It's not easy to have to live up to a musical icon long before you
have played your first note. Julian Lennon's father was the
late Beatle John Lennon. Two of his band's best known songs
were written about the boy. Paul McCartney wrote "Hey Jude"
about the little boy (the song was originally called "Hey Jules")
and John Lennon based the song "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" on a
picture Julian drew as a child.
Lennon was only
five years old when his father left his mother, so he really did not
get to know his father well before he was murdered in 1980.
Then when Lennon became a radio star in 1984 with the gorgeous
ballad "Valotte" and the reggae-vibed "Too Late For Goodbyes," the
singer was constantly compared to the father he didn't totally know.
album was a terrific work of songcraft. In the years that
followed Julian Lennon has shown himself to be a natural songwriter,
putting together some wonderful albums like The Secret Value of
Daydreaming, Help Yourself and Mr. Jordan. Sadly,
none of those albums caught the public's attention like his debut
and eventually Lennon strayed from being a fulltime musician.
His last album was Photograph Smile in 1998.
In recent years, Lennon has been working mostly as a photographer as
well as a philanthropist, intimately involved in several charitable
organizations, including the environmental White Feather Foundation
and the Lupus Foundation.
In the years since Photograph Smile, Lennon has also been
working on a follow-up album, Everything Changes, which was
finally released on June 4, 2013, though Lennon had previewed many
of the tracks online. The album shows that Lennon still has an
amazing ear for a gorgeous melody and a heavenly voice and Lennon
has only matured as a songwriter. The first single "Someday"
is a duet with Aerosmith leader Steven Tyler.
few weeks before his new album was released, Lennon gave us a call
from his home in England to discuss his career, his new album, his
newfound love of photography and the difficulty of following in the
footsteps of an iconic musical father.
father was a musician, but I know he wasn't around all that much
when you were growing up. At what point in your childhood did you
realize that music was something you wanted to pursue?
I'll tell you, it was probably more to do with
boredom in school to a certain degree. (laughs) I've told
this story before, but I think it really comes down to the PE
[Physical Education] teacher in our school when I was, I think 12 or
13. The same school I went with Justin Clayton, my oldest friend and
songwriting partner. Our gym teacher was a rock and roller. He had
a DA, you know? A duck's ass greased back hairstyle. In between
classes, when there were breaks or you weren't having a class, he
would be in a back room behind the gym or the swimming pool, where he
used to teach guitar lessons. As you do when you're growing up, you
have a few mates and you think, why not? Let's have a play around
with it. So we went back and were taught really the most simple,
basic rock and roll tracks. "Roll Over Beethoven." "Slippin' and a
Slidin'." Stuff like that. After school they had the end of the
year concert. We decided to try and form a band. God knows what it
was called. But we performed and for the most part I think we did
okay, in retrospect. (laughs again)
I remember that feeling. I also used to
do acting at the school, which I loved too. It was not a dissimilar
feeling. I just remember standing onstage with a guitar in your
hand, with a microphone, having sang a bit of rock & roll. Getting
that warmth and that electric response from the audience. There was
nothing like it. The thing with acting
and theater was that for the most part you'd be there for an hour
and a half or whatever it is and then you'd get the applause. When
you were doing these three and a half minute songs, you were getting
applause and screamed at every three and a half minutes.
(laughs) So that was obviously the initial logic to
why I even considered going down that route.
In 1984 with the
Valotte album and single and "Too Late For Goodbyes" your musical
career just exploded. How surreal was it to suddenly have your
music played all over the radio and on MTV and everything?
Jay, it was truly bizarre. It was truly, truly
bizarre. Because for the most part, I'd led a relatively quiet,
unknown life. Apart from some of the obvious. I still think about
those times, when I look at new, up-and-coming stars. Like when
[Justin] Bieber first hit. You just go: My
God, I hope they've learned from our experience. (laughs) I
remember panic stations when we would leave a hotel, or a gig you
just finished. The fans would literally rip your clothes off or try
and pull your hair out. I mean it was violent! (chuckles
nervously) And really quite scary, too. When you've got a
couple of thousand people around you trying to get at you, there's a
sense of panic that you have. There really is. A little bit of
anxiety. But it was an amazing, amazing time. I'm very thankful
that it happened. I was unsure what was going to happen after that,
but certainly at that point in time, it was quite an amazing,
Obviously you had
a bit of a balancing act because your father is such an iconic
musician and you have a similar singing voice. How hard did you try
to make sure that your own music was unique?
