The Musical Landscape of
Julian Lennon

By Russell Hall
Performing Songwriter December 1999
Page 4 of 5

Photograph Smile

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You say the three-minute pop song isn't really enough of a challenge for you. Do you mean that those types of songs come to you quickly and easily?

Julian LennonWell, I steer away from that as much as possible. As soon as I hear myself going anywhere near a basic pop song idea, I tend to push myself away and find the most awkward chord to go to, rather than the most obvious. It's probably just a personal thing, but I just get so bored with the same-old same-old. I realize there's "I Don't Wanna Know," and maybe one or two other songs on the album that go around with three to five chords, or whatever, but in general I like to stretch further than that, and find other areas to go and play in.

I love the Stones, and much of what they've done, but they've stayed with what worked for them. What I like about the Beatles is that they didn't stick to the same old formula. They ventured off into territories unknown, and that's very much where my head is.

Julian at age 2 or 3What percentage of the songs on Photograph Smile were composed on piano?

The majority, really. It was only the slightly more uptempo songs that were composed on guitar.

Have you always tended to work that way?

Absolutely. The piano is, for me, far more entertaining. I play by ear, which means that generally after I've actually written and recorded a song, I tend to forget it. That's just the way it is. Coming back to the key- boards to write another song is like coming back to unknown territory, time and time again. And that, for me, keeps things fresh. I think if I knew what was going on all the time, I would stagnate. But because it's just by ear, and because I don't practice [the piano] at all, I have to re-learn, and re-teach myself to play, every single time I try to compose.

How much of the keyboard work on Photograph Smile was done by you?

Most of the piano work was done by Greg Darling. What he did, in essence, was to take my original performances and make them slightly more flamboyant. Greg is an old friend of mine, and he very much went through the whole formal training thing - jazz and classical, and so forth - but he has a great heart, and a great ear, for music. So what he did was become my hands, or become what I would probably sound like if I had had formal training, and had that understanding of theory and so forth. What I do is more about the straightforward emotion, and getting the idea down, than it is about finesse and frill. That's always been the case. I wish I could do those things, but I'm too lazy. Thankfully there are great players, like Greg, who can expand on the basics of what I've done.

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