An Interview with Julian Lennon

Julian Lennon

Julian Lennon is a songwriter and artist.  He is the son of the Beatles’ phenomenal John Lennon.

A rather daunting act to follow.

Nevertheless, Julian burst upon the music scene in 1984 with two Top-Ten singles, “Valotte” and “Too Late for Goodbyes” from his debut album Valotte.  The album was Grammy-nominated for Best New Artist.  Three more albums followed, and then, in 1998, Julian took a break from the music industry.

Last year, Julian released his first full album in more than a decade.  The album, Everything Changes, was followed by an accompanying App in an audio, film and visual interactive format, including a feature documentary, Through the Picture Window.

Creative Intelligentsia recently caught up with Lennon to talk about his re-entry into the music biz and his technology-embracing App.

You can find samples of his work at the end of the interview.

“Slowly but surely, an album came together, and then I started meeting quite a few people and trying to set up how I was going to release this. Was it going to be totally independent or with some support and some backing? And I’d had some great responses from Universal and this, that, and the other, but, again with this friggin’ industry, excuse my French, just when you think you’ve built up a relationship with someone who’s got your back, they’re either fired or moved to a different position or moved to a different company.And it’s like I can’t keep up with this stuff. It’s always been that way to a degree, but there’s no stability whatsoever, and I just ended up going, I just want to get this released. I just want to get it out there.”

You released your new album, Everything Changes, last year and then a highly interactive, multimedia App, Through the Picture Window, which showcases the songs — and you — beautifully.  Can you tell me about the motivation and the concept behind both the album and the App?

The album really was a sort of collection of songs.  After I did photographs [Lennon is also a photographer], I wasn’t sure if I was going to do any more albums, per se.  And then I went off and did a lot of other projects that were not public projects, and slowly but surely, I just started writing again.  And then, slowly but surely, an album came together, and then I started meeting quite a few people and trying to set up how I was going to release this.  Was it going to be totally independent or with some support and some backing?  And I’d had some great responses from Universal and this, that, and the other, but, again with this friggin’ industry, excuse my French, just when you think you’ve built up a relationship with someone who’s got your back, they’re either fired or moved to a different position or moved to a different company.

And it’s like I can’t keep up with this stuff.  It’s always been that way to a degree, but there’s no stability whatsoever, and I just ended up going, I just want to get this released.  I just want to get it out there.  I’ll do a bit of promo for it, but mostly it’s all about I just want to get the work done, out there, and then it can be word of mouth, and people can decide how to take that on board.

The other idea was that the experiences of doing promo…  It’s great, it’s fine, if you’re in your twenties and thirties — not that I’m saying that I’m an old man;  I can keep up with the best of them — but it’s just, I have to say the monotony of doing promo is something that drives me slightly insane.

Again, I don’t mind doing a bit, but I’ve had experiences in the past, where with the last album I was pretty much on the road for a year doing TV and radio worldwide, and it beats the crap out of you.

And I just thought, there’s got to be another way around this.  And also, one of my pet peeves was doing videos, as well. [Laughing]  I could never stand doing videos.  It just drove me nuts.

So I thought, I actually wanted to do this with the previous album, Photograph Smile.  But for whatever reason, it didn’t come to fruition due to timing or funding or whatever.  So I just decided, you know what, let me just get this out of the way.  Let me just do a green screen kind of thing, a little performance, and we’ll put something behind it, and that’ll be it.  That, of course, turned out to — I sorted of started working on it, and going “well, this really doesn’t cut the mustard.”

Then I wanted to start, not telling more of a story, but just putting a bit more detail into what was being done — make it a bit more upscale and a bit more professional and something I’d be proud of, rather than just throwing it out the door for the sake of a TV promo or whatever.

I’d just seen Noel Gallagher’s documentary, and I’d liked the way it was done, because, again, these days I just don’t like being in front of the camera.  I like being behind the camera.

So, I’d seen this documentary and thought, well, I like it because it’s not a talking heads documentary.  It’s just artistic, and it’s in scenes and ideas and thoughts that tied in with the lyrical content of the album but give you a bit of breathing space, so you can make of it what you will.  And I just thought it was an attractive style, so I decided to bring that onboard for a smaller project.  But then, because it was looking so good, I thought, well let’s make this a full-feature documentary.  Let’s go a little bit more in-depth, so that I get [to address] some of the questions that people have asked me for years and years and years, but still they haven’t quite got it.  So, I think it was also a journey of discovery for me, too, doing that.

One of my friends — and a few friends said this — but one of my friends, Mark Spiro, said — and it’s something I knew, but something I really hadn’t put into words before — that being the person I am, and the son of whom I’m the son of, I am damned if I do and damned if I don’t.  I really am.

So what is better for me to learn from that experience than: you know what?Just be an artist, just get on with the work at hand and believe in the work that you do.

You know, all the rest of it, it’s not important, it doesn’t matter, don’t let people bring you down.  I’m not saying that everything was negative, by any means, but it’s just that to be free from that, the only way forward was to just get on with the work and the artistry and things I believe in.

