- JG: When you write a song, whats
the process? Do you start with lyrics, chord progressions, how does
- DL: Sometimes its just melody
and then I fill in the melody with words or maybe a catch phrasemelody
has a pretty big role. And there are times when I just write words and
then I apply music to the words after that. That can be good, too. But
I keep an orphanage and I have one of these little mini-disc
recorders and I hammer out ideas in there. And the best ones usually
come after coffee first thing in the morning. Therell be like
a string of about twenty of them. And maybe therell be half a
dozen that are special. And its those littleI call them
seedsits those seeds that will ultimately become songs.
- OM: What are the sources of inspiration
for your lyrics?
- DL: Usually, personal experience. A
title. Sometimes Ive been influenced by film. I have a song on
my first record called Ice
which was influenced by a movie [Track 16] about a guy who loves
his girlfriend so much he kills her by the riverside. So there have
been times when Ive really been influenced by film and by already
existing stories. I was staying at a friend of mines apartment
in New York, and she was a famous folk singer in the 60s, and so she
had stacks of old songbooks. I was just kind of glancing through them
and I saw a tiny piece of lyric that said Siliums Hill.
And so I wrote a song called Siliums
Hill not knowing anything about what it
- JG: I noticed that on your second solo
album, there were at least a few tracks where your voice had been put
through an effect.
- DL: Oh yeah, I was kind of going through
a bad time on my second record vocally. It was a very strenuous time
for me, and so it sounds strained a bit on the record.
- JG: But there is some kind of effect
- DL: Its probably just distortion.
- JG: Youve done that with other
- DL: Yeah. With Bono
on Achtung Baby.
- JG: But its always interesting
to me when somebody uses distortion on the voice, because the voice
is such a personal thing. Its not like distorting a guitar, which
is already an electronic signal. Distorting the voice seems like a pretty
- DL: If you study your rock and roll
recordings of the 50s, theres a lot of overdrive going on, because
the medium up to that point had been largely about miking things from
a distance. You wouldnt put a
microphone right on a horn or somebodys face. So, when rock and
roll came along, it was louder than anything that had happened before,
and the microphones and the preamps were overloading. You hear those
old Little Richard recordingstheyre distorted, and its
part of the greatness of them [listen].
And when I worked with Dylan, he said I like the sound of records
from the 50s. Why cant we get that today? And I didnt
know how to answer that, and I listened to them. He gave me a list of
records he liked and I checked them out, and sure enough they were all
kind of fucked up and distorted. And I wanted to make sure that he had
access to those colors, and I found a way of mixing the very high fidelity
Figure 10. Album cover for
- JG: In a way that sounds a little different
from the 50s.
- DL: Yes, it could never be the same.
And theres a lovely sense of depth of field on that record, and
that was [done] in an old fashioned way. Just have a lot of people in
the room. Somebody sitting further back, and they sound further backthe
opposite of isolating then recreating space with mixing. Natural depth
of field is a lovely thing. Its comforting. As humans we like
it, we see it every dayjust looking out a window. Its not
a fabrication of depthits real depth. And when were
exposed to real depth in a record, I think we find comfort in it.
- JG: Youre saying that one of the
ways you achieved that was by putting lots of people in the room?
- DL: Yeah. Just the way things sound
naturally in a room. I mean, you already hear the beginnings of messing
with depth of field in old John Lee Hooker recordings where his amp
will have all kind of reverb in it, but his voice will be bone dry and
then you can hear his foot, you know? Playing with depth like that is
really exciting to me. And I think, when you get people in a room, youre
suddenly presented with a challenge and lots of possibilitieshow
I imagine it would be like being a lighting director. Youre presented
with a scene that has a hundred characters instead of four, and its
like, God, how are we going to deal with this situation?
And at the moment, your resourcefulness kicks in and your past experience.
When youve had all that experience, youre like a cat: you
fall on your feet no matter whats thrown at you. And its
nice to challenge a master. Its good to insult a master, and say,
OK, you think youre good, well, weve got a hundred
more people here than what you thought we were going to have, and we
want them lit, and were shooting in twenty minutes.
- JG: I like that ideaits
like youre trying to get the listener to experience that space.
Recordings are often put in opposition to live recording, because [a]
recording could have been made anywhere on earth at any time and we
dont know where it is. But that anonymity is what youre
trying to break throughyoure trying to get the listener
to experience that space itselfto be able to put themselves a
little bit in that room.
- OM: Music writers seem to use some
similar words over and over again about your music and productions.
What do you think of melancholy, spiritual,
- DL: A friend of mine said, The
searching thing, thats good. Because if you stop searching, then
you wont be innovating any more. So, Ill take it as
- OM: What about haunted and
- DL: Yeah, more compliments. Out
of body is one I like to use these days, which is like being a
channeler for a minute, staying outside your ego and receiving some
kind of signal or information. Theres something beautiful about
thatif that happens to come to you and youre able to get
it on a recording, you could actually say, Im not responsible,
it was just something that I felt. Which is a nice thing, because,
again, it operates outside of vanity, outside of ego and braggartry.
- JG: How wide ranging are your listening
- DL: Very wide. A lot of my listening
is chance listening, just in peoples houses. A friend of mine
has a clothing store and I hear some tracks in there. I like going to
bars that have really good juke boxes for that reasonit rocks
my world for an evening. In a way, its a very luxurious time because
we can look at the history of music and influences and we get to be
a genius at choosing. Its like, well, thats the best track
from 82. Thats why DJs are kind of the contemporary
heroes, because all they need is a record collection,
and if theyve got good taste, and put time in, they get to show
everybody else whos busy doing other stuff that theyve picked
some really cool records. So its really a great time in regards
to studying what fifty years of rock and roll has had to offeryou
just hand pick the best cherries. And I never get tired of really good
retro radio. If somebody plays me an old track that brings me on my
knees, I think, thank youits like food for me. But I feel
the same way about contemporary music, anything thats great, you
know. Even though I dont play the record all the way through,
theres a couple things on the Destinys Child record that
I think are technological giants. Some of Dres grooves, are like,
Wow, dont know how you did it.
Figure 11. Album cover for
- OM: Where do you see your own work going
- DL: Im going to do this pedal
steel music. And I have so much stacked up material. Great psychedelic
stuff from Mexico. So Im probably going to put out a pedal steel
guitar record, and then following that Ill put out a more tripped-out,
psychedelic, really peyote record.
- JG: Its funny how, when you play
the pedal steel, the way that you are hunched over the instrument. I
kept thinking, thats unusual for rock music. Because often, even
with a keyboard player, theyre a little bit more upright. Guitarists—you
can see their whole body. And here you are at the pedal steel and youre
like a mechanic. Its like youre at the mixing board.
- DL: Im working on a stand-up
model, so dont worry. I just havent gotten the legs long
enough yet. I dont go for the hunched over thing in motorcycles,
and I dont like it in music either. Im just a victim of
design here for a minute. Dont worry, Im coming up with
my stand-up model.
- JG: You know, I kind of liked it. It
was like the genius working at his instrument. It taps into a cerebral
quality in your music.
- OM: Referring to the train sounds at
end of The Collection of Marie Claire you said in an
interview, I try and promote as much strangeness as possible because
I think thats what makes records interesting in the end.
How does a rock and roll aesthetica live aestheticwork with
the whole idea of strangeness? Are those different things? Or is there
a priority there?
- DL: I suppose the contradictions that
happenfor example, were all looking for inner peace, tranquility,
and a large population is carrying a yoga mat aroundbut we put
up with sirens and dogs barking and leaf-blowers: we tolerate an awful
lot in an urban environment passively, and we try and balance that out
with the readings and the prayers and the meditations and so on. When
I see those kind of contradictions it sort of appeals to me, that we
still have the beauty of the church bell, or the romantic sound of a
train, and then that would all be insulted by so many other things.
In fact, I have a track called Sirens that Id like
to play for you one day that is about that. Its beautiful, and
then as it evolves, theres more and more contradiction, the metal
ripping, and plastic burning. Its just like its disintegrating
into ashes, but the beautiful melody keeps playing, almost like the
sinking of the Titanic. So, its nice to mix. I think great art
has always had contradiction in it. The peacefulness of that Hopper
painting, Nighthawks: the tranquility of that image and
the reassurance of
Figure 12. Edward Hopper,
opulence and theres so much confidence and so much wealth in this
culture, and yet the people at the bar are lonely. And so, the loneliness
sort of intercepts the seemingly stable parts of the painting. The last
supper will have betrayal hidden in there somewhere, and so on. So I
think that if you can get that in music, its a cool thing.
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