For many, the name Julian Lennon instantly brings them back to the mid-80s when his platinum-selling album Valotte captured everyone's heart. With two top ten hits on the US Adult Contemporary Chart and a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist, Julian's signature writing style was established and a dedicated following emerged.
To place Julian Lennon into any one category as an artist would greatly ignore the talent and dedication found within. Six albums, an award winning documentary titled Whaledreamers, successful photography exhibitions as well as an active charity called The White Feather Foundation encompass a man interested in social change, human connection and using his voice to bring awareness to needs around the world.
J: Your latest release Everything Changes really showcases a skill in songwriting that is missing from music today and that skill is the ability to create a story. But this isn't just on Everything Changes, it's apparent in all your music. How do the songs come about for you?
JL: They can come about in a thousand different ways. They really can.The crux of it is, at least in my case, I'll have a sense of an idea, a sense of an emotion or even an emotion in music with a chord change or two.
For me, it's truly down the fact that it's a marriage. The lyrics must tell a particular story. The music has to tell the same story independently of those lyrics. And, the melody has to tell that story, too. If you listen to all these three elements independently you are getting the same feeling, the same emotion. It's when you put all those three elements together, at least for me, it becomes truth.
It's when I get goosebumps that I say, "Right. If it affects me like that and I'm writing it, it must affect the people." It has to relate to other people. And, that is my guideline. I stick to it. I have ever since I've written, but much more so in the last two albums than previously. Not saying that wasn't the case before, but I think I found my own way of writing since Photograph Smile and now this album in particular.
J: Another element I notice musically is collaboration with other artists. The latest of these is "Rain in England" with Tony Mortimer. Have you always been supportive of artistic collaboration? And, what does it do for the creative process?
JL: Strangely enough I never used to like working with other people and even now when I think about it I say, "Oh, really?" But, then when I actually take the time, make the effort to meet up and work with someone there is nothing but joy that comes out of that...you know, the expression of ideas, dreams and thoughts. It's all good.
You learn about other people, their character, the way they write and the way they work. Fortunately, most of the people I have done that with I've known to some degree. There's always a little anxiety involved because you never really know how it's going to work or what's going to come from it.
So far, whether it's been on the Tony Mortimer track or there was one I did a year or two ago with a Canadian artist named Tomi Swick called "December Sky", which I absolutely love. I mean, I only sang on the track, but it was in my vein and style so it was an easy one to be part of. It's a great process because it changes the dynamics completely of how you write. I like it personally. Especially when it comes to circumstances where I've hit a brick wall with ideas.
It could literally be someone walking in a room and say, "Well, why don't you try that chord?" And, it'll be a chord that I didn't think of. It will change the direction, the feeling or it's been that thing I've been looking for, I simply haven't found. Even if a friend comes in and writes a chord or two, he or she definitely gets a credit for co-writes. For me, at least in writing on the credits, a co-write for me could be anywhere from giving me an idea, a word or two or even a chord. So, I've always got it written in some way, shape or form.
In some of the bigger projects, it's also enjoyable because I'm not under the stresses and the strains in the sense where I'm writing it for me or my album in particular. There's an element of freedom in that and I can play a little more than I normally do.
J: I don't know what it is when creative people get together, but there is an inspiration or a magnetism that happens when they're in one room; even if they're just out for coffee there is something that sparks.
JL: I do think, without question, it has to be in a position where there is some common ground that you both can reach, discuss and develop. But, I think you actually need to have empathy, understand the person and like or respect the person you are working with. I think it truly makes a difference in how things turn out because you can be honest with each other along the course of writing or working together, which I think is really quite crucial.
J: In the same vein, creativity isn't just in your music. Photography is also a strong interest with your Alone and Timeless collections on display at The Little Black Gallery. What is photography for you?
JL: It's something I have absolutely fallen in love with. More so the editing process. When I first take a snap it's more akin to coming up with a demo idea for a song. Then it's developing and producing it; allowing it to nurture and grow organically. With photography, it's editing. Again, like songwriting: where it once was this, now it's this.
