Sunday, January 14, 2007

Sean Lennon Interview

Here Comes the Son

Not many people can release albums whenever they feel the time is right. But not many people are the son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono either.

In Sean Lennon’s case, the wait was well worth it. His last album, 1998’s Into the Sun, showed a young Lennon experimenting with bossa nova and giving off an uneven feel. On his latest release, Friendly Fire, named one of Rolling Stone’s top 50 albums of the year, shows a matured musician dealing with the issues of heartbreak and loss over gorgeous melancholy pop songs, recalling some of his father’s most intimate work. Lennon seems to have more of Paul McCartney’s meticulous control over every aspect of the album, as opposed to his father sitting in bed recording “Give Peace a Chance.”

“I wanted to have it be connected thematically, to be about the demise of relationships. I modeled it after like, in terms of how long it was, after Revolver in terms of the number of songs and feel. A couple other records, they all come in around 37 to 43 minutes, Pet Sounds, Revolver, Joni Mitchell, the best records do. So I wanted to make something that was conceivable in its length, because I feel like the problem with CD’s is your brains attention span tends to wane after 45 minutes. But I did intentionally make it that long, or short rather. I intentionally recorded with one band. We did all the basic tracks in 10 days so that it had a consistency.”

On Into The Sun, Lennon played every instrument, but the last eight years Lennon has spent collaborating with artists as wide ranging as Ryan Adams to Jurassic 5. On Friendly Fire, he had guest musicians, including producer Jon Brion play on a few of the tracks, who Lennon described as “how I would imagine it’s like to work with Prince. It’s like having a weird alien prodigy in your room.”

Accompanying Friendly Fire are videos for each song. Lennon called upon a couple of his friends to help him with the videos, including Lindsay Lohan, Carrie Fisher, and ex-girlfriend and inspiration for the album, Bijou Phillips. Phillips and Lennon were dating when she cheated on him with Lennon’s best friend from childhood. Before Lennon and his friend could ever reconcile, his friend died in a motorcycle accident. Although this may seem right out of a soap opera, the videos are very dream like and surreal, and put the music in a new light.

“ I wrote them, and I produced it, and I made a lot of decisions and I drew the animation myself, by hand, 600 drawings, in two weeks. We filmed the entire movie in 12 days. So yeah, I’m kind of crazy. I work a lot.”

In some of the videos Lennon is in a gravatron carnival ride, touching on an underlying theme of innocence lost.

“Well that’s exactly why I got one. We really lucked out with the gravatron we got because it was aesthetically so beautiful. I’ve been on a lot of old school gravatrons that are basically a white round room. This one was just like a spaceship and it was beautiful. Gravatrons just aren’t in demand. It only cost us like five grand for us to rent that whole fair for the day and the night. It seems like I spent millions of dollars on the videos but I just spent my regular video budget. I just make it look good by putting all the money on camera, on screen.”

With Friendly Fire, Lennon seems to be escaping the title of John and Yoko’s son and establishing himself. However, he says that being the son of a rock legend isn’t all necessarily bad. In fact, he sees it as a challenge.

“I think it’s been not great. But it’s been alright because I get a lot of people coming to my shows to see John Lennon’s kid and they leave being fans, so there are advantages… I think it was the challenge, it was the hardest thing I could do with my life, so I (became a musician).”

Lennon, like his parents, also is an artist, and his website is adorned with sketches he has made. He said that music and art are closely related, but there are some differences.

“The difference is that drawing is more introverted and music is diverted. Drawing for me is really kind of meditative and introverted, you’re alone a lot. You’re paying attention to the subtleties of the lines, the shadows. In music you’re working with people, it’s different.”

His mother, the notoriously harsh critic who is often sited as the reason the Beatles broke up, was not afraid to criticize her son’s work either.

“She liked it, it seemed like she did. I think at first she thought it was a bit too mainstream, but in the end she liked it.”

As far as plans for 2007, Lennon replied, “I’m going to be touring. Touring, touring, touring.”

This appeared in the January 12th issue of The DePaulia.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Emily Haines Interview Uncut

Haines Across America

As the frontwoman for Canada’s increasingly popular Metric, who opened for the Rolling Stones in March, Emily Haines provides catchy vocals for the danceable Canadian indie rock band. But on her first official solo release, Knives Don’t Have Your Back, Haines’ sullen piano-driven songs deal with her personal demons over the last four years she spent working on the songs. Haines, also a member of Broken Social Scene, recently had her music video for “Doctor Blind” named a top twenty-five video of the year by Pitchfork Media. Haines and her band, the Soft Skeleton, will play the Lakeshore Theater on Friday, January 12th.

