Playing By Heart

The Flaming Lips’ Steven Drozd releases first solo effort

The Heart Is A Drum Machine is an excellent documentary film from last year that explores the mystery of the human experience with music. The film includes interview segments with dozens of prominent singers and musicians and a score by Steven Drozd of The Flaming Lips. The film’s score is now available on its own and it's Drozd’s first release as a solo artist.

Though he started out playing drums with The Flaming Lips, in recent years Stephen’s role as cosmic tinkerer has expanded to include invaluable multi-instrumental contributions to the band’s sound. The soundtrack album is very much like an instrumental Flaming Lips record, but Drozd alone has crafted something here that is much more fun and engaging than the band’s recent output. It has a looser, more carefree spirit to it than 2009’s Embryonic, and none of the structural constraints and expectations that came with the Lips’ freaky re-make of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon from last year.

I recently spoke to Drozd about his new record and how it came to be.

CityBeat: What was different about your approach to this project as opposed to how you approach a Flaming Lips recording project?

Steven Drozd: Well, since it’s just me, it’s easier in a lot of ways because there’s no filter it has to go through. There’s no one I have to answer to. There’s no one I have to sell on my ideas, other than the guys making the film. Any time I do stuff with the Lips, of course, there’s other people involved. It’s not just me. So whatever it is that I bring in it’s gonna have to be OK’d by everybody that’s working on it, as far as the Lips goes. Whereas with this, it was just me. Pretty much everything I sent them worked, so in that way it was easier than working on the Lips’ stuff. But in another way I was just by myself alone and I could work whenever I had spare time, just at home.

CB: I really like the juxtaposition of the harsh distorted guitar sounds and the airy, ethereal synthesizer on “Quaalude Youth.”

SD: Yeah, we do that a lot. The thing with “Quaalude Youth,” that thing with the guitar with those strings, is something I’m kind of obsessed with currently. Trying to mix the most basic, primal Guitar Rock with more sophisticated and sort of dense chord structures, if that makes sense. It’s something I’m really interested in doing. I think it really hasn’t been explored that much. I mean, Prog Rock sort of did it, but those Prog Rock riffs were never simple. Prog Rock riffs were as complicated as everything else in the music, you know? So I’m trying to find a way to mix Stooges-simple riffs with sevenths and ninth chords and things like that, and with that song “Quaalude Youth” I was definitely trying to do that. And I’m sure I’ll be trying to do more of that. I’m glad you heard that! That’s definitely something I’m constantly trying to do, mixing the soft mellotron, almost like ’70s Prog Rock sound with the opposite of that, which is like the Stooges or just real simple, almost Punk Rock riffs.

CB: Tell me about “Requiem For A Dying Star.” It’s like a tweaked-out version of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”

SD: That’s basically what it is. I tried to give it a different name and … (laughing) couldn’t come up with much! It’s almost like Neil Young playing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” with a psychedelic choir behind him. At one point (the filmmakers) asked if I could do a weird version of “Happy Birthday.” I actually never tackled that task, but “Twinkle, Twinkle” was something they could use because it all tied in with the story in the film about Carl Sagan and the gold record that NASA sent into space on the Voyager thing. I thought that was all very interesting and I tried to do some music that would accommodate them talking about that. And that’s how they used it so actually that worked out really good.

CB: I’ve read that The Flaming Lips’ ambitions for 2011 include recording and releasing a new song each month, complete with an accompanying video, then you’ll release it all as one cohesive CD/DVD later on. Will that leave time for any touring this year?

SD: Well, yeah, the tour will actually be part of that. One thing we talked about is not feeling like we have to record every song in the same place. Whether we’re at home and we’re recording at my little studio, or Wayne’s, or if we’re on the road, we’ve all got Pro Tools rigs and little laptops. We’ve got enough stuff where we can set up in a hotel room and make a song and record it in a couple days and have it be done. So all those options are out there. I think we’ll be able to do that and tour. I think it might be easier than the traditional way of recording where you hunker down for six weeks in the same location.

THE HEART IS A DRUM MACHINE can be viewed in its entirety for free at
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