- Olivia Mather: You spoke before about
ancestral influences on your music and I wanted to ask you about that.
When did you know that you wanted to be a musician? Was that something
that you ever came to a self-conscious decision about?
- DL: I knew pretty early on that I was
driven by music, from when I was about ten or eleven. But when I was
fourteen was when I decided to do it as
a living. I didnt grow up with my dad, so I went out with my uncle
on a rowboathe was a very nice guyand I said to him that
I was thinking of not bothering with school and just carrying on with
the music. I asked him if he thought that was a good idea, and he said,
Yeah, just follow your own heart.
- OM: You have a lot of family members
that were fiddle players. Could you talk a little about that?
- DL: They were called violoneux,
which is a French term for fiddler. My grandfather and my dad were violoneux.
And on my moms side we had a lot of singers. They just sang traditional
French Canadian folk songs, which were just really about weekend entertainment,
not unlike the Cajun communitiesWe work hard all week, its
the weekend, lets have some funself-entertainment
society. So the violins would come out, and thered be some tap
dancing, and singing these old folk songs. When you have that around
you when youre a little kid, thats great. You actually get
a chance to hear something real, rather than somebody playing you records
of something real. Its just a pure form to be exposed to. I imagine
itd be like if one of your parents or a friend of the family was
a really great storyteller and just made up a bunch of stuff. That might
actually be a greater experience than going through the normal classics
that every kid would read. So its the difference between reality
OM: When I heard the song The
Collection of Marie Claire from For the Beauty of Wynona
it reminded me of the Appalachian fiddle tunes that are played in
unison with singing. You do that when you start to singplay in
unison with what youre singing. I assumed that the strain that
was influencing you was the French Canadian tradition, but you dont
actually use fiddle on either Wynona or Acadie.
Figure 4. Album Cover for
For the Beauty of Wynona
- DL: Me playing in unison with singing
or harmonizing with my singing is just a thing that I developed a long
time ago to help me stay on track. Because Im not a really powerful
singer, I use the guitar almost like a second singer. So I never just
strum through songs, I actually play a harmony to a singing melody,
and I get a better support system that way. But the driving force of
that tune was the story. I wrote a lot of songs about the mixture of
culturesFrench culture, English culture, or rural culture and
urban cultureand that one was about the mixture of rural and urban.
Its about a guy coming from the woods and visiting Montreal and
being wowed by the city lights and stumbling into a striptease parlor
and falling in love with this girl. I was touched by the waste of love
in cities, how somebodys efforts could never be considered in
the presence of these parameters, even though their heart might be entirely
true. And its probably still going on, [even] right here in Los
Angeles. The kindest person will be the loneliest … It was also
influenced by a story called The Collector [by novelist
John Fowles]. In it, a butterfly collector falls in love with a girl
and shes oblivious to his bouts and then he abducts her in the
end. So its a story about love and abduction. And thats
what The Collection of Marie Claire is about.
- JG: There wasnt any fiddle on
either of those albums.
- DL: Ive never used fiddle on
a record, I dont think. I like fiddle and I use fiddle melodies,
but Ive never quite stepped into it.
- JG: It seems a little ironic in the
end that a record called Acadie had no fiddle on it.
- DL: Well, I guess I didnt want
other people playing on the record too much. So I did my own playing.
Some of the drumming I didnt do. Ive always maintained that
its best if most of the music comes from the artist rather than
- OM: I was wondering what you thought
of the recent growing interest in folk music, especially since the release
of the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? I know you havent
directly been involved, except maybe through Emmylou Harris.
- DL: Its not unlike what happened
with Buena Vista Social Club. I believe that a large percentage
of the community likes quality. We find ourselves dragging our way through
a lot of popular culture at any given timeits just the way
it isand certain things just get all
the attention, and you look at it, and say, Why is this getting
all the attention? Well, nobody really knows, other than its
popular. And then somebody will bring a project around like Buena
Vista Social Club and its just beautiful music with a great
bedrock of tradition, fantastic melodies, virtuosity and not about attitude,
or what people are wearing, or who theyre fucking. Its just
the music. Then you get sort of a collective synchronicity kicking into
place saying Weve had enough with the tabloid—we just
want a nice record to listen to. So thats why these things
become popular. So I think thats what happens in the case of that
great bluegrass music.
Figure 5. Album Cover for
Buena Vista Social Club
- OM: We had an article
about two or three issues ago in our journal about country music and
what the author called the O Brother aesthetic in
production. He says that Emmylou Harris album Wrecking Ball
was influential for the way T-Bone Burnett acoustically framed some
of the songs for the soundtrack of O Brother. And on Gillian
Welchs first album, Revival since Emmylous song Orphan
Girl on Wrecking Ball came out first. One thing that
always struck me about Revival was that even though there were
usually two instruments and two singers per track and that there was
an amazing amount of acoustical space, especially on [Welch’s
version of] Orphan
Girl. Another example of this would be Didnt
Leave Nobody But the Baby, from O Brother where theres
kind of a musical-saw-type sound in the background that really gives
a nice sense of space to it. To me it seems like something that T-Bone
Burnett is picking up from some of your production style.
- DL: Oh, well thats a nice compliment,
I never thought about it. Without any doubt, if you do good work and
people like it its gonna maybe influence somebody: theyre
gonna say, Wow, look at Lanoiswho would have thought? He
pulled this off pretty good, and people seem to like it, so lets
start with that and go to another place. Thats actually
the meaning of folk music. If you can unveil the stereotype for a minute,
the folk tradition is the passing on of information. Its as simple
as that. Its like Ill sing something this way, you hear
it, youll like it; youll whisper it to him, and he goes
to the club and does a rendition that in fact is a little different.
And thatsweve built careers on it. We all learn something
because of it. So, if theres a few shades of my efforts turning
up in T-Bones work, then Ill take that as a compliment.
- OM: We wanted to talk about pedal steel
a little bit. You said that the recording you were just playing for
us is something that youre working on now. We know that you were
really influenced by the pedal steel guitar in the Santo & Johnny
records from the late 50s. How did you get into them?
- DL: Santo & Johnny. Well, you know,
was a hit [in 1958] when I was a little kid. There was a lovely thing
happening in that time: the weekend dance. Kids would get together and
really look forward to the weekend dance.
Theyd play sexy slow songs that were often in the 6/8 time, you
know [sings] and you got a chance to dance
cheek to cheek and maybe on a hot sweaty night … so I always liked
that part of rock and roll culture. When people think of rock and roll
they usually think of up-tempo and fast rhythms, but there was a lot
of really slow sexy stuff back then that still appeals to me today.
And for that matter, the fast rock and roll was not that fastit
had a lot of roll in it. You listen to[sings]:
keepa knockin but you cant come in, come back tomorrow
and try again. Its not fast, you know. And then something
happened in the 70s where suddently it all became eighth notes [sings]:
do do do do doand it lost a lot of sexuality, and so i keep going
back to those early Santo & Johnny [records]. I have the steel right
here, you wanna see it?
Figure 6. Santo & Johnny
[Lanois leads us downstairs to his basement recording studio, where
he plays his pedal steel guitar]
- DL: I still have my original ones,
my original steel here, that I used on that track called Deep
Blue Day [with Brian Eno] they used in Trainspotting
- DL: This section is what I call the
Barber section [plays].
- DL: I call that Panorama.
This one is more melodic, [its] called Thank You [plays].
- DL: Ive been working on playing
up really high. Most players dont play really high. I like this
kind of raindrop sound [demonstrates].
So thats it. I play it as often as I can.
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