“It is exactly forty-five minutes after the hour,” Steven Drozd said with an affable laugh when he picked up the phone. True; it was not one second past our scheduled time when I called. When the universe gives you an opportunity to talk to another member of The Flaming Lips, you seize it punctually. “I’m going to put you on speaker phone so I can do my little chores and stuff,” he told me. Drozd has an easygoing, good-humored tone, and I was instantly struck by how much it sounded like that of his longtime collaborator in The Flaming Lips, Wayne Coyne. Perhaps they work together so often that they’ve picked up a similar manner of speaking: friendly, open, eloquent, unhurried. Having recently spoken at length with Coyne about their creative process, I was intrigued to hear Drozd’s perspective on the same. I was also eager to hear about the latest evolution of his brilliant kids’ project, Foreverywhere. A work “for everyone” by STEVENSTEVEN – Steven Drozd and Steve Burns of Blue’s Clues – that began as a super-catchy children’s album, it has now been expanded into an immersive Audible Original audiobook by STEVENSTEVEN and writer Gabe Soria. Telling the story of a keyboard-playing finalcorn (the last unicorn in the land), a drumming giant, and the guitar-shredding Princess Rainbow on their quest to be the best band in Anyville, it’s an entertaining treat for any age.

“We love every bit of it,” Drozd said happily. “But I think Gabe [Soria] and Steve [Burns] and I were all surprised by how well it’s doing. Not that we don’t think our product is great; I’m just kind of surprised by the big response. We’re getting a big reaction to it, so it’s wonderful. I’m just so thrilled that it’s happening. Steve and I, we always talk about what we can do next together. With this being as successful as it has been, maybe we’ll hold onto the STEVENSTEVEN thing and do something else.” He went on to describe some of the kids’ music that had inspired him as they were creating Foreverywhere. “I was born in ‘69, so I was like three, four, five watching the original Sesame Street. When we were working on some of this stuff, we really were trying to channel Sesame Street – like the good Sesame Street music. There was some really cool music; like The Pointer Sisters did that song with the counting where the pinball goes around [“Pinball Number Count”]. A lot of cool stuff like that.” I piled on with “The Ladybugs’ Picnic” and Drozd said, “Yeah, exactly! You know exactly what I’m talking about. We were trying to get some element of the Sesame Street thing.” Much like those examples, we talked about the maturity level of Foreverywhere’s storyline, and how many for-any-age jokes are peppered throughout this fresh and witty audiobook. “That’s Steve Burns, and Gabe [Soria], the guy who co-wrote it with him,” Drozd said approvingly. “[Burns] always wants to make sure he’s not condescending to children. He doesn’t care what age they are; he wants to speak to them like he speaks to other adults. He’s really conscious of it. He’s really aware of it, and I think that’s really awesome.” We then discussed how, in the same way, the songs of Foreverywhere the album sound so mature – one being “Mimic Octopus,” a rager an adult could blast that is, of course, packed with octopus facts. “That’s why it was so much fun making this record,” said Drozd. “I mean, it really was. You always like to think that you enjoy making records and making music, and you do, but making stuff with Steve Burns was just so much fun.”

“We had so much fun on every song. And with ‘Mimic Octopus,’ that was like, ‘What if we do a Sesame Street thing meets a Black Sabbath riff.’ And ‘Space Rock Rock’ – that could be something from a children’s cartoon show in the morning meets The Melvins, or something like that.” It’s surprising there isn’t more educational music out there that rocks so hard, given how much time adults spend listening to their kids’ favorite things on repeat. Drozd agreed, “I think that’s one of the reasons that kids start to love The Beatles so early – because their parents love them. My kids can school anybody on all classic rock at this point. They’ve got their history: their Beatles, their Stones, their Led Zeppelin, their David Bowie. They have all of that stuff, because they’ve heard it from such a young age.” Drozd’s kids were also first testers of the Foreverywhere album before it was released in 2017. “Daniel would have been three then, when we were starting to work on ‘OK Toilet Bowl,’ and he was getting to that age where he was starting to understand stuff like that. Then Charlotte, my daughter, her first favorite song is probably ‘The Unicorn and Princess Rainbow.’ And my wife and I’s best friend – their little girl was about six when we were originally working on ‘The Unicorn and Princess Rainbow,’ and it became her favorite song for like a year. She was obsessed with it. So I thought, ‘This is a good sign.’ Not just my kids, but that young kids in general were responding to it.”


