Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl, who together comprise The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger (GOASTT), have a unique chemistry. As both musical and romantic partners, their collaboration has inevitably drawn comparisons to other musical couples—to Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, and especially to Sean’s legendary parents, John and Yoko. These comparisons, however, do little justice to the freshness of The GOASTT’s concept. Their music, steeped as it is in the sounds of ’60s and ’70s psychedelia, skillfully interweaves the whimsical and the dystopian, the pedestrian and the cosmic into something singular, adventurous, and immensely enjoyable. According to NPR’s Peter Macia, it is music that is “made for sunny summer weekends.”
Ahead of their Rock the Garden performance Sunday, I had the chance to ask Sean and Charlotte a few questions about their writing process, their history together, and the role of politics in their work.
Can you tell us how the name “The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger” came about?
It was the name of a play Charlotte wrote at seven years old.
You run the label Chimera Music. What led you to establish your own label?
Being at a major label felt so corporate and impersonal, so we created our own family-run label from our kitchen and basement. It was a lot more work than we realized, but ultimately very rewarding.
How has your relationship to one another, musically and personally, evolved over the course of the seven years since The GOASTT’s formation?
We’ve become fused at a subatomic level.
It is clear from the diversity of your output that your influences extend beyond psychedelic folk and rock. What are some influences or inspirations of yours that might be less apparent to listeners?
Prog rock, definitely. Classical. Experimental instrumentalists like Harry Partch, and even pop bands like The Beastie Boys. Also the surrealists, like [Salvador] Dalí and [Luis] Buñuel.
Your lyrics fuse autobiographical details with poetic musings and even Greco-Roman mythology. What is the writing process like for you? Do you write the lyrics collectively, or do you independently work on them?
We do every aspect together, so one of us may write a verse and the other may write the chorus. It’s a real Frankenstein of both our minds.
Sean, you have lent your talents to a remarkably wide range of projects, one of my favorites of which is your improvised duo with Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier. (That project culminated in the release of the phenomenal album Mystical Weapons.) Does that sort of improvisatory spirit figure into the initial stages of your songwriting process with The GOASTT, or do you take a different approach altogether?
Charlotte and I jam a lot of ideas together with her on bass and me on drums in the initial phase. Or else we both have an acoustic guitar in bed. But The GOASTT is a lot more composed than Mystical Weapons.
Charlotte, I read that when you began dating, Sean was unaware of your musical talent. When and how did that come to light?
He knew I loved music, but I was extremely shy (still am), so a year in he finally coaxed me to play him a song I had written called “Cold Sun.” After hearing it, he declared he wanted to be writing partners, but neither of us had any idea it would become so serious.
You have both been politically engaged, performing at Occupy Wall Street and penning op-eds in opposition to fracking. Would you say your activism informs your music?
We are not like the activists of the ’60s certainly, because that paradigm has changed a little, but we still are very involved with finding solutions to environmental and cultural issues. We research what’s happening in the world every day on as many sources of alternative and mainstream news possible. Humanity has its back to the wall right now, but we are a resilient species so it will be fascinating to see what plays out over the next 50 years. And yes, that post-apocalyptic melodrama does inspire our lyrics very much.