Julian Lennon’s ‘Everything Changes’ has finally made its U.S. debut. But is this special project’s title an innocent observation, or a hint of things to come in the career of the pop artist and photographer?
By Jeb Wright
This interview first appeared in Goldmine Magazine in 2014.
The interview was conducted by Classic Rock Revisited’s Jeb Wright.
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HE’S MADE HIS MARK ON the world as a philanthropist, a photographer and pop musician. But perhaps the most impressive achievement in Julian Lennon’s life is that he’s done it on his own terms — no easy feat given that he’s the son of the late John Lennon, aka “The Witty Beatle.”
But when you look at the cover of Julian Lennon’s latest project, the expansive “Everything Changes,” you get the sense that much like the butterfly that has come forth from its chrysalis to dominate the album artwork, Lennon, too, has managed to emerge from the lengthy shadows cast by his famous father and come into his own as an artist, free of any preconceived notions that he should somehow follow in his father’s footsteps.
Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar, and a butterfly is just a butterfly. Lennon explains the meaning behind the cover artwork, his many pursuits beyond music and why he felt it is so important to make “Everything Changes” a tangible product.
Jeb: What is significance of the butterfly on the album cover?
Julian: Yes, well, that is a bit of a weird one. It really is. Before I finished the album, for some reason or another, I just literally kept seeing butterflies everywhere — whether it was on a TV commercial, or outside or on a notepad. One of the other main places I associated with a butterfly, and still do, is the Lupus Foundation of America, as one of their logos is a butterfly. I just kept thinking, “How in the hell am I going to include this, as it means something?” Maybe it means growing up little. Maybe it means breaking out of the shell you were once in to finally fly away. I was wondering how to include it with the artwork. I knew I wanted to use photography of mine, but I wasn’t sure how to do it. I was talking to a guy named Simon, who I have done a lot of art projects with, and I said to him, “How are we going to join these elements?” He brilliantly came up with a stencil of the butterfly, and therein was the idea to associate whatever images were in the butterfly for each, at least in some way, with what the songs were about, emotionally. That is kind of where they came from and they have just stuck around. I think I have done my butterfly thing now on this project. I am not going to say there will not be more animals, but the butterfly was certainly good for this project.
Jeb: “Music from Another Room.” What does that mean?
Julian: That is the label. The logo we came up for that from years and years ago was a man’s head with a door open with musical notes coming out of it. The other room is the music coming from the man’s head; that is what we’re talking about.
Jeb: You’ve spent three years of your life promoting this. Why is this project so special to you?
Julian: Well, listen. Every artist says their last piece of work is their favorite, and this is true. I love this album. I’m not saying I don’t like my previous albums — there are always a few songs that you sneer at a few years later — but I do love this album very much.
In today’s market and today’s world of music, this may just be the last of its kind. I know the hard-core say vinyl is coming back to a degree, but packaging is something that has been waylaid for some time. There are a few committed bands that still love that and love to work on that and have it be a part of their whole thing, but in my mind, they are few and far between. If this is going to maybe be the last album project as a whole that I do, then I would like to go out with a bang with the box set and put everything I worked on into this box set. I want something that is tangible and that you can look at and see and feel and touch. It is a rarity these days.
Jeb: I like the release date; that was cool as well.
Julian: Mum’s birthday? Well, you know, we are all getting on a bit! We have to celebrate in some way, shape or form. I figured mum would like that, so it is just a nod to her.
Jeb: Anyone that understands your musical work knows that when you are inspired you make music, that is healing and therapeutic. This album drips with raw emotion.
Julian: I appreciate that. It really was the most organic album that I’ve done. The songs that came together for this were not written for an album; they were written individually, purely out of pure therapy. I was getting things out of my system one way or another. It is in the production of those songs where the flow comes together, musically.
Indeed, I’ve only ever written about the experiences I’ve gone through, am going through or what I am thinking about doing in the future. Nothing has really changed in that regard, but that has always been my stance and my standpoint.
Jeb: You’ve got regular versions, instrumental versions, videos — you’ve got everything but the kitchen sink in this box set. Is that a Lennon-inherited work ethic, to just go all out?