One particularly awesome facet of Foreverywhere, as a children’s work, is how STEVENSTEVEN completely upturn what could be described as “girly” clichés – unicorns, princesses, and rainbows, oh my – simply turning those elements and more into gender-neutral rock-and-roll stuff. “You nailed it right there,” said Drozd. “I mean, it is Princess Rainbow, but it’s not just for little girls. I’m not sure how Steve [Burns] got the idea; it was his idea for ‘The Unicorn and Princess Rainbow.’ As soon as we started working on the lyrics, he would painstakingly go over every line to make sure this isn’t too condescending; this isn’t too gender-identifiable. He was just really self aware of, ‘Let’s not make it just for kids and let’s not talk down to them. Let’s not make it so that girls have to be princesses.’ And that’s why she’s a badass rock guitar player. But when we were working on that song originally, we didn’t imagine this big world that exists now for Foreverywhere. We imagined the original songs. And I know that Steve wanted to do something, but the way this has turned out with the Audible book, it’s just way beyond what we ever imagined. It’s so cool to see these characters have so much of a story to be told, and a story that can be made up.” Given how vivid the picture of Anyville was in my mind, I wondered if they had considered evolving it even further, into a movie or a show, perhaps. “That’s what I thought,” said Drozd. “I thought maybe it could be some kind of animation thing. It could come to life, you know? Steve and I, the last time we talked, he was like, ‘I’m really glad it’s doing well. That’s a wrap.’ But I think now that it’s been so successful, maybe we could do something else with it. We were talking about doing a STEVENSTEVEN Christmas song with the characters in it. I can tell you that, and you can print it, but I don’t know if it’s ever going to come to fruition.”

Drozd recalled how he had initially met Burns, and how the duo had formed STEVENSTEVEN. I was living close to Buffalo, New York, in the town of Cassadaga, where our main recording studio is – Dave Fridmann, who’s our producer, his studio is there, and I was staying there for a while. Dave called me one day and was like, there’s this guy from this children’s show called Blue’s Clues who comes into the studio, and he wants to work with you. He loves The Flaming Lips and would just love to work with you, or anybody in The Flaming Lips. And I’m like, ‘I would do that, sure! That sounds cool,’ knowing nothing about it. And I watched Blue’s Clues, and I –” Drozd started laughing, “wasn’t that interested. Well this was like 2001, I was like 32 years old, so kids’ educational shows were off my radar. But the first time I met him, within fifteen minutes, we were cracking jokes and making each other laugh. And we instantly thought we should make some goofy children’s music one day, when we’re not doing this stuff. And that always stayed in our minds. So he came into town, and I helped him with some other stuff. And when he got a call from Nickelodeon to do a song about groundhogs, he called me. He came down to Oklahoma and we wrote the song in one night, recorded it the next day, gave it to Nickelodeon, and they thought it was great. And the response from that was so great that we were like, ‘Well, maybe we can do some more music like this, like we talked about.’ And that’s how it happened.”

“We hit it off within like ten minutes. We were playing guitar together and making up stupid songs. He was doing Christopher Walken impressions. He has amazing energy; it’s crazy. He’s such a unique individual. We’re still best friends to this day. He’s good at letting me know that things are getting too complicated for the sake of being complicated. He’s good at letting me know that,” said Drozd, reflecting on what he’d learned from Burns in terms of songwriting. “Like on the Foreverywhere record, the music is mostly simple – not totally simple – but I would get bogged down on something that I was overfocused on and he’d say, ‘That’s just not important. That’s just too complicated.’ That’s definitely something I got from him. I get that from Wayne too, but Steve as well, when we were working on that stuff together. And he’ll tell me what he thinks of The Flaming Lips’ stuff too,” he laughed. “On a fairly regular basis; his band toured with us in England back in 2003. So he’s always been around us. If you’ve heard the song by The Flaming Lips called ‘Time Travel…YES!!,’ he’s on one of the verses of it, doing his Steve Burns voice. We’re in each other’s lives a lot.”

The way Foreverywhere the album feeds into Foreverywhere the audiobook is clever, creative, and even surprising at times. I wondered how it felt watching your album transform into a longer narrative and bigger environment. “I just can’t believe how much story they got out of the raw material they had. I mean it could become a cartoon series. It could be anything, now. You could see Rick the Giant and Mote could be great cartoon characters, and Princess Rainbow is the superhero. It would be amazing, so it’s something to think about. It’s very…fulfilling is a kind of cheesy word, but it is. It’s pretty nice that something you’ve done has kind of generated enough interest for this thing to happen. That’s a good feeling.” Drozd then shared a tip for anyone out there working on children’s music. “Don’t do anything that makes you cringe. If you do something that makes you cringe, it’s not going to work for you. There’s a lot of children’s music, when I hear it, that I’m like, ‘Did they really like what they were doing? Did they feel good about that?’ Because it sounds awful and fake.” He laughed the way one laughs after an hours-long marathon of cacophonous kids’ shows while babysitting. “That would be the main thing, if you’re going to do it,” recommended Drozd. “You know, all of the stuff we made for STEVENSTEVEN – we love all of that music, we love the way we sound, we love the lyrics, we love every bit of it. And if there was something we didn’t like, we would definitely go back and we would change it, and we did on a couple of things. So I would say, just don’t do anything that makes you cringe or that you don’t feel good about.”


