(Editor's Note: Julian Lennon recently visited The Recording Academy's headquarters in Santa Monica, Calif., for an exclusive GRAMMY.com interview. View footage from his visit at left.)
It has been 15 years since his last U.S. release, 1998's Photograph Smile, but GRAMMY nominee Julian Lennon has been making up for lost time. His latest album, Everything Changes, originally released in 2011 in the UK, received an international reissue in June with two new tracks, including the lush "Someday," which Lennon co-wrote and duets on with Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler.
"After … Photograph Smile, I really felt like I needed a break," said Lennon. "After about five or so years I just started writing again because I felt the need to. I guess it's one of my forms of expression, and can be damn good therapy."
In conjunction with the U.S. release of Everything Changes, on Dec. 2 Lennon will release Through The Picture Window, a DVD package featuring a full-length documentary, music videos for and acoustic versions of the 14 songs on Everything Changes, plus interviews with U2's Bono and Tyler, among other features.
In an exclusive interview with GRAMMY.com, Lennon discussed meeting Tyler, his most personal song on Everything Changes and the inspiration behind his forthcoming documentary.
You collaborated with Steven Tyler on the new single "Someday." I imagine you've known him for a while?
Actually, not. Apparently I met him — it could have been on [my] first or second album in New York [when I was] working with Phil Ramone [nearly 30 years ago] — and I don't remember because there was so much going on in the early days. Apparently they stopped by and said hi at one point, but I don't recall it. I met Steven in the hotel bar a few days before [recording in summer 2012], and we decided to work together. I literally went up to him and said, "Hi," and he invited me down to the studio where [Aerosmith] were finishing their latest album. I sang a couple of words on it, but it was great having the opportunity to do that and ask him if he had time to work with me on doing something new for this album for the U.S. release. Honestly, I didn't think we were going to manage it or pull it together because his schedule was just beyond ridiculous. He was doing "[American] Idol" at the same time, and he was rehearsing for the [Aerosmith tour] as well as mixing and finishing the album off. … Trying to actually lock him down was almost next to impossible, but we literally wrote and organized the track and put it all together from start to finish in two hours. I hadn't written a single in that speed for years. It was literally throwing any and every great idea that came into your head at that moment in time and seeing what stuck. I loved the opportunity, and we have talked about doing something else together with a bit more time, which I'd love to do. It would be a lot of fun more than anything else.
What is the most personal song for you on the new album?
That's a difficult one because they are all … my babies. I love every song on [the album]. I could say "Beautiful" because it is very personal and is about those we've loved and lost, and that's relatable to everybody. I love "Everything Changes" as well — that's one I could never get sick of — but I guess "In Between" has become a real favorite because it is about those moments in between that we tend to forget. It's the actual journey as opposed to the start and finish points.
There is a serene, meditative quality to Everything Changes, and it doesn't have the kind of upbeat tracks from past albums such as "You Get What You Want" (from 1986's The Secret Value Of Daydreaming) or "Say You're Wrong" (from 1984's Valotte).
Very much so. A lot of dear friends of mine say the only thing that worries them is the fact that I tend to write mid-tempo [songs] all the time. The fact of the matter is … I write what I don't hear out there in many respects. There are plenty of people doing the up-tempo stuff. I don't feel the need to have to go there unless it really feels honest. But that doesn't mean … that I'm not going to tickle that part of my fancy, so to speak, further down the road. It's just that I wanted to put an album out that at the present time of writing and recording and producing was true to me … and said everything that I wanted to say. It was not about appeasing the masses or radio, it was just about writing what felt real and what felt right and apropos to the moment. … But I also have been getting that twitch that I wouldn't mind rocking it out a little bit and do something a little more raw next time.
You've been asked many of the same questions over the course of your career. I'm curious if there are any questions that you'd like to be asked that you haven't?
Well, that one. [laughs] That's what I would've liked to have been asked. In all honesty, off the top of my head, it probably would have been anything but dad or the Beatles. That's what I would've wished for. It's been what it has been, but these days I very much steer towards the work, and if we're not going to talk about the work then I'm not interested and not going to talk.
What inspired you to rerelease the album and a documentary around the same time?
I wanted to do a video for every song on the previous album, Photograph Smile, but one thing led to another and it just didn't come about for whatever reasons. I really wanted to do that this time around, and so I started working on the videos for these a long time ago, but they've changed and transformed over the time working with different people. We're still not finished. I mean, talk about a deadline. The idea was [to give viewers] a relatively visual interpretation of where I was coming from. … With the documentary, I just felt that I've been away and off the scene for a good 15 years, and I just felt it was necessary to have something that would tell my side of the story and a bit of who I am and what I do these days because it's a lot more encompassing than ever before. … I've really been pushing myself to get a lot of work done and out there these days, and I think the documentary [speaks to] people who want to know who I am and what's going on. The last thing I wanted to do was go on another promo tour from hell where I go all over the world and just get asked the same old same old, and I thought if I put a documentary out there, a lot of answers are in there and I can just get on with life and with work.
(Bryan Reesman is a New York-based freelance writer.)