D: How has the tour been going?
E: It’s been really great, I’m having a really good time, beautiful theaters, scenic theaters. We got the Tall Firs with us, which is this band I’m totally in love with. You heard them? Psychedelic folk, I’m into it. Were in Boston today, rainy Boston.
D: What’s it been like playing with a different band?
E: It’s been really, really cool. I feel really close to these guys because we spent all the time in the summer playing music. It’s been really interesting to play. I love music and I like playing with different musicians. It keeps you fresh.
D: It seems like over the last year you’ve been on the road all the time, how do you feel about touring?
E: I think Metric played, we figured it out, 250 shows last year. (Laughs). Although James Brown would play 360 so… I took time off over the holidays and I realized this is the life I want. It has its downsides, but it’s a pretty classic way of life for musicians. I didn’t invent it, the age-old troubadour who drifts from place to place playing music. I’m starting to realize that is actually my calling and the way that I feel most comfortable. We’re rollin’ in style too, so that helps.
D: What comes to mind when you think of Chicago?
E: Jim O’Rourke. I think of black-rimmed eyeglasses.
D: How was Lollapalooza?
E: It was incredible! Were you at the Broken Social Scene concert?
D: I was, it was unbelievable.
E: What the fuck, I know! And you know what was cool about that was I had been hanging out with Brendan Canning and his girlfriend Sarah in Toronto and it was just like a ridiculous summer. There was all this other shit going on, we were all really busy, and I said I felt really strongly that we should all be there, and it was really not practical. I had to fly back to Michigan to be at the 50th anniversary of my father’s high school reunion, so I was going Toronto, Chicago, Vassar and then I was going to North Carolina to rehearse with Soft Skeleton. So it was just absurd to come to Chicago for that one day and then I was so glad I did because the audience was just amazing. There was such a true connection between the band and the crowd.
D: Did you have an intention of making a solo album out of the songs?
E: I never had the experience where I was writing an album where I felt like I was writing a soundtrack to a film that doesn’t exist. Once I wrote “Our Hell” the whole thing fell in place after that. A couple of songs are songs that I’ve had for a while, like “Mostly Waving,” I wrote a while back, and “Reading in Bed.” But they definitely had their place as a soundtrack, which is pretty much owing to Guy Maddin. I saw The Saddest Music in the World when I was in New York and I’ve never seen anything that was like the visual equivalent of what I wanted to do sonically. I already had it in my mind that this record was something that I needed to do, and when I saw his work it really inspired the process. I ended up tracking him down in Winnipeg at this indie film group and I got him on the phone, he was really accessible. He met me in a laundromat in Toronto and gave me a stack of videotapes to use as part of the live show. Over the past year Todor (Kobakov) and I, the guy who did the string arrangements on the record and he’s on the road with us, He and I went through and constructed this loose narrative, like visual amnion to accompany the music, but it’s a big part of the show. In answer of your question to how the record came together, it had a lot to do with being inspired by Guy Maddin.
D: I think it’s really interesting you compared it to a soundtrack because I picture driving in the snow from listening to the record.
E: Right, like a dark highway on a snowy night. Too bad we got no snow.
D: Yeah, I don’t know what that’s all about.
E: I think we do know unfortunately (laughs).
D: Would you say the new album is therapeutic for you?
E: Well, I have to write, Metric is like that as well, it’s the function of music. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, functional music, like it needs to have a real, for me at least that’s all I’ve been trying to do is really have it really serve a purpose and be like, it’s fuckin’ medicine, you know? I feel that way about Metric stuff in a different direction, like the idea of trying to force yourself not to be so insecure, to not be so analytical, and just fuckin’ play loud music, and force yourself to have a good time and not be so inhibited. And alternatively with this record, it’s like to just let a mood sit and for me to let the songs be what they are without trying to turn them into something else, because that’s usually how it works. Like with Metric I would write songs in a similar way as I wrote Knives and then I’d bring them to the band and we’d change them and do all this stuff to make them into Metric songs. But it’s definitely therapeutic to me because it’s just my favorite thing to do, just play the piano for an hour, and I get to do it every night, play with my friends, it’s good.
D: When you were younger and you were picturing yourself as an artist, did you think you would have more of a piano based sound, or a Metric based sound?
E: Yeah, it’s weird. I don’t know that I ever did. I was just always emersed in doing it which is something I’ve tried to hold on to, not being too results oriented because I realize that’s the recipe for unhappiness. At least for me, I just try to stay emersed in the process of writing or recording, so I didn’t really have a vision of myself.
D: Do you feel like you’re more comfortable with your fame?
