How the Flaming Lips Lost a Drummer Over Native American Appropriation

If you've been to a music festival in the last few years, you've probably noticed young, white people parading around in traditional Native American headdresses. It is a gross bit of cultural appropriation. Because the drummer for the Flaming Lips thought so, he was kicked out of the band after 12 years, in a controversy that involves the daughter of Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin.

On March 6, Christina Fallin—Mary's daughter and the lead singer of the band Pink Pony—proudly posted a photo to Instagram that showed her wearing a headdress, seemingly unaware that it might anger scores of people in her mother's state, which is still 9 percent American Indian. In response to social media blowback against that picture, Fallin, who is 27, released a statement along with her band, asking Oklahoma's native community to "forgive us if we innocently adorn ourselves in your beautiful things."

How the Flaming Lips Lost a Drummer Over Native American Appropriation

On March 22, the Flaming Lips played a show without Kliph Scurlock, who had drummed with the psych-rockers since 2002. On April 2, a commenter on the indie rock blog Brooklyn Vegan wrote that legendary frontman Wayne Coyne had fired Scurlock from the band, and that Fallin's headdress stunt was to blame:

Kliph wasn't fired for calling Wayne out on his midlife crisis b.s. (although if anyone in that band had the nuts to bring it up to Wayne, it would be Kliph!) He was fired for taking a stand against Wayne's new buddy - the daughter of OK's tea-bagging, homophobe governor Mary Fallin - when she donned a Native headdress for a racist publicity stunt. When Kliph called her out on social media for being a shithead to the Oklahoma Native community who complained about her headdress publicity stunt, she tattled on him to Wayne. Wayne actually told Kliph he was fired for insulting Fallin publicly.

Five days after that post, the Flaming Lips officially announced that Scurlock had separated from the band. No reason was given for the departure, and perhaps because bands splinter all the time, the issue wasn't probed by the music press. According to a source who spoke with Gawker, Scurlock had left comments on Fallin's Instagram that expressed his displeasure with her photo.

Coyne, on the other hand, was supportive. In late March, he posted a since-deleted photo to Instagram showing three of his friends and a (sad-looking) dog wearing a headdress. The caption was "did our best @christinafallin pose."

On April 26, Pink Pony performed at the Norman Music Festival in Oklahoma. The crowd included not just festival attendees and those curious to see a band led by the governor's daughter, but also members of the activist group Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry, who had organized a protest of the set because of Fallin's recent history. At the festival, protestors held signs that said "NOT A FASHION ACCESSORY" and "CULTURE IS NOT COSTUME."

Rather than shaming Fallin, the protests apparently egged her on. According to witnesses, Fallin, who was wearing a shawl with the word "SHEEP" stitched on the back, "performed a fake war dance while her boyfriend Steven Battles ridiculed the protestors and flipped them off from the stage."

Watching the performance was Coyne, who had the same reaction as his friend Fallin. Sources told to BuzzFeed that Coyne was seen "pointing and laughing at the protestors."

After Fallin's performance, the Oklahoma gossip blog Red Dirt Report reported that it, too, had multiple sources that said Scurlock had been fired for calling Fallin out. A few days after that, we received a screenshot of a Facebook message Scurlock sent to an acquaintance in which he stated that he had indeed been sacked from the band for that reason.

Untethered from the Lips, Scurlock retweeted messages supporting the Fallin protestors after her performance. In an April 28 tweet to a supporter, Scurlock, addressing the state's Native American community, alluded to his dismissal from his band of a dozen years: "I will always stand by your side. And the greater the ignorance, the louder my mouth will get, rock bands be damned."

When asked for comment, a representative for the Flaming Lips said, "Apart from acknowledging that Kliph has parted ways w/ THE LIPS, I have no further info on this." Scurlock did not respond to an inquiry.

UPDATE: Kliph Scurlock confirmed to Indian Country Today Media Network that he was fired by Wayne Coyne for criticizing Christina Fallin. "I was fired for telling Christina to go fuck herself after her lame-ass 'apology' when people got upset at her stupid headdress photo," he wrote. "That happened in mid-March. I wasn't anywhere around during the performance [at Norman Music Festival] the other night."

Scurlock also sent a long email to Pitchfork describing his ouster: "I can't lie and say that some part of me isn't happy to see Wayne finally catch heat for some of his actions."