meta-scriptJulian Lennon On New Album 'Jude,' Grappling With His Namesake & Embracing His Bittersweet Past | GRAMMY.com
JulianLennon
Julian Lennon

Photo: Robert Ascroft

interview

Julian Lennon On New Album 'Jude,' Grappling With His Namesake & Embracing His Bittersweet Past

Julian Lennon has gone up and down in the music industry while forging his identity in nonmusical realms, like photography and documentary filmmaking. What spurred him to publicly accept the primary reason the world knows him, by way of 'Jude'?

GRAMMYs/Sep 9, 2022 - 02:34 pm

During an in-depth conversation with Julian Lennon, this journalist submitted that it's not 1968, but 2022. Meaning, it's important we collectively treat him not as some figment of the distant past, but an artist and human being in the now. To this, Lennon wholeheartedly agreed.

But the fact remains that he called his brand-new album Jude — and even put his childhood self on the cover. That was for a very important reason: recently, he turned a corner in his mind and heart.

"I've reached that point now where I can breathe, and I'm OK with it all. It's all good," Lennon tells GRAMMY.com, looking vibrant and relaxed on Zoom despite weathering, in his words, "promo from hell." He adds that he finally broke his moratorium on his father's ubiquitous peace anthem, and sang "Imagine" in public to benefit Ukraine: "That was just the icing on the cake."

"I'm just making sense of it all," the GRAMMY nominee says. "I'm part and parcel of this steam train. I'm not getting off it, so I might as well enjoy the ride."

That ride just got seriously interesting. On Sept. 9, Lennon released Jude, which acts as both a potent self-examination and an embrace of his past — which, as a Beatles scion, had its share of extremes. Just to recap: Paul McCartney wrote his coaxing, strengthening, galvanizing "Hey Jude" — a song of still-startling emotional clarity — to comfort young Jules after his father's divorce from Cynthia Lennon. ("Hey Jules" was the working title.)

As an adult, Lennon has both weathered a multitude of ups and downs in the music industry — all while expressing himself via paths less trodden. In recent years, he's made eco-centric documentaries like 2020's Kiss the Ground and 2021's Women of the White Buffalo, auctioned off NFTs of Beatle memorabilia and pursued his stark, evocative photography.

And despite swearing off participation in traditional release models on major labels, BMG made him an enticing and holistic offer — one he ultimately accepted. This led to his first offering in 11 years, and on songs like "Save Me," "Freedom" and "Love Never Dies," he established aural and conceptual links to the past while charting a path into his future.

Read on for an in-depth interview with Lennon about how Jude came to be, his complicated relationship with his namesake, and what he thought of Get Back.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Tell me about your psychological state while making your first solo album in more than a decade. Was there any trepidation? Any insecurity?

It's a bit of a weird one, because initially, I wasn't going to do another album. I thought: I'm done with years of working hard emotionally on these albums with nobody really getting to hear anything. So, this is why I ventured off into the land of photography, documentary filmmaking, and children's books, and focusing more on the White Feather Foundation.

Because I didn't know where music was at. I've got to say, the landscape had changed so much over the last 10 years, as well. I thought, "Well, if I do anything again, I'll just do a couple of singles or EPs and just put them out there for the pleasure of doing it."

It's in-built. It's innate. It's unlikely I'll ever stop doing music — because mostly, also, I still work and sing on other people's projects all the time anyway. It's just that not many people get to hear or see that side of things that I've done.

The whole thing about this album is that it comes in two stages. One is Hartwig Masuch, the boss of BMG. Over the course of six months to a year, he met friends of mine — one in America, one in Russia. My name came up, and he said to my friends, "If Jules ever wants to do any music again, tell him to get in touch with me."

Just to interject, I was working with Leica cameras, and I had to go to Berlin for an event. I knew that Hartwig and BMG were based in Berlin. I didn't have his details, and I just thought, "I should check this out — what it's all about."

How did you find Hartwig from there?

I found him on social media, and I just said, "Hi, Jules here. I'm coming to Berlin. Got time for lunch?" I didn't expect a response, but he did. So, I went over and had lunch with him and then met everybody at BMG. I liked him a lot. He made me feel comfortable about the idea of working together with a label, which was an absolute no-no in my book after my previous experiences.

But he was a real lover of music, and you could see that. You could feel that. He was a big fan, too. He'd always thought that I never got my fair share, so to speak. I'd never been supported or sponsored enough to be seen and heard properly. He wanted to make that happen.

The other thing that was key in this was, he said: "Listen, if you do come on board, Jules, we will try our utmost to get all of your albums under one roof with a reversion back to you at the end of it." That alone was something that made me very, very interested.

What was the other factor that inspired you to get back on the horse?

The other part of the story is, my business manager in the UK retired. He'd had boxes and boxes and boxes and stuff in his basement. He sent it over to me, and most of it was financial files. But a couple of boxes were old reel-to-reel tapes and DAT tapes! Every format since the '80s that you could imagine — and there were lots.

I went through all of this stuff. Some of it was demos for [1984's] Valotte and "Too Late for Goodbyes." Songs that I'd forgotten all about. Anyway, my dear, dear friend Justin Clayton and I — I've known him since I was 11 years old; he co-wrote material on the first album; we went on world tours together — he had a great memory.

So, I brought him into this, to go through the tapes and see what was there. And he'd also taken an engineering course, so we were going to dive deep into what was in all these boxes. And the first song that came about was "Every Little Moment." I listened to it and went, "Well, f— me. This sounds great!"

I was worried that the old material was going to be lost, because tapes, if you leave them out,  can really degrade and fall apart. But we were lucky; we did this process called "baking," where they take all the old tapes and digitize everything.

Anyway, the song was in good shape. Real good shape. Literally, we felt that we just needed to upgrade some production elements of it. Obviously, the '80s and '90s were big on drum machines, so I wanted to change that immediately. I got some live players on the track. I only changed the vocal on the chorus, and that's the track.

