DFW Music News

Q&A: Before Her Denton Show, Charlotte Kemp Muhl Talks Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, Film Influences and Sean Lennon

Charlotte Kemp Muhl hasn't always been a musician. She's pretty new to it, in fact. For most of her career she's modeled, appearing on the cover of Harper's, and worked for Tommy Hilfiger, D&G, Maybelline and others. Until recently, the extent of her musical endeavors has been strumming a guitar to kill time backstage at fashion shows.

Until, that is, she met Sean Lennon. Yes, that Sean Lennon. Before long, the two were strumming guitars together, then writing songs, and then a band was born: Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger.

The band is now touring to support its debut album, Acoustic Sessions, and will play Dan's Silverleaf in Denton on Tuesday night. I chatted with Charlotte recently about the band, the burden of Sean's spotlight, and how she juggles music and modeling.

Is GOASTT your first musical venture? I started writing songs with my best friend Eden Rice when were in our early teens. We performed together at local coffee shops in suburban Atlanta as Kemp and Eden, until fate intervened and we were separated. We plan to record our songs from our childhood this year and release them on Chimera Music.

Was it always envisioned as a duo project with you and Sean, or was it already in the works in another form, then later adapted to be an album with the two of you? The band was always something just for the two of us. It started when Sean found a play I had written when I was little called "The Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger." He jokingly wanted to start a band just for the name, but once we started writing songs together it was clear there was something more to it. Now we're playing as a trio with trumpeter CJ Camerieri, and we're working on a new album with a four-piece electric band, but Sean and I still write everything alone with each other.

The music is very light and poppy, but the lyrics can sometimes be a little dark. Is that mood representative of either of you, or something created for this particular project? We like to flirt with dissonance, whether chordally or verbally. We feel that the world we live in now is actually a dystopia. We have all these technological luxuries around us, but everyone feels more disconnected than before. Both of us have this polarized relationship with technology where we really despise it, but also totally rely on it. And I think this topic comes through in our lyrics.

Who or what influences you as a musician? We like to take old things and put them in a futuristic context. For example, we're influenced by everything from the Victorian era to science fiction films, and aesthetics like macabre, psychedelia and surrealism.

What do you listen to to relax? We are obsessive NPR listeners. We just leave the radio on constantly in our bathroom.

What's in your CD player/on your iPod right now? Right now Sean and I are listening to the album Electric Storm, by the late 60's experimental band White Noise. And at this very moment, I'm listening to Nina Rota's soundtrack for "Casanova."

Do you see GOASTT interfering with your day job as a model? No, I see my modeling interfering with GOASTT! What I mean is, I would prefer to focus all my energy on the band, but I can't just yet, because I would feel weird not having my own income. Maybe one day if the band is successful, I won't have to keep being a "poser."

Do you plan on continuing a dual career? Because I'm a little ADD, I would like to incorporate even more facets to my career eventually, such as writing and directing films. But in the meantime, music and fashion are keeping me quite busy. This project is in every bit a duo, but when Googling your name in reference to GOASTT, Sean's name appears in more headlines than the band name. Do you fear being overshadowed or your contributions to the project being overlooked? It's funny, because while I'm in the shadow of his persona, he is in the shadow of his parents' persona. So we both have our baggage, but neither of us feels bitter about it. Hopefully, if we just continue to put out more material, people will start to see us as our own thing. I've read where you and Sean are big filmmaking fans. A lot of the music on this album seems like it would be great in a Tim Burton film. Was that twisted, whimsical imagery something you two had in mind while recording the album? Fellini films are an even bigger source of aesthetic reference for us, or Lynch and Jodorowsky. We love the juxtaposition of something saccharine with something morbid.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Andy Odom