Julian Lennon Interview

The humble and talented singer, songwriter, producer, and now burgeoning entrepreneur and philanthropist Julian Lennon granted me the honor of conducting an interview with him concerning his EP Lucy, which came out on December 15, 2009. There has been a lot of buzz surrounding his new venture with musician and friend James Scott Cook, aptly named theRevolution. Julian candidly talks about his creative process and personal contribution to the promise of a better and brighter tomorrow for both the established and neophyte musician everywhere.

Obviously, you’re always going to have this comparison to your father.  Putting together a song like Lucy has got to be somewhat therapeutic for you in many different levels.  Describe how happy you are in that regard to have this single out on the 15th.

For a starter, this scenario came along in such a natural way.  There was no effort about it, about putting the song together, about putting the idea together, about the history of it or where it all came from.  It just felt a very, very natural thing to do and almost to a certain degree, felt like I was closing a circle in many respects.  It just very much made sense to me because of the changes that I’d been going through over the past five, ten years of just growing and maturing and developing as a person.  It was very much time for me to.  I think I’ve been quoted in saying that you can’t live with anger, hatred and bitterness for too long otherwise it’ll kill you.  I think you have to reach a point of understanding and forgiveness.  And that was very much part of actually being able to do this; sort of allowing myself to sort of say—I’d always sort of said to myself, “Yes, I forgive Dad for some of the scenarios that I was left in and Mom too.”  But I also have to realize what he went through was quite an incredible scenario.  And looking on that and reflecting on that, I can be in a place of forgiveness this far down the line, so to speak, and I just think that this in a roundabout way is almost an homage to him too as much as to Lucy Vodden.

I was doing a little homework on your new song Lucy, a little reading on it.  I wanted you to describe for me what the lyrical subject matter of Lucy was before you changed it upon learning that your childhood friend, the real-life Lucy, had passed away.

To be honest with you, it didn’t differ a great deal.  One thing that we didn’t want to do between James and I was to make it a dark song in anyway.  So it was very much about just not making light of it, but just making it reminiscent of a time and place gone by as we all have fond memories of certain points in our lives of our childhood memories.  The lyrics originally were obviously, a little more specific to James’ situation.  But it was just a question of making the lyrics a little more broad, a little more open so that they weren’t so specific to him but more specific to Lucy and the position we found ourselves in trying to write for that song.  It was keeping it, almost simplifying it in many respects, to just honor that sort of innocence and simplicity of a child playing and remembering those kinds of times.

Did your Lucy ever have a chance to express to you what it had meant to her learning that she was one of the sources of inspiration for “Lucy in the Sky”?

Yes to a certain degree, once I got back in touch with her a few years ago, once I actually first learned about Lucy having lupus.  It really did take the wind out of her.  It  would literally take her several weeks to write an e-mail or a note. One of the most tearful sort of painful moments I actually had was that I’d been sent a note from Lucy while I was on my travels, when I first started my travels and heading to New York for the meetings, etc.  And I’d received a note from Lucy which I hadn’t opened; I’d put it in my backpack and my bag with my computer and everything and forgotten all about it. And once I actually got a moment and I decided to clean out my bag, I found the letter, and this was after her passing, after we’d done the song in New York and I was out in LA meeting iTunes and YouTube and all of the other folks out there.  It was a letter from Lucy expressing her thanks not only for the whole relationship that came from that and the recognition that she got from that but sort of personal thanks to me for trying to help her and comfort her during her time with lupus. Because, as I’ve said on a few other interviews, the English Trust, the St. Thomas Lupus Trust, is seriously—it’s very poorly funded, incredibly so compared to the American foundation.  I just felt very much that I needed to look after her and make sure she was okay, especially after she’d made the old boys a few ball players that’s for sure.  And I just felt the least I could do was make sure that she was okay. And in the note, there was nothing but thanks for that.  It was a tearful moment reading the real one-and-only last note from her.  It was a very emotional letter and very poignant.  And it just made me want to do more and do whatever I could in her memory and also to help try and raise awareness for lupus and try to help funding research.  She was an inspiration to me on that level and I think she’s looking down smiling knowing that I’m trying to do the best I can in her honor and try to help bring awareness with lupus.

You’ve been involved with a lot of other charitable and worthwhile causes.  Do you still believe that music can uplift and change the world in itself?

