A Psychedelic Apocalyptic Space Chat with Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl A.K.A. The Ghost of Saber Tooth Tiger
Plus the premiere of GOASTT's new tripped out video for "Devil You Know."
I'm on the phone with Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl—he is upstate and she is in NYC—and they are considering the logistics of a Chihuahua mating with a Great Dane. "It would have to be a male Chihuahua and he'd need a stool," says Lennon. It's a silly tangent, an offshoot of another completely un-serious discussion about whether a Digimon and a Pokemon can mate (inconclusive evidence). The pair have an excellent sense of the absurd, their conversation is playful and sometimes surreal. Like their animated video for "Devil You Know" (premiering above). A collaborative effort helmed by animator and artist Alexander Theodoropulos the video is Holy Mountain meets Where the Wild Things Are meets La Planete Sauvage. It's intricate, hypnotic, colorful, and fantastically realized. The perfect accompaniment to a song that's time capsule psych-pop—all phasing vocals, rolling, loose-limbed drums, and heavy bass grooves. It's zonked out in all the right ways.
Lennon and Kemp Muhl have been together romantically for nearly a decade and making music as The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger for the majority of that time, releasing their latest collection, Midnight Sun, earlier this year. The duo appear to live a lovely bohemian existence, touring the world, writing music upstate away, from the hubbub, and living together in the city in a house with their friends—Cibbo Matto's Yuka Honda and jazz guitarist Nels Cline, who are also a couple (Charlotte: "They're like the grown ups and we're the kids"). They recently returned from a tour of Japan, which was followed by a sushi Thanksgiving (Yoko is not fond of cooking).
If Kemp Muhl looks familiar it might be because you've seen her face and perfect pout on every Maybelline ad around—she's always giving me the eye when I'm buying lip balm in Duane Reade. Now 27, she's been modeling since she was just 12-years-old. "I feel like a veteran, I’m ready to retire to a golf course and get obese," she quips, while Sean agrees: “That’s always been her dream!”
Below is our conversation which covers the enduring appeal of psychedelic music, the appocalypse, space, love, "uptight music," the tweets of God… you know, all the important things in life.
There’s a huge 60s psychedelic aspect to your music. Why do you think that genre has endured?
Charlotte: People like taking drugs. [Laughs.]
Sean: Music that makes you trip out is more fun. When you talk to a 15 year old usually they’re not going to listen to bebop or jazz or even like uptight classical music. It’s just kind of boring but as soon as you play a kid a Jimi Hendrix Record they’re like, what’s that? It’s exciting. All the kids I know love Sergeant Pepper’s too.
Charlotte: It appeals to the inner child and your imagination.
Sean: Those were the first records I got into. It took me a long time to get into jazz, whereas when I saw “Purple Haze” I was like “That’s it!”
Charlotte: I was the opposite. I started off liking uptight music and then discovered Pink Floyd and Hendrix.
Sean: But you didn’t really have a choice did you? It wasn’t like you listened to both and were like: “I choose Gregorian chants!”
Why were you listening to so much “uptight music”? Was this your parents influence?
Charlotte: Yeah… they’re just really white!
Sean: But not just that, they’re just more conservative, but in a cool way.
Was it the case that you grew up in a religious household and secular music was discouraged?
Charlotte: Kind of. Except, I think my mom started having a midlife crisis around the time that I was a teenager which coincided perfectly with me because we both started listening to heavy metal at the same time. It was really dorky! But she’s a pianist and I grew up on classical music and folk.
The best #tbt ever. Sean: "When I nine or ten, I ended up hanging out with Michael when he had a troupe of people following him around everywhere he went. I went to see him during the Victory tour, somewhere big. I don’t remember it that well, but it was fun!"
It’s pretty nuts that you guys have been a couple for nearly a decade.
Charlotte: I think I robbed the cradle.
Sean: I want my midlife back! [Laughs.] I guess it’s crazy because a lot of couples don’t make it, but I personally don’t see any option other than being with Charlotte. It’s just the way it’s meant to be for me.
Charlotte: We’ve fused. We’re like Siamese twins.
Sean: But like not fraternal. I’m like the weird undernourished side.
Charlotte: You’re the head sprouting out of my neck!
Given that you guys have been together so long how has your partnership evolved? I’m assuming you can just communicate completely subliminally now.
Sean: Yeah we’ve been communicating while you’ve been saying that actually.
Charlotte: Like crickets on another frequency. I’m rubbing my legs together.
Sean: At first our collaboration was just a hobby and us messing around. It was like what we’d do instead of going on a date—we’d just suit around and write songs. And then it evolved into something more serious and I think through that Charlotte has really become a serious musician and now she has her own projects and all these other songs she’s writing and producing with other people. She’s really grown as a musician and that’s been really exciting to be around. She’s basically like a Pokemon, she’s evolving to the next phase. Now she has two buds.
Charlotte: Like a Tamagotchi. Remember those? If you didn’t feed them they would die or evolve into a monster! I’ve definitely evolved into a monster.
Ha! So apparently you’re obsessed with the apocalypse?
Charlotte: We’re kind of rooting for it.
Sean: No! We don’t want the world to end. Do we?
Charlotte: No. I just want it to go to Mad Max time where we’re just riding around on motorcycles wearing leather bondage gear and there’s no government.
Sean: Oh you mean like Atlanta, Georgia? No but seriously, we’re not like those people storing up and buying guns. We’re not armoring our bicycles with spikes and nitrous tanks. But, I feel like the whole world is preoccupied with the disintegration of society and how everything’s going mad.
Charlotte: Our acoustic record was about the apocalypse.
Sean: We did write a lot about the dystopia of modern civilization but it wasn’t that we wanted to bring on the apocalypse…
Charlotte: Speak for yourself! I want to be riding with the Four Horsemen!
Sean: Aleister Crowley used to try to manifest the Anti-Christ by masturbating on a pyramid. We haven’t done that yet.
That’s something for the Spring maybe, when it’s a bit less nippy.
Sean: Yes exactly!
Would you leave Earth for space? [They answer simultaneously.]
Sean: No way!
Charlotte: Hell yes!
Sean: I’ve thought about it a lot and I’d love to go to Mars but it’s so cold and radioactive.
Charlotte: You’re going to die of radiation for sure but it’s worth it for the view!
Sean: I would definitely go out into space if I could come back but I think a one-way trip to Mars is kind of overrated.
A one-way trip to anywhere gives me anxiety.
Sean: I follow the tweets of God and he was laughing at people who wanted to leave Earth. He was like [puts on an appropriately stately God voice]: “I made this planet with water and animals and food growing from trees and you want to go into the cold, empty space? No, great idea! Go ahead! Great idea! Leave the Earth which was made for you!” Which I thought was really funny. It’s like why don’t we just not destroy this place that’s warm and nice.
Charlotte: Dude! That’s what they said when Lewis and Clark wanted to go West.
Sean: They didn’t know what was in that direction! We know what’s up in space. We know there’s no oxygen on Mars. But if you were going I would go.
You guys are cute.
Midnight Sun is out on Chimera Music now.
Kim Taylor Bennett is staying on planet Earth and she's on Twitter.