The Key Of Lanois

The Key Of Lanois

Innovating with technology to make musical masterpieces is multi-instrumentalist and producer Daniel Lanois’ driving force but it would be impossible without a good ‘sounding board’. Dan Davies plugged in and pulled out some original stems about his philosophy, working practice, technical spec, Mad Professor inspiration, Eno collaboration, Dylan and U2 production, co-artistry with Venetian Snares and plans for Convergence.

Shifting studios

“There's been a shifting of the monsoons over the years, the studio used to be a very specific place and you made the record there and then you never went back to it until you wanted to go on the road with it. But the studio has become such a part of my life, it's everywhere and I'm always recording and because now I'm taking the studio to the stage it all bleeds together for me.”

Live is live

“When I come to this particular festival I bring a little multitrack with me, I got the idea from the Mad Professor. He has all these multi’s of Jamaican classics such as Dawn Penn's No No No [Lanois parps the horn section]. He played Toronto and we had a balcony seat so I was able to look down at what he was doing. He was just dubbing off a little multi-track and I thought ‘I'm going to try this, this guy's having all of the fun’. So we decided to take the studio to the stage. We're bringing a little playback multi-track, then I have all my processing boxes, and my sampler, and I do a live dubbing of a prepared track. It's different every night because the samples are spontaneous and we have a little films prepared for some of these tracks too. It's all pretty cottage industry technology but it's never the same twice but that's the best thing about it: it's live. My dubs can be very aggressive on stage so I have these big bass amps that I send my dub machine to because the thing that comes out of that dub machine is really wild but a lot of bottom that fills the whole place. I feel like I'm just discovering rock and roll all over again with these boxes.”

Saying Goodbye To Language again

“It will be different to the record for sure, first off Rocco Deluca my mate who is on that record is not coming on tour with me because we couldn't afford it. So I will be representing a few tracks from that record and a few other things that are rhythmic and electro so it's going to be a mixture of things but all instrumental, and Goodbye To Language will be represented in the sense that I will have my steel guitar with me and I've re-found my voice on this instrument so there will be three or four live steel guitar moments done in the spirit of Goodbye To Language, I can't replicate the exact thing because as you pointed out this isn't going to be a metronomically driven show. I put so much work into the details of that record that I couldn't possibly do that live because it's months of work in the studio but I will have my steel guitar there and people will be aware of the compositional approach. I will have my straight old instrument with me and I have a little sampler that I built right on the guitar. It's a little sampler that Eno introduced me to and it's become a big part of Goodbye To Language so I'll bring that little gimmick with me and it's not a looper it allows me to hold a note whilst I harmonise on top.”

The right technology for creativity

“It gets into psychology here because what happens is we're pretty smart, we human beings, so we adapt to our environment including our tools. If a tool only has so much capacity you're not going to ask it to do something that it can't do, so you micro-negotiate with your tools and come up with a certain result based on the flexibility of the tool. If it's a piano it's not going to have those 500 other sounds because it's a piano, you can play it an octave up or play it a little bit lighter but you work with what the instrument tells you to do and something beautiful can be made out of that piano recording. Whereas on another session with a keyboard you might be looking for one sound out of those 500 keyboard settings and that would be the best use of your time. Time is a factor, we only have so much time in the creative arena and you don't want to be dazzled by too many costume changes, you want to apply your talent to whatever you have in the sandbox and just get something done. That still holds true in the presence of a lot of technology, we are human we only get so much time with our mates…”

Dusting off the steel guitar for Brian Eno on Apollo

“I pulled out my steel guitar when Brian talked about the fact that some of these astronauts were from Texas and the wanted to hear a nice country twang while they were up there. So we got that guitar out of the closet and that's how it happened. It was a beautiful sound and his brother Roger was there with us then and agreed it had a good vibe going at the time, so that record fell into place quite nicely.”

The producer role

“The main difference when I'm making a record for somebody else, for example Bob Dylan, when I'm working with him, of course, it's all about the songs, so I wear a certain kind of hat I because I want the very best for the people I'm working with. I have to act as an uncle or big brother and advise them on a number of levels and because I'm standing on the outside I can be objective and especially helpful. I find people really need a friend when they’re making record. And when I work (solo) I have my good friend Wayne Lorenz with me, he's my reliable sounding board and if we've got a problem he'll point it out to me, and I do the same for the folks that I work with.”

Good people make good music

“I think that's why I was drawn to record production. I love and care about people and I enjoy the process of helping folks out and getting as close to a masterpiece as we can get."

“My latest slogan is that I ‘surround myself with people I admire’. I think we can safely say that I've admired people that I've worked with over the years. I realise how significant it is to have people around that will make a difference to me. When I work with Eno he's such a knowledgeable person, he's like a Noam Chomsky, so the lunch table conversations are going to be staggering. That's what keeps me alive in record production, it's about people - I love people and I love the results.”

Co-artistry and Venetian Snares

“It's very advanced so it's an opportunity to apply what I do to a very different flavour, I'm excited about this because I'm not going to go to that places I usually go to with this artist. I'm enjoying this collaboration, because I'm not producing this I'm really a co-artist. By being a co-artist it puts me in both chairs, I can go to my buddy Aaron Funk (Venetian Snares) and say ‘what do you think of this or that?’ and it’s long distance so he's far enough away that if I get mad, he's not going to know it…”

Making a record

“Looking back talking about Apollo it was the same thing working with Brian and his brother. We were really good mates at that time and we were living in a house with my brother so we had a real family feeling. I realise now that those moments exist at a certain time and it won't happen the same ever again. And that's why we make records - a record it's a record of something that happens. It's the same with a portrait or photograph, people are of a certain kind of mind you can make an artistic snapshot of that time with those folks, and it's true to how they are and what they're doing, then it will live on in a nice way. Somehow time goes on and you look back and say ‘hey, that Achtung Baby album was pretty good and working with the U2 boys was fun.’ But I could never do that again, I could never be the same person... I wouldn't be as patient!”

Performing the unrepeatable

“Now we're about to embark on this electro tour and representing Goodbye To Language and other instrumental versions of what I do and I love, and we're going to pack up the stuff and get on the airplanes and the nights of this tour will be special and unique. There's something touching about the hand played aspect of this tour that we're proposing, we'll allow it to have a unique character outside of the cookie cutter.”

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