Same with "Not One Night." The vocals were done in my guest bedroom in my little bungalow in L.A. 30 years ago. Apart from that, all the other songs on the album are broken up into different decades. It's just a collection of songs that never sat quite right on other albums or projects that went before, but were still, in my mind, valuable enough. They deserved a home.

From there, how did things progress with Hartwig and BMG?

Again, Hartwig was the one who said, "Let's do a record." I said, "No, I just want to do singles and EPs. It's going to be easier on me. Less pressure," blah-blah-blah. But as we went through all this stuff, I started playing him stuff. We got to five or six songs, and he flipped. He said, "Jules, this is an album." I said, "No it's not! It's not an album! It's singles and EPs!"

Anyway, by the time we got to seven, eight, nine, I'm going, "Alright, if it's sequenced properly, it could be an album." At the end of the day, I said, "Alright, it does work as an album." BMG loved it, and I said, "Let's go for it, then. Why not?"

I was fortunate enough to get [Mark] "Spike" Stent to mix it. I think he's the one who really brought the glue together and also took it up a notch. I say what he did to the album is he did a Nigel: he turned it up to number 11. He just took all the work that we'd done and gave it that breath of fresh air and punch that everything needed to solidify it and put it all together — and for me to feel comfortable putting it out there as an album.

JulianLennonJude

I appreciate that Jude isn't overproduced; it's actually very sparse in some ways. Can you talk about how you wanted the sound to come across to the listener?

Well, I've got to say, Justin and I started this project in my home studio here. Then, the dreaded Covid hit, and he had to go back to England. Now, I hadn't done any type of engineering for a long, long time. But I was twitching to get back to work, to continue the process of this project.

So, my experiment, if you will, that I did on my own, was the song "Freedom." I fell in love with the whole soundscape of "Freedom." And I just said: This [song] feels, to me, where I hear this album sitting, in many respects. It needs to feel like the old-school journeys we used to go on when we bought a great album back in the day, where the soundscape took you somewhere special.

"Freedom" was the beginning of that journey. That's where it all really stemmed from, for me. I felt like the album needed to have that sense of space. It's quite raw, but there's quite a bit of production on it. But I agree with you: it's not overproduced. It breathes.

JohnJulianLennon

*John and Julian Lennon in January 1968. Photo: Keystone Features/Getty Images*

I'm going to make an educated guess that, at other parts of your career, it wouldn't have felt as natural to call an album Jude, with your childhood self on the cover. It seems as if now, it feels appropriate to wholeheartedly embrace that part of your life that so many people globally know you for. Can you talk about reaching that point?

[Hearty laugh] You are right! I don't really know where it all came from, except that, with the whole COVID thing, I've been going through a whole face-yourself, look-in-the-mirror, "Who are you? What are you doing? Are you happy or sad? Where are you going with all this s—?" [process]. That was the main focus, and believe it or not, a lot of the songs dealt with that.

Also, because I've been doing NFTs with Beatle memorabilia, and the original lyrics for "Hey Jude" had been a focus at one point. Then, I started thinking about the lyrics and what they represented — the "weight upon my shoulder" and blah-blah-blah.

I thought about that, also, with the Get Back film, which I was blown away by. Sean and I saw that and we just fell in love with Dad again, because we saw a side of him with Paul and the rest of the band where he was a cheeky monkey, to say the least. Cynical, smart, goofy, fun, talented — you name it, throw it in there, he had it all. That reminded me of how I remembered him as a kid — being just that.

Read More: There's Not Much Left To Reveal About The Beatles' End. Let's Use The Get Back Doc As A Manual For Moving Forward.

So, it was the culmination of so many things. And the other thing that really, I guess, was the stamp on the seal, was, initially, my birth name on my passport was John Charles Julian Lennon. When I went to the airport, through security, or this, that, or the other, people wouldn't always recognize me and they'd go, "Oh, John Lennon! Haaa! That's funny! Are you related?" A gazillion comments.

That would always make me feel incredibly anxious, because I'd always been called Julian. These moments at security checkpoints, the passport, "John, John, John" — I was sick of it. So, in 2020, I changed my name. But I still liked the J-C-J-L — the rhythm of my initials — and I respected my parents' decision to give me those names. But I wanted to be me, finally, so I just switched "John" and "Julian." And when I did that, it was like a whole weight came off my shoulders. I felt, "I'm finally Julian! I'm finally Jules, or Jude!"

It all made sense to me that this was just a reflection of the past. It was about how far I'd come, or I'd grown, and how I feel, quite possibly, now, more balanced, more focused, more at peace, and with purpose than I'd ever been in my life before. It just seemed like the right thing, and the right time. Getting to a point where I can just say, "Ask me anything! I don't care anymore!"

Whether your answer falls under the umbrella of the Beatles or your old man, which songwriters are your lodestars — the ultimate combiners of words and melodies?

That's a tough one, because it's so varied, and music leans in so many directions, depending on what genre they are, as well. Keith Jarrett, musically, speaks to me massively. Steely Dan

Such a Keith Jarrett fan.

The Köln Concert — I'm done.

Zero 7's Simple Things was a great album — I would take that on a desert island as well. Billy Joel… listen. The reason I kind of worked with Phil Ramone was because of Billy Joel's earlier work. I love bands like America. There's so much great stuff out there. New stuff, not so much. I'm a fan of Foo Fighters. I like what Dave does, lyrically and musically. It's really, really strong — excellent stuff.

The list goes on. It's impossible! There's so much great stuff out there!

What are you working on, musically or extramusically? What are your next steps?

Well, I'm doing promo from hell for the next few months. I have been doing this [gestures to Zoom] for just weeks now! I'm going insane! I'm going to lose my mind! But I'm hanging in there, and I've got a break coming up, which I'm thankful for.

But, September and onward: performing, promo, TV shows and stuff like that. Getting up there and trying to sing a few songs. Aside from that, more photography work. There are more collections and projects coming out that I'm involved with.