Julian: [Laughs.] Listen, I will tell you where it stems from. It is the fact that I figured that I’ve been out of the scene for at least 15 years, and it would be nice for people to have a clue what I’m doing, how I do it and where my head’s at. That was the idea behind having the non-talking head documentary. That stems from, in fact, the idea that I’ve always hated doing music videos. I decided, I don’t know how many years ago now — five years ago, or maybe much longer — to perform before a green screen for every song. When I looked back, I thought, “I look fat, and it looks like crap.”
We spent a good year or two not making me look fat but filling in slightly more boring elements with a visual surprise. In some cases, we made not so much a storyline, but a timeline. The idea was to get all of that under my belt in ‘one go’ so that I didn’t have to think about doing music videos.
It is that long ago that I started this project. Now, music videos are almost irrelevant! I am a genius; it was a great move on my part! [Laughs.]
I also thought that I should do acoustic versions of the songs. That came from doing a promotional tour in the U.K. with just me and one or two other people. Some of this stuff sounds quite beautiful and even more emotional than the full production tracks, when done acoustically. Behind the scenes, doing all of the promo stuff and everything else, I decided to work with my dear friend who co-produced the album with me, Grant Ransom. He was slaving behind the scenes, trying to put things together, and I would come in for a few days and then bugger-off again.
I always thought a lot of the work that I did was very orchestral, instrumental — I could see it behind the scenes in film scores. I never had the opportunity to do that, so I figured, “Why not put the instrumental version of the album out?” as people may get the hint. That was that. I just wanted people to hear all sides of what was going on and lay it on the table and say, “There you go. I will be gone for another few years, as I need to take a nap now!” [Laughs].
Jeb: When you watch the included documentary, guys named ‘Bono’ and ‘Steven Tyler’ — who you did the song “Someday” with — are commenting about you. You’ve hung out with some pretty famous people in your life...
Julian: Let me tell you, it’s not a common thing. It is a bumping-into-people-once-in-a-while thing. I actually rarely hang out in the music scene crowd at all. I am on the periphery and always have been. Even I am quite blown away by being around certain people, because I admire them greatly for the work they have done. I’m a fan, too.
I never saw or heard any of the interview stuff before we pieced it together. I was quite taken aback by some of the comments. Again, I think I learned a few things, as well. There were things in the documentary that I knew but didn’t fess up to, or didn’t know how to put into words. There was a lot of clarity that came out of that experience.
Sorry to ramble on; please, please ask me what you were going to ask.
Jeb: You were very intuitive there. Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re Julian Lennon! If Bono said “Excuse me,” after bumping into me, I would be, like, “Wow.” I wonder if you were too sheltered over your life experiences to that ‘everyday humanness’ of your personality?
Julian: There is no question about that. It has taken by meeting, for instance, Bono, over the years — it is only in the last year or two that I can actually call him up and say, “Hello, what are you doing about this that and the other? Are you going to this event?”
As you know, us artists have busy lives, and we are all over the place. I think that is another reason why it is few and far between we can get together. You’re either all going to the same events, or you’re avoiding all of the same events. I am the one that tends to avoid all of the events as much as possible.
Jeb: When you did the re-release of this album for the USA, you did a song with Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. I would have bet that this would not be a natural collaboration.
Julian: Let me clarify one thing first: This is not a re-release. The album in its original form was only released in the U.K., and so for the rest of the world, the album with Steven Tyler is a new release in the USA. I would say the U.K. got left out of it. [Laughs].
I’ve got to say, in fact, one of the last times I was with dad was in Florida, driving on the way down to Florida — I must have been about 13 at the time. All we heard was American radio on the drive down. One of the bands that came up time and time again was Aerosmith and “Dream On.” Even at that age, many, many moons ago now, I was a huge fan of Aerosmith and Steven Tyler. I thought he wrote great melodies. If you get into the lyrics, you realize he is a very insightful man. He shocked me, in fact.
I was lucky enough to bump into him, and one thing led to another. I felt the album could do with a bit more of something else, as something was missing. I literally asked him. I said, “Would you fancy writing something?” He said, “Yeah.” Amongst the madness that was his life at the time, which was “American Idol,” their tour and finishing an Aerosmith album, he was able to do that. It was tough to get him into the studio, and we literally did it with minutes to spare. I am more than happy with what came out of that, and I really think it sits well on the album.
Without question I would do it again, in a heartbeat. I think there is every potential that we will do something again, whether it’s Aerosmith, or his solo stuff or my stuff — we will get in a room and do more writing.
Jeb: During your time off from music you really got into photography. That is a very solitary indulgence. Did that help you to grow as a person, to be so singularly involved in something where you could just be you and not be John Lennon’s son?
