Julian Lennon Interview: Showing Us It's Not Too Late to Save Earth
Image attributed to Deborah Anderson
Julian Lennon is an award-winning humanitarian, singer/songwriter, fine arts photographer, New York Times bestselling author and filmmaker. In 2007, he founded the White Feather Foundation after being asked by Elders of the Mirning people to help use his voice to preserve their indigenous culture. He produced Whaledreamers, a compelling documentary about an aboriginal whale-dreaming tribe, which earned eight International Film Festival awards. He is the son of the Beatles John Lennon and his first wife, Cynthia Powell Lennon. Sean, the son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, is his younger half-brother.
Lennon authored three children’s picture books with Bart Davis, Touch the Earth (2017), Heal the Earth (2018) and Love the Earth (2019), with the mission of engaging them in helping to save the environment and to teach everyone to love our planet. His latest offering, also co-authored by Davis, is The Morning Tribe: A Graphic Novel. It is a middle grade action-adventure that showcases young people protecting our critical environment and was published on November 9, 2021.
"I think the common denominator here is that we are all in this together. One thing affects another thing. I think we need to be aware of that. It’s a real domino effect in life."
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Julian, busy book signing day?
Julian Lennon: Yeah, live signings and on FaceTime and that kind of stuff. It’s an interesting thing to do, of course, but it seems to be what everybody needs or wants these days. So it’s okay. It’s not my favorite thing, but we all have to do what we have to do sometimes to make it all work and oil the machine (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Well, I do appreciate your taking the time today to speak to me.
Julian Lennon: Oh, no problem. No problem at all! Happy to. Happy to.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Since The Morning Tribe is your first graphic novel. Will it also be the first in a series?
Julian Lennon: There are no intentions in that regard as yet. I think baby steps. I’m working on so many projects at the moment, I can’t keep up with myself. I’m just about to release an album at the beginning of next year. I’m working on several other photography projects and also film projects because I just started White Feather Films which is aimed at working on environmental and humanitarian film projects for the coming years. We’ve got a few things lined up already. So times are busy.
Because of COVID and being stuck at home, it made it a little easier to be able to work on The Morning Tribe with Bart. Obviously, we couldn’t be in the same room together as we have done in the past. But this, for me, was basically the next step up from the other three books just to reach a slightly older audience. I think we covered a lot of ground with the first three books, and I’m happy with what we did there. So this was just dipping my toe into other waters. You know, it has been an enjoyable process. It’s slightly different but enjoyable nonetheless.
I don’t know what’s after this. I didn’t know we were doing this until after the children’s books (laughs). So things tend to happen organically. I believe there’s only a certain amount of planning you can really do. If things emerge at the right time and at the right place with the right creative endeavor, then if you can and you want to, you should follow through. When Bart mentioned, “Why don’t we try something a little different?” I said, “Well, sure. Let’s go for it.” It’s been a painless experience. I’ve enjoyed it very much. But again, I don’t know what’s happening tomorrow let alone next year apart from an album and a few other projects.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What are you hoping that middle grade children will understand from reading The Morning Tribe?
Julian Lennon: Well, I think the initial idea behind the book was to tell a common story really, something that’s happening all over the world, and again, same with the previous children’s books. It’s about showing and explaining to kids the situations, what’s happening with the world that we’re living in and that if we all join forces and join hands moving forward, we can make this a better world for all of us.
The thing is, I think the common denominator here is that we are all in this together. One thing affects another thing. I think we need to be aware of that. It’s a real domino effect in life. So it’s about showing each other respect. It’s about showing Mother Earth respect because if we don’t respect her, then we’re kind of screwed. It’s really that simple.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Do you think these young readers can influence their parents with regard to critical environmental issues?