The thing was, I was just doing what I was doing, in
regards to the first album. I think the response thereafter in the
following albums was a result of the comments made by the press and
the media, the critics. I was going: well, where am I in this?
You've forgotten about me in this whole equation. For a kid who is
growing up, who thought he has been successful on his own merits, to
be told it's not really anything to do with him. It's because he's
the son of... and/or because his voice is similar. [That] is quite
damaging. Then you spend the rest of your life trying to
fight that. That's been a consequence. My actions following
through come from those initial criticisms. A majority, in all
honesty, were without malice. But, nonetheless, when 90% of it is
that, I think, where am I in all of this? From that point in time,
it was a battle for me to change.
Also, I felt like I was a bit of a late bloomer, so
for me the first few albums were very much like being a teenager in
the public eye. Going through that struggle of puberty and trying to
understand what it's all about. On one end, I was having the
time of my life. But on the other end of the scale, it was a
double-edged sword. I felt I was fighting with every demon known to
mankind. I didn't quite get why that was happening or why I was put
in that position when I was just trying to be an artist as best I
You came up in
the last real boom period of the music industry, with huge record sales
Yes, when MTV actually played music.
You got to work
with incredible people like Sam Peckinpah (who directed his first
three music videos.) At the same time, I remember the "Stick
Around" video had lots of celebrity cameos and was a cool video, but
I never thought the song itself got its due just as a piece of
music. How do you think the visualization of that period changed
In those days as far as
the visual aspect of the artistry that came into play with most
artists, that was done, directed and taken care of by either your
management or the record labels. You did
have an element of... I wouldn't say control, but you certainly were
able to say if you liked the idea or didn't like the idea, for the
most part. Jerry Kramer, who did that video, I'd liked his work.
The idea was fun. It was pop and it was 80s. It just felt okay.
Whether it was actually true to the lyrical content of the original
theme, that's another thing. That's why these days, I try and take
charge of everything and anything that is visually associated with
me. With the work that I'm doing. Even with the previous album,
but much, much more so with this album. I'm doing a video for every
song on the album and doing a documentary about it all. Finally after 30 years,
I'm trying to get my side across from
the visual aspect of it all.
You've become a
photographer. Has that helped you with your artistic eye, visually
and also just musically?
Listen, Jay, I can't tell you how much photography
has changed my life. Purely from the aspect that I'm allowed
to be free in the work that I do artistically, without those
confines of being associated with either The Beatles or dad. Not
that I've taken issue with that, because obviously, they've been a
major influence in my life. But this truly allows me to stand on my
own artistically with some merit. I didn't know how I was going to
be looked at. "Oh, he's going to try photography now." It wasn't a
question of that. I was guided by Timothy White, who
is an incredibly celebrated photographer. He did the second and
third album covers. He was the one that said,
"Jules, you should really do something with your work."
I wasn't a photographer, per se. I don't know
the technical ins and outs, but I certainly knew what I liked in
visuals. I became self-taught in the editing process
with what I was doing. I wouldn't say I'm a
professional photographer, but more of a visual artist. I do most
of my work after the fact. I do it in post, really. It's certainly
given me a new lease of life. It's taken the focus off music.
It allows me to not only get on with what I love about photography,
but to also enjoy music much more. Instead of that being the central
focus of not only the art that I do, but also the central focus of
criticism that I've ever had. This allows me to step aside from the
music and go back to it in a much more natural form. Just get on
with it, much more from an artistic point of view these days, rather
than the worry of what people are saying about it.
If I allow that to affect my life these days, it's
going to kill me. (laughs) I turned 50 last month. I
just said, you know what? Life's too friggin' short. Excuse my
French. Enough of killing myself over other people's thoughts and
criticisms and this, that and the other. If I'm going to be a true
artist to myself, then I need to push all of that crap aside. I
need to just get on with the main focus of the art. Regardless of
whether that is photography, music or otherwise. You have no idea...
I wouldn't say it was a chip, but the weight that has come off my
shoulders from actually allowing myself to do that. Now I feel a
much stronger, much freer person than I have ever been before. I'm
able to talk about anything and everything quite easily and quite
comfortably and just move forwards and onward in my life.
I was reading
that while you were working on the album for several years you would
upload rough cuts of the songs and get feedback from fans. How did
that help you as an artist?