Julian: Obviously, with this kind of art — I always felt I had a certain eye for things. I used to actually make a lot of mini films and documentaries years ago. I had been involved with visual ideas and projects, but I really fell in love with it all. No. 1, there was no association with Dad or The Beatles. Finally, I was really being judged on my own work on this regard.
The response I got was staggering. I was expecting to be crucified, I kid you not. I had some incredible reviews, and I’ve really followed it because it really is very unique. From one moment to the next, you can literally do many things. You can get on a plane and get off a plane and you can shoot an entirely new exhibition that is unique and beautiful. You can move that into the work with The White Feather Foundation. We can go to places to where we are helping people and meet them and try to learn what is going on. I can capture those moments as an individual, because it is just me and the camera and the situations that I find myself in. The most important part of that issue, to me, is being a fly on the wall and keeping out of everybody’s way. I am not one of those photographers that gets in your face, and I don’t want to be that way. I don’t want you to even see me, if I can help it. That is how I tend to get what I feel are some of my better shots. I am off to the side, and I will make it quick and painless, but you won’t even know I got the shot.
I’ve fallen in love with being a true photographer. I would lean to more of being a visual artist than a photographer. I am not technically adept to the inner workings of a camera, but I’ve got the basics. It is the post work where I feel I draw the real emotion out of any pictures that I take. It is not a great deal of work. I don’t take every photo and put it into PhotoShop and reshape it. I will play with the images and try to bring the best out of them, but I am certainly not going to remove your double chin — unless you really want me to, but that will cost you extra, of course!
Jeb: Have you ever gotten into a musical moment where you go, “Damn, that sounds too much like Dad; I can’t do this.”
Julian: No, not really. I think there may be a few of those little bits. I am not driving toward it, nor am I shying away from my influences. If you listen to this album, then you will hear a little bit of every influence that I have from Led Zeppelin to Steely Dan to Keith Jarrett — you name it and they are all in there in some way, shape or form.
Jeb: We are about the same age. We change and grow and look at life differently. I get that out of this album.
Julian: One of the things that sticks with me is that all of those influences that I have had are solid singer/songwriter bands. There is no fluffiness on there. It is just raw songwriting, arrangement and production. Those guys have stuck with me for years and will continue to do so. It is a rarity for me to find new bands that I really like.
Jeb: I love the story of how you named The White Feather Foundation.
Julian: There was a white feather that was given to me on my last tour of Australia by this Aboriginal tribe. They gave me this beautiful white feather, and they said, “You have a voice. Can you help us?” I said, “What do you mean?” They told me the story of their plight and that tied in with other indigenous tribes around the world. I spent 10 years making the independent film “WhaleDreamers;” it was all about that. It was time to kind of step up to the plate. If you’re going to be in a position where you’re in the public eye and you can make people more aware of the crap that goes on around the world and enlighten people a little bit, then I believe it is your job to do that and to help the best you can.
Jeb: From what I hear, you’ve always been a pretty nice guy, despite a few moments, like when Bono talks about you hitting someone over the head with a bottle.
Julian: [Laughs.] Well, he can bloody talk! I want to talk about reverb. That man uses more reverb ... Never mind, we’re not going there! I’m sorry I lost my train of thought. What were you asking? [Laughs.]
Jeb: What made you decide to be Julian Lennon, the humanitarian?
Julian: The more you mature and the more you see the different levels of happiness and sadness in the world — that would be part of it. You learn who has money and who doesn’t have money, and who has water and who doesn’t have water. Having the White Feather Foundation helps us out. We have a couple of main causes, but we always get these tiny little charities that have very little money and very little voice, and it is hard to say ‘No’ if you can help. One thing leads to another, and your compassion grows, your understanding grows and your empathy grows.
If you give a damn about anything, then you’ve got to do something about it: It’s as simple as that. Otherwise, I don’t see what the point is, really. If you can do some good, then do some good. It’s as simple as that.
Jeb: Where is your path leading you? Do you have a five- or 10-year plan outlining where you want to be?
Julian: No, I just try and do the best I can every day that I wake up. If I get through each day and do the best I can, then that is the best I can do. I will just keep on doing that; it is really that simple. Projections are nice to a certain degree, but it’s the here and now that counts. If you can make a difference while you’re here in any measure then I say,” do it.”
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