E: It’s really weird because I don’t feel legitimately famous at all. It’s really confusing because its not like I’m fuckin’ Jennifer Aniston. Lots of people have not heard of Metric, lots of people have not heard of Broken Social Scene. It happens all the time where I go to these places and the people have no idea, which is fine, and then I’ll turn the corner and it’ll be the opposite. It’s just hard to figure out. I just go with assuming that no one knows what the hell I’m doing. The alternative is conducting yourself in such a way that you think the world gives a shit. I was raised to not really assume that anyone owes you anything. The other thing I try to think about too is there’s lots of ways, there’s celebrity and then there’s being a musician and I find celebrity really fuckin’ annoying for the most part. But I realize I don’t have to have any part of that, like there’s lots of musicians that I love their music, filmmakers, artists, I’m glad that I know them and that’s as far as it goes. I don’t need to see pictures of them in the bathroom or whatever.
D: You do make a couple references to other artists, like John Lennon’s “Love” and Neil Young’s “A Man Needs a Maid,” what made you choose them?
E: I don’t know. I never really know what I’m doing until I’ve totally done it, and even then, I’m not really sure what it is. Those are definitely two of my favorite songwriters. I think as a writer I have this thing where if I’m working on something you recognize that someone else has, what’s the best way to put it, like you could put it in quotes. I think that’s what I’m kind of doing. It’s one thing to be inspired by someone, it’s another thing to copy someone. So I think whenever I’m in my own writing whenever I come up against, you know, like when I was working on “Detective Daughter” and then I found that song kind of working its way in, I usually just acknowledge the reference, instead of trying to pretend, kind of put it in quotes, that the song has veered into that other composition.
D: Who came up with the “Doctor Blind” video idea?
E: The director is this guy Jaron Albertin who lives in England now he works there primarily, but he’s Canadian. He and I had discussed the idea of a very personal experience I’ve had many times where I seriously feel like I’m going to pass out in the giant drug stores or the giant grocery stores and just that surreal or disoriented feeling and then wanting to make it. Generally my approach with videos with Metric has been to try to make them into five minute films, so we took a really cinematic approach to it and kind of gave it this back story in our minds, like the first scene of me running to the car. We had kind of created a character for our own purposes. He came up with the whole thing of everyone falling, that’s just amazing his ability to execute an idea like that.
D: How did the rest of Metric feel about the solo album?
E: It’s been great. I think a lot of bands end up imploding because the sheer repetition of having an identity in one project and having to just everyday reinforce that one part of yourself without being able to develop the rest of your life or identity. I think that’s what I’ve seen undo a lot of people. With Metric, when we all met we all had a lot of other projects on the go and we continued that to keep the band fresh. I know for me when I wanted to make this record, I knew I wanted to make the record and I knew what I wanted it to sound like and I knew it wasn’t a Metric record. Metric’s not a vehicle, it’s not a fuckin’ Emily Haines vehicle. It’s four people, we’ve talked about it, we make music about the four of us and where we’re at, and if anybody at any point has something else they need to do, then they’re going to do it. Josh (Winstead) and Joules (Scott-Key) are recording a record right now, they have a project called Bang Lime, it’s just the two of them with Josh playing guitar and singing. Death From Above 1979 were our label mates on Last Gang, they obviously broke up which is too bad, but Jamie (Shaw) is producing Sebastien Grainger’s record, he’s the other half. The timing really worked out for everybody. Me putting out this record has meant there’s more time for all of us to do stuff. We already went into the studio a couple weeks ago to start writing the next record. Then at the end of the month we go to England to play with Bloc Party for a couple weeks and then we’re going back in (the studio). It’s been really good. That whole idea of going solo, I kind of panicked about it, that thing about not wanting to focus on results, but I knew I really wanted to make this record, and then I was like “Aw fuck, man, I got to explain this.”
D: There are so many negative connotations with going solo.
E: I know! So from the outset I really made a point of being clear with myself and everyone, that this is what it is. Everyone in the band has multiple abilities, it’s not just me. I have to keep up with them as much as they have to keep up with me.
D: Do you think you’ll be doing another solo album?
E: I already talked to Scott (Minor) and told him a lot about going farther with soundtrack instrumentation, like more orchestral stuff, so I’ll see what ideas develop. But my main priority is the next Metric record. I’m so excited about that. So no plans for another solo record yet.
D: Did you ever think about re-releasing Cut in Half and Double?
E: It’s a little funny to me, the whole internet age. In another time no one would have ever found that music. I don’t even think I have a copy, like it wasn’t even released, I made a hundred copies for my friends and family and it’s so amazing that people have found it and are listening to it. I feel like it was so long ago that I don’t think I would re-release it. I’m glad people are digging it, it’s funny. It’s like my little sister or something that made that record.
D: Do you have New Year’s resolutions?
E: Less email (laughs).

