'Monolith of Phobos': Q&A with Sean Ono Lennon on His New 'Cosmic' Rock Album

'The Claypool Lennon Delirium' - 'Monolith of Phobos'
'The Claypool Lennon Delirium' - 'Monolith of Phobos' album cover art. (Image credit: 'The Claypool Lennon Delirium')

Among musicians who have achieved wide and mainstream success, there are a few who also apply their creative chops to more experimental and obscure projects. Les Claypool, best known as a founder of the band Primus, certainly fits that musical-oddity description, and Sean Lennon Ono (son of Yoko Ono and John Lennon) has done so as well, having released a litany of nontraditional records. 

The two musicians recently paired up to form "The Claypool Lennon Delirium," and have indirectly brought former NASA astronaut and moonwalker Buzz Aldrin along for the ride. 

The band's first recording effort is named "Monolith of Phobos," which references a 2009 C-SPAN interview with Aldrin. In the interview, Aldrin shared his thoughts on the Martian moon Phobos' monolith-looking structures, seen from high above by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. 

Claypool and Lennon even use Aldrin's image on the album artwork. 

In a recent email interview with Lennon, Space.com learned more about the new record, and how space and sci-fi helped to inspire it. (This interview has been edited lightly for clarity and length.)

Space.com: "Monolith of Phobos" is a truly musical adventure. I love how you guys touched on some political and cultural points with fantastic, satirical storytelling, and wrapped it in a psychedelic shell — awesome! What inspired an album like this?

Sean Ono Lennon and Les Claypool - The Claypool Lennon Delirium (Image credit: The Claypool Lennon Delirium)

Sean Ono Lennon: Before we even started recording, Les [Claypool] and I were writing each other with song ideas. We share a lot of interests and taste, so it wasn't very long before we were sorting through an abundance of oddities and ideas.

Space.com: When I first read the title of the record, I thought back to an interview we did with Buzz Aldrin in which he talked about his plan to get to and from Mars to explore the planet and its moons. However, he did not talk about the Phobos monolith images and theories that are out there.

Are you fascinated enough by the prospect of strange features on other planets and moons to say, "Let's go there with human missions"?

Lennon: Absolutely! Beyond [expanding on my] simple adolescent fixation with outer space, learning about our solar system and how we came to be in this "best of all possible worlds" seems to be the most meaningful question of all, the most noble purpose. 

Space.com: Speaking of exploration, how do you feel about the state of NASA today and the private sector starting to take huge steps in spaceflight?

Lennon: I've always been a huge fan of NASA. I even have a [NASA-themed] silver-dollar coin collection set from the '60s. But I do think it's no longer realistic to have the government monopolize space exploration. First, we can't afford it. Second, competition is good for innovation. I hope NASA remains well funded into eternity. But I think a commercial space industry will help NASA, as well as the world, in that it will take some of the pressure off of NASA and JPL [the Jet Propulsion Laboratory]. It seems to me most everyone in the industry is excited about the possibilities in collaboration. 

Space.com: OK, I know it's an instrumental song, but I'd really like to know something: Is "There's No Underwear in Space" a reference to actress Carrie Fisher's comment claiming that director George Lucas asked her to remove her undergarments from beneath the famous white dress she wore during the filming of "Star Wars: A New Hope"? And if so, was "Star Wars" lore an inspiration for the record?

Lennon: Carrie is one of my best friends, so when I first heard that story, it blew me away! I wouldn't say "Star Wars" was a direct influence, but indirectly … Well, I'd say, personally, the scene where Yoda explains the force to Luke on Dagobah … Well, that's the only real "religious" experience I ever had as a child. 

Space.com: Lastly, "Star Trek" or "Star Wars"? Do you prefer one, or are you in both camps?

Lennon: I can honestly say I'm a double dork. I'm obsessed with "Star Trek" to the point that I've actually been to Trek conventions — I think I scared [Brent Spiner, the actor who played Data] once by coming on too strong. But I can also say that having grown up without any religion, "Star Wars" was my Bible. The idea of the Force is still the closest I can get to a theology. Yeah, I'm a geek.  

Space.com: We are too, Sean, and we wear that badge proudly! 

The new record is available on Amazon and iTunes and just about wherever else records are sold. You can catch the band on the second leg of The Claypool Lennon Delirium summer tour, which kicks off July 21.

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Also available - Space.com video series: ‘CosMix: The Universe Is Alive With Music’ - featuring Grace Potter, Joe Satriani, Coheed and Cambria and more: 

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Steve Spaleta
Senior Producer

Steve Spaleta is Space.com's Senior Producer. Since 2007, Steve has produced and edited space, science and entertainment-related videos for Space.com. He is also the producer/writer/editor of Space.com's CosMix series on space-enthused artists. He studied psychology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and is originally from Zadar, Croatia by way of Astoria, NY. To see Steve's latest project, follow him on Twitter and follow Space.com's VideoFromSpace YouTube Channel.