Backstage Pass: Yoko Ono explores the past and future

Between My Head And The Sky is the new album from Yoko Ono, and for this latest outing, she has revived the Plastic Ono Band concept.

Only instead of Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Keith Moon and other ’60s and ’70s musical luminaries taking part, this version includes contemporary folks like electronic wunderkind Keigo “Cornelius” Oyamada and Yuka Honda of Cibo Matto, as well as other Japanese avant-garde and New York improvisational artists.

Of late, John Lennon’s widow has been dipping her toes in the world of computerized dance music. For Between My Head And The Sky, however, she expands her universe, letting a rigorous blast of melodic guitar rock called “Waiting For The D Train” and the pastoral electro-pop warmth of “Unun. To,”  “I’m Going Away Smiling” and “The Sun Is Down!” share space on this Sept. 22 release.

Ono lets loose her distinctive, sometimes unnerving, vocalizing and lyrical imagination to create a world of word and sound that is intoxicating and full of sonic wonder. Always utterly original and willing to go beyond established boundaries, be it in music or as an experimental artist, Ono, now 76, is never boring. She talked about her latest record and the Plastic Ono Band of old in this interview.

Was there something significant about holding sessions for the new record at Sear Studio, a studio where the Hit Factory used to be and where Double Fantasy was recorded?

Yoko Ono: It wasn’t like I thought we should do it where we created Double Fantasy. Actually, Sean said Sear Sound is the best, so let’s go with that. I said, “OK.” I hadn’t realized that was Double Fantasy’s time at the Hit Factory, because the inside is so different now, and their machines are very good, very funky. It’s an incredibly intelligent kind of studio, and I’m comfortable, so I love it now.

You wrote 16 songs in six days for the new record. That’s an incredible burst of creativity. Is there anything you can point to that caused it?

YO: Well, maybe it’s the fact that I haven’t made an album for a while. It was sitting in my brain so to speak. And I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that until I went to the studio and said, “Oh, some very interesting things are coming out.”

Was there one song in particular that unblocked you?

YO: Well, OK, so it’s not unblocking. Each song are blocks in a very interesting way. I was always saying … well, not saying, but [I] was thinking that my first Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band, around that time I was thinking, “I’m going to break the sound barrier for the music world.” That was my idea. And I really did that with [the 1971 LP] Fly. I feel that we did.

You said each song surprised you. Can you give an example?

YO: Well, “Field of Sand.” I like this song very much. “Field of Sand” came out, I said, “Well, good, good. That’s the way to go.” But the first song I actually sung was “Ask The Elephant.” And “Ask The Elephant” is a song that … it sort of picked up the whole mood. For me it did. It’s like a pop avant-garde kind of thing. And I thought, “Oh, that’s good. Pop avant-garde? Okay, let’s go with that.” And everything sort of happened after that. Something like “I’m Going Away Smiling” was pretty heavy for me, and it was heavy for all of us in a way. So then I had to write ‘I’m Alive” afterward so that it balanced everything.

I know the music is different, but how much does this record have in common with the Plastic Ono Band of the past?

YO: Okay, well, me (laughs). That’s the common thread. No, this is what it is: I felt … well, whenever I record something, I’m going to record an album. Recording an album is a big thing, really, you know. And also, you know, you’re asking people to listen to it and everything.

So I felt that each time, if I don’t do something that has not been done before, at some point I can bring it out. That’s my kind of avant-garde sensibility I suppose. So then the first Plastic Ono Band’s Fly … we broke the sound barrier. And that’s what I wanted to do. Let’s break the sound barrier. Let’s wake up the music world or whatever. So that’s arrogance, but I mean, that’s the kind of arrogance that kept me going. Otherwise, I would have been, “Well, excuse me. I’m sorry (laughs.)” I’d be disappearing then, you know, This album has that, too. This album doesn’t stick out like, you know, Fly. You don’t do it that way, but each song is kind of a very new thing … in different ways, you know, each one.

When the Plastic Ono Band was created, there was a credo that stated, “You are the Plastic Ono Band.” How did you envision the band being one where everyone could be involved in some way?

YO: Well, it’s so funny, because that was my attitude about music. You are the Plastic Ono Band. And this is before I met John. In the United States or somewhere, I was invited to some university or something to perform, and then I just said, “OK … you, you, you. Get up on the stage with me and we’ll do this one.” That kind of thing. And I was not elitist at all. And then, when I did this Plastic Ono Band with John, of course, I had the same attitude. I wasn’t saying, “Please get George Harrison (laughs).” They happened to be in the room.

The term experimental has always been used to describe your work. Do you like being called an experimental artist?

YO: Well, I think that each artist … artists are supposed to be experimental. Artists are supposed to be controversial. And each one [is] really trying to be that, I think, in their own way … I’m thankful to everyone who just sort of has a profession to make music. You know, music is peace.

Read Yoko Ono’s thoughts on “The Beatles: Rock Band” on the World’s Forgotten Boy blog at

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