Documentary-wise, the last one was Kiss the Ground on Netflix, which was — without being modest — one of the best docs out there, because it actually turned into a platform for people honoring and trying to change the world right now. White Feather Films, I just started, so that's a whole other [deal] — like I don't have enough work.

And then, the White Feather Foundation has a lot of ongoing projects that we keep following through with. And the list goes on! Probably more books of some sort are coming up. We'll see how that goes. When I have time, by the way! When I have time! I'd like a break, that's what I'd like! Maybe I'll get one by Christmas, if I behave.

PaulMcCartneyJulianLennon

*Paul McCartney and Julian Lennon in 1967. Photo: Central Press/Getty Images*

I think the most natural endpoint for the interview is to the last song on the album, "Gaia." Can you tell me about that tune, and collaborating with Paul Buchanan and Elissa Lauper?

Of course. Listen: how that came around is, I saw this band called Snarky Puppy.

Big fan!

They're amazing! Amazing! Anyway, I befriended a couple of the guys — Michael League and Bill Laurance. And Bill came up to my place and we started working on some tracks that will end up on something down the road; we never ended up quite finishing them.

But while he was there, I was commenting on how much I loved his solo album, which was called Cables. There was one song on there — the title track — that I mentioned to him. I said, "I hear this differently!" And when I explained it to him, he didn't get it, which I thought was weird for a predominantly jazz guy.

I said, "Listen, just play on the little white upright, and I'll play and sing what's on my mind." He played it and went, "Oh, I get it!" I said, "Just, do me a favor before you leave. Put it down on tape and I can fiddle with it later."

I kept hearing a French voice in my head. A French woman's voice from the '30s, '40s or '50s. Very broken up, like on an old radio or TV. I was scrolling through social media, I heard this voice and went, "F— me! That's her! That is her!" I wrote to her and found out she lived 20 minutes away. What! Twenty minutes away!

So, I sent her the song idea. She fell in love with it. I told her what I was looking for, and she wrote some lyrics. The idea was that it's a song between Mother Earth and humanity, disguised as a love song. She literally did the thing where she took her iPhone and did the spoken word in front of a bunch of speakers, listening to the music. I heard it back and said, "That's it!" So, I edited it into the song.

What about Paul Buchanan?

Paul Buchanan, I had wanted him to write the bridge, but he wasn't in that headspace. So I said, "Just sing it for me!" He said, "Jules, there are no studios up here around Glasgow. Everything's closed." I said, "Listen: You got an iPhone?" "Yes." "You got headphones?" "Yes," "Sing it six times for me into your iPhone and send it to me."

I edited his six pieces together and made it sound like it was a real mic. Then, Spike made it even better. Then, Elissa, the girl, said, "Do you mind if I write some other words?" I said, "Go ahead!" So, we worked on it together and she sent me her lyrics. I was blown away, because I never, in a million years, would have come up with her verse. It was typically French — very, very French.

The song has a bit of a unique arrangement. It does its own thing; I guided it a little bit. And I just thought it was the perfect end to the album — especially after "Stay." I didn't want to finish the album with "Stay," and "Gaia" seemed to be the perfect exit for this particular album.

I've been plagued by the number 11 for a couple of years. So, I said, "Right, well, I'm going to have 11 songs on the album. What are you going to do? Whether you believe in that or not, I figured, "Why not?"

Beatles Let it Be
The Beatles during the 'Let it Be' sessions in 1969

Photo: Ethan A. Russell / © Apple Corps Ltd

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5 Lesser Known Facts About The Beatles' 'Let It Be' Era: Watch The Restored 1970 Film

More than five decades after its 1970 release, Michael Lindsay-Hogg's 'Let it Be' film is restored and re-released on Disney+. With a little help from the director himself, here are some less-trodden tidbits from this much-debated film and its album era.

GRAMMYs/May 8, 2024 - 05:34 pm

What is about the Beatles' Let it Be sessions that continues to bedevil diehards?

Even after their aperture was tremendously widened with Get Back — Peter Jackson's three-part, almost eight hour, 2021 doc — something's always been missing. Because it was meant as a corrective to a film that, well, most of us haven't seen in a long time — if at all.

That's Let it Be, the original 1970 documentary on those contested, pivotal, hot-and-cold sessions, directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg. Much of the calcified lore around the Beatles' last stand comes not from the film itself, but what we think is in the film.

Let it Be does contain a couple of emotionally charged moments between maturing Beatles. The most famous one: George Harrison getting snippy with Paul McCartney over a guitar part, which might just be the most blown-out-of-proportion squabble in rock history.

But superfans smelled blood in the water: the film had to be a locus for the Beatles' untimely demise. To which the film's director, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, might say: did we see the same movie?

"Looking back from history's vantage point, it seems like everybody drank the bad batch of Kool-Aid," he tells GRAMMY.com. Lindsay-Hogg had just appeared at an NYC screening, and seemed as surprised by it as the fans: "Because the opinion that was first formed about the movie, you could not form on the actual movie we saw the other night."

He's correct. If you saw Get Back, Lindsay-Hogg is the babyfaced, cigar-puffing auteur seen throughout; today, at 84, his original vision has been reclaimed. On May 8, Disney+ unveiled a restored and refreshed version of the Let it Be film — a historical counterweight to Get Back. Temperamentally, though, it's right on the same wavelength, which is bound to surprise some Fabs disciples.

With the benefit of Peter Jackson's sound-polishing magic and Giles Martin's inspired remixes of performances, Let it Be offers a quieter, more muted, more atmospheric take on these sessions. (Think fewer goofy antics, and more tight, lingering shots of four of rock's most evocative faces.)

As you absorb the long-on-ice Let it Be, here are some lesser-known facts about this film, and the era of the Beatles it captures — with a little help from Lindsay-Hogg himself.

The Beatles Were Happy With The Let It Be Film

After Lindsay-Hogg showed the Beatles the final rough cut, he says they all went out to a jovial meal and drinks: "Nice food, collegial, pleasant, witty conversation, nice wine."

