Acoustic Café Interview

Recorded March 1999 at Solid Sound Incorporated
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Photograph Smile

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This interview was done by Acoustic Café a two-hour weekly syndicated radio show featuring in-studio interviews and  live acoustic performances. The show is hosted by Rob Reinhart and produced by Reinhart, McReynolds & Magnus. This interview is from show #221 which aired the week of April 5th, 1999... an edited version of the show aired on Acoustic Café's #300 show the week of October 9th, 2000 and may still be available for listening at: http://www.mlive.com/cafe

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Opening of 'Valotte'

Acoustic Café: That's the title track from 'Valotte' the best selling 1983 [1984] debut by this week's in studio guest Julian Lennon.  When the record came out just three years after his father's death people treated him like John reincarnated. The fact that he looked and sounded a lot like his dad didn't help and there was even talk of a Beatle reunion with Julian taking his dad's place. Julian wasn't too happy with the situation. He felt like the music industry was trying to package him in his father's image instead of letting him be himself. And after another few albums he went into semi-retirement.

Then last year he came out with the critically acclaimed 'Photograph Smile' - his first album in seven years - and the public reaction was totally different. European critics fell all over themselves praising it and the German Edition of Rolling Stone called it 'a mature work of genius.'

The album just came out here in the states in February and Julian talked about his long musical journey on a recent visit to Acoustic Cafe.

Julian: Finally for me, it's what I feel is the true beginning of my career. Because I felt a lot of it was very manipulated beforehand you know, there was a lot of influence whether it was from - you know - managers,  record companies, or even producers to a certain degree. And I just felt that there never truly was a full body of work that I was happy with as far as an album before.

There were moments. But after being in the industry for so long and being so frustrated by the people I was working with and what I felt was happening to me and I felt disrespected as an artist in my own right as far as the people I was working with and they were supposed to be nurturing me!  (laughs) which was NOT the case. After too many broken promises and what I felt was truly a lack of support on their behalf - I don't think they knew what to do with me really. You know, I had just had enough. Time to get out of here.

It was a blessing in disguise having this break because it allowed me to stand back and look at what had happened to me.  And also figure out who the hell I was outside of the industry.  Because I had had no time to myself  to really think about ME - you know. And it also enabled me to actually live and breath and you know sort of reflect on what had happened and also I felt that I had problems not only on a professional level but personal level there I needed to solve in order to continue. And a part of that was not having balance in life. Because before it was always 100% music or the industry and no time for anything else or anybody else. Because there are other things in life you know that are as important if not more important these days and obviously as we get older we realize these things. And you know, I just don't want to do that thing anymore. I want to be able to write and to record and get out and play sometimes but there's so many other things in life that I want to achieve as well. I mean the main motivation I think for coming back was not only having written the songs which were not particularly for an album. They were just for the challenge of writing because I've always considered it an art form, a craft and I've always considered myself a serious songsmith so to speak. And after having written you know, up to 20 or 30 if not more finished - pretty much finished tracks you know and hearing friends and other people around me saying 'you can't just put this on the shelf.'

I mean the main motivation was that I - that if I was going to say goodbye to the industry that the last four albums were not a good enough legacy to leave behind. I didn't want to walk away with that. And I wanted to have put something out that I felt in control of. That I had overseen the whole project basically and was the final yes - no man at the end of the day. You know.

'I Should Have Known' Acoustic

Acoustic Café: That's Julian Lennon joined in this week's appearance by Matt Backer and a song from the album 'Photograph Smile'  called 'I Should Have Known.'

You ended up doing 30 some songs right?

Julian: 30 something songs yeah. Yeah.

Acoustic Café: That's a whole 'nother record.

Julian: Yeah, that's a whole 'nother record. Yeah.

Acoustic Café: And actually what got left off and for what reasons? Was it too similar to what was already there? Or different?

Julian: Well some of the stuff was a little similar to what we - what is on this present album. I think next time around the - as well as still approaching it from the raw side - there will be a slightly harder edge on one or two of the tracks you know. But still - still writing the very intimate, warm, solo stuff as well you know.

Acoustic Café: This record has been out in Europe for almost a year.

Julian: Almost a year. Yeah.

Acoustic Café: Right? Spring of '98.

Julian: That's correct. Yes.

