Julian Lennon Clicks 
with Photograph Smile

Village Voice 3 August 1999

Photograph Smile

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JULIAN LENNON RELEASED A NEW ALBUM, PHOTOGRAPH SMILE, earlier this year. Currently, he's out on tour in support of the record, with a New York City date this Tuesday, Aug. 3, at Irving Plaza. It's been seven years since he last released a new recording, eight years since he last toured, and roughly 15 years since his debut album, Valotte, produced tow Top 10 hits (the title track and "Too Late For Goodbyes"). Judging  by the music on Photograph Smile, the intervening years have been very, very good to Julian. The critically-acclaimed record (see reviews below) has drawn the expected comparisons to his father's work and that of the Beatles. In fact, Julian admits that at least one tune, "I Don't Wanna Know," purposefully recalls the Fab Four. "This is probably the song that a lot of Beatles fans have been waiting for me to do," he says. "People are always asking when am I gonna do something more towards the Beatles style. And so I thought,  'Why not?' In a sense it's an homage..." We can thing of far guiltier crimes than writing a song that sounds like the Beatles (running in screaming, "Hey, I just edited a loop of 'Macarena' with the theme from "Facts of Life," comes to mind). Sam Goody caught up with Julian recently and discussed his current tour.

So how does it feel being the subject of a VH1 "Behind the Music" special? 

It was OK. I think there was a little too much about the Yoko and the estate stuff. And, for me, it should have been more about the music and what actually, truly happened to my career and the people who I was involved with. (Laughs)

Any advice or warnings for other musicians who might be approached to be the subject of a "Behind the Music"?

Yeah, don't do it! (Laughs) No, no. I would just say, really think about what you're going to say. Because they will chop it and edit it in whichever way, shape or form they want to get the people interested in watching the show. And if that means using the grittiest, or part of the grittiest stuff, which has nothing to do with the music at all - 

Well, it's like Chris Rock says, if you haven't lost everything to drugs and bottomed out, there's no story to tell.

(Laughs) Yeah. Yeah. I was very fortunate in that respect, thank God. I have seen horrifying ones there, which are pretty scary. But I didn't fall into that category, so I pulled through, I guess.

How hard was it to decide to go back on the road again?

I felt it was necessary. We started in some parts of Europe, we were in the Far East for several months last year, and we were in Australia, etc., etc. An the idea behind it was not to make it a wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am, but to come in slowly but surely and let it be word-or-mouth as much as possible, and to build a new foundation for myself, based on the work and not on the flash and pop of an image. Which I felt a lot of my career was about before, due to the people I was working with. To me, it's never been about having an image. It's always been about the work itself. And that was the idea behind the approach we've taken with this album. Most of the venues we're playing on this tour are clubs - there are a few outdoor shows and one or two theaters - but it is pretty low key. It's all about getting back to the fans that have been there since day one and hopefully some new ones, too, that have come along, which seems to be the case.

How do you feel the shows have been going so far?

The shows have been a blast. All but one have been sold out. A lot of the fans in the first couple rows know all the songs from the new album, which is brilliant.

How is life on the road different now from the last time you were out?

I feel much more comfortable on stage then I ever did before, much more relaxed. I've got a good bunch of friends with me, basically, which is the real key here. They're all mates, all the band members are mates, and half of them played on the album. It's a good crowd.

Is the show all original material or are you throwing any covers in?

We do one or tow rock n' roll covers at the end of the show, just to let off some steam, because it is a pretty laidback show. We are doing a lot of things from this album, in particular, a few oldies, and one or two things that aren't on anything yet.

What are some of your favorite places to visit when you're back in New York City?

Two of my favorite restaurants in the world are in New York: Mr. Chow's and Nobu.

Any especially memorable nights at either restaurant?

I'm not sure whether you'd want to go there. I do recall sitting on the higher level at Mr. Chow's, when I was young and ignorant and very English, I was wearing a T-shirt that said "Hitler's Tour of Europe" and it had all the dates cancelled out on the back, where, you know, he didn't quite get there. And that was on the back of the T-shirt. And the editor of, I believe it was the NY Times, was sitting down below and he was extremely upset by this and came up to the table and said "Do you realize how many Jews were killed..." and that got a little heavy, but I borrowed somebody's jacket and covered up the shirt. I realized that it was a mistake and how many people were upset by it, and after that he sent a bottle of champagne over. So that was very nice. I was a 20-year-old kid making a stupid statement..

How about the fondest memory from your last show here?

I would have to say when we played at the Beacon and I dragged Sean on stage for a song. That was pretty fun. But I've always enjoyed New York. I lived there for four years or so. It's astonishing how cleaned up it is now, I must say.

It's been cleaned up quite a bit. In fact, we may check to make sure Irving Plaza has a cabaret license. We don't want anyone in your audience getting in trouble for dancing.

(Laughs) Well, this isn't a dancing show. I should say that. This show is not about flashing lights, as such. It's truly about playing the music as best as we can, and enjoying the music.

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What the critics are saying about Photograph Smile:

"... The homespun, intimate-feeling Photograph Smile sounds like the work of a man who has come to peace with ghosts of the past and gotten on with the business of writing some good new tunes." - Rolling Stone

"Lennon has returned from a seven-year recording hiatus with an album that fulfills the promise of Valotte and reflects his increasing comfort with irrevocable connection to pop history." - USA Today

"This is good music. Melodically strong, harmonically rich and unexpected lyrically (think Walls and Bridges, not Double Fantasy), it is a developed, affecting record." - MOJO

"A mature work of genius." - Rolling Stone (Germany)

"The overall sound is Beatlesque, but with better melodies and more insightful lyrics than Julian has previously shown." - Boston Globe