MIND GAMES “It’s very collaborative,” says Charlotte Kemp Muhl of her band with Sean Lennon. “It’s definitely a synthesis of our two brains."
When Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl started the Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger (GOASTT), the project was intended as a bit of a joke — an acoustic-folk thing that wasn't supposed to lead to anything particularly serious. One night, when the couple were hanging out, Kemp Muhl played a handful of songs she'd written several years earlier. Lennon was so enthralled, he proposed that they make fresh material together, even if her instrumental abilities were limited. They assembled "The World Was Made for Men" and tossed a hasty recording onto MySpace. Even the name they picked for the band was whimsical — the title of a play Kemp Muhl wrote as a child. Still, Lennon saw a greater opportunity. He was a touring musician and she was a model; the pair were frequently separated by distance. This project provided more incentive to spend time together.
As the band developed, dualism became a recurring theme. The project's sonic dimensions were fleshed out in both electric and acoustic incarnations. (Acoustic Sessions was released last October; an electric album is in the works.) The minimalist music is steeped in a sense of collaboration. On the acoustic disc, overlapping vocal harmonies work alongside a guitar, a xylophone, and a few other small instruments all played by Lennon and Kemp Muhl. The couple also founded a label, Chimera Music — named for the genetic definition of an organism that can be part male and part female. While speaking from their apartment in New York City, Lennon and Kemp Muhl exhibit another aspect of dualism by continuing each other's thoughts with only slight pauses. Discussing how they write together, Lennon says, "She tends to be faster with words than I am, but she waits for me," and Kemp Muhl adds, "It's very collaborative. It's definitely a synthesis of our two brains."
Of course, you can't talk about this dualism without mentioning Lennon's family legacy. John Lennon and Yoko Ono were a couple famously tied via music, and now the younger Lennon and Kemp Muhl are seen as a parallel, even if they don't buy the comparison. "We're very, very different from them," says Kemp Muhl. "The way we work together and relate is more sort of eye to eye, whereas John and Yoko were both their own powerful islands, as people that were doing their own art but not intersecting as much. We have more of a democracy between us." And from Lennon, "The last thing I ever thought was that people were going to compare Charlotte to my mom. She just couldn't be more unlike her in every physical and mental way. It would be like comparing me to Muhammad Ali or something. It just doesn't make sense."
In acoustic form, the GOASTT's music is mellifluous, delicate folk rooted in the '60s and '70s. But that sonic calm belies a damaged world beneath the sweetness: rainbows gleam in puddles of gasoline, fish become frogs, landscapes turn into wastelands of collapsed technology. "The world itself is what led [our lyrics] there," says Lennon. "Reading the newspaper and living in modern society is overwhelming, disturbing, beautiful, and strange every day." Kemp Muhl points out that the juxtaposition of organic sounds and modern concerns creates some amusing contradictions, like a banjo playing through "Dark Matter/White Noise" and verses about computers and plutonium.