5 minutes with… Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono

Peace activist, artist provocateur, Beatle wife… Songwriter? In our latest edition, we enjoy a quick chat with this iconic figure

It might surprise some to learn that Yoko Ono has made 20 albums over the last 50 years, a sizeable body of work which deserves consideration in its own right. Thankfully her new album Warzone provides listeners with an opportunity to do just that. Spanning her catalogue from 1970-2009, Ono has reworked and reimagined 13 of her songs, stripping them back to showcase her voice and lyrics. Tracks like the surprise dance hit Hell In Paradise sit alongside the John Lennon classic Imagine (a song he admitted was a co-write with his wife) and make a genuine case for a reappraisal of her songwriting credentials. We recently had a quick chat with her…

First published in Songwriting Magazine Autumn 2018

Where did the idea for this album come from?

“It was one of those inspirations. It was a practical thing to do. I wanted to make sure the words will be simple and get out there right away.”

Was it easy to select the songs for Warzone, how did you go about that process?

“I trusted in my inspiration to select the songs.”

Were there songs that you wanted to include but decided didn’t quite fit, or missed out for another reason?

“It’s a 13 song album, and it was better to stay that way. There are two songs I really wanted to include, which were Winter Friend and She Gets Down On Her Knees, but I decided not to because it was very important that the album comes out right away.”

This process must have brought back many memories for you – are there specific things that you had forgotten which you were able to revisit?

“These are not old songs. They are songs that lived in my heart.”

Mike Batt at French House Party 2024

The production is noticeably stripped back – what was the reason behind that decision and how has that changed these songs?

“That was done because I wanted this to come out right away, so Winter Friend and She Gets Down On Her Knees, I thought were very good, but they were too complicated for a simpler arrangement. I chose the ones that can be sung by very young people, all people.”

The album closes with Imagine, what can you remember about its writing and creation?

“That was the most difficult one, but I thought that it should be put in there. For both John and I, it was a very simple song to perform as performers. The spirit of the song was most important.”

Why do you think it grabbed the world’s attention and has remained such an influential song?

“Because we are telling the truth…”

Another of our favourites is Hell In Paradise. Was it a pleasant surprise when that one proved so popular – or do you always expect that to be the case?

“I didn’t know it was so popular!”

Do these songs all share a similar essence, if so, how would you define it?

“Yes, that was very important. Each song was exactly what it should be.”

Does it surprise you that so many of the themes are still relevant – did you hope that the world would have evolved further by now?

“Yes, of course, I was amazed that the world is exactly like it was then 40 some years ago in many ways. It made me feel like the world is frozen.”

Why do you think songs are such a powerful art form?

“A song is a powerful art form on its own, and music is a very important thing for all of us, so when you put music and a message together, it’s incredible.”

What do you hope to achieve when you start writing a song?

“Each song has a message and I try to achieve the best of the song.”

What do you think is the key to songwriting?

“Just be yourself and the song will come out it”

Do you ever think about what your legacy to the world is/ will be? Does songwriting play a large part in that legacy?

“I’m too busy working and creating to think about that.”

What would you like the listener to take away from Warzone?

“I’d like them to know it’s a very difficult time for everybody, not just you, but everybody.”

Lastly, has working on these songs made you want to write lots of new ones?

“In my case, songs or artwork, just come to me and I try to bring it out.”

Warzone is out now. For all of Yoko Ono’s latest news, visit imaginepeace.com

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