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August 7, 2014

Ex-Flaming Lips drummer Kliph Scurlock: ‘I’m a lot happier’

The Lawrence resident had been the drummer for the Flaming Lips for 12 years when he was fired in March. He talks about that and his new project with Gruff Rhys.

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Timothy Finn blogs about the Kansas City music scene

You could say Kliph Scurlock is back in the saddle.

Five months after he was fired as the drummer for the Flaming Lips after 12 years with the band, Scurlock, a Lawrence resident, is back on the road. Since late July, he has been in the United Kingdom playing drums for Gruff Rhys, lead singer for Super Furry Animals.

Scurlock’s firing was related to his criticism of Christina Fallin, daughter of Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, for posting an Instagram photograph of herself wearing an American Indian headdress.

Fallin is a member of the band Pink Pony and a friend of Wayne Coyne, lead singer and songwriter for the Flaming Lips. Scurlock called her out on the headdress incident on social media for misappropriating a symbol of the American Indian culture and for what he thought was an insincere apology. (See today’s Star Magazine for more about this.)

Fallin apparently complained to Coyne about Scurlock’s posts, and, on March 19, amid an exchange of texts that turned heated, Coyne fired Scurlock from the band.

Scurlock kept his firing quiet for weeks, but after another headdress incident involving Fallin and Coyne, word about Scurlock’s dismissal and the reason for it leaked to several websites.

Scurlock subsequently sent a statement to the music website Pitchfork (which he later posted on Facebook), chronicling what had happened and calling out Coyne for what Scurlock said was years of harsh behavior: “I have become used to his lightning-quick temper and the horrible things he’ll say in the heat of being upset,” Scurlock wrote.

On May 9, Rolling Stone magazine published an interview with Coyne, who unleashed his ire, denying Scurlock was fired for the Fallin incident and calling him “hateful” and an “abusive, compulsive, pathological liar.”

Scurlock had been associated with the Lips since 1999, when he became a member of its road crew. He became part of its touring band in 2002. In 2009, he was recognized as a full-fledged member of the band.

In his Facebook statement, he called the firing one of the darkest moments in his life: “I can’t even begin to express what a devastating blow that was to me. I have loved that band since the early 1990s and becoming a member of that band in 2002 is probably the proudest moment I’ve had in my life.”

Five months later, Scurlock says he has processed the entire affair and put it into perspective. The night before he left Lawrence for the Rhys tour, he spoke to The Star about his firing and its aftermath.

Let’s talk first about your new gig. How did you meet Gruff Rhys?

I met the Super Furry Animals when they played the Bottleneck in 2002. A little after that, the Lips did a tour of the U.K. The tour wanted someone from each town to play an unannounced set between us and British Sea Power. We were in Bristol and couldn’t come up with a band. I thought of Gruff and he agreed. That was the first time I really met him.

We became friends and I’d go see Super Furry Animals any chance I could. The first time I played with him was in 2007. He was in Chicago, and I had a few days off, so I flew to Chicago and played a show with him at Schubas (Tavern).

You played with him since, including at this year’s South by Southwest conference, too.

Yes. He was making this sort of documentary about John Evans, a Welsh explorer who came over here looking for a mythical tribe of Welsh Native Americans. He was doing this kind of investigative concert tour and played shows along the way of Evans’ path. I did some of those shows.

He also recorded an album for the project up in Omaha. I was on 10 of the tracks, seven made the album. The others will be B-sides. The movie premiered at SXSW. I went down to see the movie and play some shows with him. A few days later I had the blowup with Wayne and he fired me.

I made sure to get a hold of Gruff to make sure he made it home safely and to say, “Hey, I’m available all the time now.” But he had just finished his plans for the year and had already asked a friend to be in the band and didn’t want to take back his invitation.

But last week (in July) he wrote that the guy had dropped out and wanted to ask me first and he’d love for me to do it. It was a real short notice, but I said I’d figure it out.

When was the last time you did a full tour?

The last full Lips tour was last fall. We didn’t tour much during the winter because travel can get sketchy. We did some shows right before SXSW.

What’s your perspective on your firing and how it went down?

I’m conflicted. They’ve been on tour the past couple of months, and I’ve missed it. It’s like, “Damn it, I wish I was out there.” I’ve missed Steven (Drozd) and Derek (Brown) and the tour manager and sound guys. Those were some of my favorite people. I’ve missed being around them. And I miss those songs.

