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18 septembre 2008

Daniel Lanois interview

By Bill Adams, Pulse Niagara, September 18 - 24, 2008

Several years ago when a Canadian music magazine polled a succession of guitarists to find out what they thought about while they were playing live on stage, they were not only shocked at the variety of answers they received. Ian D’Sa of Billy Talent, for example, replied only that while he was playing guitar onstage, he thought only about not screwing up while Alabama 3 guitarist Rock Freebase saw girls dancing in his mind’s eye.

Jon Spencer confided that he was usually thinking about money, and Pixies guitarist Joey Santiago was most direct when he told the magazine that, depending upon when he’s playing during the day, he’s either thinking about the meal that he ate most recently or the one he was going to eat next. Some would say the answers were pedantic or silly (some might say that the question was too for that matter), but when you really think about it, some of those answers are remarkably representative of the sounds fans can hear as their records spin.

Even so, Singer/multi–instrumentalist/producer Daniel Lanois’ response to a similar question makes the most sense. “When I think about it, my music really does have a sort of cinematic tone,” says Daniel Lanois pensively from Los Angeles. “Certainly that’s the case with the instrumental songs I’ve written, but a lot of what I do in general seems to. I don’t know where that comes from, maybe that’s how I build music; I have pictures in my head and I have my melodies try to be the soundtrack to what’s going on in my head.”

Hull, PQ–born and Hamilton, ON–raised Daniel Lanois’ name first appeared on a record sleeve in 1976. It was Jackie Washington’s Blues And Sentimental album and so began Lanois’ meteoric rise. Since then, he has appeared on releases that span the depth and breadth of the pop, country, folk and rock idioms from U2 to Brian Eno to Peter Gabriel to Raffi to Bob Dylan to Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris as producer and all the while has kept up a regular release schedule of his own material in his parallel career.

As a rough estimate, in 32 years, he has gotten credit for one kind or another on no less than 57 albums [58 if one includes the work that Lanois has done on U2‘s forthcoming record, to be released in 2009 –Ed]; the man is a machine. In that time and with so many releases that one constant holds true; whether it be Oh Mercy, The Joshua Tree, Acadie, Us or Here Is What Is, each record bears the similar thread that is has the capacity to conjure vivid images and landscapes obviously unique to Lanois as, without him managing the production booth, while each of the aforementioned bands has been capable of releasing good records, (with the exception of Bob Dylan) none have been able to release an album as good in the same way.

That is the power that a good producer holds but, according to Lanois, things do carry over and the detritus from one project does occasionally wash up onto the shores of the next. “Without a doubt, there’s definitely an exchange that happens when I work with people,” explains Lanois of the growth that has occurred in the records of both the people that he has produced as well as his own output. “There will be some approaches that we’re excited about some sonics that we’re dedicated to and that tends to bleed from one project into another but I think that’s just human nature; we try to cater to the needs of the songs at hand, but my choice of tools and my approach and what I’m excited about melodically will definitely carry over and one project will effect the other. So that’s why it’s good to hang out with fun people [laughing].”

The parallel notions of image conjuring and ideas carrying over from project to project perfectly explains the existence of Here Is What Is, in fact. The idea for the project, according to Lanois, originally took life as a film. “The way the whole thing came about and what Here Is What Is presents is travelling through a year’s worth of work in the studio,” explains the singer/producer of his newest releases.

“It started in Toronto and went all the way to Fez, Morocco. It includes the recordings from my own record, but also a visit to Los Angeles with Billy Bob Thorton so he’s playing a role in the film, and then Sinead O’Connor’s in there I went to Dublin to her house and did some work with her. Brian Eno is in there too; we share some philosophical exchanges in Morocco and that’s pretty fascinating, and then U2 is in there as well as we were working in Fez, Morocco together. The album functions as the soundtrack to the film as the songs are on both as well as some of the dialogue with Eno.

“So far, It has been received pretty well,” continues Lanois, unable to hide his appreciation for the stellar reviews that both the album and the film have received to date. “We had a major premier at the Toronto Film Festival last year and we had a great turn–out for that, we had a similar one in Los Angeles. We’ve sort of been peppering them all over the globe and we tried that as an angle this time just to promote the film and then have the record be the soundtrack for the film. It’s been going pretty well; I met up with Elliott Roberts the other night Elliott manages Neil Young and is kind of a hero in the management world for we Canadians and he said that he thought it was my best album so I took it as a compliment [chuckling].”

While the counterparts of Here Is What Is both the film and the CD are new releases, the fact of the matter is that the album is a little older than the film. Here Is What Is, the album, was originally released on Lanois’ web site, Red Floor records in two DRM–free download versions — the same price was charged for both the MP3 and FLAC lossless versions and, in point of fact, it is because of Red Floor that Lanois was in Los Angeles when he spoke with Pulse; the idea of online, downloadable music has gotten the producer/performer’s mind percolating.

“I started Red Floor Records about ten months ago and I sell some of my wares on the web site,”
explains Lanois. “It’s growing pretty fast too [chuckling] and I make some of my instrumental records available from my back catalogue so people can download my music directly from my site as a full fidelity wave file. We’re pretty excited about it and there’s a fellow down here that takes of all of it down here in L.A. so I’m huddling up with him here just to make sure that everything’s going well for Red Floor. Here Is What Is is available on the web site, as will be the re–issue of my first record, Acadie, which I now own the rights to.
“We’re also going to be releasing three instrumental records on Red Floor there will be downloads and hard copy discs available and they’re part of what we’re calling the Omni Series,” continues Lanois with a little glint in his eye so bright that it manages to pass through the phone line.

“It’s going to be three this fall and then three the following fall; a total of six discs. The first one will be steel guitar, the second one is sort of a south of the border peyote–like record, and the third will be more acoustic and quite beautiful. These are kind of like side projects and because there is no singing on them, I’ve chosen to release them on my web site in a quieter way but I think they’re going to be very beautiful. There’s one called “Space K” and it’s one of my personal favourites and I’ve invented a new dimension for that which goes into a more up–tempo, high energy, almost like a trance piece of music. I’m going to christen that at the Grape Festival.”

Daniel Lanois
(Los Angeles, CA & Toronto, ON)
w/Danny Michel, Neverending White Lights, Joe Lapinski, Oliver Black.
@ the Niagara Wine Festival, Montebello Park, St. Catharines.
Thursday, September 25, 6–10pm.

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