I asked Drozd if it were a possibility that The Flaming Lips might bust out a STEVENSTEVEN song during a concert someday, which would make for a magical deep cut on their setlist. “You know what, I’ve literally never thought of that idea – not once,” said Drozd, followed by a thoughtful and promising “Oh my god.” Once The Flaming Lips had come up in conversation, Drozd mentioned my recent interview with Wayne Coyne before I’d asked him about it. “I read the whole thing. The thing about Wayne is, he’s always completely honest – he’s always honest. He can’t not be honest talking about the things he cares about. So it’s always really fun to read that kind of stuff. I mean, I know him really well, but it’s still cool to read stuff that he has to say. ‘Cause some of these things, we don’t talk about these heavier things in real life every day. I saw him today, and he was talking about cleaning out the gutters in his neighborhood. And some people think he’s doing it as a good deed. And he’s like, ‘Well I am, but I’m also doing it because if I don’t, the city doesn’t do it, and my house floods.’ So he’s just always honest, which is kind of refreshing, you know? But scary sometimes too,” Drozd said with a warm laugh. He then responded to Coyne’s complimentary thoughts on their songwriting chemistry. “I would agree with that wholeheartedly, everything he said there. He and I hit it off, musically, from the beginning. I hadn’t made any music, really, but I knew that I liked The Flaming Lips’ music and I just liked what they were about. And then as soon as I joined the band and we started bouncing ideas back and forth, we realized that he comes from a family of six kids; I come from a family of five kids; we both had older brothers that turned us on to all of the great music. We had very similar childhoods. And somehow, when we started writing music, everything that we did connected.”

“I think there’s maybe five percent of things I would play for Wayne that he wouldn’t be interested in. There are elements of some music that he doesn’t like that I do like. There are some parts that we’ve made that I like that he doesn’t like, and I think it’s an age thing. But other than that, we just see eye to eye on all this music. Then, what he says is, ‘I can’t write lyrics. Maybe if I kept trying, I could do it, but I get frustrated really easily and I don’t like what I write.’ So I can come up with some piece of music, whatever it is. And I’ll play it for him, and he responds to it, and sometimes in five minutes, he’s already got some words. And I’m like ‘How’d he” – Drozd whispered an expletive – “do that?’” he laughed incredulously. “I hate to use the word ‘gift,’ but it really is a gift. I mean, I think he’s the best lyricist of our time. Of people that have been making records for the last thirty years or whatever, I think he’s the best lyricist ever. I mean, he can’t be topped. And he’s always looking for new things to do and new things to say, instead of doing the same old thing again. So it flatters me that he says that about my music, and I feel the same way about his – not just his lyrics, I feel that way about his songs. Sometimes he has a song that makes you realize, ‘Holy crap, that’s really good. Let’s just try not to screw this up.’ So we just work well together and I think it’s gotten better over the years. I agree with him.”

Drozd went on to describe his voice memo and text exchanges with Coyne when they’re working on music, and how technology has changed their creative process over time. “He texted me last night, and it’s so easy, now that we have cell phones and we can record things so quickly and so easily, it’s just really easy to work on new ideas. Back in the old days, he would give me a 4-track, or I’d give him a 4-track, and the other person would take it home and sit with it and work with it for a while. But now, everything can happen so quickly, you know? Like I’ve got three videos of him from last night, trying different lyrical ideas and chord things. And I sent him a couple of things that I played on the piano, to see which chord progression he liked the most for the lyrics he had sent me. So we’re always doing that back-and-forth thing. It’s pretty fun. We’re always doing stuff together. The thing about Wayne is, if I wasn’t doing stuff, he’d do it with someone else. He wants to create, create, create, create. I’m a little lazier. I can get home from the tour and not want to play for a week. Some people might think that’s weird, but that’s just how I am.” At that point, we talked about whether Electric Würms, their other project, was working on another record. They aren’t, but as it turns out, The Flaming Lips already are. “We talked about Electric Würms,” said Drozd. “If we did do another record for that, it would be a ways away. What we’re trying to do now, after King’s Mouth that just came out, is really focus on the next like Flaming Lips record that’s just our next record. So it’d be like the record after Oczy Mlody. We still have our electronic elements that we’ve been doing for a while, and I think that just gets better and better. And that’s less weird over time; everybody makes those sounds now. But we’re trying to do that kind of record and also get into this thing where we’re saying stuff about growing up, and the vibes that we had in our families. It’s a really general thing to mention to you, but yes, we’re working on the next record that would come out next year. We’re definitely about to immerse ourselves in that.”

