Barefoot, in baggy jeans and a blue T-shirt, Sean Lennon ambles across his living room, picks up a double bass, and plunks out the opening bars of Miles Daviss All Blues. It sounds nice, right? he asks, nodding at the instrument. It was a present from the Beastie Boys.
Lennon, 22, is a few weeks away from the May 19 release of his debut CD, Into the Sun, on the aforementioned Boys Grand Royal label. To anyone looking around the sprawling West Village loft he shares with his girlfriend, 37-year-old Yuka Honda, its obvious Sean Lennon is no dilettante cashing in on his last name. Nineteen guitar cases are strewn about the house, as are vintage keyboards, effects pedals, turntables, multitrack recording units, mixers, plus a drum kit, a sitar, a theremin, and a Steinway grand. The apartments upper level houses a small digital-recording studio. God only knows whats stashed at his SoHo rehearsal space.
For the past year or so, Lennon has been going through a Beach Boys obsession. Every morning I wake up and I listen to Smiley Smile or Pet Sounds, he says, referring to Brian Wilsons most intricate, laboriously produced late-sixties albums. Sitting on a sofa -- if you can call a series of half-on-furniture, half-on-floor postures sitting -- in his living room, hes all good-natured hyperactivity. Smiley Smile is like the Beach Boys White Album, he says, grasping for a way to convey the records import. No. Smiley Smile is like Sgt. Pepper.
I live with Brian Wilson, jokes Honda, sitting on the floor and spreading cream cheese on a bagel.
In a way, theres nothing too surprising about the revelation -- the Beach Boys experimental-pop phase is trendy enough these days. But it was also part of the most heated rivalry of its decade -- one that involved Seans own father. Pet Sounds, notes Lennon, didnt kind of inspire Sgt. Pepper. It literally did. Like, Paul McCartney heard Pet Sounds and said, We ought to do something as good as this.
Sean Lennons own eclectic sound is equally indebted to both camps, with smatterings of bossa nova, sunny Stevie Wonder-esque soul, and experimental jazz thrown in. Home, the albums first single, conjures John Lennons approach to melody, George Martins ornamental curlicues, and Brian Wilsons tweaked-out harmonies. Such propensities, though, make Lennon as much a child of his era -- in which the influence of Pop-with-a-capital-P is as pervasive as its been at any point since the sixties -- as of his lineage. Its a fortunate position, one that allows him to put his patrimony to use without raising charges of simple appropriation.
Into the Sun was produced by Honda, who also happens to be the keyboard-playing half of the indie-pop outfit Cibo Matto. I probably could have asked for any producer in the world, says Lennon. Not to brag, but I have the juice to do that. And I asked for Yuka. Shes the best producer on the planet.
Working with older women has been Lennons forte for years now -- he has, after all, spent most of his life as the only child of a single mother. As a kid, I was in fact more into my moms music than my dads, Sean recalls. Three years ago, he put that enthusiasm to use, collaborating with Yoko Ono on the album Rising. I know every song she ever wrote. Im an expert in Yoko Onos music, basically. So in the studio, when shed say something like Make that guitar part more ocean-cricket, Id know exactly what she meant.
Defying celebrity-offspring type, Lennon comes across as a preternaturally well-adjusted being, comfortable discussing his emotional life -- quirky maternal issues included -- without being an exhibitionist. Beyond her just being my mom who I love and adore, shes also a really good friend, he says. Ill call her up and be like, What do you think of this lyric? Any decision I have, Ill ask her about it. And shell call me about everything else. Im going to the bathroom now. I got out of the bathroom, and Im drying my hair. Okay, now Im on my way to the door. Im like, Mom, you called me eight times in the last ten minutes.