Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl, who write and record music together under the name The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, may just be the first rock star/model couple to produce something worthwhile. Their album Acoustic Sessions is a layer cake of close harmonies and counterpoint; one of wistful intimacy that, upon first listen, gives the charming if mistaken impression of being recorded in some abandoned wing of Versailles (even their song titles—“Jardin du Luxembourg”—land just slightly northeast of your correspondent’s metaphor.)
Music critics have gotten a lot of mileage out of describing the band’s eccentricities: they have songs about robots and philosophers, about dystopias and forgotten pasts. They often perform—and, one imagines, hang out—in all manner of sartorial curiosities. In bowlers and boaters, in Edwardian whites and university blazers, the pair is hard to miss.
“We only write music together because of how uncannily similar our taste is,” Muhl tells Weekly. Their shared penchant for “tattered Victorian garb; palindromes and pataphors; science fiction, sexuality, [and] surrealism” is a source of continued inspiration. And it is because they have their idiosyncrasies synchronized that The GOASTT—as they are often abbreviated to—has been able to develop a cohesive and accomplished sound.
“I was only 17 when we first locked eyes there in the sands of Coachella,” Muhl says, setting the scene with her tongue firmly planted in her cheek. The future couple met at the popular desert festival in 2005. But musical symbiosis was slow to develop, trotting behind a mostly epistolary friendship which only years later bled into romance. “It’s not like we immediately launched straight into a musical jam with the full regalia of accordions and glockenspiels,” she explains. “The band was more of a joke side project at first. This is the first year we’ve really taken it seriously.”
The GOASTT, who are playing at Pappy & Harriet’s in Pioneertown on Saturday, has succeeded largely through synthesis. The band is able to use their differences just as effectively as they use their similarities. Muhl, who describes her bandmate as “a library of musical arcana,” is sometimes shy about her less pop-inflected contributions, “having,” as she explains, “only grown up on classical.” Lennon’s musical background—evidenced both by his solo work and his heredity—is obvious. But their process is, effectively, as follows: divergent ideas from the pair build on top of one another until a song is squeezed out.
“Lately it’s been music boot camp though,” says Muhl, who, though previously adept in piano and adequate with guitar, has been taking on new instruments with voracity. She modestly attributes her burgeoning multi-instrumentalism to the talented musicians she surrounds herself with on tour or at home, “learning theory and techniques,” she says, “through osmosis.”
From the jazz-era acoustics of “Rainbows in Gasoline” (whose slide hum faintly recalls Santo & Johnny’s “Sleep Walk”) to the hymnal reverberations of “The World Was Made for Men,” Lennon and Muhl prove interdisciplinary songwriters. They draw from different influences and different eras: Syd Barrett and Brian Wilson loom large, but there are also times when the album feels like a Gilbert and Sullivan Savoy opera. Their sound works because The GOASTT is capable of recalling the best parts of their influences while forging something distinct and modern. Even the couple themselves, Muhl admits, “fell in love through postcards and emails.”
The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger at Pappy & Harriet’s, 53688 Pioneertown Rd., Pioneertown, (760) 365-5956; www.pappyandharriets.com, www.thegoastt.com. Sat, Jan. 22. 6PM. Tickets $15 (will be available the night of the show, standing room only, once all advance ticket holders are inside)