You couldn't make this stuff up if you tried. Lennon Murphy's songs -- an aural outpouring of her extreme, intense life -- are as dramatic as any movie. And Lennon admits that sometimes her life, with ups and downs including tour bus accidents, fighting for the custody of her young sister after the death of their only parent, and record industry fiascos, is more like a horror movie. Through it all, though, this versatile, cool rock chick maintains her humor....sometimes with a little help from a bottle of Maker's Mark. And Lennon's life-to-date--in all its gutsy glory, uncertainty and down-to-earth vulnerability and power, can be heard in the songs her latest CD, Damaged Goods.
Though now only in her early 20s, Lennon is a veteran, releasing her impressive debut, 5:30 Saturday Morning, on the sad landmark September 11, 2001 on now-defunct Arista Records. Since then, Lennon has been working nonstop--touring, DVDs, CDs, a movie... and still more touring, sometimes with her behind the wheel of the tour bus...literally. Lennon has been on the road with such diverse acts as Alice Cooper, the Warped Tour, Otep, The Cult, the Girlz Garage Tour, Heart and Mushroomhead, drawing rave reviews from all audiences and bands. The press is on her side as well, Rolling Stone calling Lennon a "voluptuous teenage vixen with a penchant for bawdy lyrics and dark metal riffs," while Nashville Scene praised her "richly emotional voice, an arresting combination of strength and fragility." The craziness of the last few years has culminated in Damaged Goods, which began its musical life in 2002 under the working title of I Am. Powerful, personal songs like "My Sins" ("I don't need a savior / ...I don't want forgiveness / I will carry my sins, carry my sins alone) and "Reason to Complain" ("Hole in my pocket, my life's trailing behind me.... / Grab my coat and hit the road / Too bad there's nowhere to go") populate the CD, which builds on the heavy guitar riffs and dark ambience of songs like "Brake of Your Car" from 5:30 Saturday Morning. Yet Lennon remains an enigmatic writer and performer, as she notes, "the new songs are very much me, my life, the riot grrl, angry against men, but a lot of songs aren't about relationships, they're just interpreted that way by listeners. I've written songs about fighting with my lawyer and people take it as a love affair!"
The New York-born Nashville-bred girl named after, yes, John Lennon, headed to Sanford, Florida in mid-2002 to work on what would become Damaged Goods. "I practically lived in this place that makes road cases, and the town had a Denny's, a Motel 8 and a mall," she recalls. She wrote on her own, before her then-bandmates joined her to flesh out the songs. And though she's a ballsy, confident performer onstage, Lennon admits, "my issue is I don't write when people are around, or when they can hear me. So I started writing around 10 at night, me and a 6-pack of beer, once the road case factory shut down and I was alone in this humongous room. I write on piano, which I've been playing all my life, and the problem is usually no one wants to change my songs! Everyone likes it how I write them originally, but we wanted to make a rock album. I have a massive fan base through my website, so we decided if we were going to put this record out ourselves, it was going to be the best fucking record we could make, which is why it's taken a couple years."
Damaged Goods, produced by Al Sutton (Kid Rock) and mixed by Eric Schilling (Gloria Estefan/Shakira) is worth the wait. And it's not like there hasn't been plenty to keep Lennon fans content in the meantime. The Beyond The Warped Tour DualDisc came out in September, 2005; Lennon's insightful My Crazy Life DVD, with live performances from Hong Kong and Dallas, plus offstage craziness, was released in 2004; while the ironically titled acoustic record Career Suicide hit to wide acclaim in 2004 as well. Some of the songs on Damaged Goods were released in Europe, Latin American and Asian countries as the CD I Am, featuring the acclaimed track "My Beautiful," which was Lennon's vocal collaboration on her song with Travis Meeks of Days of the New. So it's not like Lennon's had any time off.
