Miley Cyrus' new album Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz caught fans and critics off guard least of all because of its surprise delivery at the end of this year's MTV's Video Music Awards. Clocking in at 23 songs, it is aggressively long and nearly exhaustingly earnest in a way only an album made by three best friends alone in a fun house could be. Miley credits the Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne as being her primary co-conspirer on the project, but her long-time collaborator Mike WiLL Made-It also played a key roll, contributing five songs of his own. Because as Mike WiLL explains, Miley told him: “I want to do this project with Wayne, but I can't drop no music without you.”
The FADER spoke to Mike WiLL Made-It about how he got into Miley's headspace, the heated conversation about cultural appropriation that Miley's MTV Video Music Awards costume changes has caused, and that one time he went to the club with Wayne and 2 Chainz. Read the conversation, edited and condensed, below.
From where you stand, how did Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz come to be?
She knew that she wanted to take a different approach, she wanted it to be on some cool, vibed out shit. And she wanted to do a project with the Flaming Lips, because the Lips was always her favorite band when she was growing up. So when she got the opportunity to work with them, she went all the way in with them on her project.
With Miley, she listens to all different types of music. She wants to do this shit that's not all the way correct in somebody's head, she wants to push and do what's right in her head. Nobody would even expect for me and the Flaming Lips to work on a record together, and that's what happened. I'm all about colliding worlds, culture shock shit.
How familiar were you with the Flaming Lips before this project?
I had never heard of them before Miley told me about them, so she put me on them. She started downloading all their music on my computer and that's when I really started understanding what type of music they made.
When did you first meet Wayne Coyne? How'd you hit it off?
She told me about Wayne Coyne and always spoke highly of him. I finally met him one night at one of her shows and we had a good time. Then I had Wayne meet me at the 2 Chainz show, and then I went to the club with 2 Chainz and Wayne said he'd come meet me, so I ended up at the club with Wayne and 2 Chainz. That's when I realized Wayne was on some free, in the moment type of guy.
How was it working with him?
Once me and Wayne got in the studio, he would play me a bunch of stuff and I would play him a bunch of stuff and we traded a bunch of files and caught each other's vibes. He knew I was coming from a different world, so he knew I was going to hear things differently than he was.
One thing about Wayne, he just has to hear it a couple of different times. I have a way that I bounce, so I'll have a pocket that I'll be in or I'll have a different beat selection that I'll be in, and he'll be like, “Hold on, what the fuck is that?” He might not contextualize it, but I'm like, “That's more of a rapper's pocket.” This song is a pretty ass beat but he's like, “I don't know if I could catch that, my man.” But Miley would be able to catch it, she understands it. She could dab in both worlds.
"I was really trying to be like, 'You should do some shit with Gucci Mane on this beat!' The way the beat was bouncing, that's what I was thinking."
How did the process for Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz compare to Bangerz?
It was different, it was iller, though. It was more like an art project—it was a creative process and it was all the way her vision. On Bangerz, she had a vision as well, but it was really like me in her world and then bringing music out of that. On Bangerz, she wrote with a lot of writers and whatnot. On this one we weren't in the studio, we were at her house. But I'm used to working out of the house and shit, so it was all cool to me.
The main difference with this album and Bangerz is she was writing a lot. She just toured Bangerz for a whole year and she knew what she liked and didn't like. Bangerz was a good album and for her it was an enlightening experience—it gave her confidence to go in the studio and start wanting to write for herself. She saw that she did a successful, dope album, and it gave her confidence to go in and another one and get even more creative.
How do you define your role in the making of this album?
What I was to Bangerz is what Wayne was to this album, so [on Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz] I was producer like Dr. Luke—he did a couple of big ass songs for [Bangerz]. Instead of me starting off them album, it was them starting it off and I'm just listening. Miley was like, “I want to do this project with Wayne, but I can't drop no music without you.” So she was like, “I want to see how it would sound for you to add some shit to some of this shit and just make it even more crazy, even more fucked up.”