Without a doubt.  I mean show me a person that’s not affected by music or lyrics one or another.  But from my perspective, obviously, I try to use that for positive use.  It’s always trying to either make people aware or enlighten them or tell them a story so that they can make decisions for themselves about trying to drive forward in a positive way.

I put music on when I need to relax and there’s certain music that I put on for that. If I want to get energized there’s certain up-tempo elements that I’ll put on from different artists.  And if I feel sentimental or just need to be a little introspective then there’s certain music that I put on for that too. I think it affects all of us in the same basic way.  I think it really is a basic emotion or sense or feeling within us all because of the rhythm of life, the rhythm of the universe, you name it.  I think everything has a beat, and I believe it has to affect people.

So are you conscious during the writing process of how it might affect the listener?

Yes to a certain degree I would have to say yes.  I mean, every word that’s written within a sentence or in a verse or chorus or a mid-later.  You have to be aware of what is being said, what you’re saying to other people, how it may affect other people.  I think that’s absolutely important and key to be aware of knowing what you’re delivering and how people can look at that.  I think that’s why lyric writing for me, I think, is extremely special. Having an emotion is one thing.  Being able to express it and deliver it is another.  Some things flow with great ease and other times it’s a little more difficult to express certain things and it takes a little longer. But that’s just life.

I’d just like to know out of curiosity who played the instruments on the recordbetween you and James?

There was a few of us involved.  It was mostly James to be honest with you, because originally, as I said, I was only coming in to do some do some do do’s and a bit of background singing.  Again, it was only after we discovered about Lucy’s passing that we talked about it and discussed it and thought it would be an appropriate thing to turn it around and make it what it is today.

theRevolution’s mission is turning the music business into the musician’s business. How did this mission come about?

Basically, I got so tired and fed up with the industry as it was being run so many years ago for so many reasons. I just didn’t feel that the artist was getting a fair deal and/or control of their work in any way, shape or form. For many reasons, I dropped out of the industry several times after the last album and the previous one before that purely because of those reasons. A couple of years ago I started writing again and an album came together slowly but surely, and I was looking around over the past couple of years to try and find a new way forward.  A few of us, who are now the founders of theRevolution, were literally sitting around the table discussing all of these issues and we just felt that maybe we could come up with a newer model that would work for all of us.  That would allow the artist more control over what’s happening to him on a creative level and on every other level too whether it was looking after their brand or looking after their management or protecting and developing them, looking after the recording and publishing with them, licensing, touring, you name it.

We decided to come up with a new strategy, which I believe we have with theRevolution.  And I will be the lead artist off that with our developing artist, James Scott Cook, with the track Lucy for lupus, for charity.  It’s, from literally nothing a few months ago, it’s seriously turned around and now we’re here.  Really, it’s been a quick maneuver but the timing seems to have been perfect for all of us with the demise, I believe, of the labels as we know them.  They’re very much becoming, I think, more like catalog companies just raking in the publishing, etc., from previously signed artists. I think the new artists these days need—I think, obviously, they have the internet out there to do what they will with it.  But I still think that needs, to a degree, a great deal of managing and looking after and taking care of.  It’s a big wide world out there in the internet world, and that still needs to be looked after and strategized, and that’s part of what theRevolution does.

You and James have been friends for quite a long time.  Does song writing come easy to you two or do you tend to butt heads a little bit?

I tell you what, we’ve only been friends two months, since the beginning of this project.  We actually met in New York several months ago when I was passing through for meetings in regards to theRevolution.  And he was in the studio as a developing artist, and I literally said, “Let me come into the studio and sing a couple of backgrounds and support you in that respect.” And it was only after finding out about Lucy Vodden that I suggested that why don’t we try and make the song, which was applicable to Lucy, why don’t we make it a duet and make it a charity single for lupus.  During that process is when we found out about his 89 year-old grandmother having lupus as well and her name being Lucy as well. So it was very much a time and a place and, obviously, the stars aligned.  As far as finishing off the track and putting it together and making it lyrically a little more in tune with what we were trying to put together.  It was pretty straight forward, straight from the heart and just about reminiscing about someone in the past that we love very dearly.

I’m curious as a creative person how this freedom that you’re going to be experiencing working with theRevolution for your upcoming album.  How does that affect your creative process having the kind of freedom that this brings?