Drozd had some interesting thoughts reflecting on King’s Mouth, The Flaming Lips’ latest album/book/touring art experience, acknowledging parallels with the innocent, whimsical themes of Foreverywhere. “When King’s Mouth was coming out, and this Foreverywhere version was coming out, we were like, ‘These are kind of similar. It’s a story being told with music,’ you know? And Wayne – he’s heard the songs, but he didn’t know there was a full-on book that was going to be on Audible. So I explained that to him, and he was like, ‘Wow, this is kind of crazy that this is happening at the same time.’ Just something that’s kind of in the air with us. I don’t know. Parallel. Always parallel.” Drozd added, “King’s Mouth, to me, is like the perfect summation of how Wayne works. He could start with a jot on a napkin, and then it becomes this little drawing, and now it’s a whole story. The music started out as just kind of a nebulous background piece to play in the King’s mouth [art installation] and it just went from there. It became this whole collection of songs that are connected to this story, and that’s just how Wayne works. He’ll just keep working on something until he’s satisfied with what it has become. That’s probably not the end of the King’s Mouth either. I’m happy to sit at the piano and just write words and a melody, but he’ll be like, ‘I had this napkin sketch, but now it’s going to turn into an art installation that’s going to have a book and a whole record connected to it, and the installation is going to tour around the U.S.A.’ That’s how he works. He’s a maniac.”

Drozd then detailed his unconventional background, instrumentally, as part of The Flaming Lips. “When I first joined the band, I joined as the drummer, and that was my focus at the time. I just wanted to be a great crazy rock drummer guy, you know? So, I think if I had been in another band, the path would have been different, because what happened was, Wayne discovered that I play guitar and I can play piano, and I had ideas and knew how music worked, et cetera. I think I played him a song that I had in the summer of 1992 – I think the first song I’d ever kind of written the music and some of the words for was a song called ‘Chewin the Apple of Your Eye’ off Transmissions From The Satellite Heart. And they could have been like, ‘That’s terrible. Don’t play any more of your songs for us,’ but it was like, ‘Oh, that’s great. Let’s work on that.’ So I was encouraged from the beginning; like, ‘You are playing drums, but you should do this other stuff too. We can definitely use your ideas.’ And as time went on, I just got more comfortable, coming in with more things that I wanted to try, and we started working more together. I taught myself how to play all of these instruments, but at one time in my life, I think when I was a teenager, I just thought I was going to be some studio musician that could play a bunch of different instruments and lived in like New York or Los Angeles or something. My imagination was not very great. But when I was twenty-one or twenty-two, I just really wanted to be in a unique rock band and shit, man, I hit the jackpot with The Flaming Lips. It couldn’t have been a better fit for me, I think. I can’t imagine how it would have worked out with any other band, with how long we’ve been together.”

“I started playing drums when I was eight. My dad got me a little drum set for Christmas, 1977. I kept at that, and I loved it. And then, around [age] twelve or thirteen, I just got this fever for wanting to play the piano. I mean, I got the fever really bad. We didn’t have a piano; we just had this keyboard in our house. So I would practice everything I could at home, and when I was around the piano at school, I would always try to play it. When I was eighteen, I started really getting into guitar and trying to learn how these crazy guitar players would play. I feel like this is all just a continuing story of that.” Drozd said of The Flaming Lips, “It’s a very positive vibe situation. Like if you come to The Flaming Lips’ shows now, we do these meet and greets, and the way we do them, you get to watch us do our soundcheck, and then you get in a line, and we take pictures with you, and we’ll talk to you as long as you want to talk. So, sometimes our meet and greets get to be two and a half, three hours, just because – Wayne even more than Michael [Ivins] and me – we’re talking to people so much. They have some story they want to share and some tattoo that they got,” he said in an appreciative tone. “It’s great. I say this to Wayne a lot: the seventeen/eighteen/nineteen-year-old me that imagined being like a rockstar on stage like Led Zeppelin, you know – what I’d imagined was not nearly as cool as what actually has happened in reality. I’ve been in this band – it will be twenty-nine years this fall – and we’re still playing, we still like each other, we’re still making music together, people still come to our shows, and we’re not miserable! It couldn’t have worked out any better for me. So yeah, it’s great.”

Right before we got off the phone, Drozd, whose excitement over each project and topic was an ever-present joy, generously shared his advice for staying happy. “With what’s going on with our federal government and all of that stuff, it really gets you down,” he admitted. “This is going to sound really dumb, but man, I would say try to disconnect from social media sometimes. I’m really bad about it. But just find that thing that you know that you love – that you just absolutely love – and just try to do that as much as you can. I have a beautiful grand piano in my home, and I’ve got all of these wonderful guitars, so I’m just sitting in a wonderful world of doing all of this stuff that I love to do. I’m lucky that I get to do all of the stuff that I love to do. So just find that thing that you love, and if you don’t know what that is, figure out what it is as quickly as you can.”


Article: Olivia Isenhart



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