So we were putting the DVD together, and then I was introduced to Andy Evans, who was this guy who’d run a company called The Pavement and had done a small App for Dave Gilmore.  So he’d done an App.  I think it was a very simplistic App.  There weren’t so many levels.  It was pretty [much], here’s the album cover, here’s a bit of footage, and just bits and bobs.  Dick Carruthers, the documentary maker, was friends with Andy Evans and said, what about this idea, Jules?  And so, we went heavy into it.  At that time, there was no…the menu set-up on DVDs, you couldn’t quite get that in an App.  In Apps, the menus for film and things like that, at that time, were just basic functions — forward, backward, pause.  You couldn’t really go off like you do on DVDs and disappear into other worlds, and other visuals, and other music, and other stories.  And he thought he would be able to achieve this with the App, and so we literally — it was between Dick Carruthers, myself and Andy Evans —  it was just bouncing ideas off each other and trying to achieve something that hadn’t quite been done before to this extent.And I fell in love with it.  I thought, well this, in all honesty, is probably — if you don’t  have a website that you focus on as your shop window, so to speak, or a Facebook page that you really communicate with — then this really is the way forward, I think.  You know, building a device that not only could contain anything and everything that you do, but could be fully upgraded and updated at any point in time — and you were notified of all of that — and then could be used on any and every device and any platform.  And to me, that was the winning key.  That was what really, truly impressed me, and so much so.  I’ve been speaking to a lot of people that I’ve been working with in that regard, and their belief is the same, really –that the App in many respects is the way forward.

This is your shop window and directory, and the other thing about it is that, at least at present, the App and its contents aren’t piratable, as such.  So this is a pretty unique thing.  I’m in discussions with Andy, and we’re trying to consider the idea of taking the bare bones of the skeleton of this forward and having other elements that you may want as bolt-ons.  So this could be a new company, a new project moving forward.  But the problem is, even in discussions in the last forty-eight hours, Andy said to me, Jules, you don’t understand.  The problem with this is the rate of expansion and progression in this field.  And just when you think that you’ve nailed something, someone else has come up with something else, technologically advanced, that blows us out of the water.  So it’s a really, really, difficult market to place yourself in, unless you’ve got a serious team behind you and serious funding behind you.  So it’s a tough one.  As much as I really love or want to move forward with the idea of sort of an App company, so to speak, there’s a lot to it.  It’s not straight and simple, straight forward in any way, shape, or form.

“It’s something I knew, but something I really hadn’t put into words before — that being the person I am, and the son of whom I’m the son of, I am damned if I do and damned if I don’t. I really am.”

Nothing technological now is.  It just constantly moves. 

Sure, I was just going to say that the problem is that you need a system that’s absolutely open to upgrading at any point on any level within all of the technology, which is a difficult thing to do.  I’ve had to rebuild websites, because the technology has just changed and advanced; and each time it’s costing a fortune to do this stuff, but you have to move along and you have to move forward with the changes.  Otherwise you just get left behind.  So, it’s about constantly keeping up with this stuff.

You collaborated with Steven Tyler on some of Everything Changes, and he’s been very vocal in his support of songwriter rights lately.  For example he’s taken a prominent stand in support of the Songwriters Equity Act.  Do you involve yourself with the political end of the industry?

I haven’t as such, I have to say.  I’ve always felt very much that I’ve been an outsider, and so I’ve very much gone my own way in how I’ve done things in the past, and moved forward.  And so, again, being completely independent and out of the main structure of the politics of the industry, I, we, talk about it once in a while, but no, that’s not where my head’s at, really.

“He thought he would be able to achieve this with the App, and so we literally — it was between Dick Carruthers, myself and Andy Evans — it was just bouncing ideas off each other and trying to achieve something that hadn’t quite been done before to this extent. And I fell in love with it. I thought, well this, in all honesty, is probably — if you don’t have a website that you focus on as your shop window, so to speak, or a Facebook page that you really communicate with — then this really is the way forward. You know, building a device that not only could contain anything and everything that you do, but could be fully upgraded and updated at any point in time — and you were notified of all of that — and then could be used on any and every device and any platform.”

However, you have clearly embraced technology in the sense that you’ve created this App to reach your fans and, as you said, it’s not as easily piratable, etc.  And I’m wondering just how you think technology has enhanced or hindered the music community generally. 

Well, I think in many respects — at least in my perception and many of the people I work with — that, if you’re an independent artist like myself, then it has absolutely helped along the way, getting your work out there.  I mean it seems really to be the only platform and shop window that we really have these days, and even that’s difficult.  Because even the labels that have a lot of money are still trying to push you out of the way with their marketing and PR and technology, and their taking over the lead banners of iTunes and the other operations.  It’s still difficult to get much in there to be seen, but at least you know that it is there, and people can find you, because it really is your only shop window these days.

So I think we’re able to do what we want, how we want it, when we want it, and bring it to the public as and when we feel it’s the right time to do that, without the hindrance of anybody looking over your shoulder, telling you what to do, or what they think is the right thing to do.  It’s like, I have a dear friend of mine, who I did some work with on an album yesterday.  It’s a great band from the 80’s called Bourgeois Tagg, and he’s releasing a solo album, the first in twenty years; and he had this really high-end, one of the top guys in the industry, saying, well what about set-up for the album.  You need to set it up, the way we’ve always needed to.  So if you’re releasing in September, you’re going to start on the marketing, this, that, and the other, now.  And my friend Brent said, “There is no set-up now.”  What it is, is you have the work, you put it out there, and if you want to do some PR and do some promotion on that and do some banners, then that’s all you do.  There is no sort of build-up or trickle effect any more.  You could try to do that, but I think people have fast discovered, moved past that sort of game approach to building a product up.  And people in this day and age just want it here, now, immediately.  If there’s any distraction, they’ll be away from you in a heartbeat.  So I think you’ve got to deliver whatever you want to get out there, as and when you have it, and however you want to do it.  It seems the only way forward.

“What it is, is you have the work, you put it out there, and if you want to do some PR and do some promotion on that and do some banners, then that’s all you do. There is no sort of build-up or trickle effect any more. You could try to do that, but I think people have fast discovered, moved past that sort of game approach to building a product up. And people in this day and age just want it here, now, immediately. If there’s any distraction, they’ll be away from you in a heartbeat.”

Streaming albumhttps://soundcloud.com/julianlennon/sets/julian-lennon-everything/s-vnKfF

Someday video:

Lookin’ 4 Luv video:

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