Afterward, they went downstairs to a discotheque for nightcaps. "Paul said he thought Let it Be was good. We'd all done a good job," Lindsay-Hogg remembers. "And Ringo and [wife] Maureen were jiving to the music until two in the morning."

"They had a really, really good time," he adds. "And you can see like [in the film], on their faces, their interactions — it was like it always was."

About "That" Fight: Neither Paul Nor George Made A Big Deal

At this point, Beatles fanatics can recite this Harrison-in-a-snit quote to McCartney: "I'll play, you know, whatever you want me to play, or I won't play at all if you don't want me to play. Whatever it is that will please you… I'll do it." (Yes, that's widely viewed among fans as a tremendous deal.)

If this was such a fissure, why did McCartney and Harrison allow it in the film? After all, they had say in the final cut, like the other Beatles.

"Nothing was going to be in the picture that they didn't want," Lindsay-Hogg asserts. "They never commented on that. They took that exchange as like many other exchanges they'd had over the years… but, of course, since they'd broken up a month before [the film's release], everyone was looking for little bits of sharp metal on the sand to think why they'd broken up."

About Ringo's "Not A Lot Of Joy" Comment…

Recently, Ringo Starr opined that there was "not a lot of joy" in the Let it Be film; Lindsay-Hogg says Starr framed it to him as "no joy."

Of course, that's Starr's prerogative. But it's not quite borne out by what we see — especially that merry scene where he and Harrison work out an early draft of Abbey Road's "Octopus's Garden."

"And Ringo's a combination of so pleased to be working on the song, pleased to be working with his friend, glad for the input," Lindsay-Hogg says. "He's a wonderful guy. I mean, he can think what he wants and I will always have greater affection for him.

"Let's see if he changes his mind by the time he's 100," he added mirthfully.

Lindsay-Hogg Thought It'd Never Be Released Again

"I went through many years of thinking, It's not going to come out," Lindsay-Hogg says. In this regard, he characterizes 25 or 30 years of his life as "solitary confinement," although he was "pushing for it, and educating for it."

"Then, suddenly, the sun comes out" — which may be thanks to Peter Jackson, and renewed interest via Get Back. "And someone opens the cell door, and Let it Be walks out."

Nobody Asked Him What The Sessions Were Like

All four Beatles, and many of their associates, have spoken their piece on Let it Be sessions — and journalists, authors, documentarians, and fans all have their own slant on them.

But what was this time like from Lindsay-Hogg's perspective? Incredibly, nobody ever thought to check. "You asked the one question which no one has asked," he says. "No one."

So, give us the vibe check. Were the Let it Be sessions ever remotely as tense as they've been described, since man landed on the moon? And to that, Lindsay-Hogg's response is a chuckle, and a resounding, "No, no, no."

The Beatles' Final Song: Giles Martin On The Second Life Of "Now And Then" & How The Fab Four Are "Still Breaking New Ground"

Sean Ono Lennon at 2024 Oscars
Sean Ono Lennon attends the 2024 Vanity Fair Oscar Party.

Photo: Lionel Hahn/Getty Images

interview

Catching Up With Sean Ono Lennon: His New Album 'Asterisms,' 'War Is Over!' Short & Shouting Out Yoko At The Oscars

Sean Ono Lennon is having a busy year, complete with a new instrumental album, 'Asterisms,' and an Oscar-winning short film, 'War is Over!' The multidisciplinary artist discusses his multitude of creative processes.

GRAMMYs/May 2, 2024 - 02:23 pm

Marketing himself as a solo musician is a little excruciating for Sean Ono Lennon. It might be for you, too, if you had globally renowned parents. Despite his musical triumphs over the years, Lennon is reticent to join the solo artist racket.

Which made a certain moment at the 2024 Oscars absolutely floor him: Someone walked up to Lennon and told him "Dead Meat," from his last solo album, 2006's Friendly Fire, was his favorite song ever. Not just on the album, or by Lennon. Ever.

"I was so shocked. I wanted to say something nice to him, because it was so amazing for someone to say that," Lennon tells GRAMMY.com. "But it was too late anyway." (Thankfully, after he tweeted about that out-of-nowhere moment, the complimenter connected with him.)

It's a nice glimmer of past Lennon, one who straightforwardly walked in his father's shoes. But what's transpired since 2006 is far more interesting than any Beatle mini-me.

Creatively, Lennon has a million irons in the fire — with the bands the Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, the Claypool Lennon Delirium, his mom's Plastic Ono Band, and beyond.

And in 2024, two projects have taken center stage. In February, he delivered his album Asterisms, a genreless instrumental project with a murderer's row of musicians in John Zorn's orbit, released on Zorn's storied experimental label Tzadik Records. Then just a few weeks later, his 2023 short film War is Over! — for which he co-wrote the original story, and is inspired by John Lennon and Yoko Ono's timeless peace anthem "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" — won an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film.

On the heels of the latter, Lennon sat down with GRAMMY.com to offer insights on both projects, and how they each contributed to "really exciting" creative liberation.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

You shouted out your mom at the Oscars a couple of months back. How'd that feel?

Well, honestly, it felt really cosmic that it was Mother's Day [in the UK]. So I just kind of presented as a gift to her. It felt really good. It felt like the stars were aligning in many ways, because she was watching. It was a very sweet moment for me.

What was the extent of your involvement with the War Is Over! short?

Universal Music had talked to me about maybe coming up with a music video idea. I had been trying to develop a music video for a while, and I didn't like any of the concepts; it just felt boring to me.

The idea of watching a song that everyone listens to already, every year, with some new visual accompaniment — it didn't feel that interesting. So, I thought it'd be better to do a short film that kind of exemplifies the meaning of the song, because then, it would be something new and interesting to watch.

