Of the many, often-polarizing mantels Yoko Ono has worn over the course of her 77 years—artist, activist, musician, Most Famous Widow in the World—few are quite as unexpected as her current post: reigning diva of the dancefloor.
Ono recently hit no. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Play for the fifth consecutive time with “Wouldnit (I’m a Star),” a track from her 2001 concept album Blueprint for a Sunrise reconfigured by veteran producer and DJ Dave Audé. (Remixing Ono is not a new idea, of course; over the past decade, Cat Power, the Pet Shop Boys, Ween, Thurston Moore, the Flaming Lips, and many others have also taken her work on).
EW recently spoke to her about her new status amongst club kids, and the extensive work of readying the reissues of her late husband John Lennon’s solo material, due next Tuesday—four days before what would have been his 70th birthday.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Hello. How are you?
YOKO ONO: Just, you know, rolling, rolling along, rolling well. [laughs]
Yes! Isn’t that great? He’s very artistic, but he’s very different even in art, he’s not like John and he’s not like me. I asked him to do this drawing, and he said “Maybe I can do it, maybe I can’t do it, I don’t know how I feel about it,” he was going through all that. And then one day he just gave it to me. He has a very kind of realistic technique, don’t you think?
So let’s talk a little bit about the success you’ve had with these remixes. Did you approach these artists, or did they come to you?
No no, it was all given to me, in a way. These were people who really seem to know my work, and they said, “How about this?” and I say “Of course that’s fine, if that’s what you want to do” [laughs]. And it’s really amazing because this is an area I didn’t know about, and now I’m learning. In the beginning it was just a shock—“I’m number one?” is what I thought, but all these remixes, they’re so creative! And brilliant, and they just put me there [on the charts].
Who do you think was most creative with your songs, and surprised you the most with what they could do with your material?
Well you see, [Basement Jaxx’s] “Everyman Everywoman,” I really thought that was a good thing to bring it up there from the original, putting the woman and woman and man and man together, on a kind of activist level. And “No No No,” when it came to that I thought wow, how are they going to do it? Because it’s a very musically ambitious work in the sense that I’m using minor key and major key in a kind of gritty way, you know? But they did a great job, and that actually became the dance hit of the decade number four, or something like that. So then I started to admire, like hey, these people, the remixes are not just dance remixes—they got a soul, they got spirit, they got incredible talent, you know? And I start to respect them, really. And so now I start to see that the dance chart is a real important chart in a way. But also, the fact it’s a dance mix, it’s a very avant garde kind of department of music. I mean people say ‘Oh, dance, it could be “dancing in the dark” or whatever…. No. It’s not like that, it’s incredibly funky and gritty stuff, that dance style, so I love all these remixes.
So now that you’ve had your fifth consecutive no. 1 on the dance charts, it’s kind of official. But did you ever think this is where your music would find an audience?
No! [laughs]. It’s funny but I’m just very thankful that these remixes are fantastic and I’m really enjoying it, you know? It’s interesting that I can enjoy it because most singer-songwriters think, “Well, what I did was better.” But no I don’t feel that, these are great, a great advancement of the songs themselves. And now it’s “Wouldnit,” I never thought that would get picked up!
Well the subtitle is “I’m a Star,” so maybe it’s kind of self-fulfilling. So, you’re also the focus of an episode in a short-film series on Sundance, Beginnings, about your first years in New York City…
I think it was just a beautiful thing, focusing on artists, but in a very natural way. Very beautiful.
Do feel like there’s been a new wave of fans, maybe people who approach you where it’s not as an artist or as the Yoko that most people know, but just as the person they were dancing to the night before?
Well I’m not really an age person, so I don’t look at who is young and who is old. And they might like the music, but not at all associate it with me!
You have said before that your son Sean likes to keep you in the loop with new music, is there anything you’ve been listening to lately that he’s exposed you to?
I’m not listening to anything! The reason is because, well, we just did a remastering of John’s songs, I was there doing every note, every word of 121 songs, you know, and that was a very heavy job. And of course it was done with Allan Rouse, the Abbey Road guy, who’s got brilliant engineers. And they all helped me of course, but still I went through everything and it was just like OK, well I need a little rest near my ears, you know?
A lot of these John Lennon albums were remastered in 2002, so what’s the difference between those and what’s coming out now?
There’s a big difference because that time we remixed it, and it was not really … well, it was another way. I’m not putting it down, but it was an ambition to remix it, and it worked in some ways. But this time we decided to go back to the originals and just remaster it.
Do you hear John’s voice in your ear when you’re working on this remasters, his opinion?
Well yes of course. It’s very hard because, well, professionally I could just do it whap!, like that, but there’s an emotion involved, and I suddenly realized that I was getting very emotional about each one of them and you just can’t do that when you’re doing a job, doing work like that. So I had to go up and down, to and fro, with being an emotional person and a professional person.
Of all the reissues and celebrations planned around his upcoming 70th birthday, what is personally the most resonant and important for you, what are you the most excited about?
Well, Double Fantasy Stripped Down, it’s an incredible, incredible testament to how John was, in the sense of, you know, he was the biggest star in the world and he decided OK, he’s gonna do it with me, like conversation, at the time I didn’t think anything of it — OK, well, put the album out, I’m the partner so I’m going to be doing it. But when I think about it now, it was after a long hiatus, and he has to come out good, he was taking a chance, and I appreciate that — to put me in there. This 70th birthday stuff is big, I am doing this from this February or maybe March on, and now it’s getting very intense because his birthday of course is October 9, then there will be December 8 [the day of his death]. So from here on, from maybe two weeks ago, I am working like 24 hours a day.
How have you usually celebrated his birthday in other years, when it’s not a milestone like this one?
Kind of quietly, kind of quietly. And of course it’s Sean’s birthday too, you see, so I have to think about that too, and I do think about that.
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