(06-05-2003) Daniel Lanois Talks Working With U2 - VH1 * - U2 Feedback

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Old 06-05-2003, 12:06 PM   #1
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(06-05-2003) Daniel Lanois Talks Working With U2 - VH1 *

Daniel Lanois: Shine On You Crazy Diamond
Soft-spoken producer and self confessed "soul miner" explains Bono's power, Eno's oddities, and Dylan's shenanigans.

by Gil Kaufman

You donít have to believe in spirits to sense the aura around Daniel Lanois. When it comes to creating atmosphere, the Canadian producer has a seemingly bottomless sack of mojo. Heís sprinkled some of it on several of the most acclaimed records of the past 20 years. From Bob Dylanís Time Out of Mind to Peter Gabrielís So to U2ís The Joshua Tree to Emmylou Harrisí Wrecking Ball, Lanois has staked his claim as someone capable of pulling light out of darkness.

(Photo: VH1)

Shine is Lanoisí first solo album in a decade, and with it he conjures a world of dreamy soul that subtly seeps into your heart. Falling somewhere between a trip-hop Robbie Robertson song and a forgotten U2 ballad, "I Love You," features longtime foil Harris harmonizing with Lanoisí midnight rasp. The song opens the disc, an invitation to an album of Calypso-tinged instrumentals and gentle originals that sway like they had a gospel chorus behind them. "Falling at Your Feet," is a rapturous slice of pop-soul in which Lanois and Bono unite for an evangelical vocal pairing the producer describes as an update of Simon and Garfunkel.

The soft-spoken singer has written albums with Willie Nelson while driving across the California desert, guided U2 at the peak of their powers, and jammed with kid music superhero Raffi. Speaking with VH1, Lanois shares the funniest story Bob Dylan ever told him, explains how Bono can turn any bully into a pussycat, and cops to the fact that he digs Kraftwerk.

VH1: Why did it take a decade to make another solo album?

Daniel Lanois: It sounds absurd, doesnít it? Iíve been producing records, thatís my main excuse. They eat up time: months, years go by. I feel really energized about music and pedal steel guitar playing; I really want to do it now. It might have been wrong to keep making records all that time.

VH1: What is it about the pedal steel that attracts you?

Lanois: Itís got a crying sound that appeals to me. It has a lovely harmonious tone to it.

VH1: Having been away so long, who do you think your fans are? Can you describe a typical one?

Lanois: Iíve touched some hearts along the way and people keep coming back. Theyíre very patient. People who were touched by the first record like the quietness and storytelling, which is a great thing to include in song if itís part of your makeup. Eminem has the capacity to tell a story. Thatís what people love about him. I had that on my first record and I think I have some on this one. Maybe they all got addicted to bedtime stories as kids. "As Tears Roll By," [sings chorus], is a nursery rhyme. Theyíre schoolyard melodies. I got really interested in the Jamaican recordings of the 1950s; theyíre a reference point for me because theyíre largely about schoolyard rhymes.

VH1: Why tour? You certainly donít have to at this point. What do you get out of it?

Lanois: I love music in dense rock 'n' roll rooms, especially the smaller one with the capacity for 100 or so people. Thereís such an energy in those places, itís like youíre entertaining inside a speaker cabinet for an hour or two. I love the quick communication. Being a person of improv, I can analyze an audience and modify my thing.

VH1: What's your approach to your career? How do you decide which projects you work on?

Lanois: Iíve always responded to invitations somewhat spontaneously. When I got a call from Willie Nelson, I thought, ďThis is a once in a lifetime thing.Ē We made a fast record in four days. I wanted to make a masterpiece with Dylan, purely on a selfish note. Again, once in a lifetime, but more importantly, Iím not going to accept this invitation unless I really have some things to bring to the table. A lot of people respond to the invitations and make crap records.

VH1: Why did "Falling at Your Feet" end up on your album and not U2ís?

