Julian Lennon talks to The Yak’s Tony Stanton about life, photography and music. Portrait: Deborah Anderson. All other images by Julian Lennon.
Hi Julian. First off, how was your trip to Bali?
Hectic . . . actually this was my second trip to Bali, as I was there many moons ago. I had a Number One in Australia with a single called Saltwater so we stopped in Bali on the way and stayed at The Hard Rock Hotel for a week. We played one night there, in sarongs and barefoot . . . ha!
We did all the touristy things, but enjoyed it a great deal . . . all catered for, so easy. This time, I came with a friend to see our dear friend Mark Baker and my old friend and chef Benjamin Cross, who runs Mejakawi at Ku De Ta.
We toured the island as best we could within a week, but didn’t get nearly as much done. The traffic has at least doubled, if not quadrupled since the last time I was there – sad to see, really. Pollution is heavily on the rise, and also the island has become so touristy now, just coaches upon coaches, and nothing but hustle going on for business. Not saying it’s all like that, but certainly in the main tourist areas it seems pretty bad. That doesn’t mean I won’t be back to sample the finer delights of Bali again, of which there are many . . . (including Villa Kubu!)
How often are you travelling these days and what gets you on a plane?
I travel at least twice a month, minimum. It can be for many reasons, but generally it’s either for photography, charity (for my Foundation, www.whitefeatherfoundation.com) or as an Ambassador for other charities, like The Lupus Foundation of America. Or working with Music for Relief (www.musicforrelief.org) for The Nepal Earthquake Relief Fund. The list goes on. Occasionally I travel for music projects for or with other artists, or film projects, and also for executive production for environmental/humanitarian documentaries I work on.
Do you spend much time in Asia, generally?
No, I haven’t at all really. Mostly I’ve been based in Europe, and I tend to do a fair amount of traveling in the US and Europe. I would really like to spend more time in Asia, as it’s somewhere that intrigues me. Before arriving in Bali I was on a cruise around the South China Seas for about 10 days or so, but that only gave me a glimpse of what’s there. I’ve yet to make it to Thailand, Cambodia, India and China. I found Vietnam and Kuching especially quite moving and beautiful.
What’s a typical day for you?
It depends on the amount of work I need to take care of on any given day. Generally I like to wake up naturally, and that can mean anywhere from sun-up to noon, depending on how late I’ve been up editing photos.
Then before I even grab a coffee or breakfast, I have to deal with the business emails and decisions of the day, then I’ll take time for breakfast, or brunch, and some exercise. It’s important for me to get out as I may spend the rest of the day editing in front of a computer screen. If I’m on a roll, I’ll stick with editing all day and night, bar a few TV shows or maybe a film. On days when I can breathe a little more, I’ll go down to the local town, grab the papers and a coffee and watch the world go by for an hour. Then it’s back to work. I also generally work through the weekends too. There are never enough hours in the day.
Tell us about your charity, White Feather Foundation.
The White Feather Foundation embraces environmental and humanitarian issues and in conjunction with partners from around the world helps to raise funds for the betterment of all life. It also honours those who have truly made a difference. Check out the website www.whitefeatherfoundation.com
Why did you choose the name White Feather?
Dad once said to me that should he pass away, if there was some way of letting me know he was going to be ok – that we were all going to be ok – the message would come to me in the form of a white feather. Then something happened to me about 10 years ago when I was on tour in Australia. I was presented with a white feather by an Aboriginal tribal elder, which took my breath away. A white feather has always represented peace to me.
We read somewhere that you play most instruments by ear, and that generally after you’ve recorded a song you forget how you wrote it . . . so when you play live you have to relearn every song and every instrument again.
Yep. Them there’s the breaks.
Where are you at with your music these days? Touring plans? New downloads?
Everything I do these days is organic. I haven’t toured as such since Photograph Smile (www.julianlennon.com/music/26-photograph-smile). I did some TV & Radio Promo for Everything Changes (www.julianlennon.com/music/25-everything-changes) but my focus is elsewhere these days. I never enjoyed the industry or business of music . . . it always tainted the joy. I have plenty of songs for another few albums, and then some, but I’ve no desire to record another full album at this stage as I prefer to work with friends on side projects. It’s about the music, and the art of making and recording it, and not about the business, or how many arses you need to lick to remain in the charts.
And regarding downloads . . . I spent 10 years putting together the last album project, which includes an App of Through The Picture Window (www.julianlennon.com/app), a feature-length documentary about my life and the making of Everything Changes) as well as several versions of the album, acoustic and instrumental too. So I don’t hang around when I’m working on a project I love.
Is it really 30 years since the release of The Secret Value Of Daydreaming? It’s hard to believe. How do you look back on your life in the last three decades?
Hmmm . . . Interesting that you should bring up my least favourite album! The ‘sophomore album’, which basically killed my career, thanks to the label pushing us into doing it too soon. I look back on the last 30 years as growth. What else? Learning through mine and others’ mistakes, and hopefully improving on all aspects of life, personally and professionally.
Let’s talk about your photography. When did you first pick up a camera?
No idea, but I recall making videos when I was 13 or 14, with storylines. No idea where those films got to. But with cameras as such I guess it was just about the same as anyone else – holiday snaps and the like.
Your work has extraordinary quality and presence. Practically what do you shoot with and what do you look for in a shot?
I shoot generally with either a Canon 5D MK II, or on a few different Leica cameras, but my work predominantly resides in post. I’ve no idea what I’m doing with a camera, but I always just try to capture a moment that conveys the truth of that moment, the emotion of that second, that fleeting second, a blink of an eye, something that may never be seen again.
And emotionally how are you attached to the final images?
They take me back to where I took the picture and I sense all the emotions, smells and sights I felt at that time.
This is a totally unfair question of course – but if you had to give up one creative outlet in your life, which would it be?
Cooking. Well actually, I’m such a food lover I’m not sure I ever could. If I hadn’t gone into music, I would have been a chef. But! I used to love acting and was awarded a scholarship to The Royal Shakespeare Company as a kid, but gave that up for music. So there’s your answer.
Your life story has been well documented and we’re not going to enter into the old debates here … but if there was one memory you could take away of your father, what would it be?
Not sure what you mean, as such, and not territory I enter these days. As you have said quite clearly, it’s all been documented before. And likely, this is the best there is: