What with the name, Sean Lennon is an artist in his own right, and throw a stone at this scribe if he’s up to praising a talentless heir of a famous family. Sean doesn’t look for fame, as he has it in spades, he’s looking for a pure art form to express himself, that’s why there’ve been eight action-filled years between Lennon Jr’s experimental debut, “Into The Sun”, and 2006’s “Friendly Fire”, that’s just a shadow short of being called a masterpiece. Yes, he’s a master now. Forget, then, the parallels with John: let them lie in the lines of his features only. A mild but strong-willed man – meet Sean Lennon.
– Now you’re several gigs into your first solo world tour. How’s the reaction been so far?
This isn’t my first world tour by any means. I’ve toured Europe, Asia, Australia, even New Zealand and Japan, several times over. The reaction? Well it’s quite different from city to city, from country to country. In fact, it can change depending what day of the week it is. Most shows are great.
– How often, in your opinion, people are able to like your music without taking the name into consideration?
It would be impossible to measure accurately. I’d say it’s more often the case that these name-obsessed types tend to under appreciate my music because they’re hung up.
– There’s been an eight-year gap between “Into The Sun” and “Friendly Fire”. Why did it take you so long to record a second solo album when you were obviously bursting with new music?
I didn’t like promoting myself as if I were a car or a brand of toothpaste. I felt that being at the center of a solo career, inundated with tabloid-centric celebrity nonsense was not the life for me. Now I realize that I won’t be able to sustain my music career without selling a little toothpaste.
– What prompted your move from the “Sun” experimentalism to the “Fire” pop music – and how did you manage not to lose adventurousness along the way?
When I was young, I was preoccupied by the aesthetic of the unfinished, the home-made, things that were rough around the edges were beautiful to me. They still are. But with “Friendly Fire” I decided to see if I could make something refined. I opted for a more elegant and elaborate aesthetic.
– “Friendly Fire” can mean not only being shot by your buddies but also a flame you can warm by. Was it what you meant?
I like appropriating misused modern language.
– Judging on this album’s background – the love and friendship mess – its bittersweet drift could be a search for the peace of mind, yet its consolation is of the extravert nature, and “Parachute” works as a lullaby for my two-week old boy. What’s the secret of channeling your inner feelings out?
I think it takes practice, and also a desire to understand beauty in art. If you are obsessed with art, you will eventually find a way to make art that you like. I happen to like emotive music, so I’ve developed a sense of how to achieve it.
– Isn’t it hard to hide major hope in the minor chords?
I love this question. I’m not exactly trying to convey a sense of hope. It’s more that I’m trying to accurately identify feelings and experiences, to describe life and not to judge it, not to be hopeful or pessimistic in my analysis, but to articulate the nature of the experience so elegantly, that a general feeling of ‘hopefulness’ might be derived from the experience of listening to the music. Meaning: I try to construct an elegant architecture that is pleasurable to experience. If the building blocks of that architecture are minor or major, or about something sad, or something nice, they should all inspire positive energy in the end.
– You play several instruments: who was instrumental in helping you mastering them all?
I taught myself how to play.
– On the David Letterman show you played live with an orchestra. Wasn’t that intimidating?
Ah, not exactly. It was firstly just a trio, not an orchestra. And it wasn’t intimidating as much as it was fun.
– Drawing as well as playing music, do you have visual images in your mind while writing a song?
I am slightly synesthetic, though not entirely.
– Marc Bolan wasn’t the most downbeat artist in the world. How did the idea of interpreting his “Would I Be The One” for the “Friendly Fire” context come about?
John Zorn had asked me to cover that song for his “Great Jewish Composers” series on Tzadik.
– Your lyrics seem to bear the tanka imprint. Have you really been inspired by Japanese poetry to some extent – or is it just my imagination?
Sadly I think it’s your imagination though I am embarrassed to admit I don’t know more about the poetry of my ancestors. Having said this, my mother’s Japaneseness has had a deep influence upon me, and may be responsible for whatever tanka-ness you may have detected.
– You ended your first album with words, “I waited and waited for something to catch”. What was that something and did you eventually catch it?
Yes. I was describing what my childhood felt like. Trying to find my artistic voice. I believed I had found it with the song “Sean’s Theme”‘ I still believe this.
– Will there be a new record in the foreseeable future?
I hope so. I think it’s likely.