I think what enables me to do, as well as hopefully other artists that’ll come on board, it just allows us to have creative control over what’s happening on pretty much every level.  We are the ones as artists of theRevolution, so to speak, we are the ones that do make the creative decisions on behalf of everything that we do whether it’s deciding who’s going to be involved in the recording, where, when, why, what, how, etc. And I think once you’ve got a team that’s as supportive as that behind you and that works with you to help you be the best that you can be and go as far as you want to go.  I think that allows you to actually, once you put your faith and trust in that and you understand how it all works as a family, I think that enables you literally to be able to relax and sit back a lot more.  And let theRevolution get on with the business of helping you and supporting you while you just can get on with actually creating and enjoying the process, which I feel to a degree is something new, especially for me.

Did you notice that your songs that you were much more pleased with what you were coming up with because of that freedom?

As far as my album is concerned I finished it about a year ago, a good year ago, maybe a little longer in fact.  I was writing purely from the point of view of writing songs and just getting music and moments and ideas and emotions out of my system from a cathartic point of view.  If I stop writing for too long, I literally start hearing ideas whether they’re musical or lyrical or arrangements or entire songs in my head and I have to get them out of my system.  It’s something I feel the need to do.  And I’ve been doing that even though I’ve been out of the industry, so to speak, for a good ten years.  I’ve still been writing.  I’ve still been working.  I just didn’t feel that I wanted to or had the strength to come back into the industry as it was after I felt that not only I’d made some poor decisions about the people I was working with.  But I felt I had a pretty rough few rides with a few companies.  I just wasn’t happy with that anymore. Once I was able to

just relax and write for the sake of writing and once I had enough material together, it  was literally a question of, “Okay, I feel I’ve got an album now.  What do I do?  What’s the state of the industry at as we know it?  What are our opportunities now and what does it look like in the future for the next five, ten years, if not further down the road?”  With the last album, Photograph Smile, I tried to do it on an independent level and with the arm of the internet.  But ten years ago, even five years ago, things were not in place the way they are today.  As far as the industry and the internet are concerned, they are both dramatically changed and I think for the better for the artist, obviously, at this point in time.

I went to theRevolution website and I was listening to other tracks and, obviously,  there’s a little bit of difference.  The one that James did is not as laid back, I would say.  When it came time to select the other songs other than Lucy for inclusion did you have a plan in mind as far as I want the songs to follow this or did you just say let’s take what we have here and go with it?

In fact, it was an issue for a little while.  Because I actually really wasn’t sure what I was going to bring onboard for the EP from my new material just because.  Because also, I wasn’t releasing until next year, and I wasn’t sure; would this be too early for a certain style. I think the way we put it together, the order, what the songs are, I think make absolute sense the fact that the first song is the actual studio recording.  The second, I think, we needed to show people the sort of continuation of what James’ style of music is as a new and developing artist for theRevolution.  The third one being a more gentle version of an acoustic version of the Lucy track.  And then the fourth I thought I could throw something a little up tempo, medium tempo here.  But because the sentiment of the EP is in response to, at least on my behalf especially, is to Lucy’s passing.

The track  Beautiful that I decided to go with, which is the last track actually on my album, it was written about people that not only I have loved and lost in life but the friends have lost and loved in life too.  And I just thought that was, for me, even though it was great doing the song with James for Lucy.  This was very much heavier and deeper, more emotional and more personal song for me to sort of reminisce and show respect and love.   And remembrance of someone I cared a great deal about as much as I do about Dad and other people that have passed in my life too, my step-father and aunts and uncles, you name it, friends and family. It’s a song for all of them.  I just felt that it just spoke volumes and it wasn’t about throwing another pop tune on there to please radio or the masses.  It was about how I felt and the sentiment and what it all meant to me.  So I felt it was apropos and the right song to put on there.

The album is coming out.  How would you describe the other material that’s going to be on that album?

See, that’s always a difficult one isn’t it.  It’s a tough one.  It’s a tough one to call, to express exactly what kind of vein it’s in. All I can say is it’s a progression from the last album in some respects.  I think musically, not necessarily lyrically, because I always follow the same suit regarding lyrics whether it’s Photograph Smile or this one that it’s always from experience or it was from the heart.  But musically I think I’ve tried—normally, I very much tried to go my own path before.  I’m not saying that this isn’t at all, but I think what I’ve done is I’ve accepted a few more influences of today’s music in some respects or should I say musical technology even in some respects. I can’t say I can compare it to any of the people really.  There’s maybe one or two that I could tie it in with, but it really would be a difficult thing to place.  It’s a tough one.  I’m going to have to leave that, let that be your call I’m afraid.

