INTERVIEW: Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger
Sean Lennon Expounds on New Project
By: Keane Li
In mythology, the concept of duality follows closely with creation. Day and night, good and evil – the balance between two opposite pairs defines the human existence. This is a relevant citation when discussing The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, a two-person band balanced between opposite, yet complementary parts.
The pair in question is Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl. He, the only son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, has both the benefit and curse of being associated with two of the greatest artists of our century. She, a professional model with deep poetic flair, performs vocal harmonies with him. Their first album, Acoustic Sessions, finds its release on their own label, Chimera Music, named after an equally mythical creature.
Sean is in bed and Charlotte, having just woken him, apologizes if he might sound groggy. The two have been dating and living together for the past year, a relationship that explains the intimacy of their debut. The origins of their project are similarly intimate: “I was looking through her stuff,” Sean recounts regarding Charlotte, “and I found this play called ‘The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger’ from when she was seven. And I called out that I had found it, ‘Hey, what’s this? It would be really cool if we started a band called The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger.’ It was kind of a fluke idea, and she was like, ‘Sure, why not?'”
The phrase “my generation” was prevalent during the discussion, as they bounced profound ideas back and forth on topics like creating political art in an age of “subterfuge and obfuscation” or the irony of diminishing human connections in an increasingly digitally connected age. Charlotte, having grown up in a small town in Atlanta, had a significantly different upbringing than Sean, a native of New York City and twelve years her senior. After becoming a model at age 13, she traveled the world and, admittedly, had little connection with mainstream media.
“My only exposure to pop culture was really horrible,” she recalls, “like techno music in Milan. So when I met Sean, I had a lot of catching up to do in terms of musical references and learning everything that happened since.” Sean regards this as a positive quality. With a life surrounded by great musicians, he has what he calls a “library of pop culture” in his head; with a variety of influences from jazz fusion to hip hop to The Beach Boys. “Charlotte really isn’t poisoned by every Duran Duran single and Boy George comeback,” says Sean, praising her ability to create original work without influence.
Their dual natures continue into their songwriting process. Sean, with his penchant for melodies and chords, may be the most experienced in terms of instrumentation, but says he needs to “catch up” with Charlotte in terms of lyrical construction: “I used to just write about how I felt,” he says about his previous albums, “It was more like diary entries. It was sort of like documentaries of Sean’s feelings. And then I met Charlotte, and she was already a lyricist. She won all these poetry awards when she was young and she sort of pushed me to actually take lyrics seriously, as its own art form.”
Currently completing their upcoming “electric” album, the two are often distracted by side projects: “We’re going to put out a little mini-album for France,” Sean says when mentioning their European tour, “We’re still getting around to finishing our opus, or whatever you call it, for next year.”
“Our ‘magnum octopus,'” adds Charlotte. When asked if that will be the actual name, she replies, “It should be.”
Despite an increase in administrative duties associated with running Chimera Music, Sean describes the transition from a major label to self-publishing as “logical” for artists, as it offers more control over creative output. “Now that we have our own company, I think I realize how lucky I am in terms of artists who are less mainstream like myself, who are more indie or left-of-field.”
Charlotte laughs at his comment and cuts in, “I just had a horrible image of you performing with all these back-up dancers behind you in leotards.”
Sean replies, “What do you mean ‘horrible’? That sounds beautiful…”
Throughout the discussion, they readily offer opinions on every topic except one. When asked if they had any advice for other independent artists, they paused. “I don’t know. I think we need advice. I don’t think we have any advice to give,” says Sean. “Yeah, I don’t think we have the right to give any advice because we’re very much like Bambi on ice,” Charlotte seconds, then adds, “I think it’s very unoriginal to try to be obsessed with being original in a day when there’s such a confluence, a critical mass of every variation of everything happening right now. So I think it’s just really important to sort of stick to what you love, and really just try to execute it in a way that feels true to your artistic vision and not be so concerned with the image of it.”
Not bad advice; do what you love. “Yeah, it’s harder than it sounds. It’s a cliche, but it’s hard. You need to succumb to insecurity or the pressure to make a certain type of product.”
At its core, Acoustic Sessions is an exposed experience between two life partners, a joint effort that Sean describes as being more meaningful and fun than any of his previous collaborations with the great artists of his past. Their songs describe a view of the world from two contrasting perspectives, as a lyrical admission from a pair of nostalgics, written from the quietness of their home.
“That’s my favorite time,” Charlotte comments, “to play guitar in bed with you.”
“Yeah, those are the good times,” Sean replies.
Photographer: Sean Lennon