But, I hadn’t really liked Wayne very much for a few years now, and as I get more perspective on it, I miss the guys, and the songs and knowing where next month’s rent was coming from. But for the most part, I’m a lot happier.

When we’d sit down and make music for the sake of making music, I always really loved everything they did. But I found myself rationalizing other stuff, like doing commercials or doing these cover albums.

The scene had become toxic, but it was a slow change. Wayne didn’t just change overnight. I would keep thinking, “Wow, things really can’t get any crazier,” but they would get a little crazier. And I kept sort of adapting to it. There were so many things I really loved about it and the people and to be able to make a living that way really kept me interested and engaged.

But I do have perspective on it now. It’s been really positive and healthy for me to not have to be in a crazy situation.

Have you been in contact with anyone with the band since?

It’s gotten a little bit more estranged since everything blew up and played out in the press. I would talk to Steven almost every day. I haven’t talked to him in probably a month or so. It’s just … things are really strange. I mean, things won’t go back to normal because I’m not in a band with them anymore, but I’m confident things will be OK, on a personal level.

Things were pretty crazy for a while after the word got out and you posted your Facebook statement. What’s your recollection of all that?

It’s really fascinating how the media works and how people respond to it. After I got fired, I didn’t say anything publicly. I just wasn’t that interested. But I also knew that the band would continue and there were people whose livelihood depended on it. I didn’t want to (mess) with them in any way.

But before that show Christina Fallin’s stupid band played to try and drum up interest in the band they started, spreading rumors they would perform in full native regalia.

So some people protested. And some people wrote about that and how (bad) it was. And some people said Wayne had been up there on their side, mocking the protesters. And somebody said, “Well, it goes deeper than that. He fired the drummer because he called her out on it before.”

From there, the story started bubbling over. I’m just a guy in Lawrence with no manager or publicist. I contacted a friend who’s an entertainment lawyer and said, “What, if anything, should I do?” He basically said “It’s up to you. You can keep quiet if you want. It may go away in a few days. Or you have a chance to speak out if you want, but you don’t have to.”

Then Gawker got hold of the story. And he called me and said, “This is probably going to go mainstream. It’s almost at the point where someone has to address it. If I were you, I’d prepare a statement. They are probably going to address it and say it’s all made up. So you should have a rebuttal prepared.”

So that night I got home and stream of conscious wrote this thing. I figured I had a day or two to edit and revise it. The next morning, I started getting all these texts.

I kept seeing “Pitchfork,” “Pitchfork,” “Pitchfork.” I was like, what the? ... So I went and looked at Pitchfork and there’s this big headline: “Kliph Scurlock accuses Wayne Coyne of racism.” I was like, “No, no I did not. Never did that.” Racism charges can kill a career. If I thought for a second Wayne was racist, I’d say he was. But he’s not.

I don’t particularly care for the guy but I’m not going to make up anything bad about the guy. So I kind of freaked out and sent a message to Pitchfork that I thought illustrated what I’d said. I explained that he wasn’t doing it to be racist.

The picture of his girlfriend and a roadie and a dog all wearing headdress, people were saying: “That was racist.” But what I was saying was it was a stupid thing to do, but he (Coyne) was doing it to dig at me. But they kept the headline and it went on all these online music sites. It was mind-boggling to me. I wanted to scream: “No, people, read my words!”

There has been a pretty harsh backlash over your firing. The Flaming Lips Facebook page is filled with posts from angry, resentful fans, or former fans. Are you aware you of all that?

I don’t really pay much attention to it. I’ve had a lot of people write and tell me they’re done with the group. But I think a lot of people had been getting tired of a lot of things that Wayne or we as a group had been doing, and had sort of written us off.

The last couple of years, concert attendance was going way down. We played lots of shows in places we’d sold out many times, no problem — sold out the day tickets went on sale — but we’d get close to the show and some places were doing a buy one, get one free. One show we did buy a ticket for $10, get two for free. So something was going on already.

I think a lot of people (fans) used this as a reason to get out because it was public and it was an easy reason to get out. I don’t know of anyone who really liked the band up to that point and then decided not to.

To reach Timothy Finn, call 816-234-4781 or send email to Follow the Back to Rockville blog on Twitter @kcstarrockville.

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