Reverb Interview: The Flaming Lips’ and Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz' Jake Ingalls and Derek Brown

International psychedelic pop group The Flaming Lips, notorious for their exuberant instrumentation, layered synthesizers, overwhelming theatrics and visual displays, conquered this recent New Year's Eve, headlining the first annual “The Big One - San Francisco,” at the famous Bill Graham Civic Auditorium.

The Lips served up a sensational and visually stunning performance that electrified the crowd and rang in the new year with confetti cannons, giant balloons and a menagerie of smoke, strobes and melting rainbows.

With The Flaming Lips transforming into The Dead Petz and backing Miley Cyrus on her “Milky Milk” tour, it makes for some insane traveling schedules, including flying out from one tour to play a show in the other, and back again.

Even so, Derek Brown, guitarist, keyboardist and unsung hero, and Jake Ingalls, the 23-year old guitar and synth player, who has climbed from volunteer stagehand to on-stage player, made time to speak with Reverb about the rehearsal process, the demands of enduring two major tours and, of course, their gear.

How did you first start working with The Flaming Lips?

Derek Brown: I started to know them socially around 2001, just from being around Oklahoma City and promoting shows and stuff. Then I played with a couple bands that they took out on the road as support acts, like Starlight Mints and Steve Burns. That would have been in the Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots era. In 2009, out of the blue, Wayne Coyne [frontman for The Flaming Lips] and Steven Drozd [Lips' composer, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter] asked me if I'd be interested in joining the band live, not replacing anyone but adding to what was already there. I'd heard rumors they were going to add someone but never thought I was on the list. It was quite a shock and surprise.

Derek Brown with his acoustic (photo by Nikki Kahl)

On stage with The Flaming Lips, you’ve been seen standing behind drums, playing a guitar and manning a keyboard. What’s your primary job in The Flaming Lips?

Derek Brown: I don't think I have a primary job with the Lips. Personally, I enjoy playing synths the most, but I'm always up for anything. One of the first stipulations when I joined was that I would play some congas, and I'd never played percussion before in my life. Wayne said "You can play them with drumsticks" and that sounded fun, so I said "Yeah, totally." That's the attitude you have to take being in the Lips.

When we did the Transmissions From The Satellite Heart and Clouds Taste Metallic shows, I mostly put the synths away and got to do crazy guitar shit and that was fun. And when we do the more Soft Bulletin and The Terror type stuff, the synths come out and I love that, too.

Jake Ingalls with his Squier Jagmaster (photo by Nikki Kahl)

Are you running the same equipment on a Dead Petz show as you would on a Flaming Lips set?

Jake Ingalls: Yes, exactly the same. Basically, I've got the 2015 Fender Jaguar; Coyne had me put a Seymour Duncan Hot Rails in on the bridge pickup. I was feeding back a lot and apparently he did that to Steven [Drozd] way back in the day. Drozd had this 1967 Fender Jazzmaster and Coyne had put this Hot Rail in there.

Derek Brown: The primary electric guitar I use is a vintage Fender Jaguar they've had around for a long time. It's modded with the Hot Rails pickups, which gives it this insane output, and it plays wonderfully. Acoustic guitars are mostly Gibsons.

The Flaming Lips are known for their crazy, experimental sounds. What pedals do you run when you play with them?

Derek Brown: I love Empress guitar pedals -- if anyone at Empress is reading this, please call us! The Electro-Harmonix HOG is amazing. I love what some Oklahoma-based companies, like Walrus Audio, Keeley Electronics and Old Blood Noise Endeavors, are doing as well.

Akai Synthstation 49
Korg Microkorg

Recording, anything is game, but it's rarely the same stuff we use live. For example, we did a session at Tarbox last summer where all I played for a week was a Yamaha CS-60 and ran through it various effects pedals. For the last couple years, I've been using an Akai Synthstation controller where an iPad acts as the sound bank. In the past, I've used MicroKorgs and the Korg SV-1.

Jake Ingalls: My gear for the Lips isn't too impressive, sadly. Derek Brown's got the massive pedal thing; mine's more of a work-horse thing because what I play in The Flaming Lips varies so often; add that with how fast Wayne wants stuff. I just have that Line 6 M13, the Digitech iStomp, a Tech 21 SansAmp, and a Source Audio Multiwave Distortion. The M13 has a fuckload of sounds I can create on the fly to get something that's in the moment.

Tech 21 SansAmp
Line 6 M13
Source Audio Multiwave Distortion

How about in Spaceface?

Jake Ingalls: The favorite so far has been this 1974 MXR Phaser Drozd gave me. This phaser is new to us and a little more subtle than the live stuff has been, which I think is a bit better.

I also have a nice Zvex Fuzz Wah Probe on there; Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail; Line 6 M13; a Line 6 FM4; TC Helicon Mic Mechanic and a few nice Death By Audio pedals, including the Reverberation, which has a sick-ass gain. I used it on all the high leads in the new Spaceface LP. It rotates in and out of the touring pedalboard.

Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail Nano
TC Helicon Mic Mechanic
Death By Audio Reverberation

The Bass Multi-Effects has the perfect go-to delay and its pitch shifting is smoother than the Digitech. I use the Digitech for 3rds and 4ths. The pitch shift on that Bass Multi-Effects, I use live and in recordings. It has a sound that has less of a synthetic decay or warble. It kind of creates this really nice cloud of notes around your regular note that I really dig, rather than a cluster of square warbling. The Fuzz Wah Probe is pretty sick too, Drozd turned me on to that one. The MXR Carbon Copy sounds cool too.

