Julian Lennon:
The TVD Interview

Forget what you think you know about Julian Lennon right now. He has a name, sure, but he’s followed the muse in and out of his father’s long shadow into photography, philanthropy and, naturally, music. 

His sometimes contentious relationship with John Lennon’s legacy has yielded mixed results over the years—and he would probably be the first to admit that—but Julian is far past worrying about what critics think. He’s been happy to attend to his creativity and his conscience in his own ways. Right now it’s all about his photography (his photos are being met with critical acclaim at prestigious galleries around the world) and his latest album, Everything Changes, which is due out in the US on June 4. 

Everything Changes marks the end of a fifteen years hiatus from music, and the fifty-year-old Lennon is using it as an opportunity reacquaint himself with his songwriting. The single, “Someday,” is a thoughtful, socially-conscious ballad—featuring Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler—that sets the tone for the next chapter in a quietly remarkable life. A documentary is also forthcoming, giving Julian the chance not so much to “set the record straight,” but to let the world see what it’s really been like to be Julian Lennon. We chatted with him about this as well as the new album, his many artistic passions and, of course, what’s in his record collection. 

It’s been a while between your last album, Photograph Smile, and your upcoming one Everything Changes. What made you decide to come back to music?

Well, to me it never goes away, really. But also I get restless if I just do the same thing all the time; my mind wanders too much. I feel I’ve always been a creative person, and so for a while I was involved, and still am, in restaurants because I love food. I’m a foodie on crack! If I actually hadn’t been a muso or, now, a photographer I’d have been a chef—no question about it. I was doing lots of other projects and, slowly but surely, ideas creep back into my mind. Melodies will come into my head and I’ll go, “Oh, I quite like that! Maybe I should play around with that!”

And slowly but surely, after extensive periods of time away from music, it tends to all flood back. Then it’s a question of working with those ideas. Some I can finish off at the time, some I have partial finished songs… and how it’s worked over the last few years, especially, is many of my friends are great players and great singers and great writers. And so, if they come by for the weekend or whatever, I’ll say “Have a listen to this, see if you can spark any ideas—either from yourself or by giving me other ideas.” And then one thing leads to another and you’ve got a finished song. After having enough for a couple of albums worth, I just decided to chop it all down to what I felt were the fourteen strongest. Voila—there you go! It’s as simple as that in many respects.

I’ve read elsewhere that the songs for Everything Changes came to you more easily than previous albums. From what you’re saying, it certainly sounds like it was a more relaxed process for you.

Well, the previous album, Photograph Smile, was done in a very similar way. But I guess because this time round the majority was recorded at home in my little home studio, there was no having to deal with studio time and contracts and this, that, and the other. It just allowed me, when the moment took me and it felt right, to go in and work on material where even with the previous album… it’s never quite been the case.

And so, I felt much more at home and close to the work in that respect because I was able to live and breathe the material and either realize it was working—or heading in the right direction—or it wasn’t.  It was good to able to have that opportunity to do that. And I think from that, as much as I love some of the previous work that I’ve done, this without question is my absolute favorite. And I know all artists say that, but for me there’s not one song that I twitch at. [Laughs] I’m sort of completely happy with this album, which is… I say that about every album, but I mean it this time! [Laughs]

Your songwriting is often filled with social commentary and spirituality—especially in the two recent singles, “Lookin 4 Luv” and “Someday.” In the face of so much cynicism, especially in entertainment and music industries, do you ever worry about how your songs are perceived?

No, don’t give a monkey’s. I’m not gonna change the way I feel artistically and emotionally for the sake of an industry that is forever changing and, for the most part, has always taken advantage of the artist. I’ve sort of decided… I’ve thrown the gauntlet down now and said, in every direction that I work, I’m going to be as true to the artistry as I can possibly be. I don’t want to have any misgivings or regrets about anything I do from now on. Life’s too short. I literally just turned fifty a month ago, so I’m like, “Screw this!” [Laughs] I’ve got to be true to myself in every way, shape, or form. If they like it, they like it if they don’t, that’s fine. I’ve just got to power through.

If I consider what other people think in that regard, then I’m not going to be true to myself. For me, it’s a question of moving forward, forging a path, and trying to enjoy as much of the process as humanly possible along the way.

It’s nice to hear that you’re not willing to compromise, especially within an industry that’s in such upheaval…

Yes, it’s a mess. It’s beyond a mess, no question about that.

I’ve read, too, that you’re planning on releasing Everything Changes on clear vinyl, which sounds really cool. If so, what prompted that decision?

