Julian Lennon His Own Man

Music Express
The Pulse of Canadian Rock
December 1984

Julian Lennon Music Express December 1984

Julian Lennon survived a perilous adolescence under the scrutiny of a rumor-hungry media and the formidable shadow of his legendary sire. But despite the inevitable comparisons with Father john, Julian is eager to make it in his own right.

Julian LennonRIGHT LET'S get one thing straight. If you're looking for a John Lennon interview - piss off back to your time machine. The rest of you, pay attention. Julian Lennon's a 21-year-old doing what most 21- year-olds do, trying to sort himself out and trying to earn a living the best way he knows how. And right now, the best way he knows how is by flogging his debut record Valotte.

At the same time, he's very unlike most teenagers. Not that many get to retire to a French chateau to put together their projects, about the same number get recording contracts virtually forced on them before they even have a record. Then there's the business about his vast, soon to be inherited fortune, the truth of which we'll likely not know for some time.

Just as you can't see or hear him without flashing on Master John, it's hard to think of Julian Lennon without that ambivalent rich brat / wronged son perception. The whisperers say he's trading on his father's gifts and secretly wish him to be more like John Lennon. Like the noted photographer who had a list of Beatlehead questions he virtually demanded I ask Julian. He couldn't understand how I could get any kind of a story if I didn't.

For a guy who's had to do his sorting out in the hideous glare of the media spotlight he's come through all right. The most apparent casualty is a sense of humor,- the Julian Lennon I met at the Four Seasons Hotel is a reserved young man, determined to get his points across but ever mindful not to say 'too much.' With good reason.. look what public access did for his dad. Still the boy's no shrinking violet and has no regrets about his career choice. He's positive Julian Lennon and his music are here to stay.

"I knew I was going into music because I like it and let's face it, being in the family I can't avoid it. I was trying out for studio engineering but I realized that was not what I really wanted to do - I wanted to play and sing. So sitting behind a desk watching somebody do something I wanted to do when I had the opportunity to do it seemed a waste of time.

"This album is just my way of getting a foot in the door. I've loads of stuff in entirely different styles. I'm going to keep playing like this as long as I live but I'll still experiment and fool around with other styles. I mean, I wrote a breakdancing track for the movie Body Rock, but I refused them the rights because I want to put it out myself. As to my voice, this is how I've sounded from day one. I open my mouth and it just comes out. What can I do?"

Did you ever want to make music that was totally different from your dad's?

"I jammed around with different people, one of them was Paul Inder, who's Lemmy's (Motorhead) son, but no, I never set out to be different for that reason because people would have criticized me for that too. All that punk and new wave stuff never affected me because I had all different influences by then. My mom used to play a lot of Steely Dan and Keith Jarrett around the house so I stuck with that.

"I was 11 or 12 before I was really aware of John's music. And when I visited with him in Now York and we'd sit on the floor and jam, it was mostly old rock'n'roll songs we played. He'd show me the odd song of his but he never got into any directing or guidance as to my playing. I wasn't sure what I was doing at that age.

"I don't care what people say about the record being so much like John Lennon. It's mine, I put a lot of hard work into it. Those songs are my gut feeling. So what? There are going to be comparisons no matter what style of music I do. I'm happy with it."

He ends defiantly, sits back and crosses his arms, a solid block of resistance, impervious to the sticks and stones of Mediaslag. He's heard it all before. There was his notorious penchant for blonde models and the 19th birthday party at Stringfellows at which model Sian Adley-Jones was photographed stripped to the waist. To scan the Brit tabloids, you'd think young Lennon had girls dripping out his substantial ears.

"Everybody goes out drinking but because I was a name, it was easy to pick on me. So OK, for awhile I went to clubs a lot but so do lots of people. I'd read this 'Playboy Lennon Boozing Again' stuff and I'd get really angry. It made people think I was out there every night throwing money around when in fact I often didn't have the price of a round.

"Listen, I was 18 and living on my own in London. Sure I went out with a lot of girls but what am I supposed to do? Sit at home like a hermit? It's like I wasn't allowed to have fun or show a sense of humor in public."

Then there was the scandalous photo session atop the old Apple building with the band Quasar. Never happened, he says.

"I was never in Quasar. They had a rehearsal studio next to mine and I got to know the guys and jammed with them. When I heard they were doing a gig on the roof of the old building ... curiosity, fascination, whatever, I went along. I just watched for awhile, had a quick drink and left but I didn't play and I wasn't photographed with the band. When it came out in the press, it was me and this band doing a Beatles send-up an the old Apple building."

A famous name's both a blessing and a curse. Which is it these days?