Julian Lennon: Yeah. I do absolutely think so. I mean, not discounting this, but certainly the objective with the earlier books was that the whole drive behind that for me is that number one, we’re telling stories or we’re relating to the things that the White Feather Foundation does amongst other great organizations. The objective there was that these books would be read with your mother or your grandmother at nap time or bedtime. It was about starting a conversation where the parent and the child were both learning. We’re not shoving these realities down people’s throats. But we’re just explaining that this stuff is going on in the world. It’s about the child, in fact, asking the parents, “Why is there plastic in the oceans? Why do those people in that country not have clean water?” It’s for the parents to relearn and remember, not for them to shy away from the fact that their children are going to grow up in this world.
The idea is that it’s about discovering and learning about these facts, these scenarios and situations and knowing that there are resolves here down the line, but they are by working together as a team. By respecting the planet, respecting each other and our differences, we can make this world a bit of a better place for all of us.
The Morning Tribe was just a continuation of that fact but obviously more in a storyline where kids could relate a bit more to an adventure that was taking place to see things happening in this world. Those things are still happening today with indigenous tribes who are being used and abused. It’s a very sad state of affairs that this stuff still continues. It’s just about trying to get the word out in the best possible way again without shoving it down people’s throats but just showing both sides of the story and what happens if you don’t take care of things and people and culture.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Julian, you dedicated the book to your brother Sean. Have you two ever worked together on environmental issues?
Julian Lennon: No. We haven’t as yet, funnily enough. But that is something that I’m sure we will get around to without question. It’s something we do touch upon on occasion when we do chat. But I think I’d have to find the right time, the right subject matter, the right project for us to be able to do that and something, obviously, that he wholeheartedly wants to do and believes in.
For me, there’s no pressure to do that immediately, but obviously it’s in the back of my mind. It would be something to consider down the road without question whether that’s musically oriented or film-wise or any number of creative approaches that could be taken with Sean. It’ll come to us when the time’s right. I’m a great believer in things happening organically without being forced. So it’ll show itself.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: In a way, you and your dad founded the White Feather Foundation together. He told you that should he pass away, he’d let you know he was going to be okay, and the message would come to you as a white feather. Then, years later, when you were on tour in Australia, you were presented with a white feather by an Aboriginal tribal elder.
Julian Lennon: Yes.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Your dad protested in anti-war movements, but did you ever have a conversation with him about the environmental movement in the 1970s?
Julian Lennon: No. Unfortunately, we hardly ever really saw each other growing up. So that was a difficult thing. We were just even trying to connect as father and son just on the basics of one’s emotions, you know. Again, love and respect. All his outside work on that front was never a discussion because we just didn’t know each other enough to be able to talk past, “Hi, dad. How are you?” (laughs) And vice versa, you know. It was that limited back in the day.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Understood. “Karma Police” is a favorite of mine, and I really love your version.
Julian Lennon: Thank you.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Why did you choose Radiohead’s song to cover?
Julian Lennon: It was a charity project that was brought to me by the great guitarist and singer Nuno Bettencourt. We met on a few occasions. In fact, the last time that I was in LA, which was two years ago, we got on very well and talked about a number of charity projects. He came to me with this particular idea of doing something virtually (laughs). I thought, “Well, that’s a strange one." I didn’t particularly fancy it initially. He’d mentioned another song, and I just felt that wouldn’t work for me.
I thought, “What is a song that I would actually like to cover that I’ve always loved by a band I’ve always loved?” When I threw “Karma Police” in the air, Nuno took to it immediately, and we set forth on putting the track together. He did all the band work out in LA, and I was stuck in Europe and engineering it back at home. Then of course, I thought once I’d done the vocals, that was it. He sent me the track, and I fell in love with it again.
Then a couple of days later, he said, “We’ll need a video now.” I said, “You’re joking.” (laughs) So I thought, “Okay. What am I going to do?” I had a very bright photography lamp that I’d used on other occasions and just decided to try shooting it from a couple of different angles, making it as intense as possible and the right kind of vibe for the track. Then the other band members kind of followed suit with what I did just to make it a little more cohesive. I absolutely loved it. With the comments I got from doing that cover, I was quite blown away. I really, really was because I’m not really a kind of covers guy at all (laughs). So it was a first for me, and it was enjoyable.
