Sean Lennon is an idealist, but he's not naive. As he readies the release of his long-awaited debut album, the son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono knows what the interviewers will ask. "Everyone wants to know about my mom and my dad - and the influence of the Beatles," he says.
He's quick with his answer."I don't want to avoid it," Sean says. "I'm not going to pretend I'm not their kid, because I'm proud of it. And I'm really proud of the fact that my dad was in the Beatles. . . . I could talk about the Beatles forever. They're the greatest band of all time. They changed the world."
Sean, now 23, may not change the world - and he's not stressing out about it. His new album, "Into the Sun," which comes out Tuesday, is a sweet collection of gently tempoed love songs inspired by his romance with Yuka Honda (of the band Cibo Matto), who also produced the disc.
"I'm so lucky - and we're so lucky that we can share music and work. We're that much closer because of it," he says of his girl-friend. He pays homage to her in several songs, including "Two Fine Lovers," with its quaint verse: "We need to keep it real, sharing what we feel."
Surely, there will be some listeners who expected grittier rock from a Lennon heir. There's no primal screaming or heavy political pronouncements, which were associated with his dad. Instead, there are pretty, lightly layered melodies, ambient sound effects, and musical influences that bridge Brazilian bossa novas, country music and jazz, not just pop and rock.
"I do what I feel like doing," says Sean, who will open for Sonic Youth at the Worcester Palladium on June 6. "I don't think about it too much, like how should I present my art and then worry about the repercussions of it. I hope I can maintain that attitude. It was easy to maintain it with my debut (album), because I had never been exposed to the public's scrutiny.
"My intentions are clearly from an open mind and open heart. I come from a positive, optimistic point of view."
The musical variety also distinguishes the disc as much as the positive mind-set. In liner notes, Sean notes how "the music jumps from rock to jazz to country - and I think that's the best thing about it.
"I'm a huge music fan," he says during a recent interview from New York. "And before I'm a musician, I'm a record buyer. I listen to so many different kinds of music and I'm so enthusiastic about it that it's bound to come out in all these different forms. I think that's just naturally how I am. If you listen to demo tapes of mine from when I was 15, they're just totally all over the place. I've been doing this for a while. This is just the first public thing I've done."
The album's contents will surprise anyone who caught Sean on tour last year with his mother. That show rocked - and Sean got to show off another set of influences drawn from Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin.
"At one time, the only stuff that I thought was cool was Cream and Zeppelin and Hendrix. I liked anybody whose name was Jimmy - like Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, or Jimmy Page," he says. "I always liked stuff like that - guitar players and dark, heavy stuff. But the older I got, the more I realized that there is other amazing music, too."
Sean then launched his forays into Brazilian music and other non-rock styles. "Yuka gave me a Carlos Jobim boxed set when I was 19, and I just freaked. It took a certain amount of musical maturity and sophistication and experience to allow me to appreciate those types of music that I didn't appreciate as a teenager. To be honest, while growing up I thought Brazilian music was like elevator music. I'm embarrassed to say that."
Sean also became a big fan of Brazilian guru Gilberto Gil, whose softly flowing style is apparent on the debut disc. "I love Gilberto Gil. If I could have 1 percent of his genius, I'd be very lucky. It's amazing how many talented people there are in Brazil. It's kind of crazy. Their music is on such another level. They make everyone else seem like amateurs, really. I've never been there, but I'm definitely going to go and I'd love to make a record there."
Sean likewise grew to love the melodies of country music, a music he once felt was "cheesy." His album includes a tune, "Part One of the Cowboy Trilogy," which echoes the country side of Arlo Guthrie. "That's such a compliment," he says when the comparison is made. "I love Arlo Guthrie."
The album concludes with the apt "Sean's Theme," in which he sings, "I waited and waited for something to catch/I waited and waited for my eggs to hatch."
" `Sean's Theme' is definitely the most autobiographical song that I've written," says Sean, who ends the song with a grafted-on voice that declares, "Good night, Sean." At first you think it's John Lennon, but it's really Walter Sear, a little-known music legend.
"He's the man who invented the ribbon controller for Brian Wilson during (the Beach Boys') album `Pet Sounds.' And it's his studio that I recorded at, Sear Sound. He's not only the leading authority on vacuum tube equipment, but he helped found Moog synthesizers. I just wanted to have him on my album in some way."
As if you haven't guessed, Sean is into the technical side of music, as well as being a multi-instrumentalist. "I'm playing most of the instruments on the album," he says. "And I'm really into (microphone) placement and which board you use and which pre-amps. And I use a lot of toy keyboards for unique sounds . . . like Casio keyboards.
"I think a lot about sounds - and I also have a collection of drum cymbals and snare drums. People think I'm crazy, but on every song I'm thinking, which high-hat should I use? And I'm testing it and saying, `Oh no, this isn't right for the song.' And I go over three or four different high-hats and three or four different ride cymbals for each song, just making sure that it sounds right to me. It's probably all just anal garbage that doesn't mean anything, but for me it's fun."
OK, so back to the Beatles influence. There are similarities in the vocal timbre of Sean's and John Lennon's voices, though Sean doesn't dare dream of having his dad's popularity.
"I've been to Bali, Indonesia, and walked down the street and saw some homeless guy singing `Give Peace a Chance.' It's unbelievable how the Beatles influenced the whole world. . . . The Beatles were the Einsteins of music."
The older Lennon was killed in 1980 when Sean was 5 years old. Sean recently made tabloid headlines by suggesting that his father may have been killed as a result of a government conspiracy. He suggested that to a reporter at the Daily News in New York, but has since retracted the statement. "I was quoted out of context," he says. "And I asked the reporter not to print it, but she did anyway."
Today, Sean remains very close with his mother, who is finally getting her due after having once been maligned as a "dragon lady" who helped break up the Beatles.
"She's having all these art openings that are so successful," Sean says. "The art world is totally embracing her now, and the Whitney Museum is doing a full retrospective of her work. She's really psyched. She's waited 30 years for this.
"It surprises me when people write, `Oh, the dragon lady.' I feel, `Hey, my mom is like Mother Teresa. What are you talking about?' She's really just so courteous and nice. That's really what she's like."