Can you describe the rehearsal process for Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz?

Derek Brown: Matt Duckworth [from Stardeath and White Dwarfs] and Nick Ley [from Colourmusic] started working together before any of us did, mapping out how they would handle all the drums and samples. Then the full band got together for a couple weeks, minus Miley, and rehearsed the set the way we thought things would go. Miley joined us in Oklahoma for several days at a theater where we did a full run-through with all the video, lights, and stuff and we refined what the show would be. But with every show we've done so far, we keep refining it more and more, so it's been cool to have the show evolve as we go along.

The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne (photo by Nikki Kahl)

How is it different for The Flaming Lips?

Derek Brown: Wayne has an incredible ability to focus on minute details of a song. So if we're rehearsing a song and it's missing some ingredient that may have been on the record, we go back and listen to the original and find what we've been missing. That can be very enlightening because sometimes I'll think a song is more about one thing and find out he or Steven hears it a totally different way.

I have a pretty good idea of what Wayne is looking for and know some of his favorite records, sounds, etc., enough that, when in doubt, there are some sounds I can go for that he's in to. That said, sometimes I'm completely surprised when something I thought was "for sure" doesn't work and something that I don't feel that great about gets the "green light.” I trust his judgment, though!

What’s the difference between playing a Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz show versus playing a Flaming Lips show?

Jake Ingalls: It’s the same as it ever was for us. That's been the strange thing; how easy it is. We practiced in Oklahoma, like we would. Actually, the only difference was: we did a dress rehearsal. For the Lips stuff, the first time we did the dangly rope lights, that happened the day of the show. It was talked about maybe the day before.

The Flaming Lips' Rope Lights (photo by Nikki Kahl)
Wayne Coyne's "Bubble Trick" (photo by Nikki Kahl)

But like in “Vein of Stars,” when Coyne started going out in the crowd and doing the bubble trick, no one really knew. I had to text the sound guys: ‘Wayne’s talkin’ about a wireless microphone. Heads up!’ Most of the Lips’ stuff happens that day. All of Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz had to be a little more premeditated. It's basically a Lips show with Miley and with the Miley music.

Does the Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz show have the same stage production?

Jake Ingalls: Yeah, exactly. The same dangly lights, same backdrop with those moving carts and stuff. We've done a few new tricks that Coyne made for Miley, and I think the only difference would be we had a production rehearsal where our video guy, Sachem Arvidson, got to do a lot of really cool stuff called MIDI Mapping.

He was running his own channels through the drums and samplers and guitars and stuff. He can make, you know, a sample of a sun exploding but the regenerative factor of it is completely reactionary to whatever voice or instrument he chooses. So there's parts of the Dead Petz show where you'll see the video from [2009 The Flaming Lips track] “Silver Trembling Hands” playing and, because I get to play a lot more guitar, I spent the first couple shows like ‘Holy shit!’ turning around and watching the videos. You forget how fantastic it is. You just feel the light behind you.

You’ve been seen playing a Squier Jagmaster, when and why did you upgrade to the Fender?

Jake Ingalls with his Fender Jazzmaster (photo by Nikki Kahl)

Jake Ingalls: There was this Fender rep at the “Clouds Taste Metallic” show in Minneapolis at a tiny club. I was putting up the guitars, and there was this note in my case that said: "We need to talk." I assumed somebody was mad at me. At the time, I was playing Drozd’s black Gibson SG and the Jagmaster, but the Fender rep comes and says he loves all the Fender love on stage; he can see that Brown and Drozd are using them, Michael Ivins has a Fender bass, and I had a Squier Jagmaster. He asked us when we last re-upped, and I said we've never had an endorsement.

Drozd and Coyne declined, Ivins definitely wanted a hookup, so he got his number. Brown and I picked out a few things, like the [2015] white Jazzmaster that I play in Spaceface. I was supposed to get a Mustang. I wanted the Jazzmaster, to play in the Lips, and I wanted a candy apple red Mustang to play in Spaceface. It came to my parent's house, because I was still living with them. This was like last year.

As it turns out, the Jaguar that Brown wanted, they sent two instead of the Mustang. Ivins and I show up, he has a new bass, I have this new Jaguar and it was kinda like “Oh you guys think you're hot shit, huh? Play the loudest thing you can!” In practice, the band operates a lot like a garage band. There's never like "Oh, what will sound good here?"

Are you using any gear in surprising or unorthodox ways?

Jake Ingalls: I broke some shit during our last Spaceface tour, so the last pedal setup I used for Halloween was kinda fucked up. I was using a DL4 with a sped up rate as an overdrive.

Jake Ingalls with his MicroKorg (photo by Nikki Kahl)

You play a MicroKorg while sitting cross-legged on stage, resting the synths on your pedal rig.

Jake Ingalls: Basically, a lot of the stuff that I first started playing is kind of like a hot and cold scenario in Wayne's Pink Floor Studios. They asked, “So, what do you think you're gonna play on this song?” And this was the first time I'd played with them. I go for this guitar and they're like "No." I go for this nice Juno 60; "No." And I'm, like, okay, MicroKorg. And they’re like "Oh yeah! That'll work!" So I put it down, on the floor and played.

What advice would you give someone starting out right now?

Jake Ingalls: In Spaceface, We are figuring it out as we go. It's just me and [Daniel “Big Red”] Quinlan. I'd say it helps to have some kinda electronic press kit or ‘EPK’ and to get out there and find the bands to play with. A lot of the time, we've played with bands, then we got hooked up the next time. Just don't get disenchanted by a bad out-of-town show.

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