I wanted to ask you what inspired you return to the music business after a 10-year absence.  And how is theRevolution going to help the artist in respect to giving them a voice and more creative control in their work?

What inspired me to get back into—I could’ve run a mile.  In fact, I did run a mile from the industry after my last experience with Photograph Smile.  I don’t know.  I just felt after having written this album that I just had more to get out of my system whether it was on a personal level for me or actually just getting more work out to the public or feeling that I had more to say.  I did say with the last album that if I never did anything again I’d be happy to leave it at that.  But as I said previously, I can’t keep quiet long enough. Ideas just keep coming into my head so I’ve got to let it out somehow.  I certainly don’t feel any older than I did ten years ago in any way, shape or form.  And I’m still ready to get out there and say hello and do a bit of playing. I’ve had my fingers in a few other pies, which I’ve enjoyed, other businesses and other work that I’ve been involved with and other projects.  But music has still always been there.  I don’t think it’ll ever go away in that respect.  I don’t think I’ll ever stop writing no matter what happens in or out of the industry.

On the second point you raised about theRevolution, the idea literally is to help the artist setup their own company for themselves.  TheRevolution is an umbrella for artists.  What we try to do is help you set your own company up.  As the artist, you put in your work, your writes and your brand into the company and what we try to do is support you in that. We make an evaluation, I guess, of your brand and your work and then, basically, give you as an artist an offer to sort of be involved and purchase an interest in your new company and become your partner really.  There’s another subsidiary company, which we have which is more fulfilled for sort of almost a managerial role, which is called The Artist Alliance, which we then try to help you market and sell your music and your brand. The benefits of that are having the creative control of your career, your money and how you want to do things.  You also have access to how things are being done, what they’re costing, and the money that you’re making directly and clearly and transparently.  So there’s no hidden agenda here.  We’re all onboard together in this.  I think that’s something that’s not quite been done before in the way that we’re trying to achieve things.

Finally, can you tell everyone why you chose to release your EP exclusively with iTunes?

With today’s technology, one can achieve a great deal. I personally went out and built relationships with the likes of iTunes, with the likes of YouTube, with the likes of Yahoo, My Space, the list goes on, Sony Red, etc, etc, and that’s just in the states.  We’re still working our way through Europe and Asia; so one step at a time. But obviously, we need to prove the model here.  In regards to iTunes, they were one of the first groups of people—in fact I went to meet the head, Robert, and it was a one-on-one personal chat, which I literally sat down and talked about—there were other partners there, but it was literally one on one. And it was discussing exactly what I’ve been saying is that this is the Lucy story. This is what I’m trying to achieve with this. Here’s the whole background behind it.  This is why it’s so interesting is because where this all came from, the beginning of the Lucy story, Lucy in the Sky, turning the full circle of which they were very intrigued, very interested.  They like the whole idea behind it and liked the fact that we were putting—that we’d dealt with 100% profits for the first 3 months going directly going to lupus.  And they decided also to waiver their 30% for that time period.  They also heard a couple of the tracks on the album and said, “Listen, we’d like to work with you in whatever way we can to help AIDS, the charity single Lucy, and obviously, to further help you in your career and/or for theRevolution, because we like the model that you’re suggesting.  And we’d like to move forward and all try and work together with the new technology that’s being availed to us.”  And obviously, iTunes are one of the biggest and best out there, if not the biggest and best at this point in time.  To be involved in and to be in partnership with them to a degree is, for me, I think a fabulous place to be right now.  In regards to—and this is one of the first times that all these kind of internet companies are coming together for the first time to help us release Lucy on December 15th.  So I’m blown away by it all.  And literally, this whole thing came together two months ago, I mean, literally two months ago.  From sitting at home, twiddling my thumbs thinking I should probably take a couple of meetings to where I am right now it’s been a whirlwind and an incredible one at that.  Again, it’s all been done to timing and the stars aligning.  And I think that the time is now and the time is right.