- OM: Besides Santo & Johnny, who
are the other steel players that you listen to or feel that youve
been influenced by?
- DL: I was into David Lindley in the
70s, who used to play with Jackson Browne. Real good. Hes a straight
slide player, hes not a pedal player. I always liked the passion
in his playing. And then I was a fan of Ry Cooders Paris, Texas
soundtrack. It was an influence on me. Again, no pedalsRy plays
just straight-up slide. There was a guy in my neighborhood when I when
I was growing up, Bob Lucier. He was my teacher and he used to play
in country & western bands around the neighborhood. And in Toronto
at the time the strip was really happening, Yonge Street, a great crossroads
of all kind of music. There was a great blues club, and everybody went
through there, including Muddy Waters. Then there was an R&B club
where I got to hear James Brown, Wilson Pickett, all the best soul artistsSam
& Daveall the best soul artists of the time. And I used to
play at the club called Brown Derby. I was just a kidI was like
15 years oldand I was in a show band. It wasnt much of anything,
we just used to do like show music, you know. But what was important
about it was these other clubs that were on just the next block, so
we played a lot of sets, six or seven, and in between I would run to
other places and hear the other bands, and then come back for my next
set. So it was a cool hang, and I got to hear some of the greats of
that era, just from playing on the strip. It was kind of the last of
that era, and a couple of years after that it all disintegrated …
- JG: What years was this?
- DL: This would have been like late
60s. Its how I imagine the strip here in Los Angeles would have
been around the same era: Little Bobby Darin would be there, and the
Stones were hanging out, and it was not sort of an embarrassment of
tourism as it is currently. Last night I was hanging out with my buddy
Robbie Robertson, who is a generation ahead of me, and he really remembers
that time, you know, traveling and playing with Ronnie Hawkins. Back
then it wasnt so much about making records, it was about playing,
and records were a by-product of an already existing live performance
ensemble. And that was the meaning of the word record: Lets
document something thats going on. In our contemporary times,
bands get put together with the view, Were gonna get a record
deal, we gotta get a publishing deal, we gotta get everything worked
out, and once we got everything worked out, then we will play.
So, its just like a mirroring of what we talked about earlier,
the self-entertainment society that has music out of necessity. It loves
music, needs music, and its gonna have music absent of any industry.
So I still have a soft spot for that thought, that romantic notion.
- JG: Its funny though, that you,
of all people, have romanticized that kind of live music culture, when
you have made much of your living as a record producer.
- DL: Yeah, yeah. Its a contradiction
- OM: And the way you use sounds that
are difficult to produce live.
- DL: Yeah, well you know Jimi Hendrix
used to say the same thing: That was a recording, and this is
live. By the time I came into the picture, the studio was not
a place of documentation anymore. It was like, OK, youve heard
all those great inventive British recordings, the Beach Boys stacking
up harmonies; and its like wow,
Figure 7. Daniel Lanois.
Photo by Jennifer Tipoulow
all these possibilities were available to us. So, for me to be a documentary
recordist at my time, I would have been, like, way backwards. So I just
chose to go with the new frontier. I wanted to be an innovator. I was
hanging out with Brian Eno, and it was all about pushing the boundaries.
Interfacingin school youre taught that this goes here, then
you plug it into that, then over here, and thats the way it is.
And you challenge conventional interface and thats when you start
stumbling onto the cool sounds. Its like, OK, well
take this thing thats normally the last thing in the chain and
put it in the front, and so on. So by monkeying around with the
rules, myself and Brian Eno were able to hit on some pretty cool stuff.
- JG: … which then went right back
into that live music culture. When those bands that you guys were producing
had made a record, they then used a lot of that stuff when they went
out on tour. I remember seeing Peter Gabriel on his Us tour around
92 before Id heard the record. But it was obvious that what
he was doing in this big stadium, wherever he was playing, had some
amazing production effects that he would have never thought of without
- DL: Well, yeah. Folk music. Ive
seen that on the U2 shows. They took it to a whole other level where
they would actually take things from the record, like, theyre
just like little sounds that are kind of cool and signatures on the
record. At their shows they have a whole sort of city under the stage
of people doing things. Id say probably eighty percent of their
set is to fixed time, allowing them to play the same tempos as the record
and therefore pull some of the sounds off the record. I mean, the Edge,
[U2’s guitarist, who often plays multiple
guitar tracks on a single recording] bless his heart, is covering
ninety percent of it. Hes only one guy up there, we gotta give
him a break. So some of the Eno-sonics or whatever are always kind of
on a computer down in the underbelly of the operation.
- JG: And thats not a bad thing.
- DL: Thats show business. Thats
- OM: Youve mentioned in other interviews
that youve got a paint box of production tools, and that any artist
who comes to you to work on a record has access to your whole palette
of influences and sounds. How would you describe that tool box? What
is in it?
- DL: Well at any given time Im
excited about some tools. Currently my pedal steel guitar playing is
pretty up there, so that would be one of the ingredients. And Im
never that thrilled about too many ingredients, its usually three
or four, where Im really focused and I understand. Aside from
what Im currently excited about, I try and keep a lot of my past
tools that Ive used, I keep them around and lubricated. Theyre
just classics. If you want a harmonium
sound, if you like that sound, then theres no substitute: its
like a little pump organ, it has a beautiful sound, and it never goes
out of fashion. And if you want that sound, then you have to have it,
or else you gotta rent it, and you may not get a good one. So part of
the responsibility is to hang onto the tools that have served me well,
and just say, OK, thats for that sound, it only has two
sounds. And the same thing goes with microphonescertain
microphones just have a certain sound, and thats that Its
kind of like a lens, you know. You want a nice twenty millimeter Leica
from the early 60s? Youre not gonna run to Good Guys and hope
to find it. Instruments, amplifiers,
microphonesthose are all pretty important to me. Funny enough,
the recording medium I think is less important to the personality of
a record. Over the years Ive used whatever medium is available
at that time. I first started just a two-track recorder, and then every
step of the ladder up to twenty-four-track; then I moved into digital.