Still, Damaged Goods may have been out earlier if about a million things—good, bad and ugly—hadn't intervened. Like the tour bus accident with a semi. While Lennon was driving. Or, on the brighter side, her landing a major role in a movie starring Freddy Rodriguez of Six Feet Under fame. Of course, she's still waiting for the film to come out, but, "They didn't fire me, so maybe I can act," Lennon deadpans. After her film debut, Lennon returned to Florida to work with producer Sutton, with the goal of solidifying a "Lennon sound" for Damaged Goods, moving away from the industrial-goth leanings of early songs like "Property of Goatfucker" while retaining her dark allure and compelling melodies. Then, on the first day of recording with Sutton, Arista released a relieved Lennon from its clutches: "I wanted a career as a rock act, and an album I could be proud of, and staying with Arista I really didn't see that happening," she explains. Lennon was only too happy to release her next outings herself, via John Galt Entertainment, the label she founded with her manager. "In an industry where you have four weeks to hit and then they move on to the next thing, a career is the last thing corporate America is considering," Lennon observes. "By putting the DVD, I Am and Damaged Goods out through my own company, I want to give myself the chance of still being around in 10 years."
The rest of 2002 and 2003 found Lennon writing and recording Damaged Goods in both Florida and Detroit. Sutton pushed the young singer, as evidenced by the amazing vocal work on such songs as "Wrong Way." "There's a high vocal part at the end, and I told my bass player to bring a bottle of Maker's Mark—it took about half the bottle, but I hit the note!" 2002 also marked a milestone for her family—after a two-year custody battle, she adopted her younger sister, who had been living with Lennon since the death of their mother in 2000—which occurred shortly after Lennon's 18th birthday and right before Lennon signed her record deal. "The adoption was a relief; no more cops showing up at shows, no more depositions, no more lawyers," says Lennon. Her sister tours with Lennon selling merchandise, while Lennon homeschools the straight-A student.
Though some of the songs on Damaged Goods date from when Lennon was in her late teens, the majority were penned between 2002 and 2005, between touring with acts as diverse as Nazareth, Heart, and Seether with time out to make her stunning acoustic record, Career Suicide. Lennon explains: "The fans were getting restless, so we did some new original songs, and either it was going to destroy my career by everyone loving it better than the rock stuff, or everyone was going to hate it, so, 'Career Suicide.' I think we spent just 5 or 6 hours in the studio on the whole record—one six-pack of Kilians, a piano, me and my manager, who has been with me since I was 16." The result was nothing less than another piece in the Lennon legacy, and in every rock show she plays, Lennon always makes time for a couple acoustic songs.
Lennon is an anomaly: She's comfortable at truck stops, bold onstage, confessional in her lyrics, yet often shy in personal situations. Still, she's easily 'one of the boys'—a hardcore cool chick, albeit wrapped in a gorgeous package. But Lennon, clarifies, "I don't look at myself as a female artist. But some radio stations say, 'we love the record, love you, but we don't play women on our station.'" That hasn't stopped Lennon, the force of her personality driving her career and bringing out new worshippers in droves. Despite fan fervor for a U.S.-released official follow up to 5:30 Saturday Morning, Lennon wasn't putting Damaged Goods out before she felt it was ready. So she also collaborated with Tony Battaglia (Shinedown/Mandy Moore), penning the songs "Just One," "My Sins" and "I Say" with him, and testing them out in a live setting in April 2005. Other tunes were written while Lennon was filming her movie debut in Nevada, including "Another For Another." "It's like that 'Straight Tequila Night' song by John Anderson, even though I don't like country," explains Lennon. "It's like a cross between that and Harry Chapin song 'Easy.' There casinos in Carson City where people are hooked up to oxygen machines smoking cigarettes at the slots. So I was sitting there, at the bar, thinking about a woman going there every night, looking for someone to take home, no questions asked, trying to forget, trying to replace the person that she lost. 'You're just Another for Another Night.'" Other songs, like "Goodbye," are more personal. And the guy she's saying goodbye to is still her best friend. "He drove me nuts, but if I ever had a night with him, the next day I could write. I got in the habit to sleep with the guy so I could write!" she laughs. "I used him."
Damaged Goods is like Lennon herself: original, surprising, independent and multi-faceted. "Music is starting to change again, and I just want to do rock, whether it's heavy or not," Lennon concludes. "My opinion is that if it's a great song, it's a great song, no matter what format it is. Some people would come to see me because they liked the way I looked. But the greatest compliment is when they say 'I watched you because I like the way you look, but I stayed because your music is great.'" And it is.