INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Inpress APRIL 14, 2006 - by Guido Farnell
Daniel Lanois tells Guido Farnell that he's put his career as a producer on hold to focus on his own music.
Daniel Lanois certainly has the Midas touch when it comes to production. Since the early '80s he has been hitting the boards to produce truly significant albums for the likes of Peter Gabriel, U2, Emmylou Harris, The Neville Brothers, Ron Sexsmith and Bob Dylan amongst others. Lanois' genius for production has helped many artists to deliver some of their most satisfying work. Yet with a whole decade separating the release of 1993's acclaimed For The Beauty of Wynona and 2003's Shine, it seems that Lanois' work as a producer has drawn him away from his own career as a musician and composer.
I have stopped producing for the moment. You can't imagine how long it takes. I was in ireland for two years on the last one. Now that I am not producing, I want to put out more records, advises Lanois, who is currently preparing for a series of shows across Australia.
Last year, Lanois' album Belladonna took listeners on a dreamy journey through wide-open desert spaces. Lanois' much-loved pedal steel conjures up ethereal melodies and harmonies that trickle coolly across the dry sun-baked ambience of this album. Flourishes of blues, country, folk and south of the border influences appear like mirages on the horizon.
I usually end up with instrumental tracks sitting around my studio. They are often the by-products of the production process I use when recording my songs. Somebody once said to me that it was a shame people didn't have the opportunity to enjoy these tracks and that they would just be wasted sitting on my shelf. Belladonna essentially brings these tracks together. I anticipate that after every couple of vocal records I will put out an instrumental album. I have always enjoyed instrumental music. As a kid I listened to Miles Davis, but instrumental music was a little more popular back then, some of it even made it into the charts. I don't know if I can claim to fill the shoes of Miles Davis but maybe after a few drinks in a moment of bragging, laughs Lanois.
Indeed Lanois' love of instrumental music is well documented and his early work with Eno on ambient albums such as Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks, On Land and Voices is nothing short of seminal. I really love that body of work I did with Brian Eno. It is very special to me. We carved out a kind of work ethic together. Even after all this time those values are still with me. At the time we didn't care, we just wanted to make beautiful and fascinating albums. The kind of records that people would be ongoingly curious about. If it has depth and lasting appeal that keeps you going back to it, then surely that is great work. All my work is driven by those intentions.
I learnt a lot from Brian back in those early days. I was a very competent musician and I guess that really was the key to our working relationship. I think also that I have a good ear for soul, for music that has passion and feels good. Brian was coming more from the art world and often at times he knew what he liked or wanted but didn't necessarily know how to get it. I was able to speed up the process because I understood what he wanted musically and was able to make some smart suggestions. Essentially, that was the nature of the relationship and it was a great marriage of sorts. Eno was very kind to me. Let's face it, he did not need to include me compositionally on those records, but quite early on he embraced the relationship. He is a very sweet man and I will be forever grateful.
Deservedly, Belladonna scored a Grammy nomination this year for Best Pop Instrumental Album, while Agave, with its etherised liquid horns, scored a nomination for the Best Pop Instrumental Performance. I was surprised by both of those nominations, laughs Lanois modestly. Generally I despise 'pop' as a category. I never thought of Belladonna in this way, it feels more like 'leathered up in the midnight under the influence of drugs'. We didn't go for that category, apparently, so the album ended up being categorised as 'pop'.
Pipped at the post by Burt Bacharach, who took the Best Pop Instrumental Album award for At This Time, and Les Paul's Caravan, which took out the Best Pop Instrumental Performance this year, Lanois missed out. Nonetheless, co-production work on U2's How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb saw Lanois on stage helping the band collect a Grammy for Album Of The Year. I felt a tiny bit out of place because there are so many producers on that album and I only worked on three tracks. I just happened to be there and they just dragged me on stage with them. They are lovely people and it was nice to be included at the party one more time.
I wondered to what extent Lanois sought to influence the sound of the albums he produced or whether his approach was more transparent. I always bring something to the table. Usually what I bring to the table is what I'm excited about sonically and obviously that changes from year to year. It is a responsibility I like to take one so that I am not just turning up and enjoying whatever vibe is going. I am first and foremost a musician and so I feel the need to bring some secret weapons like sounds, pedals, effects and so forth. These things have really helped a lot of people out. Sometimes it is just that one little thing that makes all the difference.
As Lanois' influence is stamped across some of the most acclaimed albums of the last twenty-five years, it was impossible to resist asking him which one was his favourite. I like that Time Out Of Mind album by Bob Dylan. It was a chaotic setting and a lot of what you are hearing is just a collection of people in a large room. What happens when you work with a lot of people like that is that you get a natural depth of field because you have so much going on in the room that some instruments get into other instruments' microphones. In a cinematic way the depth of field is already declared and that does not have to be invented in the mixing process. I think there is something reassuring about records that are made in that way. I think of those old Dr John records which really fix a location in your brain as you are hearing it. I think to choose one out of my many children is a bit of an unfair question but if it had to be one record it would be Time Out Of Mind. I don't see Bob Dylan much these days but we have had our moments of closeness. He drew a fantastic charcoal sketch portrait of me back in 1989 and it still sits on the wall here.