Currently I use a Canadian digital machine and I still have my analog
machines. But the mediumthats almost like talking about
what kind of film you like to use. Whats probably more important
is your lighting, your subject, what kind of lens youre using,
how big your format is.
Figure 8. From a Leica ad,
- JG: And your ideas, right?
- DL: Exactly. Youre gonna hang
from the ceiling with two tennis balls. OK, thats that shot. So
people talk about the medium a lot, like its the most important
thing. Its about the ideas and the vision and whos in the
room and what youre gonna do. Thats probably the most important
thing. But you know, whenever I can, I keep the tools that have served
- OM: So ultimately its about good
players, good instruments, and good songs.
- DL: Yeah, its that, but its
also what is unfolding at the moment. Some of the things Ive done
very well didnt start out as songs. They started out as people
playing together, and something would erupt, and it would conjure up
some kind of an image. Like I stopped in Dublin before Christmas to
work with U2 for a week on their new record [How to Dismantle an
Atomic Bomb], just to help them out a bit. They were having a little
bit of trouble with the beginning of one song, and I said Just
abandon what youve got and lets play it again. So
we just huddled up on the couchmyself, the Edge, Bono, Adamand
we just had a little clicker in the headphones because Larry was going
to overdub his drums after. And we just
Figure 9. Lanois and The
Edge in concert
said, OK, lets play the whole song up to this point, and
well just recreate a whole new beginning. And we did, and
it started having this sound, and I said, You know its kind
of like windshield wipers in the rain, door opening, and looking off
into the distance, and it almost became like a cinematic moment.
You couldnt explain how it happened, or how it got there, or what
you plugged into whatits just what happened, its just
the image of that recording. We edited that to the main body of the
song that they had already put a lot of work into … And it was
- JG: You do a lot of what we do as musicologists,
which is to analyze the music and talk to the band and help them make
sense of whats already going on so that they can fit the last
- DL: You talk about it after. What often
happens in my little world is Ill see a possibility and its
just on the edge of taking place. And Ill just kind of push it
that way [gestures]. It becomes a game of psychology at a certain
point, and you want to trick people into a situation. Sometimes they
know theyre being tricked, and thats good. Its like
telling the same story again and you added some embellishment, and everybody
in the room keeps quiet about it, because they know youre lyingmaybe
theres one newcomer, and thats enough to go on.
- OM: Youre also known for being
a meticulous producer in terms of documenting, actually writing down
some of the things that you do. There were three thoughts I had about
your notebooks: maybe you kept them for posterity, or perhaps it was
your own way of working things out through your own notes, or maybe
it was like the results of a chemistry experiment.
- DL: I use these big books, and Ill
show you [he shows us his notebook]. I start with a graph, and
then, if I have an ideathe windshield wipers in the rain, dark
night, slow tempo, landscape, humble beginning, story-telling very much
at the forefront of this ideathat goes in the box. Then the next
box will the be for the next day, maybe the arrangement of the same
song, a description of each section and so on. And so you actually write
down useful information. Then maybe at dinner time, lets make
a list of our favorite titles so far. And then in about three or four
days that page will be full of information thats relevant to the
project. And then glancing at that one page, youd be surprised
at how much inspiration you can get and reminders of what people said.
And so it becomes like a personal menu or journal relating to that project
without preconception. Not something that I wrote before I got there,
it was written during the process. I find that these writings become
the personality of that project; its almost like paying respect
to that project.
- JG: When we read that you kept these
notebooks, we were thinking, wouldnt it be great to get these
published and read through them?
- OM: This is what musicologists dream
- DL: One of them is in the Rock and
Roll Hall of Fame. Ive got to get it back, theyve had it
for a couple of years.
- JG: Well, someday, theres a market
for it. People who like this musicscholars at least, but fans,
toowould love to see how this stuff was dreamt up.
- DL: I have a lot of extensive notes
from the 80s. And a lot of the struggles I was going through are all
in there. Not particularly about the people I was working with, but
- JG: Do you go back and look at those
- DL: Ive looked at them and theyre
quite touching. Whats touching about them is the amount of dedication
and arrogance. I dont mean arrogance in a negative manner, just
sort of the arrogance of concentration, having made a decision to not
be distracted by anything other than the work. Im not saying I
was right, but thats definitely where I was at. Just the dedication,
the commitment. Theres so much dedication and commitment in my
work and in those writings of that time, that Im aware of the
fact that I was probably like an emotional midget in other areas. It
was completely out of balance. Still looking for balance.
- JG: Youve said youve always
written music, always composed music even before you had made your own
solo records. Do you think you came at it from the point of view of
a producer? When you conceptualize songs, when you first think of a
song, do you think about how you want it to sound in a fuller sonic
- DL: I can do that now, I could not
do that then. Because now I have so much technique. Like that track
Deep Blue Day which I mentioned that shows up in that Trainspotting
movie. OK, Deep Blue Day, I know how to make that, we could
do version two. Back then, it was all discovering. So, I still like
to make the discoveries. Thats probably the most fun. But if you
said to me, I really like this kind of a feel, and you played
me something Ive done before, I would remember how to do it, and
could probably do it again.
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