Amelia’s Magazine | Interview: The Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger

All illustrations by Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl

The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger is very much the sonic embodiment of its band members. Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl are intrigued by everything around them and distill this into the music that they make, like two wide-eyed innocents, holding each others hands and trying to make sense of the wonders and absurdities of life with the aide of a couple of mics and a multitude of instruments. Their recently released new album Acoustic Sessions (which can be brought here) acts as the perfect showcase for their union as both musical and romantic collaborators. Sean and Charlotte duet together on every track; her voice is as delicate as a thimble and rings clear as a bell, a perfect addition to Sean’s deeper timbre (which interestingly, has the slightest trace of a Liverpudlian burr to it when he sings). The songs are whimsical without being twee, and while they pay homage to 60’s folk-pop, there is no element of pastiche.

My hour spent with Sean and Charlotte on their whistle-stop touchdown in London was an illuminating peek into the high-octane lifestyle of two very in-demand individuals. While most of our music interviews take place in make-shift back stage areas, this interview is conducted 22 floors up at the William Morris Agency housed in London’s Centre Point Building. The plush meeting room offers sweeping views across Central London. Managers and PR’s field incoming emails and update schedules on ever buzzing Blackberries, but thankfully Sean and Charlotte seem unaffected by the surrounding melee. The first surprise of the morning comes when they reveal that the print version of Amelia’s Magazine was one of their favourite publications. “We’ve read almost every single issue!” exclaims Sean as Charlotte explains that their sound engineer on Acoustic Sessions introduced them to us and subsequently, the Amelia’s Magazine issues were the go-to reading material as the album was recorded.

As abstract as one of their self-designed illustrations, the interview takes the form of a free flowing stream of consciousness with Sean and Charlotte finishing off one another’s sentences and thoughts. (Their website wasn’t wrong when it wrote that The GOASTT work from one heart despite having two separate minds). While it wasn’t the typical Q+A that I was anticipating, it was way more fun – and fascinating – to touch on topics such as geodesic domes, Bauhaus, Buckminster Fuller, synesthesia, the phallic stature of city buildings, and what this represents in society – over to Sean on this one: “Joseph Campbell says if you look at the history of architecture you can see what the value system of society was like. The idea is that whatever the biggest object in your city is, is what you care about the most. In the beginning of civilization it was your hut i.e your home; in the middle ages we had churches as our spiritual centers and now the biggest buildings are banks, so it shows that we worship money now.” As seemingly random as the threads of conversation were at the time, looking back over my notes I could see that it’s all part of Sean and Charlottes conviction that everything is connected; art, music, culture; so why not question and draw inspiration from what’s around us?

While Sean has had both a solo career and been involved in other bands, The GOASTT seems like his most personal endeavor to date. “It’s the work that I’m most excited about having done since I’ve met Charlotte” he says. Sean’s musical lineage is well documented, but Charlotte is somewhat of an unknown force. I asked her about her background. “I had written a lot of folk music”, she explained, “but it wasn’t for commercial purposes. I was travelling a lot when I was younger doing modelling and at that point my only companion was a guitar.” With no firm musical direction, she abandoned her music, but when she met Sean she found her inspiration, and received a crash course in Sean’s prolific record collection. “Folk and classical music was my only background, and Sean was a rolodex of so many different musical genres; he played me so much music that I had never heard of and it just blew my mind.” Sean reminisces about the first time he heard Charlotte’s music; “She kept it a secret that she played at all and I found it very mysterious. She had written all these songs and didn’t tell me till we had been dating for a year, and then she played them to me and I was like: ‘wow’…….. ” Joining forces, they embarked on an outpouring of work. “We wrote, like, 50 songs quickly. There was a lot of chemistry, not just in our relationship but creatively.” Charlotte is quick to praise Sean’s musical versatility: “I think Sean is so schizophrenic musically because he’s so talented. I’ve heard him playing so many styles, from folk, to funk, to..” “To flunk”, chimes in Sean helpfully, “that’s funk and folk combined”. (Is it? I need to do some research on this).

We talk about the nature of the album, and the fact that it’s entirely acoustic (the clue’s in the title). “It’s funny”, says Sean, “because someone asked us if this record was a concept album, and it’s not per se, except that there is one concept which is that we wanted to do everything on the record by just the two of us – no one else plays on it – and all the instruments are non electrical.” I remark that all of their performances feature a lot of instruments being used; guitars, cymbals, melodicas and xylophones are laid around Sean’s and Charlotte’s feet, ready to be picked up and played. “The record that you hear is very much live” confirms Sean, “and in order to recreate that live we had to figure out how to multi-task with our instruments which makes the show a lot more exciting for us – although I don’t know if it does for the audience!” (FYI, their set at The Roundhouse Studio on the following night was seamless and very well received).

Their days are currently filled up with gigs around the globe, most of the time performing strictly as The GOASTT, or occasionally pulling in musical friends of theirs. If that doesn’t keep them busy enough, the band is housed by their own record label, Chimera Music which they run from their home in New York. Also signed to Chimera is his mother Yoko’s group; The Plastic Ono Band, of which Sean is musical director. (Sean and Charlotte had come to London by way of Iceland, where he was overseeing the Plastic Ono Band gig, held in honour of what would have been John Lennon’s 70th birthday). All in all, it’s been an incredibly busy and productive year for Sean and Charlotte, and while their schedule seems to verge on the absurd, they are keeping a cool head. “It’s a good time, an inspiring time for us”, Sean assures me, and on the basis of Acoustic Sessions, I can believe this.

Categories ,Acoustic Sessions, ,Amelia’s Magazine, ,Charlotte Kemp Muhl, ,GOASTT, ,iceland, ,illustration, ,interview, ,John Lennon, ,london, ,Plastic Ono Band, ,Sean Lennon, ,The Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger

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