"Mostly a blessing, I guess. I'm proud to be who I am. I'm proud of what my dad did and I'm blessed with the musical gifts he gave and the talent I think I have. It's a curse from the point of view of standing up in public on my own merit. I carry a load of expectations that get in the way of that ... If he were alive today it would be a completely different situation. It's hardly my fault, I couldn't have come out with music earlier because I was still at school...

"it is nice to be able to get into places without a quid in your jeans. And to get to meet people you admire. Though I realize I'm just as much a curiosity for them."

How did the name affect your classmates?

"When I was little, they didn't treat me any different. They knew the fact of who I was and that gave me a kind of novelty appeal. But there wasn't anything really strange. That came when I was a little older. Or maybe I just noticed it then that certain people would resent or dislike me just for who I was. I still get some of that but they're in the minority. Growing up, it was a very confusing thing to deal with."

What is Justin Clayton's role on Valotte?

"He's my mate, my partner in crime. We met at school and we both liked old rock'n'roll so we set off playing together straight away. He's a great guy to have in a band because he's full of ideas.

"Justin co-wrote a lot of the songs with me. It wasn't a case of me putting my tastes onto him. Yeah, there are only two on this album but we've got lots of tracks for the next one. He and Carlton, the other guitar player, are always snarling at each other. It's kind of competitive but in the long run it's a good thing because they play off each other well."

Is Valotte the record you thought it'd be?

"You have to understand that I wasn't planning to record anything. I had material to no end but I didn't have any real intentions of using it. After listening to opinions of close friends and people in the business, I thought maybe I should have a go. So there was nothing written specifically for the album. So we went to this chateau in the woods, Valotte, and took a look at what we had that could go together on this sort of album.

"When it came time to cut it, we recorded in a number of places in the U.S. I think it was good doing that because we got feelings from all over the country and from working with different musicians. We didn't want the sound to get too insulated because Justin and myself had lived with those songs for so long."

The tunes were written over a time span from about year and a half ago, to just before the album was cut. What ties them together is their mood of introspection. It's not all gloomy; heavens, in places it's downright playful, but it is thoughtful. It's an intense thoughtfulness of the kind that comes easy to 21-year-olds and gives the album its power. But it's not enough to carry along the weak spots, of which there are more than a few. And enough to take away from the high-quality pieces, so that the record's selling point will become the resonances of that famous voice.

Who's going to buy this record?

"I hope all kinds of people do; I don't think it'll be limited to John Lennon fans. Those songs are strong enough to stand on their own merit. I could even get a hit; there aren't many records like this one about and there's always a market for, I dunno, romantic stuff, it you will."

The record's remarkably free of your well-publicized anger. Are you past that?

"It comes and goes, it's so-so. Sometimes I go mad and want to smash things up or just get out of it and hopefully wake up in another space. But most of the time now I feel really calm. I feel I can see down the road of what I'm doing; I feel I'm in control of the pace at which things are happening. I'm dying to be in a position where I can sit at home comfortably writing and composing."

Have you reconciled with Yoko?

"Well, we're talking, but I'm busy doing my own thing and she has hers. I get a little allowance from her that pays for my flat but other than that ... I am her beneficiary but it's up to her if she wants me to have it ... I know something is going to come my way at some time but I don't think about it.

"I'm a little bugged that I still don't have any of my father's guitars. I had one for a while, an acoustic with a gold dragon inlay, really beautiful. But then Yoko was taking an estate inventory and she sent some guy 'round to get it."

What do you know about the seances she arranged?

"I never attended; I didn't even want to talk to her about that. I've different feelings about that approach but I didn't know enough so I didn't want to get into it with her.

"I do believe there's an afterlife but of what sort, I've no idea but ... I listen, I look, I talk to people and I'm slowly forming my own ideas. I still look for signs and a lot of things happen to me that I think are more than coincidence but I still don't know what to think of it all ... I guess if things keep happening I'll have to think about it all more seriously."

What are your tour plans?

"None 'til the next album. I won't be going out in support of this one. I want there to be some slightly different material out before I go on tour. I want a bit of a change first. Honestly, I don't think I'm ready for it yet. There's a lot of work goes with a tour and I want to be ready. I'm in no rush.

"Touring's part of this business and I will do it but what I really want to do is compose and write at my own little studio at home. I'm sure I'd have lots of fun performing live but that's not what I'm about."

What are you about?

"I'm about earning my own way both musically and financially. I'm very proud of earning my keep as a working musician and if the inheritance thing comes along, it's not going to make me chuck it and stop writing music. It may make the process of recording easier but that's about it.

"I don't have much of a life outside music nowadays, which is probably a good thing. I just stay in and write all day, drives people up the wall. I'll be doing that until I die. My quest is to write myself into the grave."

Valotte Bar

Valotte Bar