Psychedelia and prog rock live in Sean Lennon’s bones. It’s what his father helped pioneer with The Beatles. It’s what he primarily listens to. And it’s the taking off point for The Claypool Lennon Delirium, his new psych-pop musical project with Primus’ legendary, whimsical bassist Les Claypool.
“That music attracts me because it’s very elaborate and sophisticated,” explains Lennon, who references the Mahavishnu Orchestra, King Crimson and even Miles Davis as some of the progressive artists he enjoys. “It takes a lot of work. It’s ambitious. It’s also fun. It’s more dreamlike because it takes you from here to there — to different headspaces within one song.”
His relationship with Claypool began when Lennon’s band, The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, opened for Primus. After a jamming session backstage where the two “clicked,” Claypool invited him to his California home studio called Rancho Relaxo to write. It certainly worked: The duo had completed an 11-song album, called “Monolith of Phobos,” about a month later.
“The first song that Les came in with was called 'Captain Lariat' and that sort of set the tone [for the record],” says the 40-year-old artist. “He had this whole mythology about this character named Captain Lariat who was sailing in the salty seas.”
The entire album follows this tone, often melding dark, otherworldly tales with dense, proggy soundscapes.
“Bubbles Burst” tells the tale of Lennon’s bizarre, fantasylike experience hanging with Michael Jackson’s pet chimpanzee at the Neverland Ranch. "The song wound up also being kind of a metaphor because Michael’s friends were younger kids and he famously felt kind of childlike himself,” adds Lennon. “There was something tragic about the fact that, as a chimpanzee, you can’t be kept into adulthood [as a pet] because you become dangerous when you go through puberty.”
Another, “Cricket and the Genie,” dives into the story of a boy who fantasizes about his anti-depressants as they’re a genie in a bottle that will solve his problems. “I was sick of hearing about kids who were withdrawing from SSRIs [selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors], or weird anti-depressants that were pushed by big pharmacy companies onto people who might not necessarily need those drugs,” says Lennon.
While the subject matter seems more serious than the duo’s colorful, meandering musical tone, Lennon notes that it’s almost intrinsic to their style. “There’s this sort of tension between Les' and my desire to just rock out and make music but also our tendency to tune into frequencies of topical events that are dark or difficult to deal with for all of us,” he explains. “It’s just there, so it manifests itself naturally."