Sean Lennon and Jordan Galland have been making movies, music and trouble together since they were teenagers. Alter Egos, an existential comedy about depressed superheroes, may just be their best effort yet
by Matthew Ross Photography Matthu Placek
It’s a Monday night at French Roast, the 11th Street bistro that’s survived everything New York has thrown at it for the past 20 years, and at a table in the small back dining room Sean Lennon and Jordan Galland are taking the piss out of each other, and themselves, over the first martini of the evening.
“We're part of a group of musicians that seems to float from project to project, never quite finding an audience,” says Lennon, straight-faced.
“But Sean and I are arguably like gods,” Galland interjects, feigning insecurity.
“We’re two rock gods,” Lennon agrees, seamlessly switching gears.
“If we had ever found an audience, we would have been rock gods,” adds Galland.
“SEAN GAVE ME THIS EARLY VERSION OF INTO THE SUN AND I BECAME OBSESSED WITH IT. I WROTE A BUNCH OF SONGS INSPIRED BY IT...AND THAT EVENTUALLY BECAME DOPO YUME.”
With that, Lennon breaks character, cracks a smile and finishes his drink. On cue, the pretty hipster waitress who’s been eyeing the table with the attentiveness afforded to regulars (and who, in typical French Roast style, is also a part-time model and budding entrepreneur) arrives to take orders for another round.
It’s a scene that’s played out countless times before. The restaurant, located a few blocks from Lennon’s Greenwich Village brownstone, serves as his unofficial clubhouse, a place to unwind after work and before a night out, activities that more often than not have involved Galland and occasionally me as well.
I met Lennon in 6th Grade, thanks to Max Leroy, a dangerously charming kid and Lennon's best friend since they were toddlers. By the time high school rolled around, the petit prince of rock ‘n roll was already well on his way to creating a sui generis creative identity based on his considerable gifts in both music and visual art. Even when encountering Lennon as a teenager, one didn’t have to be aware of his mythic origins to know that this kid was well on his way to becoming a force in his own right.
Lennon and I both crossed paths with Galland around the same time in the mid-90s, perhaps the last truly magical moment in New York, a time when hip-hop and indie rock were firing on all cylinders and the city’s nightlife was electric and sexy and unburdened by the sober realities of 9/11, a struggling economy or the collective depression of the Bush presidency. Like Lennon, Galland’s teenage experience was anything but typical, even when viewed through Gossip Girl-colored glasses. Five years Lennon’s junior and still in 9th grade when they met, Galland lived a life of precocity that would give Wes Anderson pause. As we work our way through the second round of drinks, Lennon recalls the beginnings of their friendship.
“Jordan was the magician of funk in those days,” says Lennon. “He was a playwright and a painter, and by that I mean he used to coax a lot of teenage girls back to his room and splatter paint on a canvas. He'd walk down the street and you'd see three of the hottest girls you've ever seen and he'd be like, ‘Oh hey what's up?’ We'd all be like wait, ‘You know them?’ Then we’d run into some famous painter and he’d be like, ‘Jordan, where have you been? I’ve been trying to call you.’ These days, he just sits in his room alone and cries.”
“That’s why Sean wanted to hang out with me,” says Galland. “I could get him into Spy Bar.” When they first started hanging out, Sean had just finished touring as a member of his mother’s band Ima and was putting the finishing touches on his first solo record, Into the Sun.
“Sean gave me this early version of Into the Sun on cassette, and I became obsessed with it,” Galland recalls. “I wrote a bunch of songs inspired by it and other stuff that I was into at the time, and that eventually became Dopo Yume, my first band.” Before long, Dopo Yume, featuring Galland as frontman and a couple of Dalton classmates on bass and drums, were opening up for Lennon on his first U.S. tour.
Over the next decade or so, Galland and Lennon collaborated on dozens of music projects, wrote songs together, played on each other’s albums and appeared in each other’s video and film projects. Their efforts eventually diversified: Galland, who studied filmmaking at NYU, started directing videos and commercials (both live action and animated, featuring his own original artwork), while Lennon explored producing music and acting, playing the lead role in a wildly ambitious film/music video project with director Michele Civetta set to the songs from Friendly Fire, his richly textured and emotionally complex second record.
