by Scott Schultz, LA Record
Yoko Ono is one of the most polarizing figures in rock ‘n’ roll history. The people that love her LOVE her and the people who don’t love her never will. Aside from being married to John Lennon, she also created the blueprint for avant-punk and electronic music, and remixes of her songs have been regularly charting in the top ten of Billboard’s dance music chart for the last decade. Ono has an amazing new CD, Between My Head and the Sky, that continues her artistic progression and has to be the greatest rock record ever recorded by a 76-year-old.
This interview by Scott Schultz.
As a New Yorker, do you consider Los Angeles to be a city of flakes?
Yoko Ono: No. We say things like that in private conversations because we love them! I think we envy them as well, thinking that they are having better lives than us hard-working New Yorkers. They must be doing something right to create a fun scene like that. It can’t just be the weather!
In Los Angeles there are several bands—like VOICEsVOICEs and Hecuba—who are clearly influenced by your sound and structure.
Yoko Ono: I’m just making my own music in my head. I will be the first one to be surprised if there were any bands in L.A. influenced by my work. They may tell you that they have not been influenced by me. Ultimately, if their music is good, it is totally irrelevant where the influence was from.
You open the new CD with ‘Waiting For The D Train.’ Do you actually ride the subway? How long does it take for you to be recognized?
Yoko Ono: I don’t ride anymore. But there were days long time ago, I was taking it every day.
Does it shock you that in your fourth decade as a recording artist you have had five number one dance hits?
Yoko Ono: Yeah. It’s a bit awesome. It’s a nice awesome. Not like when you find out that your country is in war with another.
As a recording artist, is it more important for you to be embraced or to provoke a response?
Yoko Ono: I just wish that I give my best. I’d be happy if my music gave some inspiration to people—whether through embracing or through provoking.
A lot of non-fans have such intense feelings of animosity toward you. How much of that do you attribute to xenophobia? How much is due to the avant-garde nature of your work and how much is the unwillingness of Beatles fans to get over the fact that the band simply broke up?
Yoko Ono: I am leading my life in the way I can. I don’t analyze people’s attitude towards me. I just hope that some people will understand me. I am grateful and happy when I see a sign that some do.
Your new CD seems really accessible, especially compared to some of your earlier works like Fly. Are you mellowing out, or is this just where you’re currently at musically?
Yoko Ono: I know that I, and the rest of the world now, needs gentle love and gentle reminder or wisdom. We are a frightened and exhausted race. We need healing more than anything else.
Fly is one of my favorite albums. On the cover there is a reflection in your sunglasses. Is that John?
Yoko Ono: That photo was taken by John. He photographed my face through a glass mug which was in front of me. And it came out that way.
The first time I became aware of your remixes was Rising in 1995 with artists like Thurston Moore and Ween, among others. How did you get along with Thurston Moore?
Yoko Ono: I liked his attitude in music. We are from the same mold.
Why do you think people love remixing your songs?
Yoko Ono: Because they have the singer-songwriter’s blessing about it. And because they are musicians who create songs in the same genre—cutting-edge creative.
Do you have a favorite remix of one of your songs?
Yoko Ono: I love them all.
As an artist who was more concerned with the actual art rather than moving units, can you describe your relationships with the major labels?
Yoko Ono: If you asked them when I wasn’t looking, I’m sure they would have given you a pretty grave opinion about my work in terms of moving units. That was our relationship. Ryko was an exception.
Is Chimera Music your own label? I noticed that the output is primarily projects involving you and your son Sean.
Yoko Ono: No. Other very interesting artists are involved too. You will hear their works very soon. Mine was Chimera Music’s first record, and Sean’s is the second. That’s why you hear a lot about mine, and you might have started to hear Sean’s as well.
My next interview after this is with a Japanese noise band, Melt-Banana. Are you familiar with them?
Yoko Ono: No. Are they good? I should be. I’m in Tokyo now, so I can correct the state of my ignorance about them. I will try.
Have you ever considered recording a CD for children?
Yoko Ono: I thought of stringing together ones which might be fun for children and put it out. But if they were anything like how I was when I was a child, they would rather pick their own preference from the adult record.
What is your spirit animal?
Yoko Ono: Human.
A lot of your visual art relied on audience participation to complete the piece. Now that you’ve become so popular with the remixers, do you find your artistic approach affecting your recording approach—that idea where you anticipate and even intend for your musical pieces to be built upon by others?
Yoko Ono: It’s the other way around. The first record, Two Virgins, was influenced by my artworks, and it printed Unfinished Music No. 1 on the record cover. It needed some explaining to do at the time to the critics, and I did.
It’s well-known that a lot of Beatles fans unfairly blamed the band’s demise on your marriage to John. Twenty-five years later, Courtney Love endured a similar wrath from Nirvana fans after Kurt Cobain’s suicide. Did you ever reach out to Love?
Yoko Ono: I didn’t reach out to her as widow to widow. I respect and love her work. She is an incredible songwriter.
Are you planning on touring America for the new CD, or are you limiting your performance to television and your Japanese concerts?
Yoko Ono: We are planning to do some festivals and individual concerts that would be interesting. You’ll see.
Do you plan on making any videos for the new CD?
Yoko Ono: I don’t know if we would make a new video. I like the idea of combining visual and music when we perform in the concert. I have been doing that since around 1990 when I perform at museums. I use my old films and slides for that. It’s an interesting thing to do rather than make a whole new film. The film, this way, becomes part of the multimedia show.
How did you come up with the concept for the Imagine Peace Tower in Iceland, and have you seen it from a bird’s-eye view?
Yoko Ono: Suffice to say that I came up with the idea a long, long time ago. When I saw from a bird’s eyes view, it gave me a nice chill. It was, ‘Wow!’
Do you have a personal mantra?
Yoko Ono: Yes. I believe you are speaking of the one you get from transcendental meditation? Yes, is the answer.
If you live to be 100 years old, how would you like to spend your centennial day?
Yoko Ono: I would spend the centennial day dreaming about where to travel in the next ten years from then.
How do you feel about President Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize?
Yoko Ono: I hope that will add power to his position from which he has to do so much.
Is there any final message you would like to get across to L.A. RECORD’s readers?
Yoko Ono: Enjoying music is enjoying life. Enjoy!
YOKO ONO PLASTIC ONO BAND’S BETWEEN MY HEAD AND THE SKY IS OUT NOW ON CHIMERA MUSIC.