Sean Lennon has been an artist and singer/songwriter from age five when he first made a cameo on his mother Yoko Ono's Season of Glass record in 1981. The "beautiful boy" got the bug and continued to collaborate musically and produce with his mother and ultimately released records of his own music. His '98 debut Into the Sun and Friendly Fire in '06 gave Sean his own voice that teetered between ripe for mixtape sunshine sounds and personal, sorrowful introspection.
Caught between the reality of being the offspring of a pop icon and his own personal interests as an artist, Lennon has found sturdy ground creatively with partner Charlotte Kemp Muhl. Starting their own record label, Chimera Records, Sean has produced and released his Mother's music, former bandmates Cibo Matto, as well his new band mixing '60s psychedelia, folk music he leads with Muhl, the Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger. Their new record, Midnight Sun, gives Lennon his own voice and approach to modern music with some wonderful results.
Appearing this Friday in the 7th Street Entry for a likely, very happening performance, Sean spoke briefly to Gimme Noise about his band and his parents' record collection.
Gimme Noise: Hey Sean, just watched your appearance on Conan with that giant ear dancing in the background. It looks like a really fun psychedelic freakout. Any other highlights from the road so far?
Sean Lennon: We've been having a lot of fun. Yeah, there've been a couple awesome ones. When we were in Austin we met a guy who had a cutting-lathe recording studio which is directly to vinyl. That was really fascinating. When we were in New Orleans we went to Mr. Quintron's experimental instrument house. He's actually rigged his entire house with synthesizer instruments that respond to temperature, wind and light. That was really fascinating. He's considered a scientist, instrument maker, performance artist. There's been some really great encounters over the course of the tour so far.
So are you encouraging the psychedelic aspect for the shows. Is the stage pretty decked out? How's the general vibe?
Well this is the first tour for the band. We don't have a ton of theatrics going on. We had a little performance art going on out in L.A. since our friends living out there are performance artists and came down. Basically the fanciest thing we brought out is this retro oil projector that we brought from New York which is kind of old and finicky. It only really works if you tap it the right way. We're pretty lo-fi actually. We're just sort of introducing the band to the world.
That's pretty exciting. Is there encouragement for the audience to represent some of that freaky side and bring it to the show?
I mean, we don't really. We haven't seen much of that. But I guess, if you want to come out to the show dressed up like a wizard we'd be happy.
Right on. Bring your own Wizard hat!
It definitely resonates sometimes with certain audience members. We've had some funny and interesting people show up. Some people are really prepared for an other worldly experience. Like I said this is just the first tour. A lot of people are just checking us out for the first time. Just dipping their foot in the water.
I'm guessing this whole project has been incubating for a while now. You must be pretty happy to see how it's evolved and how people are responding. For yourself, would you say you are in a happier place than when you first started out solo and having to deal with what people knew about you at that point?
You could say that. I think that's probably true. I do feel like overall my life is improving.
I think it's a logical progression. I remember when you first came out it was sort of like what else are people really going to ask you about? I'm thinking that must have really followed you around and probably has died down since you've come more into your own in creating your own thing like this.
Well, you'd think so. But it's almost like people ask me more about the Beatles than ever before. I'm not exactally sure why. I don't know what it is. That's the way my life is. I'm fine with that.
I think what you are doing is a little bit of a contiuation of what went on the '60s and the general psychedelic movement. What I get gassed about is the aspect of you and Charlotte's label, Chimera Records. How hands on are you guys with that?
Well we're about as hands on as you can get. It's really a Mom and Pop business. We have all the meetings in our kitchen. All the records are shipped out of our house out of our basement in our apartment.
I love all the different color vinyl -- the milky white Cibo Matto record was way cool. Just thinking about your own growing up and the record collection you may have had. Is the music you are doing now influenced from that in any way?
Sure. Of course it is! That's inevitable. I don't think it's possible to listen to the music and not be influenced by it. I think that's true with movies and art. When you are an artist I think the first step is listening to other people's stuff. I think that remains true throughout your career and I can't imagine any other way.
Were your folks pretty deep with record collecting? I visualize this mass of stuff from everywhere they were being turned on to in different places.
I sort of imagine that too. But it's not really true, unfortunately. The truth is they were just handed so many records. People would just bombard them with albums. So I think the record collection is mostly part freebies from labels. Then probably a lot of records that were being checked for Beatles covers whether they sounded good or not. Then a few personal records that were stuff that was shoved in their hands unwittingly. I listened to a lot of music. There was a real abundance of music growing up. Everything from classical, like hardcore stuff cutting edge stuff like Schoenberg, which my Mother turned me on to. I got into Miles Davis when I was quite young. Then obviously all the Beatles and Stones and classic rock stuff.
Do you collect many records when you are on the road?
Oh yeah, we've gotten a bunch on this tour. Especially since we've played some record stores and that's always a good time to pick up some things we've been looking for. Unfortunately some of our records were stolen from our van the other day, along with our drummer's laptop.
Oh man. That blows. What's some cool stuff you've picked up?
I did get a new copy of Agharta by Miles Davis. The cover was drawn by Tadanori Yokoo, the Japanese pop artist we really love a lot. He was a friend of my Mom's back in the day.
That's awesome. For psychedelic music, it seems to be making a bit of comeback. Are you planning on continuing in this vein for a while?
I think we're focused right now on executing what we are doing. But I don't think we have a long term plan for what our style is. I don't usually do. I think you just go with the moment.
Wherever the spaceship takes you!
You haven't been to Minneapolis in a while have you? There's a pretty cool experimental and psychedelic scene here I think you would dig.
I was there about five years back with Rufus Wainwright but only opening for him. But that's cool, I don't know anything about the scene there. What are some band's I should check out?
There's a great band Flavor Crystals that put out a triple record. Roaratorio is a great label who just recently put out some super rare Sun Ra record. Magic Castles are really cool. The scene is really bubbling over here.
That sounds great. I know about some of the early music scene. I didn't know there was a psychedelic scene. That's really cool. Does Prince let people record up at his studio?
Probably not the experiemental stuff!
I've heard that when you record there, Prince just sort of walks through your session sometimes. I heard his band is all girls?
Yeah. ThirdEyeGirl. They are a pretty tight, well oiled machine. Did you ever have any contact or meeting with Prince?
Not really. I was sitting in a place that he was dancing to a DJ we both knew. We talked for about five minutes but I don't think he'd remember that. I wouldn't say we really know each other though.
You got to get Prince to produce a record for your mom sometime. That would be pretty rad. Though, I suppose if it didn't happen in the '80s, it's not likely.
That would be unbelievable! Man, I don't know. Honestly. I suppose it's more likely to happen now than it would've back then. Maybe in an alternate dimension? That'd be so great.
Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger will be performing Friday, May 30 in the Seventh Street Entry at 8pm. This show is SOLD OUT.
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