Until recently, the Flaming Lips knew nothing of Ender's Game. They'd missed the boat on the cult science fiction novel, which rose to popularity in the late 1980s—by which point frontman Wayne Coyne was working as a fry cook at Long John Silver's in between Lips shows—and knew nothing of the film that's been in the works for about a decade.
So naturally, when asked if they would record a track for the end credits of the movie adaptation, they enthusiastically agreed, regardless of the album they just released, world tour they're in the middle of, and full-length collaboration they're possibly actually recording with Ke$ha.
Actually, they turned it into an entire EP, Peace Sword, which arrives digitally today.
"I don't know how we were picked," admitted Lips multi-instrumentalist tinkerer Steven Drozd in a recent interview with The Atlantic Wire, given that the proggy despair of their latest LP seems ill-fitted to a beloved teen novel. "I think we were maybe one of a few bands that they contacted or reached out to and said, 'Hey, we'd like you to try a song for our end credits and see what happens.' I was like, 'I don't even know what this is,' you know? I remember, like, Dune, I remember being way into that."
The Lips received little direction: "They sent us the very last scene in the movie—and the ending credits so we could at least musically try to connect the end of their movie with the piece of music we were working on," Drozd recalled. "And then some lyrical ideas. And really that was it."
But frontman Wayne Coyne familiarized himself with clips from the film, and so emerged "Peace Sword (Open Your Heart)," the symphonic ballad that provides the theme to the film. Then Coyne, who's been attracted to whimsical sci-fi plots before, grew attached to the dramatic narrative thrust undergirding the project, and so more tracks poured out: the alien pulse of "If They Move, Shoot 'Em," which gravely urges its audience to "try and remember it's just a game / No one really dies," and the space funk of "Wolf Children," among three others loosely themed around Orson Scott Card's story. The whole thing culminates with "Assassin Beetle—The Dream Is Ending," a vaguely apocalyptic, 10-minute death march.
"We basically turned it into more than they wanted," Drozd conceded, scarcely hiding his exhaustion at the pace of Flaming Lips activity since the group's 13th studio LP, The Terror, arrived in June: "It started at home, then we worked on it a bit while we were on the road, then we came back home two weeks between tours to work on it." That's in between work on a joint EP with recent tour mates Tame Impala ("There's a mutual bro appreciation there, you know?" Drozd summarized) and a forthcoming side project dubbed Electric Worms.
"I think anyone that thinks that in this day and age is fucking insane," he reacted. "Marriage equality for everybody is just a right, but who am I?"
Unbeknownst to him, Wayne Coyne already made plans to have "Hey Orson Scott Card You Are Wrong" engraved on one side of the vinyl release and "Gay People Are Cool" on the opposite. He just didn't tell his bandmate.
"He doesn't keep me in the dark, it's just I have to ask," the musician explained after hearing of the engraved message. "He rarely will call me and be like, 'Hey, what do you think about this.' It's more like, 'Hey, give me a call' and I'll give him a call or I'll be like 'I saw something on Twitter about going on tour in December!' and he'll be like, 'Oh yeah, we're doing that.'
And anyway, the engraving isn't altogether at odds with bizarre, Lipsian packaging antics: a recent, $2,500 vinyl pressing of The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends incorporated actual samples of its collaborators' blood.
"Maybe the next thing is, you pay $50,000 and [Coyne] comes to your house and plays it for you on your record player in person," Drozd speculated. "That could be, like, a special limited edition."