“In those days, everyone was into the Wu-Tang Clan and Sonic Youth and the Beasties and listened to at least 500 indie bands that were all worth talking about,” says Lennon of his and Galland’s early days playing together. “Now, there are creative new bands like Dirty Projectors and MGMT, but there’s no longer this backdrop to an entire population of musicians. It's sort of happening in little bright stars shining in the night, but they're few and far between.”
“JORDAN WAS THE MAGICIAN OF FUNK IN THOSE DAYS. HE WAS A PAINTER, AND BY THAT I MEAN HE USED TO COAX A LOT OF TEENAGE GIRLS BACK TO HIS ROOM AND SPLATTER PAINT ON A CANVAS.”
Along the way, the two buddies became the unspoken leaders of a ever-changing group of musicians, artists and filmmaker friends who continue to work together, including Yoko Ono, Lennon’s girlfriend/muse/creative partner Charlotte Kemp Muhl, Timo Ellis, Harper Simon, David Mueller, Yuka Honda, Adam Crystal, Sam Kopelman, Domino Kirke and filmmakers Civetta and Gary Breslin. They rotated from band to band, record to record, side project to side project.
Galland and Lennon’s most recent collaborations have marked a distinct new phase in their ongoing creative partnership. While Galland continues to make music — he’s currently recording his fourth solo LP — his current art form of choice has been cinema, and in typical fashion, he hasn’t waited for the phone to ring. During a time when the financing and distribution models for an independent film have become almost completely A-list movie stars for a green light, Galland has somehow managed to bring to completion two feature films, both made with respectable budgets without any bankable stars: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead, a postmodern meta-comedy about vampires staging a production of Hamlet, and most recently Alter Egos, a slacker comedy starring Kris Lemche and Joey Kern as a pair of depressed superheroes looking for love, respect and the meaning of life during a top-secret mission to the Hamptons. Rounding out the cast are Danny Masterson, John Ventimiglia (Artie Bucco from The Sopranos) and Brooke Nevin.
Like the film itself, the score for Alter Egos traverses all sorts of genres — orchestral, electronic, pop vocals, musique concrète — while at the same time remaining thematically consistent and faithfully in the service of the story that’s being told on screen. Following a successful international festival run that began over the summer, Phase 4 will release Alter Egos at New York’s Cinema Village October 19, two weeks after a stage adaptation of Rosencrantz featuring Lennon’s score opened in Los Angeles. The film will go wide on VOD and DVD on November 20, the same date Chimera releases Sean's album for the soundtrack.
As Galland prepares for the film’s release and puts the finishing touches on his new record, Lennon’s upcoming schedule is daunting. His record label, Chimera Music, has been in full swing, with a slate of releases that include his bands The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger and Mystical Weapons, as well as the alt-rock super group YOKOKIMTHURSTON (featuring his mom and Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore), Kemp & Eden and If By Yes.
Lennon has also jumped head-first into environmental activism as the founder of Artists Against Fracking, a non-profit devoted to raising awareness about the dangers of hydraulic fracturing which has already lined up dozens of entertainment A-listers to help spread the word. (The morning of our drinks, Lennon published an impassioned and elegant explanation of the cause in an Op-Ed for the New York Times.
As the third drink arrives, I ask both Galland and Lennon if they’ve got another film in the works. The answer, unsurprisingly, isn’t exactly on the up-and-up:
Lennon: “It’s a polka film with Al Qaeda aliens.”
Galland: “It’s exactly like Clockwork Orange.”
Lennon: “It’s going to be super progressive. There’s also this Mr.-Rogers-meets-the-Kim-Kardashian-sex-tape thing happening in it. They were married, weren't they?”
Galland: “They’re still together. They've been together for like three YEARS and have had three different concept hip hop bands.”
Lennon: “They're really awesome.”
And with that, a final round is ordered. And the night continues on.