That's when I called my friend Adam Gates, who works at Pixar. I was asking him if he had any ideas for animators, or whatever. I knew Adam because he had a band called Beanpole. [All My Kin] was a record he made years ago with his friends, and never came out. It's this incredible record, so I actually put it out on my label, Chimera Music.

But Adam couldn't really help me with the film, because he's still contractually with Pixar, and they have a lot of work to do. But he introduced me to his friend Dave Mullins, who's the director. He had just left Pixar to start a new production company. He could do it, because he was independent, freelance.

Dave and I had a meeting. In that first meeting, we were bouncing around ideas, and we came up with the concept for the chess game and the pigeon. I wanted it to be a pigeon, because I really love pigeons, and birds. We wrote it together, and then we started working on it.

So, I was there from before that existed, and I saw the thing through as well. I also brought in Peter Jackson to do the graphics. 

This message unfortunately resonates more than ever. Republicans used to be the war hawks; now, it's Democrats. What a reversal.

It just feels like we live in an upside-down world. Something happened where we went through a wormhole, and we're in this alternate reality. I don't know how it happened. But it's not the only [example]; a lot of things just seem absolutely absurd with the world these days.

But hopefully, it points toward something better. I try to be optimistic. In the Hegelian dialectic, you have to have a thesis and antithesis, and the synthesis is when they fuse to become a better idea. So, I'm hoping that all the tension in society right now is what the final stage of synthesis looks like.

How'd the filmmaking process roll on from there?

Dave had made a really great short film called LOU when he was at Pixar; that was also nominated for an Oscar. He and [producer] Brad [Booker] know a ton of talented people; they have an amazing character designer.

We started sending files back and forth with WingNut in New Zealand; they would be adding the skins to the characters.

One of the first stages was the performance capture, where you basically attach a bunch of ping pong balls to a catsuit and a bicycle helmet. You record the position of these ping pong balls in a three-dimensional space. That gives you the performance that you map the skins onto on the computer later on. 

For a couple of years, there was a lot of production. David and his team did a really good job of inventing and designing uniforms for the imaginary armies that never existed, because we really didn't want to identify any army as French or British or German or anything.

We wanted to get a kind of parallel universe — an abstraction of the First World War. We designed it so that one army was based on round geometry, and the other was based on angular geometry.

It was a long process, and it was really fun. I learned a lot about modern computer animation.

Between Em Cooper's GRAMMY-winning "I'm Only Sleeping" video and now this, the Beatles' presence in visual media is expanding outward in a cool way.

I think we've been really fortunate to have a lot of really great projects to give to the world. I've only been working on the Beatles and John Lennon stuff directly in the last couple of years, and it's been really exciting for me.

And a big challenge, obviously, because I don't [hesitates] want to f— up. [Laughs.] But it's been a real honor. And I'm very grateful to my mom for giving me the freedom to try all these wacky ideas. Because a lot of people are like, "Oh, when are you going to stop trying to rehash the past with the Beatles, or John Lennon?"

Because the modern world is as it is, I feel like we have a responsibility to try to make sure that the Beatles and John Lennon's music remains out there in the public consciousness, because I think it's really important. I think the world needs to remember the Beatles' music, and remember John and Yoko. It's really about making sure we don't get lost in the white noise of modernity.

I love Asterisms. Where are you at in your journey as a guitarist? I'm sure you unlocked something here.

Like it's a video game. It's weird — I don't even consider myself a guitar player. I'm just, like, a software. But I think it's more about confidence — because it's really hard for me to get over my insecurity with playing and stuff.

For so many different reasons, it's probably just the way I'm designed — being John and
Yoko's kid, growing up with a lot of preconceived notions or expectations about me, musically.

So, it's always been hard to accept myself as a musician, and this was kind of a lesson in getting over myself. Accepting what I wanted to play, and just doing it.

This is my Tzadik record, so it had to be all these fancy, amazing musicians. It doesn't matter what your chops are: it's more about how you feel, and the feeling you bring to your performance.

Once we recorded, it sounded amazing, because we recorded live to tape. So, everything on that album is live, except for my guitar solos. I didn't play my solos live, because I had to play the rhythm guitar. I was just paying attention to the band and cueing people. Once we finished the basic tracks, it just took us a couple of days, and it was done.

It was the simplest record I've ever done, because there were no vocals, so there wasn't a lot of mixing process. We recorded live to 16-track tape, and it was done.

I caught wind a couple of years back that you were working on another solo record simultaneously. Is that true?

I was working on a solo record of songs with lyrics. I finished it, and — I don't know, I think this speaks to the mental problems I have — but I didn't like it suddenly, and i never put it out. I just felt weird about it. I think I overthought it or something.

Then Zorn asked me to do an instrumental thing, and it was a no-brainer, because I've been a fan my whole life. The idea of getting to do something on his label was really an honor.

I got turned on to so many amazing musicians from Zorn, like Joey Baron, Dave Douglas, Kenny Wolleson, and Marc Ribot. Growing up in New York, that's always been my idea of where the greatest musicians are — Zorn and his gang.

Why'd you feel weird about the other album? Did it just not have the juice?

It's not that I didn't think it had the juice. I just got uncomfortable with the idea of putting out a solo record, and the whole process. I got nervous. I still think it's good. But I don't know if it's good enough to warrant me releasing it.

That's fine playing in bands, like the [Claypool Lennon] Delirium and GOASTT [Ghost of a Saber Toothed Tiger]. It takes a degree of unnecessary pressure off of making music. But as soon as your actual birth name is on the record, it starts to feel uncomfortable for me.

People are ruthless today, period. But they're especially critical of me with music. So, it's like, Do I really need to do that s—? It's a little more awkward: "I, myself, Sean Lennon, am putting out my art, and here it is." I'd rather be part of the band.

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Taylor Swift performs with Stevie Nicks at the 2010 GRAMMYs
Taylor Swift performs with Stevie Nicks at the 2010 GRAMMYs

Photo: ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

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11 Artists Who Influenced Taylor Swift: Joni Mitchell, Stevie Nicks, Tim McGraw & More

From Paul McCartney to Paramore, Emily Dickinson and even "Game of Thrones," read on for some of the major influences Taylor Swift has referenced throughout her GRAMMY-winning career.