Being in a lockdown at home on my own for a very, very long time, I needed anything to keep me going that I could possibly get my hands on, so whether that was writing a book, writing music for a new album project, the list goes on. Anyway, I filled my time over the last two years, and it’s funny. When all that work comes to a head and to fruition at the end of like two years later, I’m quite surprised at the amount of work that I actually got done. But who knows what I would’ve done had I not done it, so to speak? I’d probably have lost my mind to some degree.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: So you have everything written for the new album?
Julian Lennon: All done and dusted. Yep. I have one thing to do. I’ve got to sing the lead vocals for the very last song this week, and then the track has to be mixed. It’ll be out there early next year. At least a single or an EP will be out there, I think, leaning towards Spring because the next phase is doing not only the artwork but the videos and all that kind of stuff. I’ve only just managed to, after two years away, get back into the United States because the management team and agents I work with are all based here. So I’ve only just landed here a week ago (laughs). There’s a little work to be done, and there’s a lot of time to be caught up on.
The whole FaceTime and Zoom thing has been fine, but there’s nothing like being in the same room as people when you’re trying to do things creatively. So that’s the next stage. The music’s done. Now the visuals for that music need to be done. I have meetings this week about moving forward with all of that. So lots of busy, busy times but all very good and positive.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You do and give so much with your work in philanthropy, in your music, your books and incredible photography.
Julian Lennon: Well, thank you. I don’t know what else to do (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: And that was going to be my next question (laughs).
Julian Lennon: I’m sure there are some other things. Again, things will happen when they’re meant to happen at the right time. So I’m sure there’s more, a lot more to do without question.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Are you ever frustrated that there’s not enough time to do more?
Julian Lennon: The thing is that I don’t think I could do any more than I am doing as things stand. It’s been back to back projects and work all the way down the line whether it’s the book or whether it’s the film work I’m lining up, whether it’s the album or more photography projects. There aren’t enough hours in the day as things stand.
At White Feather, we’re going to be growing substantially over the next year or so with the inclusion of quite a number of new ambassadors that are taking White Feather to new heights and new projects, especially aligned with filmmaking, independent documentary work. So I’m looking forward to that. There are ideas that we will be putting series together as well as independent features. That’s all coming together slowly but surely.
But again, we can’t rush things. I think one of the film projects we’re working on is based down in the Galapagos, but that will be a two-year project as it stands, just the film work on that. There’s a lot to do, and I see work as far as the eye can see (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Can you also see a much-needed break?
Julian Lennon: I don’t see a break coming anytime soon. I took a little time off last Christmas. I was able to get away for a few weeks, but I was also dealing with string arrangements and recordings for this album project. So it wasn’t entirely a full break. But I’m trying to literally book a month out over the holidays just to shut down everything, so I can really, really, really rest although there hasn’t been any timeline demands on me just because of the nature of how I operate. I wake up, I’ll have a coffee, and then I get to work. I don’t stop literally until I drop, apart from having a few bites to eat and going for a good old power walk. Apart from that, I’m in it until the work is done.
As much as I love the work that’s been going on, I’ve forgotten what a real break is all about. So I’m not sure I’ll know what to do with myself. I probably will end up working still in some capacity, but the objective is not to if I can (laughs). There will be enough on my plate next year. That’s for sure.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Julian, wrapping up, I just wanted to mention our 2014 interview together entitled “Happiness is a Colombian Tribe.”
Julian Lennon: Yes. I love it! That’s one of my all-time favorite articles! I promise you! I keep pushing that out there on social media every once in a while because it explains fully how I really, really felt at that point in time. It really was magical, and I long for having those moments again in life.
Hopefully, once the world calms down a bit, I might get to travel again to the far corners of the world, and I’ll be able to experience some of those magical moments again because that really was special. It was a lovely article.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Thank you, Julian!
Julian Lennon: Thank you!
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