after eight years, Sean Lennon makes art out of heartbreak
something that makes me uncomfortable about being focused on."
Sean Lennon, famous son of even more famous parents, has a
new album out, which I am pleased to say is not just good, it's very, very
good, in fact a thing of bona fide lyrical substance and, more important,
musical elegance. Friendly Fire is a
not-so-surprising departure from the joyful kaleidoscopic frenzy of 1998's
well-received Into the Sun;
this time, Lennon turns in a more "adult" work largely characterized by
sober reflection on the vagaries of love and life and all that gray area
BLUEFAT:Sean, your new album is beautiful. I was a
bit taken aback at how introspective it is, with all this melancholy and
SEAN LENNON: Those are just feelings I
was going through when I wrote that record. I was coming out of all these
experiences in relationships that weren't based in romantic idealism
anymore. They were real-life experiences ending in heartbreak and, you
know, hurting and being hurt.
It's hard to do anything at all when you're
I would say it's harder for me to not write songs when I'm feeling
that way. I was brought up to process my experiences 行 not just writing
songs, but through art in general.
Even so, you've said you were kind of down on the
whole music-career thing for a while, and it's been a few years between
this new one and the last record.
It's the celebrity, the industry of the media 行
there's something so inherently vacuous about it, and it was something of a
turnoff the first time I went through the wringer. There's something that
makes me uncomfortable about being focused on in that way.
And you were doing other things, like collaborating
with your mother and with Deltron 3030, Vincent Gallo, Thurston Moore, John
Zorn and the Boredoms.
People wonder why it took so long to make this
record, but it only took a month or two. Releasing albums isn't the only
thing that I do in my life, and I just happened to not want to do that for
a while, until I had this record that I thought was strong enough that it
was worth going through all the attention or whatever.
How did you come up with your collaborators?
Well, I always knew I was gonna work with
Honda, because she's been a musical partner for a very long time, starting
from the Cibo Matto days. But since I wanted to record live, it started
with Matt Chamberlain 行 you gotta have a really strong drummer.
This album is a lot more focused and measured than
The last record, I played a lot of the stuff
myself. It was the sound of one guy alone with lots of multitrack. [Laughs] I wanted this record to be
more refined, something not so much like a finger painting.
Were you very conscious about reining in your
more experimental impulses?
Yes, I was. I have, well, uniquely varied [laughs] tastes in music. I mean, I'm
a fan of King Crimson and Mahavishnu Orchestra, so if I indulged myself
entirely, I could just peel off into a 17-minute instrumental piece in an
odd time signature. I had to make a decision not to, and I think it was
worth it. It's like when you're sitting down to make a painting and you
say, "Okay, I'm only going to use pink and brown" 行 you might get something
out of that that you wouldn't have gotten if you left yourself infinite
Friendly Fire seems like a big step forward
in the singer-songwriter arena, by virtue of the originality of the
structures and the unclich巇 harmonies. There's some fantastic guitar
playing on it too. How much were your collaborators involved in shaping the
I tend to have a lot of the polyphony and the
parts written out beforehand, but it's very rare that they're not improved
upon by someone I'm working with, 'cause they're all probably much better
musicians than me.
He sat in on organ on "Spectacle," and he played
electric guitar on "Tomorrow," and then he did some additional drum fills,
and he did the bass on "Friendly Fire." He's a terrifying talent, actually,
it's very bizarre to witness, almost like a freak show. He remembers every
word of every song, and every chord. He's definitely a savant.
There are a number of challenges built in. You start
with "Dead Meat," where you don't pull any punches lyrically, though the
music is sweet and lush.
Well, you know, it's not ironic. It's a pretty
straightforward feeling of anger trying to be articulated in its most
simple form. But the thing that I thought made it interesting was
juxtaposing it against a flowery background. If it had been accompanied by
a heavy metal-riff or something, it would have been completely trite and
you do this classic dreamy lounge tune, "Tomorrow."
I was inspired by
Cole Porter. I was watching a
documentary on old music, and that song just came to me in a flash. I'm a
fan of constructed melodies and chords that are kind of seamless, where
every note is intertwined with every other one.
Friendly Fire includes a DVD of films you've
made for the songs, with guest appearances by a few famous faces such as
Lindsay Lohan, Asia Argento, Carrie Fisher and your ex-girlfriend Bijou
In a way, the movies are a perfect marriage for
the music; it's almost like they don't exist independently of each other.
So you and Lindsay Lohan are pals, eh?
She was a very good friend to do the video for
me. She gets $2 billion a film, and she did it with me for free. People
give her flak for whatever reasons, but the reason she is where she is, is
definitely because she's talented.
Did you play the album for your mother?
Yeah, of course. She loves it. She was really
thrilled that the response is so good.
What did your mother teach you?
I grew up pretty much without a dad, and she was
the one who led the way, just through being herself 行 always making art,
always making music. I was in the studio with her whenever she made her
records, and she taught me most of what I know about art and music. So
she's my greatest influence. It's not like she gives praise just to bestow
love upon you or anything. She takes art seriously. I guess that's why I do