Oh, absolutely! I’ve always loved vinyl and I do think there’s a certain quality, without question, that you retain by recording on vinyl. I did do a sort of quiet, softer release [of Everything Changes] in the UK with a smaller version of this album and did press a few vinyl records. The moment I had the finished vinyl product in my hand, I was drooling! It’d been so many years since I’d seen… there’s not too many artists that do it. There’s still a great love for vinyl, not only because of the way that it sounds, but also the touch, the feel of it, the fact that you can actually—without having to put glasses on—read all the credits, and you can see the all the artwork, and what the whole package is really, really all about.

iTunes and the like are trying to do something similar, visually at least, with the idea of the LP in which you can put all of the artwork and all of the credits into those packages for downloading—which I think is brilliant. At least it’s sort of a step forwards-backwards-forwards. [Laughs] Having the actual, physical vinyl in your hand, there’s nothing quite like it. It is beautiful, it really is—especially the clear vinyl with this piece.

The sound is second-to-none. You don’t really realize how much you miss, sound-wise, until you play a few records.

Well, that’s very, very true. But the other problem is there are a great deal of audiophiles out there. But also in the modern world, the modern sound—at least with this generation and upcoming generations—is that they don’t really know so much about that. They have to learn about that sound and quality. Most of the players that you hear music on now, whether it’s headphones to sound systems with speakers… most people are getting Surround Sound systems with the sub woofer and a lot of the frequencies get mixed up in that [set up], so you don’t have true stereo sound. People think left and right speakers—big speakers—are cumbersome, silly, and old school. But in reality, those things are the best-sounding speakers in the world. It’s not the fancy-schmancy, hear-it-everywhere system that really gives you the quality that a lot of people’s work—mine included—deserve.

Do you still have a record collection, then?

I do have a box in the attic! [Laughs] It’s been a while! Listen, it’s like that spring cleaning mode—I haven’t been able to get to it yet! There’s a lot of stuff up there!

There’s a few old classics from Steely Dan; obviously I’ve got a Beatles collection up there. The stuff I listened to growing up were the likes of Steely Dan, Keith Jarrett, AC/DC, Van Halen—all of those on vinyl. In my mind, they’re classics. The list goes on… Simon and Garfunkel… I have a reasonable collection upstairs in the attic. I couldn’t tell you exactly what’s up there, because it’s not spring cleaning for me yet. I don’t have the time! [Laughs] I don’t really have the time this year, never mind this spring.

But I do have some goodies up there. The only problem I really have is I don’t have a player at this point in time. When I pull those out, it’s going to have to be a time and a place when I’ve actually got more than a moment to breathe, which is far and few between these days.

I’m amazed at how many things you’ve got going on. I’m curious—what enthralls you the most these days? Is it photography or music or something else?

Well, I certainly have a love for photography because what it allows me to do more than anything… well, number one it gives me, truly, my own identity for the work that I do. There’s no comparisons with Dad or The Beatles in any way. So, that for me is a pleasure to be able to breathe and be accepted for being a visual artist and not having those ties and links.

The other thing is, you know, I can go out for a day or a couple of days and do a job, with photography, and then come back to my home and sit there in my office—which is kind of my art room where I do test prints. I take care of most of my business here—and I love sitting in here with some music on in the background, the windows open, a bit of fresh air, looking out to the sea… That’s almost probably my happy place. That [office space] allows me to be at home and do the work that I love, and I really, truly, truly, truly, truly love editing photography. It’s one of my absolute passions now. And again, allowing myself to be at home and be relaxed and be free to do that as an artist… that’s why I’m driven to do that.

But that doesn’t mean music will ever go away! I’m constantly, from friends and otherwise, being asked to co-write songs that are going to be on this new artist’s album… that’s never really been part of my life before, but in the last year it’s sort of come out of nowhere. And that’s been quite pleasurable because I come in from the outside. I listen to a piece of music, and it’s them that are lost and have hit the brick wall. So from that perspective, being able to go in and throw ideas at them and say, “How about this? How about that?” and then find something—it’s fun. It’s not the same as feeling pressured in writing the perfect song for your album, so to speak. There’s a bit more freedom to it, or has been at least.

I’ve always heard that if you’re super-focused on something or you really want something, sometimes it turns out better to shift your focus a bit to get what you were looking for. It’s like success is 1/8th of an inch to the left of where you’ve been focused.

I think you’re absolutely right in that regard. Yes, if you’re overly focused on something, you’re blind to other ideas. And I think other ideas that can be given or come to you—whether it’s from your own thoughts or from someone else—that certainly can open up a thousand more doors than just having your blinkers on. I don’t think that approach is really healthy. But as artists, we can be pretty stubborn sometimes, you know! [Laughs] It’s hard for us to say, “I can’t do it! I can’t figure it out!” But we get there in the end, even if it takes us a little longer sometimes.

I think it’s a necessity for us to be able to breathe and open up and be able to accept other thoughts and ideas. Even if it’s just to trigger you on, or make you think slightly differently or slightly off-center. I absolutely agree.

It sounds like the set up you were describing in your home office, with the window looking out on the sea, was the inspiration for your upcoming documentary, Through The Picture Window. Could you talk a little bit about that?