How did you get into that headspace?
It was a challenge for me and my team to really get locked in, trying to get them to understand [the vision] and then listening to all the Flaming Lips’ old music. I would send her a couple songs and she was like, “Man, that's not it.” And I was like, them shits would have been hits! But now that the album is finished, I get what she was saying. At the end of the day, it really didn't match this project.
Were there any major disagreements or arguments about how things should be?
One time I was over at the crib and she's playing me a bunch of music, and that's when I bring up "I Forgive Yiew." I was like, "Man, this shit would be hard as fuck if you get on this shit.” I was really trying to be like, “You should do some shit with Gucci Mane on this beat!” The way the beat was bouncing, that's what I was thinking. She ended up just laying that shit down and then when Wayne heard it, Wayne liked it but was like, “I think we can come with something else cool to this beat.” So it was really organic.
“Lighter," which sounds like ‘80s prom song, in particular surprised me —
You know what's crazy, the name of that beat was called "More ‘80s"! Me and Pluss were in the studio and I was like, “Bro, we got a find some different ass chords that feel like one of those ‘80s classic rock songs, like [Annie Lennox’] ‘No More I Love Yous.’ We got to do some vintage crazy shit.” We were locked in all day and all night trying to find those chords, and then we just put drums to it. We felt it was undone—it was only one minute long—but I let Miley hear it and was like, “What do you think about this beat? It just feels good.” She ended up doing, like, a seven minute song to this shit, just looping the beat and going crazy. I shortened it up and put it together as a song, and then Wayne heard it and he put his suggestions on it—a couple of filters on the beat so the beat continues to change. It was a process, but that was my favorite song.
How do you think the experience of working on this album will impact your future work?
It opened me up to a whole ‘nother world and a whole other type of making music. Really, where I'm at musically, I'm in a weird space because I always want to continue to grow and do different music, but I come from a certain sound. I have a sound that's knocking shit for the club, and then I have a sound that's undiscovered that people aren't expecting. I just feel like right now it's time to do the unexpected, to push. I can't keep doing the same shit.
“Bro, we got a find some different ass chords that feel like one of those ‘80s classic rock songs, like [Annie Lennox’] ‘No More I Love You's.’ We got to do some vintage crazy shit.”
What do you think this project will mean for Miley going forward?
For the people that thought she was only going to do pop records and shit: she could have played it straight like any other artist and just done straight pop smashes, number one Top 40 and shit. But "Bang Me Box" could be a Top 40 smash. [These songs] are all different smashes that just don't fit in with what else is going on. She already knows that she's going to push and she's going to stretch, but now people see. This is more Miley, it’s really punk.
Miley has come under criticism for certain choices she made as host of this year's MTV Video Music Awards, particularly the wardrobe changes which borrowed signifiers of blackness and a skit during which she called Snoop Dogg “my real mammy.” How do you understand these choices?
I don't really see color and shit, so for her having those dreads, on the MTV [Video Music Awards], it's not my first time seeing her do that shit. Not even just dreads, she'll do anything—she'd probably put the dreads in, she probably put this other extension in her hair, then she probably put her hair in pigtails, and then say she look like Jim Carey. I don't really think she's looking at it like on some racial shit, like, “I'm going to fuck with the black culture.” She just play around with different stuff, I don't really think she takes this stuff as seriously as everybody else does. A lot of times, she's trolling for the most part.
Trolling, like for attention?
I mean, I think she really is just like an entertainer. When I'm around her she'll be joking around and doing this, doing that—she has a pig, you know what I'm saying? She just do different stuff, not trying to get a response or trying to be racial. Miley just be playing around a lot. But at the end of the day, she's at a whole ‘nother stage and a whole 'nother level, so people respond to her different. People look at her like she's trying to do this or do that, but I don't really know how to comment on that—it's a different from the outside looking in.