“People say, ‘Hey, try this beer?’ I say, ‘You’re fucking with me. That’s Diet Coke with some beer spilled in it.’ I’m just used to drinking my Coors and Budweiser from 1975,” admits Wayne Coyne, the co-founder and lead singer of legendary rock band the Flaming Lips. “But I don’t really drink beer. I think it just fills me up too much. I don’t just want to be sipping a bunch of bubbles.”
That, however, didn’t stop him from partnering with Sam Calagione, the innovative founder of acclaimed Maryland-brewery Dogfish Head, on the so-called Dragons & YumYums Beer. In Calagione, Coyne found a kindred (eccentric) soul, who was not only up to the challenge of making a special pale ale but pushed the project into ever more interesting territory. “But I think he wasn’t probably prepared for me to say ‘we did this record in 2010 where we filled it with blood,’” remembers Coyne. “‘Why don’t we do a record filled with beer?’”
Not only did Calagione love the idea of pairing the beer with a couple songs, but suggested that one of the tunes be about all the exotic ingredients going into the recipe. The name of the finished drink, Dragons & YumYums, which is actually made with dragon fruit, yumberry, passion fruit, pear juice and black carrot juice, could certainly have been the title of a Flaming Lips album.
“The beer that we arrived at is fucking amazing. I get more people telling me how much they loved the beer then they have about the Tony Awards [nomination] thing,” says Coyne. “The songs that we made in collaboration, which talk about the beer, ingredients and all that, that turned out really great.”
The music and the beer were both released on Record Store Day, which took place at the end of this past April. While it’s not the band’s first boozy collaboration—a few years ago they partnered with Few Spirits in Chicago to make a rye whiskey—it’s particularly impressive given that they were finishing up their long-awaited best of album, The Flaming Lips: Greatest Hits Vol. 1. It took them a decade to put it together and the album just came out this past June.
“Sometimes I think people view greatest hits records as being something that the record company throws together, while the artist is out there making some other deeper more artistic thing,” says Coyne. “This is not the case with us. We’ve been trying to put together and find the time to put together a really great version of what we think is greatest hits.” He quickly adds with a laugh, “not that we really have hits.”
Now that this landmark project has been completed, Coyne doesn’t rule out the possibility of partnerships with more alcohol brands. “It comes down to the people that are doing it. You try to feel them out. I’m involved but you’re the ones doing the beer part of it,” he says. And while he’s no stranger to the avant-garde, he admits “when people say I’ve never tasted anything like that, they usually mean that’s so horrible I never want to taste that again. We don’t want that.”
And his own personal drinking tastes are surprisingly normal. When he’s out with friends, more often than not, “I’m usually drinking something like Fireball that doesn’t have to be mixed. Usually the ice runs out, the mixers run out, the juice runs out, the tonic water runs out. So, I don’t need to mix here, I can just drink it straight out of the bottle. It’s just less fuss. I don’t want to be waiting around for some Rum & Coke.”
What is it about Fireball’s taste that he likes? “There is something about the cinnamon and sugar that helps my stomach,” he says. “I think I get too much of an intense nervous stomach. I like that it’s sort of like cough syrup.”
The other benefit is that it’s a quick order. “Sometimes you’re at a bar and you can already see that if you go up and order a fancy drink that’s going to be 20 minutes, whereas if you get some shots you can get that in a couple of minutes.”
“With experience, I think you find the most efficient way to get what you like and not be such a fuss. The crowded bar at the end of night and getting fancy drinks… We don’t want to do that,” he advises. “My drink is easy. Anybody can get it for me. Anybody can buy a shot for me.”