Acoustic Café: I heard about this the second it came out. I got an email from Germany. Someone said 'you know there is this new Julian Lennon record.'  So being a good music fan in the late 1990s I did what everyone does you go to the web. And I found this on your website.

Julian: The birth of the record company site. Yes

Acoustic Café: It looked like - It looked like you where intending this perhaps as just a European project. Was that the intent? Was there an intention..

Julian: Oh yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. Because as an artist when you are releasing an album you know the majority tend to release you know, an album - I mean most major labels tend to release an album worldwide all at one go. And as an artist having to go on a promo tour you're dealing with insanity. You can't physically be everywhere in the world at once. So just from a logical point of view I said "Whoa hold on. Let's just do Europe first or parts of Europe first lay a foundation there. Move slowly on to the far east and Japan and Australia. Try and get some chart positions over there. Try and get some great reviews and build up a great foundation for eventually coming into America.

Acoustic Café: You're doing your own artist development.

Julian: Exactly. Exactly! (both laugh) Well the most natural one possible.

Acoustic Café: Sure

Julian: And that was the approach all the way is to have it run as smoothly and as naturally as possible. The idea is - well at least how it worked here and in a lot of countries was a lot of word of mouth.

Acoustic Café: Well that's exactly how I heard about it a year in advantage.

Julian: Exactly. And I think that's - you know it takes longer obviously but I think that in the long run that affords me a better foundation you know. And it re-establishes me a bit more from a grounded point of view than from an image/marketing point of view. Which was the point really - you know - it's all about the music. I mean for me from day one it's been all about the music. It's never been about having an image - a facade - you know, 'the son of' or this that or the other. You know, as I've said before, it's an art form and it's a craft and the music is what's most important to me.

'Day After Day' Acoustic

Acoustic Café: That's the first stateside single from the album 'Photograph Smile' it's called 'Day After Day' from our in studio guest Julian Lennon.

On your - lets call it your first career or your pre-music career if you want to call it that (Julian laughs) of - we know - we know what Atlantic's expectations were we know what their whole angle was what were your - but your were A LOT younger...

Julian: But they were the cause of my demise as well.

Acoustic Café: But what were your expectations going in at that time. Did you say this - 'It is all about the music isn't it?'

Julian: Well you know the first album was comfortably put together you know. It wasn't - it wasn't really a pressured situation it was only after.  You know and I felt pretty good about the whole thing. I was obviously naive and nervous and ignorant to many degrees but after finishing my first ever world tour and being totally overwhelmed by it and enjoying it and thinking 'oh wow! That was fantastic! But ok. Now I'll get a chance to breath a little bit and then I'll be able to start writing again naturally as I've always done. And then we will be able to put the album together.'  That wasn't the circumstance of course. It was you know the president of the company at that time saying 'Ok where is he? He's coming off the road? Get him back in the studio we need another hit.' And you know that was done within two months and it was - 'This is insane! What? Are you crazy?' It was pretty raw and rough and I was more pissed than you can imagine at you know - having to pretend that this was one big happy family with Atlantic yet being forced into a business positions which I - you know, because I was contractually obligated that I had no control over.

Not that I didn't have some fun doing some of the other albums you know, but none the less it was still not my ideal circumstance.

Acoustic Café: One final note that just occurred to me today when listening to the new record and balanced against my memories of the first record

Julian: Right

Acoustic Café: And it occurred to me there are people who were born when your first record came out that are just now hitting their music - that peak music buying, music loving stage of life.

Julian: Yes

Acoustic Café: 15. Who can approach your music entirely without filters that somebody my age/older/and even a little younger has - is just always going to have. There is just - there is always going to be something churning. But these people can just approach you as Julian Lennon and Sean's work as well. Same thing.

Julian: Absolutely. Absolutely. See I always felt that was going to happen at some stage it was just a question of time. And I'm a man of great patience and you know there are still the critics out there that the change will never happen but it will. And the most interesting was the first interview I did in the seven years in Germany was a kid who was in his - I guess early to mid- twenties who actually got turned on to the Beatles due to listening to my work. So I a happy camper with that. I said 'Finally. It's about time but it's starting to happen and that made me very, very happy.'

'Good To Be Lonely' Acoustic

Acoustic Café: 'Good To Be Lonely' another one from our in studio guest this week - Julian Lennon and he is joined in the appearance by Matt Backer. Julian's new album is called 'Photograph Smile.'