"It was really one of those magic moments," Sean Lennon tells Rolling Stone, looking back on the instant chemistry between himself and Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier. The two musicians, who now perform as improvisational noise-rock duo Mystical Weapons and will release their self-titled debut album on Tuesday, first hooked up for an ad-hoc performance in San Francisco in February, 2010.
At the time Lennon and his girlfriend, Charlotte Kemp Muhl, were in town for a gig with their band, the Ghost of a Saber-Tooth Tiger; Saunier and Deerhoof were set to open for Yoko Ono's Plastic Ono Band. On the spur of the moment, the two musicians decided to join onstage.
"We really spazzed out and had a lot of fun," Lennon says, reflecting on the duo's initial energy-draining, impromptu live guitar-and-drums freakout. "It's rare that you find somebody that you can improvise with that you feel like it's actually getting somewhere all the time. I've heard about that happening with other people, but it hadn't happened to me in quite the way [it did with Greg]."
In short order Mystical Weapons, as the two dubbed their new partnership, booked additional shows. It was always their intention, according to Lennon, to record an album together. "We really knew that we wanted to capture what were doing [live] in the studio," he says.
So the duo holed up in Lennon's home studio in New York for two days early last year to record Mystical Weapons, cranking out four to five tracks each day. For Lennon the sessions were unlike any he'd ever experienced. "I've sort of burdened myself [in the past] with this idea of trying to write songs," he explains. "So it was really nice to just break through the confines of my own limitations of whatever composition. It’s incredibly liberating."
To listen to Lennon describe the Mystical Weapons sessions is to eavesdrop on a music nerd geeking out over the time he and a friend acted on their most far-out musical ideas. "We would turn on the gear and just start wailing," he recalls. "We wouldn't have been able to do that much music that quickly if we had sat and thought, 'Oh, I think we are going to do an homage to the B-side of this Gandalf album.' We weren't really thinking at all."
This unfiltered thought process is evidenced by the free-form nature of the album. Album closer "Consortium Minisicum," a psychedelic synth rollercoaster, was constructed with Lennon and Saunier simultaneously abusing toy keyboards and drum machines. Another track, Lennon says, was based on the concept "Let's see how many instruments Sean can play at once," as the musician balanced a guitar in his lap, another one on a chair, and kicked a bass drum that activated a bass guitar to which it was rigged, while Saunier handled keyboard duties. "We were able to just really push the music further," Lennon explains.
Mystical Weapons performed this past weekend at Big Sky Works in Brooklyn, and Lennon is hoping for additional gigs. "We're going to play as many shows as Greg and my schedule will allow," he says. "We can play shows fairly easily, because we just need to set up gear and play. There's not a lot of rehearsing."
In the meantime, he’s excited to reveal that a new Ghost of a Saber-Tooth Tiger album is in the works, which he hopes to release later this year. "We're in the middle of finishing up our second album right now," he says. "I'm really very psyched about it. I'm just doing the final vocals, and we're hopefully going to be mixed sometime in [early 2013]."