Yeah, sure! The idea for me was very much that I’d never let a TV crew around me, watching me 24/7. I mean, I did a documentary on the first tour called, Stand By Me, which was a very, very early look at how I was at the beginning. There’s been nothing else since because I like my privacy, I like my life outside of the public eye. What I wanted to do was… there was never an opportunity to really talk about the way I felt or the way I approach things or the way that my friends or other partners, writers and musicians see me.

And the one thing I didn’t want to do this time… I very much, again as an artist, wanted to just put music out there. I didn’t want to promo all over the world again—I just didn’t fancy that. Because after the last one, it almost killed me—a year around the world doing almost anything and everything. And I just said, I’m quite happy with my life and I’m quite happy with my work—the photography and this, that, and the other thing—and I’d like to be able to explain who I am these days or what I do these days without having to travel around the world to do that. I very much wanted it from my own perspective so I could tell my own story. I’ve never really done that before.

The teaser we’re releasing in conjunction with the iTunes download of the album… it is a mini-documentary; it’s forty minutes. But it’s a freebie—it’s just to give you a little insight. And then the full version that we’re considering a release at the same time… we’re already included more about the photography and the White Feather Foundation and other projects I’ve been working on. But that’s not included in the teaser. The teaser is more what I’m like now, what other people think of me, and the making of Everything Changes to a degree, at least from a spiritual aspect and from a practical point of view. It’s not necessarily a track-by-track breakdown, although it does enter that realm at some point.

But the full-length one is going to cover pretty much everything I do these days. Plus I’ve been working on fourteen videos, a video for every song on the album. That’s a lot of work, but what we’ve finished so far I’m extremely proud of. The people I’ve played it to said, “Finally! People are gonna get to understand what it’s like being you!” Because I don’t think it’s ever truly been understood before. From those that like me and those that don’t, both sides of the spectrum are gonna learn a great deal within this experience—no question about it.

With everything that you’ve got going on—this manic sort of whirlwind of creativity and philanthropy—a year from now, where would you like to be?

I would like to have thought that the last few years’ work, which is coming to fruition this year, will be a good foundation for me to work from in the future. I think that the work that I’m doing now that’s going to be presented will allow me to continue working in the veins that I wish to work. And I just want to continue doing what I do and bettering myself and the work that I do. It’s as simple as that.

Julian Lennon: Official | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube
Photos: Deborah Anderson

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  • Shawn McKenzie

    incredible, enjoyed your story. surprised we have alot in common, just one instance for me if i wasnt a working class hero lol but i plan on getting into culinary arts, love preparing food for people and watching their expressions. im sure someday youll write an even bigger one. I always loved music and im somewhat a musician, my dads gone now a few years john m McKenzie but met your dad along with the band. your dad said give it all you got because thats what its gonna take even though he wouldnt recommend that lifestyle for anyone. thanks bud!

    • Shawn McKenzie

      sorry, i could write so much more im sure many could, i tried to keep it short, just wanted to say i appreciate your uniqueness and thanks for putting yourself out there for us.

  • Tercoop7105

    I really enjoyed the article about you, there are a lot of facets about you that I like and one is that you are not a ego maniac and that you are a sincere down to earth person who likes a lot of down to earth topics and you are not trying to do things just to get attention like a lot of other well known people do.  I guess what I am trying to say is that you do not let things go to your head and you have a good mind and plan for your life and that is a attractive trait in you.

  • JackiePlattner

    You are simply amazing love your songs and photo too.

  • LizGibbs

    Julian – you are an inspiration – I accord completely with your stance & spirit wind – you sing my soul (spooky – but that’s what great art is I guess) – I hear a parallel path walked (except my view through the window is of a river valley in the sub-tropics) – I already have your single & LP on order (monkey me trying not to be impatient – acceptance – mindfulness of breath) and look forward to the iTunes release as well (both versions) – THANK YOU FOR BEING YOU! – Cheers (bravo & wild applause) from tin lizzy

  • Caroline

    Jules,  You mentioned that you liked having your own control in your own studio to make your music, my question is; are you still under others time lines and studio when making the videos. Your videos are very very captivating and well done.  Are you able to make those at home too??  Great interview and will look for the documentary. Alway good to hear from you at any time.  Much love

  • Lloyd

    Good record I will get this one. Good work Julian cheers Lloyd

  • jozie1958

    I like both songs on here:  you and Steven Tyler sound great together on “Someday”, and I especially like the song “Looking 4 Luv” – I love the chorus at the end!
    I am also a fan of your Facebook comments and am sure you make both of your parents proud!

  • TeresaO

    Julian, I’m a bit confused; I bought Everything Changes over a year ago although of course “Someday” was not on it. You mentioned a “softer UK version” I suppose that must be what I bought. How different will this new Everything Changes be from the one previously released? I love the album I have by the way!

    • crobbins956

      TeresaO He’s reissuing it with  2 additional tracks worldwide to entice people to in essence buy the same album twice. I know I’m getting it again!!!

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