Sean Lennon's Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger haunts Hollywood tonight [UPDATED]
It’s apropos that Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl would pick the Hollywood Forever Cemetery as the place to make the L.A. debut of their folk project Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger. The album in haunted by all sorts of things – Syd Barrett’s sun-scarred psych and pastoral English folk; a lyrical world of hope glimmering in corners of apocalypse; Lennon’s uncannily familiar vocal lilt and way with unexpected guitar runs.
The duo’s debut album “Acoustic Sessions” is out Oct. 26 on their own label, Chimera Music, and they play Hollywood Forever tonight. We talked via e-mail to both members about their folk lineage, if there’s any beauty in environmental decay and how close harmonies make people closer. (The opted to answer the questions collectively.)
This record draws from some really classic, vintage folk and psychedelia. How do you two feel it's a modern album as well?
Of course we're big fans of experimental 'folky' music from the '60s like Syd Barrett, Os Mutantes and White Noise, but we try our best to re-combine chords and words in ways that are, at least to our ears, a bit different. In a world where everything's been done under the sun, the best one can do is make a collage of things you like, and re-juxtapose them until they feel new. Our subject matter tends to be distinctly modern. We like to sing about synthetic DNA, while playing old accordions.
You two sing in close harmony for almost the entire album. What's attractive to you about that sound, especially particular to the way your own idiosyncratic voices interact? What ideas about harmony were particularly important to you as you arranged the vocals for this record?
Because we write the songs together, we both tend to conjure melodies simultaneously. Our band is like a two-headed animal, a chimera. We named our label Chimera Music because our disparate personalities have merged into one super-organism.
"Shroedinger's Cat" uses a lot of classic philosophical problems in its lyrics. Do you think songwriting helps you get a grip around the big unanswerables in life?
It's not so much that it helps us get a grip exactly, but more that it helps us lighten up. It's easy to get trapped in philosophical worm holes. Writing songs is a nice way to try and express the beauty and the absurdity without having an existential crisis!
"The World Was Made For Men" is both apocalyptic and yet kind of oddly hopeful. Do you think there's any kind of joy or promise in images like making kites from bones or shoes out of your own skin?
"The World Was Made for Men" is not exactly a hopeful song, but it isn't pessimistic either. We do tend to treat the Earth like it was put here for the sole purpose of being consumed and exploited by us, and one need only look at the history of Easter Island to see what happens when the well runs dry. The image of making kites from our bones and shoes from our skin is sort of like a dog gnawing off its own leg to escape a trap. Our determination to survive is admirable, whether successful or not.
On this record, you often find a pastoral peace in images of synthetic substances and ruin - a pretty face made of tin cans, rainbows in spilled gasoline. What's potent about that contrast for you as writers?
There's something inherently beautiful in a bruised sun setting over the polluted sulfur plumes of an industrial landscape. Mankind is like an anti-hero in a bitter sweet romantic comedy. His own worst enemy, we know he could 'get the girl,' if he could just get out of his own way. In this case 'getting the girl,' means us surviving as a species, but whether we make it or not, it's certainly a movie worth watching.
How has writing and performing these songs in such intimate proximity changed the way you see each other both musically and personally?
Our music is an extension of our relationship. The stuff we create is just a glimpse of an ongoing conversation between us. It is challenging to work and live together, because it forces us to always be intimate in one way or another. But it's as if our our life together is a third person, and we like that person enough to tolerate losing a bit of the individuals left behind.
[UPDATE: This post originally spelled the band's name as "Ghost of a Saber Toothed Tiger"]
Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger performs at the Masonic Lodge at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery on Friday.
Photo: Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl. Credit: Press Here PR