GRAMMYs/Apr 22, 2024 - 11:24 pm

As expected, much buzz followed the release of Taylor Swift's 11th studio album, The Tortured Poets Department, on April 19. Fans and critics alike have devoured the sprawling double album’s 31 tracks, unpacking her reflections from "a fleeting and fatalistic moment in time" in search of Easter eggs, their new favorite lyrics and references to famous faces (both within the pop supernova’s closely guarded orbit and the historical record). 

Shoutouts abound in The Tortured Poets Department: Charlie Puth gets his much-deserved (and Taylor-approved) flowers on the title track, while 1920s screen siren Clara Bow, the ancient Greek prophetess Cassandra and Peter Pan each get a song titled after them. Post Malone and  Florence + the Machine’s Florence Welch each tap in for memorable duets. Relationships old (Joe Alwyn), new (Travis Kelce) and somewhere in between (1975’s Matty Healy) are alluded to without naming names, as is, possibly, the singer’s reputation-era feud with Kim Kardashian. 

Swift casts a wide net on The Tortured Poets Department, encompassing popular music, literature, mythology and beyond, but it's far from the first time the 14-time GRAMMY winner has worn her influences on her sleeve. While you digest TTPD, consider these 10 figures who have influenced the poet of the hour — from Stevie Nicks and Patti Smith to Emily Dickinson, William Wordsworth, Arya Stark and more.

Stevie Nicks

If Taylor Swift is the chairman of The Tortured Poets Department, Stevie Nicks may as well be considered its poet laureate emeritus. The mystical Fleetwood Mac frontwoman earns an important mention on side A closer "Clara Bow," in which Swift ties an invisible string from herself to a pre-Rumours Nicks ("In ‘75, the hair and lips/ Crowd goes wild at her fingertips"), and all the way back to the 1920s It Girl of the song’s title.

For her part, Nicks seems to approve of her place in Swift’s cultural lineage, considering she penned the poem found inside physical copies of The Tortured Poets Department. "He was in love with her/ Or at least she thought so," the Priestess of Rock and Roll wrote in part, before signing off, "For T — and me…"

Swift’s relationship with Nicks dates back to the 2010 GRAMMYs, when the pair performed a medley of "Rhiannon" and "You Belong With Me" before the then-country upstart took home her first Album Of The Year win for 2009’s Fearless. More recently, the "Edge of Seventeen" singer publicly credited Swift’s Midnights cut "You’re On Your Own, Kid" for helping her through the 2022 death of Fleetwood Mac bandmate Christine McVie.

Patti Smith

Swift may see herself as more "modern idiot" than modern-day Patti Smith, but that didn’t stop the superstar from name-dropping the icon synonymous with the Hotel Chelsea and punk scene of ‘70s New York on a key track on The Tortured Poets Department. Swift rather self-deprecatingly compares herself to the celebrated Just Kids memoirist (and 2023 Songwriters Hall of Fame nominee) on the double album’s synth-drenched title track, and it’s easy to see how Smith’s lifelong fusion of rock and poetry influenced the younger singer’s dactylic approach to her new album. 

Smith seemed to appreciate the shout-out on "The Tortured Poets Department" as well. "This is saying I was moved to be mentioned in the company of the great Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. Thank you Taylor," she wrote on Instagram alongside a photo of herself reading Thomas’ 1940 poetry collection Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog.

Emily Dickinson

When it comes to iconic poets, Swift has also taken a page or two over her career from Emily Dickinson. While the great 19th century poet hasn’t come up explicitly in Swift’s work, she did reference her poetic forebear (and actual sixth cousin, three times removed!) in her speech while accepting the award for Songwriter-Artist of the Decade at the 2022 Nashville Songwriter Awards.

"I’ve never talked about this publicly before, because, well, it’s dorky. But I also have, in my mind, secretly, established genre categories for lyrics I write. Three of them, to be exact. They are affectionately titled Quill Lyrics, Fountain Pen Lyrics and Glitter Gel Pen Lyrics," Swift told the audience before going on to explain, "If my lyrics sound like a letter written by Emily Dickinson’s great-grandmother while sewing a lace curtain, that’s me writing in the Quill genre," she went on to explain.

Even before this glimpse into Swift’s writing process, Easter eggs had been laid pointing to her familial connection to Dickinson. For example, she announced her ninth album evermore on December 10, 2020, which would have been the late poet’s 190th birthday. Another clue that has Swifties convinced? Dickinson’s use of the word "forevermore" in her 1858 poem "One Sister Have I in Our House," which Swift also cleverly breaks apart in Evermore’s Bon Iver-assisted title track ("And I couldn’t be sure/ I had a feeling so peculiar/ That this pain would be for/ Evermore").

The Lake Poets

Swift first put her growing affinity for poetry on display during her folklore era with "the lakes." On the elegiac bonus track, the singer draws a parallel with the Lake Poets of the 19th century, wishing she could escape to "the lakes where all the poets went to die" with her beloved muse in tow. In between fantasizing about "those Windermere peaks" and pining for "auroras and sad prose," she even manages to land a not-so-subtle jab at nemesis Scooter Braun ("I’ve come too far to watch some name-dropping sleaze/ Tell me what are my words worth") that doubles as clever wordplay on the last name of Lake Poet School members William and Dorothy Wordsworth.

Swift revealed more about why she connected to the Lake Poets in her 2020 Disney+ documentary folklore: the long pond studio sessions. "There was a poet district, these artists that moved there. And they were kind of heckled for it and made fun of for it as being these eccentrics and these kind of odd artists who decided that they just wanted to live there," she explained to her trusted producer Jack Antonoff. "So ‘the lakes,’ it kind of is the overarching theme of the whole album: of trying to escape, having something you wanna protect, trying to protect your own sanity and saying, ‘Look, they did this hundreds of years ago. I’m not the first person who’s felt this way.’"

Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney and Swift have publicly praised one another’s work for years, leading to the 2020 Rolling Stone cover they posed for together for the special Musicians on Musicians issue. The younger singer even counts Sir Paul’s daughter Stella McCartney as a close friend and collaborator (Stella designed a capsule collection for Swift’s 2019 studio set Lover and earned a shout-out of her own on album cut "London Boy").

However, Swift took her relationship with the Beatles founder and his family a step further when it was rumored she based Midnights deep cut "Sweet Nothing" on McCartney’s decades-long romance with late wife Linda. While the speculation has never been outright confirmed, it appears Swift’s lyrics in the lilting love song ("On the way home, I wrote a poem/ You say, ‘What a mind’/ This happens all the time") were partially inspired by a strikingly similar quote McCartney once gave about his relationship with Linda, who passed away in 1998. To add to the mystique, the Midnights singer even reportedly liked a tweet from 2022 espousing the theory.  

The admiration between the duo seems to go both ways as well, with the former Beatle admitting in a 2018 BBC profile that the track "Who Cares" from his album Egypt Station was inspired by Swift’s close relationship with her fans.

The Chicks

From her days as a country music ingénue to her ascendance as the reigning mastermind of pop, Swift has credited the Chicks as a seminal influence in her songwriting and career trajectory. (Need examples? Look anywhere from early singles like "Picture to Burn" and "Should’ve Said No" to Evermore’s Haim-assisted murder ballad "no body, no crime" and her own Lover-era collab with the band, "Soon You’ll Get Better.") 

In a 2020 Billboard cover story tied to the Chicks’ eighth album Gaslighter, Swift acknowledged just how much impact the trio made on her growing up. "Early in my life, these three women showed me that female artists can play their own instruments while also putting on a flamboyant spectacle of a live show," she said at the time. "They taught me that creativity, eccentricity, unapologetic boldness and kitsch can all go together authentically. Most importantly, they showed an entire generation of girls that female rage can be a bonding experience between us all the very second we first heard Natalie Maines bellow ‘that Earl had to DIE.’"

"Game of Thrones"

When reputation dropped in 2017, Swift was on a self-imposed media blackout, which meant no cover stories or dishy sit-down interviews on late-night TV during the album’s roll-out. Instead, the singer let reputation speak for itself, and fans were largely left to draw their own conclusions about their queen’s wildly anticipated comeback album. Two years later, though, Swift revealed the dark, vengeful, romantic body of work was largely inspired by "Game of Thrones."

"These songs were half based on what I was going through, but seeing them through a 'Game of Thrones' filter," she told Entertainment Weekly in 2019. "My entire outlook on storytelling has been shaped by ["GoT"] — the ability to foreshadow stories, to meticulously craft cryptic story lines. So, I found ways to get more cryptic with information and still be able to share messages with the fans. I aspire to be one one-millionth of the kind of hint dropper the makers of 'Game of Thrones' have been."

Joni Mitchell

Swift has long made her admiration of Joni Mitchell known, dating back to her 2012 album Red, which took a cue from the folk pioneer’s landmark 1971 LP Blue for its chromatic title. In an interview around the time of Red’s release, the country-pop titan gushed over Blue’s impact on her, telling Rhapsody, "[Mitchell] wrote it about her deepest pains and most haunting demons. Songs like ‘River,’ which is just about her regrets and doubts of herself — I think this album is my favorite because it explores somebody’s soul so deeply."

Back in 2015, TIME declared the "Blank Space" singer a "disciple of Mitchell in ways both obvious and subtle" — from her reflective songwriting to the complete ownership over her creative process, and nearly 10 years later, Swift was still showing her appreciation for Mitchell after the latter’s triumphant and emotional appearance on the GRAMMY stage to perform "Both Sides Now" on the very same night Taylor took home her historic fourth GRAMMY for Album Of The Year for Midnights.

Fall Out Boy & Paramore

When releasing the re-recording of her third album Speak Now in 2023, Swift cited two unexpectedly emo acts as inspirations to her early songwriting: Fall Out Boy and Paramore

"Since Speak Now was all about my songwriting, I decided to go to the artists who I feel influenced me most powerfully as a lyricist at that time and ask them to sing on the album," she wrote in an Instagram post revealing the back cover and complete tracklist for Speak Now (Taylor’s Version), which included Fall Out Boy collaboration "Electric Touch" and "Castles Crumbling" featuring Paramore frontwoman Hayley Williams.

Tim McGraw

For one of Swift’s original career inspirations, we have to go all the way back to the very first single she ever released. "Tim McGraw" was not only as the lead single off the 16-year-old self-titled 2006 debut album, but it also paid reverent homage to one of the greatest living legends in the history of country music. 

In retrospect, it was an incredibly gutsy risk for a then-unknown Swift to come raring out of the gate with a song named after a country superstar. But the gamble clearly paid off in spades, considering that now, when an entire generation of music fans hear "Tim McGraw," they think of Taylor Swift.

Taylor Swift's 'The Tortured Poets Department' Is A Post-Mortem Autopsy In Song: 5 Takeaways From Her New Album

Andrew Watt
Andrew Watt

Photo: Adali Schell

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How Andrew Watt Became Rock's Big Producer: His Work With Paul McCartney, Ozzy Osbourne, Pearl Jam, & More

Andrew Watt cut his teeth with pop phenoms, but lately, the 2021 Producer Of The Year winner has been in demand among rockers — from the Rolling Stones and Blink-182 to Elton John.

GRAMMYs/Apr 17, 2024 - 01:45 pm

While in a studio, Andrew Watt bounces off the walls. Just ask Mick Jagger, who once had to gently tell the 33-year-old, "Look, I can deal with this, but when you meet Ronnie and Keith, you have to dial it down a little bit."

