It's been quiet, musically speaking, from Julian Lennon for the past few years. Not since 1998's Photograph Smile, actually. That has been corrected with the release of his excellent new record, Everything Changes. As usual, the songs are thoughtful, taking in a variety of topics from world issues to everyday relationships and they're packaged in some really ear-pleasing melodies.
It was with great pleasure that I got to speak with Julian by phone recently. A true gentleman, his sincerity just poured through the phone lines. Here's our conversation:
antiMusic: Congrats on Everything Changes. It's an outstanding record.
Julian: Thank you.
antiMusic: It's definitely not a boppy, sitting on the beach kind of record (laughs) and I find headphones are necessary to really sink into this one.
Julian: Yes, I would tend to agree with that. I mean there are a few little, sort of (laughs) slightly amusing, slightly happier moments. I mean SLIGHTLY sort of more mid up-tempo, but you know, I've never been in the department of up-tempo pop stuff really, you know. I mean it's pretty clear. I mean I've thrown in a few here and there just to appease, but for the most part, I'm quite happy being mellow and chilled and trying to be emotional, insightful and thoughtful. You know of that other stuff out there to be getting on with so I'd rather stick to my guns really and do what I feel is right for me. No question about it.
antiMusic: Right. Well sir, no one will ever accuse you of flooding the market just to have product out there
Julian: (laughs) Not yet anyway.
antiMusic: (laughs) Ok?
Julian: Beware the end of the year. Because you're about to be swamped. And I'll tell you why if you want to hear.
(Unfortunately, dear people, I can't share that information with you yet but Julian fans should look forward to some surprises later this year).
antiMusic: Did your humanitarian efforts and your other endeavours --- photography obviously crowd out music temporarily, or were you just taking the time before the material that you wanted to present resonated with you first before you really put this project together?
Julian: Yeah. Well, no. I mean, it was a bit of both you know. I needed to find, well I had many other passions in life, you know, whether it's cooking or
if I hadn't done music or photography I would have been a chef, no question about it. That's my other love. For me, they all have elements of a sense of cooking because you're trying to add the right blend of ingredients to make something that's melded together that not only appeals to me first and foremost because I want to be in love with that material first and have that emotional tie, you before it goes to anybody else.
And so it's really not far from cooking a meal for everybody. It's having the right thing, hoping
you're tasting it first, you're hopefully liking it first and then you're giving it out to other people to hopefully follow through with those feelings and emotions. So that tends to be how I operate on all those creative fronts.
antiMusic: The lyrics would suggest a kind of discontent with the world and life. The title track states "Tired of the world, all the good that we do, never seems to get through. It's a shame." "Always" says "Love has lost its way to greedy rules. Sometimes this world's so cold." "Touch the Sky" says "Feel your heart and feel your pain. We have lived a life of blame. Leave it all behind". "Just For You" says "Love won't help me now."
Julian: (laughs heartily)
antiMusic: But was there any event or events that prompted sort of this state of mind or just a casual glance at CNN during the writing process?
Julian: Well listen, you wake up in the morning, you put the news on the television and you're just out and around engulfed and swamped and snowed under by the misery of the world and never any positivity in the world, except for you know, the firemen saved the kitten up the tree at the end of the news, which is, you know the most pathetic thing I've heard my entire life. There's a lot more good that goes on in the world.
But you know, we're also, and have been, progressing to more of a sadder state than we've ever been before, in my eyes, and in my mind. In some ways all the good work that's being done, that's another thing entirely, like providing water and medicine and cures with terminal illnesses. But you know with the rest of it with politics today, I mean it's just a disgrace. There are more civil war and potential wars than we've ever faced before. Pollution and just
.it's a nightmare.
Although most of the songs are social commentary from my perspective, I'm not really shoving this down people's throat. It's not something people don't know or are unaware of already of course. But, you know, I try within most of the songs, in some way, shape or form and I guess most of the choruses, to try and lift that idea and hopefully give a sense of hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel. We've just got to make a few changes to be able to do that. And it takes sacrifice and people have to WANT to do that.
But maybe because of the mid to low tempo elements, people may get a sense of that more, but you know, maybe that's a good thing because it'll take them into the headspace of what's being said and what's being sung about. I mean, again, that's why I write the way I write, in that the music has to relate the story of what's being told, the melody and the lyrics. They all have to say the same thing. So I guess that's my way of getting it across and empathizing with everybody.
antiMusic: Sure. I was going to say, despite this sometimes sober lyrical manner, the title track suggests that you may actually be an optimist (laughs) or is it a matter of just not wanting to face the alternative?
Julian: Well, yeah, I don't want to face the alternative, I don't want to face the potential negative outcome of the world. I want to look at the fact that people are willing to change and you know that's inclusive of myself. I mean I'm certainly a hugely more different person than I was even two years ago, from the amount of work that I now do on so many levels, obviously including environmental and humanitarian issues and working with so many NGOs and other charitable organisations around the world. So there are a lot of people trying to make things happen in the right way and with light at the end of the tunnel. I'd rather live with that in mind you know, than looking at the options, at these other options which are not great.
antiMusic: I've got a kind of three way tie for favourites on the record
The title track has some really interesting chord compositions going on there (slight laughs)
Julian: Yes. Yes, we do have that. Yes.
antiMusic: And "Lookin' 4 Luv" has that fantastic chorus and then there's "Always", which just has this cool, moody vibe about it. Sonically, were you going for a particular overall feeling for the record or did let each song just pour out by itself and dictate what the album would be?