Right. Yes. When the whole internet came along,
the viral aspect of it... and I think MySpace was the first one
really that most musicians at least latched onto... I remember
because I was doing my first work in 15 years or thereabouts, I just
felt I couldn't wait to see what kind of response there was going to
be. I was a bit nervous about the fact that this was going out,
because it can be knicked. It can be reproduced. You could lose it
in many respects. But the response that came back was really... I
was overwhelmed by it, to be honest. That certainly did encourage
me to move on and move forward with the completion of the album. I
don't think that as such that people make comments about what
direction it should go. They just gave me feedback as to how
much they liked it or didn't like it. (laughs) Not that
that would change anything that I was doing, but it's always good to
have your ears open and listen to the feedback.
It gives you a
I saw a quote
about the British release of Everything Changes where you said that this is your favorite album
yet. How do you feel you have grown as a musician?
Well, first and foremost, it was a soft release only
in the UK. Nobody else has heard it outside of the UK. It was an
Yes, I saw the UK
version has a few tracks missing from the US release.
Right. Again, that was like doing a MySpace. Get
it out there, if you will. The way it has grown for me in every
aspect, there is a lot of work that
I've done that I like a great deal. Some not. But I did really
like the last album [Photograph Smile] very, very much, as well. I think there are
some of my favorite songs on there as well, too. The thing
that made the difference this time around was truly, truly
having the space and time to breathe. Because of the fact that for
the most part I'd recorded this and worked on this at my home
studio. Normally, with any occasion before, even though the
last one was
independent, it was always locking in studio times and
costs and this and that and the other. Tying people into
production time and performance time. This friend guitarist could
only come in at this point. You were all bogged down to a schedule,
basically, one way or the other.
This way, because I was working without the clock,
so to speak, the majority of the people that play on the album are
dear friends of mine. Came and stayed for the weekend and I said,
what do you think about this? Fancy playing on that? They'd either
wouldn't come up with ideas or would come up with ideas that I
absolutely loved. It would allow me to either continue working in
the vein that I was or would inspire me to maybe take a little bit
of a turn on one or two of the songs. That way just allowed me to
breathe and think about the tracks. Like aging a nice wine, when
you open the bottle. I can go back and breathe and think
about it and go back in my own time and finish it.
That, to me, was a free approach of doing this. For
me, for my sensibilities, the way I work, the way I write, the way I
record, etc., etc., is just perfect. You don't always feel like
singing a song and singing a particular song. Being able to lie
in bed and just go I'm feeling that emotional song right now because
of this reason or that reason and just get up and go into the studio
and sing it then and there. The way you feel it should be sang,
correctly, emotionally, spiritually. [That] is a gift in that
respect. In being true to yourself as an artist and bringing out
the best in you in the most natural way. That's the biggest
difference for me. That's why I love, love, love this album more
than any other. This is probably the only album that I don't have
one of those tracks where I cringe a little bit. (laughs)
You know? I'm just happy with every song on the album. I mean,
every artist says this every time, but I'm telling the truth for
like you hit on something elemental to you with "Beautiful." What
inspired that song for you?
Oh, yes. I'll tell you what happened. It's a bit
of a long story. Gregory Darling, a friend of mine, who I write with and plays
keyboards and backgrounds with me sometimes, who is a solo artist in
his own right and I love, was working on his
first solo album. I think I was living in Spain at the time. He
was elsewhere. He sent me a track, a music track. I absolutely
fell in love with it. He said, "Listen, Jules, really it's down to
the wire here. I can't come up with any lyrics for this song. I
really need them by Monday." He sent it to me on a Friday. I
thought, oh my God, what am I going to do with this? But it hit me,
emotionally. I was going through a few things at the time. Friends
and family had passed. And this and that and the other. Or friends
of friends' family had passed. I just remember reflecting that this
song was so musically beautiful that I had to write lyrics that
would pair with this so emotionally. So to point, so to speak.
It's not something that I could fail upon. I had to be true to
this. I just basically wrote what was in my heart at that
The thing was,
I sent him back the lyrics, but there was some internet confusion at
that time. This is, I don't know, ten years ago. He never got my
version. He literally had to go in on Monday and he did some
scratch lyrics of a song called "Serious." (laughs) Then
after I heard that he'd done that, I said you're kidding me! I
killed myself this weekend. I said, but listen, I love the track so
much, can we just consider it a co-write and I can put it on the
album, too. I'd hate for this to be wasted or lost, because it
really is something from the soul for me. He said, "Jules, of
course. It would be an honor and a pleasure for you to combine the
work and put it on the album." That's what happened. It was just a
natural process. Yeah, it's a song that seems to relate and touch
everybody that's listened to it.
THE MUSIC VIDEO FOR JULIAN LENNON AND STEVEN TYLER'S "SOMEDAY!"