STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
Being the son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono can actually be a disadvantage.
Despite an adventurous body of musical work going back to the mid-’90s, Sean Lennon said in a phone interview from a California hotel room that it’s still “an ongoing struggle” getting appreciated as an artist in his own right. “I don’t know if it’s my parents, or maybe it’s just me,” he sighed.
What could change that is his new band, The Claypool Lennon Delirium, which he co-founded with bass trailblazer Les Claypool of Primus (see also Oysterhead and Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade). It all started when The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger — the band Lennon formed in 2008 with girlfriend Charlotte Kemp Muhl — toured with Primus. “Les and I started hanging out backstage and jamming a little bit,” he said. “He invited me to go on stage to play ‘Southbound Pachyderm.’ I hadn’t been able to learn the song. He said: ‘Play whale sounds.’ I’m really good at making abstract noise.”
The next thing you know, Lennon is out at Claypool’s home and studio, “Rancho Relaxo,” writing, recording and sampling wines from his Claypool Cellars line. “I learned a lot about pinots,” Lennon said. The result — the surreal, 11-track album “Monolith of Phobos.”
The title track, Lennon explained, was inspired by an appearance by astronaut Buzz Aldrin on C-Span talking about, among other things, images captured by a Russian satellite of an unexplained structure on one of Mars’ moons.
“Star Wars” geeks will get the joke in the title of the closing instrumental, “There’s No Underwear in Space.” Lennon said that Carrie Fisher personally told him the story about George Lucas instructing her not to wear a bra when they were making the first “Star Wars” movie because …
“Ohmerica” is Lennon’s expression of concern that “America’s moving along kinda into being a bit more of an aggressor.”
In 2011, he showed up at the Occupy Wall Street protest, alongside Rufus Wainwright, to perform a tongue-in-cheek hootenanny cover of Madonna’s hit “Material Girl.” “It was really mellow. It was like being at a festival. I feel like the Bernie (Sanders) campaign wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for Occupy,” he said.
Lennon, who is a multi-instrumentalist, and Claypool both play drums on the album. According to Lennon, they had planned to bring in “a real drummer” to perfect the sound, but halfway through the sessions opted to keep the demo drum tracks.
Claypool said in a press release: “It just made more sense for him to man the kit on most of the tunes on this project. I took the helm at my old vintage API console and let him bang away. His drumming is like a cross between Ringo (Starr) and Nick Mason (Pink Floyd).”
The Claypool Lennon Delirium — which has Mark “Money Mark” Ramos Nishita of The Beastie Boys on keyboards, and Paul Baldi of The Fungi Band on drums — makes their Philadelphia debut Aug. 31 at the Fillmore.
Besides the prog/psychedelic songs from “Monolith of Phobos,” the band has been launching into various covers they’ve learned on the road, such as “In the Court of the Crimson King” by King Crimson. “The set list is different every night,” Lennon said, describing a jam band aesthetic. “The main difference is Les. He’s got his own set of laws of physics or something. Most of the audience is there to see him.”
A serendipitous moment on the maiden voyage of The Claypool Lennon Delirium came in June in Athens, Ga. Noticing that James McCartney was performing in that city the night after the band’s Georgia Theater show, Lennon posted a selfie with the McCartney concert poster — and the witty hashtag #brothersfromanotherfather — on his Instagram @sean_ono_lennon.
“I love James and saw him play in Athens,” Lennon commented.
The son of Paul and Linda McCartney quietly contributed guitar parts to Lennon’s score/soundtrack for the 2012 superhero comedy film “Alter Egos” (which Lennon also acted in).
Lennon’s father famously dropped out of the music business for about five years to be a stay-at-home dad. Later, in interviews given around the time of the John and Yoko comeback album, “Double Fantasy,” John Lennon expressed enthusiasm about turning 40 and sounded hopeful about the future.
Asked for his own reflections about turning 40 himself last year, Lennon said that in his mind, he feels like he’s still in his 20s. “I bet if I had been in The Beatles, and all that, I’d be enthusiastic too. I don’t think I’m in the same state of mind as he was (in 1980). I think he grew up faster than I did — he had to,” he said.