A version of this column appears in Friday’s Weekend Life section of The Oklahoman.
Sean Lennon digs into his musical inspirations
The son of Yoko Ono and the late John Lennon is bringing his band The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger to Oklahoma City for a Saturday show to mark the release of the group’s new album “Midnight Sun.”
In many ways, Sean Lennon regards himself as a kind of sonic paleontologist, although admittedly one with a sort of creative attention-deficit disorder.
“When you make music, you’re sort of following a trail of inspiration that’s very spontaneous and exciting. And it feels kind of like you’re riding a wave or on a detective plunge and you’re sort of uncovering like some incredible dinosaur bones in a fragment of a mountain that you’ve discovered and you won’t sleep or eat until you’ve uncovered it. It’s something you’re compelled to do, and it’s very all-encompassing. And you can’t really think of anything else until it’s done. So the last thing you’re thinking about is like ‘Oh, I wonder what the end result is gonna be like when someone’s listening to that.’ Like, you never think of that. I mean, I never do. Maybe that’s why I’m so unsuccessful,” Lennon said wryly in a recent phone interview from New York City, where he was waiting on a ride to Brooklyn to rehearse for a performance on the “Late Show with David Letterman.”
“When I’m making a song, it literally feels like I’m uncovering some strange new paleontological artifact and that if I don’t uncover it in time, someone else will find it. And I’m compelled to do it and I’m just going to sleep next to it and work all day and all night until it’s done. And it feels like I’m discovering something new and it’s exciting.”
It’s an appropriate metaphor from the co-founder of a band called The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, which he and longtime girlfriend Charlotte Kemp Muhl started up in 2008. The band recently released “Midnight Sun,” a new album of strange and wonderful aural artifacts that will get an Oklahoma City showcase Saturday at the ACM@UCO Performance Lab.
For Lennon, 38, it is an eagerly awaited return to Oklahoma City, where he and his mother Yoko Ono’s Plastic Ono Band played a two-night 2011-12 New Year’s stand with local experimental rockers The Flaming Lips. His friendship with the Lips grew out of a series of tour dates with The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger (AKA The GOASTT) that eventually led to the guest spot on the Lips’ fifth and finale New Year’s Freakout, along with a trippy collaboration last fall on “Letterman.”
“Last time we were in Oklahoma, we were playing with the Lips at a New Year’s show, and it was one of the most fun shows that we’ve ever done. We love Oklahoma, and we can’t wait to hang and play in that city ‘cause it’s really fun,” Lennon said, adding his five-piece band is going to team up Saturday with punk-rockers Broncho, another Oklahoma band he’s come to love.
“I’ve always worked with people I feel very comfortable with, and I would include The Flaming Lips in that group as well. Because we’ve worked with them and we feel like we’re kind of a family, too. I never really wind up working with strangers, luckily.”
Not surprisingly, music has been a family affair practically since birth for Lennon, the son of the late Beatle John Lennon.
“I’ve always felt a real connection to music. I don’t know if it’s genetic or not. I’m sure it is, though. … It’s the most fun thing that there is, I think. Making music with people is why I live. I live for that,” the younger Lennon said.
“I’ve always worked with like my family and my friends. I’ve never really been in that kind of arena where you’re constantly being introduced to strangers and having to work with them.”
Still, he acknowledged that maintaining both romantic and musical bonds with The GOASTT bandmate Muhl has its share of complications.
“It is really hard. Did you hear that Captain & Tennille broke up? They got a divorce,” Lennon said, crooning a little of “Love Will Keep Us Together” before adding, “yeah, right.”
“But I think in Charlotte and my case, we’re both kind of busy people who we’re very focused on our own creative projects. I knew that if I didn’t have a band with Charlotte, she wasn’t going to be the kind of girl to like follow me on tour or something. And I certainly was not the kind of guy who would just be following her around while she’s working either. So, we both knew that in order to have a relationship, we needed to have a project together. I mean, that’s kind of the main purpose of what working together was, because I don’t think we would have had a relationship if we hadn’t worked together.”
That’s probably not an exaggeration, considering the breadth of their other projects: Kemp has released an EP with her teenage folk duo Kemp & Eden, who also performed in the film “Greetings From Tim Buckley,” while Lennon put out a record by psychedelic improv duo Mystical Weapons with Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier and a film score to the indie comedy “Alter Egos,” along with producing the latest Plastic Ono Band album.
“We’re kind of multifaceted, I guess, in that we feel like there’s lots of different things we want to express and we can’t do them all under one project. … I don’t know if that’s silly, but it’s true,” he said. “I guess it’s just kind of creative ADD or something, I don’t know. But that’s how we are.”
He said the couple has tried to follow Johnny Cash’s advice on managing their multifaceted relationship.
“It can be rough. It can be difficult. But I think the main problem can be if you don’t have separate bathrooms. You know, ‘cause when you get home, you want to have a moment to take a shower by yourself and like brush your teeth and stuff.”
“That’s what Johnny Cash said, he said the key to a relationship is separate bathrooms.”
Their partnership also extends to Chimera Music, the collaborative artist-run label and arts collective the couple started with Lennon’s former Cibo Matto bandmate (and ex-girlfriend) Yuka C. Honda.
“It’s fascinating, and it’s something that I feel like I’m learning how to do every day. There’s just so much to learn it’s crazy. There’s a lot involved, I mean, just in terms of packaging and manufacturing and all that jazz and then marketing. And just the administrative work alone is just so confusing and there’s just so much to learn, and I feel like it’s taken me years to even come close to being decent at it. And I’m just starting to figure that out, so it’s very challenging and it’s really fun,” he said.
“I’m interested in pretty much everything. I’m not just interested in music and art; I’m interested in film and science and literature and a lot of stuff. I find the universe – the world – to be a really fascinating place. I’ve never, ever been bored.”
The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger
•When: 8 p.m. Saturday.
•Where: ACM@UCO Performance Lab, at 329 E Sheridan Ave.
•Tickets and information: www.acm.preferredfan.com or www.facebook.com/ACM.UCO.