first four albums always sounded a bit like Bowie. Which is not a
bad reference. But your new album sounds like 'Abbey Road' meets 'The
White Album' in my ears.
"Okay, I never wanted to sound like anybody
but I can't deny that there are some important influences in my
life. Let's say it this way: Today the first four albums are for
me only documents of my self-finding; to find out how I compose,
how I make lyrics, how far I can go. So my new album is the first
one that is really a hundred percent made by myself. I realized
that the fist four albums were at first products of my producer,
manager and record companies. I just played a kind of phantom that
they said how it had to sound, what it had to do and what not.
But now I know from experience what it means to
make your own thing as a musician. Just to start, not tell anybody
about it, not let anybody on board from outside, then to have finished
suddenly and to be proud of what you've done. And to say to yourself
with more self-confidence: Hey, we got so far all alone, now the
rest will go solo as well."
Was it on purpose that especially the singing on 'Photograph Smile'
was taken back and sounds subtle?
"Absolutely, because if I don't control my
voice and let myself go, I sound too much like Dad. And I wanted
to avoid that, of course."
But you didn't succeed. When I played the album in the office the
first time, my colleagues asked me which John Lennon - or Beatles
-album that was.
"Okay, I submit to the vote, because some of
the songs have that effect even to me: like being songs of the 'Lost
Lennon-' or 'Lost Beatles-Files'. But nevertheless, the songs are
beside the references absolutely my own. To make out resemblance's
to ..., is free to everybody, but for me it has even less relevance
than the interpretation of horoscopes in the daily press. Especially
if you know that a lot of people orientate their every day life
Bob told me that the album was made in different studios all over
the world. But nevertheless the result sounds very homogeneous...
"That's because of Bob's obsession. But the
strangest thing about it is that after the recording was done, I
realized that all of the places we worked at - in Italy, Wales,
Ireland or Caribbean - played an important part in the history of
my family. Our staying in Italy lead me to dedicate this album to
my first step-father who came from Italy, who was more a father
for me than the real one and who I loved very much. He was THAT
part of my childhood and he was always around when I needed him.
But there are very special connections to all the recording places:
in Wales I lived some time with my mother. As to Ireland, the name
Lennon is as much Irish as Smith is Smith in England - the Lennon-Clan
comes from a little dump at the Irish west coast. And in Barbados
I've spent the boring Christmas days for several years."
Which hasn't answer the question about the risk yet, recording an
album in different studios.
"Sorry, with all these memories you could just
lose the thread. But as you said, it was a risk. At the beginning
I really worried about it. But the main reason why we became studio-nomads
was that we decided at the last moment: Let's do it! And at the
last moment, you can't book the studios of your choice. The
most important thing was that the album had to sound as to be
one piece. So the basis for every studio was: natural instruments,
no computers, natural echoes and delays, no sounds out of the trickbox,
everything analogous. Then Bob's great hours came. Like me, he hates
these sterile, artificial sounds of the eighties. Everything digital,
without any life in it, beat after beat, and sound after sound,
pre-programmed by computer. Bob is an old school producer and a
genius, when it comes to which microphone to use and where to put
it. He couldn't find the right button on a drum-computer but he
knows that every drum has its own sound, so it needs its special
microphone. At first I thought he is totally mad. He
always went into every amplifier, changed one microphone after the
other and put them here and there. Sometimes I had five or ten microphones
in front of my guitar - just to get this little difference that
will give the song 'the certain something'. When I then heard the
first finished track, I secretly apologized for thinking he was
mad, because the result was just genius."
This author can only agree with that summary. Who can't - as the
author - join the fascination of all the Britpop sensations, who faces
up to all the retro accusations, but really wants songwriting with
melodies, with hooks, bridges, solos and also intros and outros, will
be rewarded with a result that presents a musician who took control
of his life under the legacy of his father and who found, after a
long painful way, to himself, to his own music and also to his private
fortune which he was looking for for so many years. He who wants to
put it to the test should listen to 'Way to your Heart', the symphonic
finale of 'Photograph Smile'. Here, Julian totally legitimately, quotes,
his father's hit 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds', which he inspired
with a children's' drawing, he uses this song in doppelganger Lennon-form
to a final reflection of his emotional odyssey, determined by rejection,
desires, departures, upheaval - and lucky arrival. Julian's
neck is adorned with a simple but big charm, on which the number 4
is engraved. He answers my curious question: "The number 4 stands
for 'Faith'." And in English 'faith' stands for: believe, trust,
faithfulness and honesty. Amen.
© 1998 Rolling Stone Magazine