Julian: Well initially you know, in the old sort of demo form that I had, there wasn't a particular feel that I was going for. I mean, I think, "Lookin' 4 Luv" in the chorus, was one of the first ones I'd written, "Hold On", and the roots of "Disconnected". But it was only actually when I went to work with a great composer and arranger and producer called Pete Vettese
in London who really, I don't know, for me it was a situation where we really clicked. Although he denies it and says, "I've no idea where you wanted to go next. I just have a back catalogue of ideas that may work for you." But to me, every time I hit a brick wall, I was looking for something quite specific but couldn't find it in my own catalogue (laughs) of knowledge, he would seem to be able to come through with a certain chord or certain style and we came out of the first week of working together on some of these earlier demos, which were well produced.
I mean the demos really did turn out in the long run to become the album, so it wasn't like they were two separate things. We started with a rough idea and finished with the finished product, you know. So it was a continual growth from start to finish. But I think it was working with Pete that really sort of clinched the concept and the vibe of the production in that it was elements of raw, sensitive and intimate work but also
, and sort of old school style of production, but then with a slightly new twist of modern sounds and samples mixed and blended in with the album. Which is what I was looking for because I'd recorded old school and I really wanted to sort of bring in some of the newer elements of playing around with other instrumentation and the production and the sort of samples that I'd never even considered before, but through the course of this, absolutely fell in love with.
antiMusic: As you say, there are sort of sounds or portions from all over, but to me "Everything Changes" and in "Lookin' 4 Luv", there are parts that almost sound like elements of mid '70s Burt Bacharach kind of style
singer-songwriter vibe. Does that make sense to you or no?
Julian: Yes, absolutely. I mean for me, it's always really been about trying to be a great songsmith. It's always been about that. And I guess especially with the last album, Photograph Smile, I think that was when I first really clicked on to who I was as a songwriter and then through the transition of writing, slowly but surely over the last 10 years or so and then entering the realm of slightly new production, it really, yeah, I mean, it makes sense to me that you said that because it's always been one of the key points for me that it's got to be a great song, first and foremost.
antiMusic: Tell us a bit about the title track. To me it was, or I should ask actually, was this possibly the track that kicked off the moment that these collection of songs sort of became a record more in your head?
Julian: Yeah, you know, again back to Pete, I think "Everything Changes" was actually the first one we worked on together and then it was "Touch the Sky". And they certainly set the style, standard and pattern for the rest of the album. So it was making sure that everything else that I was doing sort of came around to that way of sounding and thinking and emotion so to speak. I guess that was the sort of switch if you will that said, okay these songs are really, in mind, really coming together. They're really strong. It's time to consider this as an album, as a good body of work and an album. Yes, so in that regard, yeah, absolutely.
antiMusic: "Lookin' 4 Luv", as I mentioned, is really strong
Julian: Strangely enough I had the chorus for "Lookin' 4 Luv" for a long time. (laughs) It must have been a good ten years ago, at least. I never really had the right middle eight hook or the verse wasn't quite right. Again, it was back to Pete, strangely enough, is that we were under a little bit of a time constraint with his schedule and more often than not, I think some of the better work comes out of absolute pressure of being cornered and in time frames where you just don't have a choice. So we had a bit of a difficult time because we had what I felt was a great chorus but didn't really have anything else.
And one thing led to another and I just literally had to go into a room by myself and the verses just came to me in the most simplest way, shape or form, immediately. And then Pete and I collaborated on bringing the middle eight together which was pretty insane. But it had been with me for many, many years and as I say in the documentary actually. I actually wrote this when I was very happily involved in a good 10 year relationship. (laughs) So it was definitely drawing on moments from the past, whether they be my own or relationships that I've seen crumble or people in that position that are just lost and lonely.
antiMusic: When some artistic endeavours are completed, some are just to be enjoyed for what it is. In other cases the artist sometimes feels like he or she has just given birth to a set of feelings or ideas that will affect people. In looking at Everything Changes from that standpoint, do you hope that listeners will take away anything beyond the pleasure of the songs?
Julian: I don't think so really. I think that this is probably the most direct and honest I've been in my songwriting. I think they may walk away with a greater sense of knowing me as a person and how I think and feel more clearly than any other work that I've done. And I think that's great because that means I have a better relationship with the world. And that's all I can hope for. I think it's a slow burner though. I think it's going to take time for people to latch on to it. It's going to be a word of mouth album. But I'm more than happy that it just gets out there and yes, it is my baby. That's for sure. (laughs)
Morley and antiMusic thank Julian for taking the time to speak with us.
Get the new album here.
Visit the official homepage here