John Lennox is flying to town on a jet plane because he is avoiding long, dusty highways. Elling Lien spoke with him about his alt-country phobia, among other things.
This past year John Lennox has been out promoting his 11-track Into the Bull’s Shoulder, a powerful collection of distilled emotion, wit and storytelling bottled in compact disc format.
He has toured around Canada and parts of the States, had his ‘84 Volkswagen Westphalia stolen on his birthday, and spent time trying to reconcile his love of poetry with his love of music.
The opening track of Lennox’s 2004 disc opens with a guitar rush, a droning hammond organ, and a steady kick and snare. It’s the same feeling as pushing down on the accelerator as you head on to the next town, the next city, or at least away from a painful memory that lays behind you.
“You got to move to stay where you are,” he sings.
Although he spent the past winter living here in St. John’s, his current home base is Chicago, Illinois.
“Theres’ a great history of music with stronger roots than in most places in Canada. A stronger connection to the blues and the South,” he says. “And I like hearing what that sounds like when that’s brought to my tunes.”
Into the Bull’s Shoulder combines the rambling, storytelling elements of country music with the swing of blues, and the drive of 60’s soul. There are a few specific influences you can pick out too: Bob Dylan in the voice, Neil Young in the arrangements, and maybe a dash of Leonard Cohen in the lyrics.
Although the music seems simple, a careful look makes it shift under your gaze. It’s hard to pigeonhole as one style or genre.
…And don’t call it alt-country.
“I don’t really dig the alt-country thing,” he says. “I find a lot of it is really dead clichés. I try not to write any songs with any back roads or dusty highways, or broken bottles of whiskey, or anything like that.”
“I’d like,” he tells me with a vague laugh, “to write detective songs. LA-crime-novel songs. That’s what I’d like to do. I’m not trying to break into the alt-country scene, I’m trying to break into the LA crime scene!”
In some ways, the music is like the man who put it together – thoughtful and with a quiet power, constantly re-evaluating the world and his place in it.
“I think a lot of my songs end up being sob-songs, but I don’t have a bleeding heart or anything. I’m a fairly firm, cold person,” he laughs. “Maybe my music is how I get that out… Or maybe I want everyone to think I’m really feel-y.”
The songs on his album are stories of love, loss, redemption, which are elements of all stories, he says.
“I love stories that please the imagination,” he says. “In the end music is a way of escape.”
This weekend John Lennox will be performing at 3 different venues. Thursday: w/ Next Stop the Sun, Rumblefish, and Euphony at Distortion (Sonic War Fair); Friday: w/ The Origin of the Sound Band at The Spur; Saturday: (full band and string section!) w/ Andreae Monroe Band and Cherie Pyne at The Ship