don’t know if it was actually bad or if it was just us going, “Fuck! What the fuck are we eating this shit for?!”

EM: So do you have a favorite alcoholic beverage?

WC: We do and we like it mostly when it’s not too strong. We drink a cosmopolitan everywhere that we go that will make them because it’s pink and you get it in a weird looking glass but we really aren’t very picky. And I’m not bragging about this but a lot of times we’ll go places and people will buy you drinks and they’ll say, “What do you want to drink?” and it’s easy to say, “Well just give me some whiskey or a tequila or whatever,” but we always throw out this very strange… I guess it’s not strange but it’s a stupid drink that men usually don’t drink that would be the pink cosmopolitan.

We were recently in Japan and we went to a little bar. Some of these bars that you’ll go to in Tokyo, because it’s such a giant crazy city, can only fit six people. And we were drinking plum wine. Now not all plum wine was as good as this stuff we were drinking, but we had a couple nights where we could drink that for three or four hours into the night and it was a pretty great experience.

EM: So what is the very last meal you’d ever want to eat?

WC: There is a combination of pancakes, bacon and that syrup and butter that goes on pancakes. That does the sweet and does the savory and does all that all at the same time. I’d probably go for that. I like eating breakfast at night.

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Upcoming Projects Galore!

EM: Is there anything going on with you musically or otherwise? Do you have anything in the works? Any upcoming tours or a new album?

WC: Well at the moment we’re getting ready to release this thing that’s kind of a unique. We’re getting ready to release this thing that is a bunch of tracks you can download that all tie together. We’ve done this record called Zaireeka before where you had to play four CDs all together; this was released back in 1996 so it’s been awhile since then and now we’re releasing this thing that you can play on your iPhones, up to twelve iPhones at one time. Everybody plays a different track and it’ll sync up together.

Then we’re recording next week with this band from Texas called Neon Indian… doing a little collaboration where we share two songs together and then after that I don’t know. I know we’re starting to record a new record and we’re going to release some things every month from this record that we’ll pile up as the year goes. And I think we’re going to start to make another Flaming Lips movie when the screen blows around. And we’re always playing. We’re doing a show at the beginning of April, I think, with Philip Glass at Carnegie Hall; not just us but we’re one of the groups who are getting to play with this bigger ensemble. I think we’re the luckiest people in the world to be able to just wake up and do things that we just love to do. It’s just like a dumb art commune… in the best sense!

Impromptu Recipe

WC: What I usually do is there’s a guy that I know here who roasts his own beans and he just gets one type of bean, he’s not mixing beans so it’s a pure bean and he roasts his own beans and he’ll give me a couple of pounds of his fresh roasted coffee and my recipe really is just: get this fresh roasted, single source, badass coffee, grind the shit out of it and make it in a french press. It’s fresh, I grind the shit out of it, I use a lot of it and we slam that into the french press. About at least a quarter of the french press is filled up with just really, you know, espresso-grind coffee. So basically what you’re drinking, what it amounts to, is espresso only it’s like a giant cup.

EM: Yeah, definitely. Coffee is not just a sense for the mouth, it definitely appeals to many senses.

WC: Yeah! Well all good things are like that. It isn’t really just one dimension; it’s filling up other dimensions in mysterious ways. You think it’s a drink, it’s really a smell. You think it’s a drink but it’s something you hold, something you feel. All good things are like that. The secret of the dimensions.

5 Comments

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  1. Susan / Feb 10 2011

    I wouldn’t mind sharing injira with Wayne Coyne.

  2. Renee Lenertz / Feb 10 2011

    I loved reading this. Caleb Lenertz is my son and travels with The Lips. I think that Wayne is a big puppy just like Caleb. The world is full of wonders and after seeing the band play this past New Years for the first time, I have to say move over Springsteen, I have moved on to something all together different….Fuck Yeah!

  3. robby / Feb 10 2011

    All things Lips! I am a food person and a lips lover so this was great to read. Thanks!

  4. Pinky (Cristal Hobbs) / Feb 10 2011

    Pretty much dying over that PINK retro stove…damn its hot!

  5. Rebecca / Feb 10 2011

    I love that Queen of Sheba restaurant! It was the first place I ever had Ethiopian food myself and Wayne and Michelle introduced me to it. I owe them such thanks for that, it was through knowing them in the early 90′s that I tasted some of what are now my favorite foods.

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