Lennon has had a long day. He got up early to shoot footage for his directorial debut, a documentary about some visual/performance artist friends of his who live in New York City.
“It’s a nascent project so I’m not going to talk too much about it,” Lennon says over the phone. “It’s been a year of shooting and I probably have another year left. It’s a long project. I like to try different things all at once.”
Indeed, on Jan. 15, Lennon is actually releasing two records, each of which are completely distinct and unlike any of the pop music he’s released before. Lennon composed the soaring soundtrack to Alter Egos, a film about superheroes (which he has a small role in) that warranted some Tim Burton-Batman-era symphonic compositions.
Then there’s Mystical Weapons, an improv duo that came about after Lennon became friendly with Deerhoof’s Saunier, and Cibo Matto’s Yuka Honda suggested the two try playing together. The resulting album is a really cool, eclectic, loosely powerful collection of experiments with some basic structure.
“All the music is improvised, which is one of the guidelines,” Lennon explains.
“Then there would be verbal guidelines, which were sometimes based around instrumentation or a key signature or a concept or mood.”
“A song like ‘Dirty Neon’ was as simple as saying, ‘All right Greg, you play piano this time and I’ll play drums,’” Lennon continues. "And then ‘Mechanical Mammoth’ was all about playing the ARP 2600 on an atonal setting so the intervals on the keys weren’t 12-tone but kinda random. Some songs were about just using the kalimba and the last song, ‘Consortium Musicum,’ was about playing toys live.
I’m really proud of that one because it’s very atmospheric, even though it’s just us sitting cross-legged, playing toys.”
For someone whose family name is connected to the greatest pop songs in history, and whose own discography reflects an interest in verse-chorus-verse songwriting, Mystical Weapons is a welcome exploration.
“It’s really liberating because I do tend to do more structured music,” Lennon admits. “Greg is the perfect partner in crime when it comes to improvising because he has a really great spontaneity and is very original so he’s not just blurting out clichés like most of us are.”
Sean Lennon had much more to say about his own music and unexpectedly playing songs by his parents, John Lennon and Yoko Ono Lennon, with the likes of Aerosmith, Mavis Staples and Wilco's Jeff Tweedy over the last year.