You can emote. You get what the image is, what its about, how it feels, what the moment was and where you were when you took it. It's really about capturing a moment in time that's never going to exist again. It's all to do with the movement within the picture, the light and shade and whether it's much more color-orientated or desaturated that I think determines the energy within the photographs.
In most things I do, I don't really talk too much about how they are, why they are the way they are or how they became that way. My point of view has always been that you're either going to be drawn to something or not; it gives you something.You take that on board and then it's your own interpretation. I think it has to be that way for everybody. You could describe some of the elements of how it came about or the circumstances in which they came about, but the actual moment in time you do tend to capture is a personal moment you hope other people can relate to.
I've done music professionally for 30 years of my life now and it was such a joy to find another medium to play with, fall in love with and that has distracted me in the most positive ways. Now when I go back to music once and a while, which at the moment we are working on an acoustic version of Everything Changes for release later this year, I feel so blessed and fortunate I can be able to work in different creative mediums.
As far as I've seen the photography has been accepted by the masses, too. And fortunately, most of the reviews and press I have received have been nothing but positive. I couldn't be happier in that regard.
You know, these are both mediums I will continue to work in 'til the day I die, no doubt. And the thing was, in school my only real interest was in art. I did a lot of painting and sketching. Pastels were actually my favorite medium, but I did sculpting as well. I'd like to get to do them further down the road. These last two years have been spent building a basis for the photography work I do and still letting people know I create music.
J: Adding to the music and photography is a foundation you created called The White Feather Foundation. The goal this year has been focused on getting clean water to various places around the world. What can you tell me about it and how can people donate.
JL: People can donate by going to the site itself, whitefeatherfoundation.com. We started in 2007 as a very small umbrella foundation for charities around the world that had no voice. The reason the charity came about was because I did a documentary called Whaledreamers, which was about indigenous tribes, their circumstances and plights.
I thought, "If this documentary does well, how do I get the money back to the people who need it so they can maintain their culture and secure that for future generations, etc?" With a friend, I came up with White Feather Foundation, which is based on the time I had been visited by elders from one of the Australian tribes who gave a white feather to me and said, "Can you help us? You have a voice."
Slowly, but surely we've been growing. We had our first event this year in Monaco and we hope to "maybe" bring the next one to the States either New York, L.A. or elsewhere. We're in discussion about it right now.
We've also managed to work with a lot of NGOs who are already on the ground in many of the locations we help with all over the world. This year was declared "The Year of Water" by the UN, so, we've stuck to that theme.
And, I just did a birthday campaign with a great charity called Charity Water, who do some amazing things. In a little over a month or two people donated enough to the birthday campaign that we've raised funds to build two more wells to give clean water to thousands.These are ongoing campaigns that will go on for as long there is a need for people to help people. As far as I can see, that's more than a lifetime's work.
J: Finally, what seems to tie it altogether (music, photography and philanthropy) is a push for social change and awareness. Has this always been a part of your life?
JL: Yeah, I think so. Maybe it came from wanting to understand the reality of things rather than how people perceive things or how much misinformation there is in the world. It's all about wanting honesty and truth out of life. Whether it's down to the simplest of things or the most complex of things, you know, relationships or the broader picture such as our relationship with the world, religion, politics, etc. For me, it's all about finding the truth in it all and hoping along the way there is fairness and justice within everything that happens in the world. But, that isn't always the case.
A lot of the work I do is based on my social commentary, but it isn't about shoving things down people's throats, it's about empathizing with people saying, "I get it. I'm with you on this or I'm alerting you to a few things. Let's try and do something about it."
Aside from the message in the songs, behind the scenes and everything I do is connected to charity one way or the other; trying to do some good. It's all part of the big package and the big picture to me.
Julian Lennon is not just a musician. He's also not simply a photographer. He is a man in search of truth within art, within our existence and someone with a strong goal to leave this world a better place. For more information on all the projects Julian is involved in, his music and his photography, please visit his website at www.julianlennon.com.
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