Or ask Pearl Jam's Stone Gossard. "He really got the best out of [drummer] Matt [Cameron] just by being excited — literally jumping up and down and pumping his fist and running around," he tells GRAMMY.com.

As Watt's hot streak has burned on, reams have rightly been written about his ability to take a legacy act, reconnect them with their essence, and put a battery in their back. His efficacy can be seen at Music's Biggest Night: Ozzy Osbourne's Patient Number 9 won Best Rock Album at the 2023 GRAMMYs. At the last ceremony, the Rolling Stones were nominated for Best Rock Song, for Hackney Diamonds' opener "Angry."

On Pearl Jam's return to form, Dark Matter, due out April 19. Who was behind the desk? Take a wild guess.

"You want to see them live more than you want to listen to their albums, and they have the ability to look at each other and play and follow each other. I don't like my rock music any other way, as a listener," Watt tells GRAMMY.com. "All my favorite records are made like that — of people speeding up, slowing down, playing longer than they should."

As such, Watt had a lightbulb moment: to not record any demos, and have them write together in the room. "They're all playing different stuff, and it makes up what Pearl Jam is, and singer Eddie [Vedder] rides it like a wave."

If you're more of a pop listener, there's tons of Watt for you — he's worked with Justin Bieber ("Hit the Ground" from Purpose), Lana Del Rey ("Doin' Time" from Norman F—ing Rockwell) and much more. Read on for a breakdown of big name rockers who have worked with Andrew Watt.

Pearl Jam / Eddie Vedder

Watt didn't just produce Dark Matter; he also helmed Vedder's well-received third solo album, Earthling, from 2022. Watt plays guitar in Vedder's live backing band, known as the Earthlings — which also includes Josh Klinghoffer, who replaced John Frusciante in the Red Hot Chili Peppers for a stint.

The Rolling Stones

Dark Matter was a comeback for Pearl Jam, but Hackney Diamonds was really a comeback for the Stones. While it had a hater or two, the overwhelming consensus was that it was the Stones' best album in decades — maybe even since 1978's Some Girls.

"I hope what makes it fresh and modern comes down to the way it's mixed, with focus on low end and making sure the drums are big," Watt, who wore a different Stones shirt every day in the studio, has said about Hackney Diamonds. "But the record is recorded like a Stones album."

Where there are modern rock flourishes on Hackney Diamonds, "There's no click tracks. There's no gridding. There's no computer editing," he continued. "This s— is performed live and it speeds up and slows down. It's made to the f—ing heartbeat connection of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and Steve Jordan.

"And Charlie," Watt added, tipping a hat to Watts, who played on Hackney Diamonds but died before it came out. "When Charlie's on it."

Iggy Pop

Ever since he first picked up a mic and removed his shirt, the snapping junkyard dog of the Stooges has stayed relevant — as far as indie, alternative and punk music has been concerned.

But aside from bright spots like 2016's Josh Homme-produced Post Pop Depression, his late-career output has felt occasionally indulgent and enervated. The 11 songs on 2023's eclectic Watt-produced Every Loser, on the other hand, slap you in the face in 11 different ways.

"We would jam and make tracks and send them to Iggy, and he would like 'em and write to them or wouldn't like them and we'd do something else," Watt told Billboard. "It was very low pressure. We just kept making music until we felt like we had an album." (And as with Pearl Jam and Vedder's Earthlings band, Watt has rocked out onstage with Pop.

Ozzy Osbourne

You dropped your crown, O Prince of Darkness. When he hooked up with Watt, the original Black Sabbath frontman hadn't released any solo music since 2010's Scream; in 2017, Sabbath finally said goodbye after 49 years and 10 (!) singers.

On 2020's Ordinary Man and 2022's Patient Number 9, Watt reenergized Ozzy; even when he sounds his age, Ozz sounds resolute, defiant, spitting in the face of the Reaper. (A bittersweet aside: the late Taylor Hawkins appears on Patient Number 9, which was written and recorded in just four days.)

Maroon 5

Yeah, yeah, they're more of a pop-rock band, but they have guitars, bass and drums. (And if you're the type of rock fan who's neutral or hostile to the 5, you shouldn't be; Songs About Jane slaps.)

At any rate, Watt co-produced "Can't Leave You Alone," featuring Juice WRLD, from 2021's Jordi. Critics disparaged the album, but showed Watt's facility straddling the pop and rock worlds.

5 Seconds of Summer

When it comes to Andrew Watt, the Sydney pop-rockers — slightly more on the rock end than Maroon 5 and their ilk — are repeat customers. He produced a number of tracks for 5 Seconds of Summer, which spanned 2018's Youngblood, 2020's Calm and 2022's 5SOS5.

Regarding the former: Watt has cited Youngblood as one of the defining recording experiences of his life.

"I had started working with 5 Seconds of Summer, and a lot of people looked at them as a boy band, but they're not," Watt told Guitar Player. "They're all incredible musicians. They can all play every instrument. They love rock music. They can harmonize like skyrockets in flight. They just were making the wrong kind of music."

So Watt showed 5 Seconds of Summer a number of mainstays of the rock era, like Tears for Fears and the Police. The rest, as they say, is history.

Elton John

A year after Britney Spears was unshackled from her highly controversial conservatorship, it was time for a victory lap with the God of Glitter. What resulted was a curious little bauble, which became a megahit: "Hold Me Closer," a spin on "Tiny Dancer," "The One" and "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" that briefly launched Spears back into the stratosphere.

"Britney came in and she knew what she wanted to do," Watt recalled to The L.A. Times. "We sped up the song a little bit and she sang the verses in her falsetto, which harkens back to 'Toxic.' She was having a blast."

Watt has also worked with pop/punk heroes Blink-182 — but not after Tom DeLonge made his grand return. He produced "I Really Wish I Hated You" from 2019's Nine, back when Matt Skiba was in the band.

Where in the rock world will this tender-aged superproducer strike next? Watt knows.

Songbook: The Rolling Stones' Seven-Decade Journey To Hackney Diamonds