The name Lennon brings up different images and sounds in each person's head. It's a label that Sean Lennon, the only offspring from the union of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, has gotten used to. It may bring along expectations or intense scrutiny of whatever he does, but, at age 35, he's been able to move past that.
His latest project is one that he started with girlfriend/model Charlotte Kemp Muhl. The duo perform under the monicker, Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger and are currently on tour in support of their debut album, Acoustic Sessions. I recently spoke with Lennon and Kemp Muhl by phone from their New York home about their tour and their musical inspirations toward each other.
When you play here, you'll be playing at a venue called The Evening Muse. It's a great venue — sonically and all of that, but it's also a small intimate venue. It's great for your music, but it's also surprising that you'd not play — not a large venue — but something bigger. Are you looking to play smaller places at this point?
Sean Lennon: Normally, we would play a megadome or whatever giant venue...
Charlotte Kemp Muhl: Yeah, we're just being humble.
SL: We just want to bring it back to the people.
Well, I didn't mean a "mega-dome" but maybe 500 or 1,000 people instead of around 100.
CKM: We were headlining places like that on our last tour, but honestly, we love playing places that — we'll choose someplace that has a cool vibe over the size. We like places that are charming and crumbling with candles and deteriorating leather.
SL: Also, this is really an acoustic tour, so smaller venues work better for Charlotte and I playing acoustic guitar and accordion. We're bringing a trumpet player, but it's really mellow. It doesn't really suit larger rooms unless people are really, really listening. The more people you get, if you're playing quiet acoustic songs it's hard to demand their attention unless you're Dylan or something.
When the two of you first met, I don't want to ask if you were aware of each other's musical backgrounds, but was it meeting musically or was it meeting out of dating interest?
SL: It was totally dating interest. It wasn't dating at first, but it was friendship and literature and philosophy. I had no idea she was a musician and she didn't know I was a musician at all. I had to like force-feed her my music.
Sean, what has Charlotte done for your musical process. What has the collaboration changed either the creative process of writing or sonically?
SL: She's changed it a lot. Not only has having a band fundamentally freed me to be more creative, and also having my own label ... This period of my life has enabled me to explore and have fun creatively. She also has a real influence on me as far as her taste and her creative input.
CKM: We have similar tastes. We really love all the same kind of disonance and word play. We haven't really changed each other's aesthetics as much as reinforced it.
SL: I think that's a nice way of putting it. The truth is that I've always wanted to make music like this anyway, but she was the catalyst for it. Or we were the catalysts for each other to finally do it.
I was going to ask if you had something like this in mind even before you met, of doing a duet ...
SL: We never thought of doing duets as male-female, but we both had the same desire for words to sound a certain way and quotes to sound a certain way. We both write songs together in order to make the other one happy or satisfied. I'll be coming up with chords that I think will turn her on and she'll be coming up with chords that'll turn me on. We're kind of satisfying each other's tastes as we write. The music is kind of a manifestation of what we dream, of what we dream music to be, or something ...
Charlotte, can you give me a brief rundown of your musical background? Was it more of a private thing for you, were you a performer?
CKM: No. I had written a lot of folk songs though when I was as a young teenager on the road a lot. I was modeling and traveling alone so I would bring a guitar to sort of keep me company. I would write songs, but they were pretty basic folk songs. I had given up on the idea of doing music. I certainly didn't think it was a viable job.
SL: And it really isn't.
CKM: (laughs) When I met Sean, we were in love madly for a year and traveling and then we realized that we wanted to do everything together. I started doing music with him and he started posing in photo shoots with me. Then I really started developing my musical understanding at that point.