An exerpt of this appeared in the January 12th issue of The DePaulia

Sunday, January 7, 2007


On Tuesday Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn were elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame with some of the highest percentages of votes of all time. Two excellent ballplayers that by anyone’s definition were Hall-worthy. But the elephant, or rather muscle bound redhead, in the room was completely screwed.

In the late 1990’s, there was no more exciting player to watch than Mark McGwire. His home runs were moonshots, and at any at bat, he was liable to launch one again. In 1998, his (along with that Sosa guy’s) chase of Roger Maris’ home run record captivated the world. After finishing with a record 70 home runs, McGwire reached a status that few athletes, or people for that matter, have ever reached. There was no player more marketable, and Major League Baseball was thrilled to use a hero like McGwire to help people forget about the long strike that crippled the game a few years before. In fact, he was awarded with the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award, for his numerous charitable work, which is awarded to the player “who best exemplify character and integrity on and off the field.” Now McGwire is seen as a real like Lex Luther. Funny how the times change.

Flash forward nine years later, after McGwire’s career was over, a career that saw him win Rookie of the Year, be elected to twelve All Star Games, have a ratio of 10.6 at bats per home run, the greatest in the history of baseball, and finish with 583 home runs, the seventh best all-time. So how could such a phenomenal baseball player finish with 23.1% of voters picking him for the Hall of Fame when 75% is needed? There are a number of answers to this: a book by a former teammate which labeled him as a steroid user, an embarrassing appearance before Congress where he famously ‘refused to talk about the past,’ and perhaps most of all, the shift of public opinion that made steroids the 8th deadly sin.

It’s probable that Mark McGwire did use steroids, and steroids are really not good for the game of baseball or anyone. But the problem is that baseball let it become a part of its sport. Owners and the head honchos of Major League Baseball loved the home run chase and the increase in popularity in the sport that followed it. Baseball writers, the people that vote for the Hall of Fame, did nothing to dig deeper into a possible steroid problem that now evidently played a big role in their decision not to vote McGwire into the Hall, and really, the writers have no one else to look at for allowing this to happen. So now, and once only pressure was applied to baseball, are they taking a stance against steroids.

Now everyone wants to play revisionist history and discredit what happened in the ‘90’s as the “steroid era.” But the problem with this is you really can’t just ignore an entire decade of baseball. People would love to pretend that everyone was clean and only a select few were doing steroids, but the test results have shown otherwise. There have been more pitchers than hitters caught with steroids, and one of the first hitters caught was Alex Sanchez, all 5’10”, 179 lbs of him, with a whopping six home runs over his five year career. The point is that you really can’t say who was using steroids, or that the hitters using steroids weren’t facing pitching also on the juice.

The way that Cal Ripken and Tony Gywnn could waltz into the Hall of Fame while Mark McGwire is picked on because he hit big home runs and wasn’t better prepared to face Congress is also questionable. To say Ripken or Gwynn never used steroids is something that you really can’t be certain of. People just liked them more; they had good personalities and were never confronted about the issue under oath. Take Ripken for example. He was so determined to help his team that he played in a record 2,632 games with broken bones and many other ailments. Eventually he took pride in his streak and refused to sit. Who’s to say that he wouldn’t have taken steroids to help recover from an injury and keep his streak alive? No one can 100% say he didn’t. When you start picking and choosing like this, there is a problem.

McGwire was just the first player that will face the scrutiny of the voters after spending much of his career in the ‘90’s. When other Hall-worthy players like Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and Rafael Palmeiro come up for election, they will problem face the same trouble getting in. What about players like Roger Clemens and Albert Pujols who there have been whispers about possible steroid use, but no one wants to believe it? Baseball writers, who are turning more and more into moral preachers everyday, have made up their mind: they’ll vote for the ones that were nice to them and popular with the fans while ignoring the facts that a great deal of them were probably using steroids.

McGwire, one of baseball’s truly legendary sluggers, may not ever make it to the Hall of Fame without ever been convicted of anything or admitting to any wrongdoing. He’s being treated like a witch in Salem because he may have done something, but also may not have. The Hall of Fame will someday soon not have many of the best players in baseball history inducted into its hallowed grounds. And does that make the Hall of Fame any more legitimate than if they let in player who may have used steroids?

Baseball needs to accept its past and let McGwire in. Plus it would do wonders for my 1985 Topps Mark McGwire rookie card.