Lanois: We wrote it for The Million Dollar Hotel [soundtrack] and I guess the lyrics could have made their way onto a U2 record. I thought I wanted to give the song a bigger life. Bono started the lyrics with the ďfalling at your feetĒ idea. The idea that no matter what bags you might be carrying, at some time in life youíll end up at a crossing point. Itís a spiritual song. We share a fascination with old Simon and Garfunkel songs, so I put on the afro and he put on the bangs.

VH1: What's the worst piece of music Bono's ever been involved with? And whatís the best?

Lanois: There are probably some things that are not very well known, but Iím not going to answer that one. I very much like the way "One" with U2 evolved. I think itís got a lot of feeling and emotional layers. When you get a song right, a lot of people will read their own thing into it. A great song should never be a dictatorship, it should leave a window open.

VH1: What's the best advice you ever got from Brian Eno? He famously drank his own urine to see what it was like. Have you ever followed that path?

Lanois: Early on, he told me not to have too many considerations at hand, to master a few tools. To this day, thatís what Brian does. Heís excited about a few things and works at those few tools. As for drinking urine, Gandhi was ahead of him on that. Iíve actually drank my own urine, but not as a recommendation from Brian. Itís a holistic medicine. If youíre shy about it, pee on your feet, it gets rid of athleteís foot. I was just so impressed with Brian and his dedication to what I regard as obscure music back in the ambient days. His concern was never, ďHow could this ever be commercially viable?Ē He said if you do something really great and it has a bedrock of passion, it will rise to the surface and people will notice. And then, youíll be invited to do something else.

VH1: Whatís something youíve learned about Bono that people would not expect to hear about him?

Lanois: Thatís a man who has the ability to rechannel energy, including bad energy. If you think of it like electricity and you get a shock from it, he says, ďLetís redo the wiring and cook a very nice meal.Ē Iíve learned to rechannel energy from him. The bully in the class might become the leader of the pack if you just extend the invitation.

VH1: Your productions tend to have a dark feeling. Where does that come from? Ever get the itch to just let loose and use some dance beats?

Lanois: Iíve always enjoyed undermining the front of the picture with darkness - thatís life. It may have a gleaming moment, but it may have a rainstorm in a few hours. To have something lurking in the background, to have a dark subject and surround it with beauty. I have a very high regard for rhythm, even though it might not be the dominant part of my career. Thereís a hint of it in "Sledgehammer." A passing disposable sentiment is not usually part of my recipe.

VH1: You talked about "soul mining" at your South By Southwest conference keynote speech. What did you mean by that?

Lanois: It was just a postmodern sentiment; [we're] at the back end of 50 years of rock and roll. Leonard Cohen once talked about the tower of song and going up [it]. Iíve only ever experienced going down, having to shovel my way through mountains of coal to find a glimmer of a gem. In these times of "everythingís been done," perhaps you have to dig deeper and work harder.

VH1: What's a type of music youíre fascinated by, but havenít summoned up the courage to explore yet?

Lanois: Iím really fascinated with the hip-hop community because they have the best sound in regards to where technology has taken us. The bottom end of hip-hop records is the best. Iíve never had the opportunity to work with someone from that community, but wouldnít it be great to work with Dr. Dre?

VH1: What music do you listen to that might surprise people?

Lanois: Sometimes I like very electronic German music, like Kraftwerk. Itís so regimented and mathematical and mechanical that it has an emotion of its own. Itís about sticking to your thing robotically.

VH1: When you hear artists youíve worked with who have made their next record without you, what do you think?

Lanois: Anyone Iíve done good work with, Iím wishing them the best on their next endeavor, whether Iím involved or not. If Iím not, I hope that the people they are working with understand that the stage has been set for them and they need to step up to the plate. Not just, "Wow, I get to play with the Yankees, but I canít hit a ball!" If the Yankees invite you, you have to hit.

VH1: What's the best joke Bob Dylan has ever told you?

Lanois: He never told me a joke. Heís just a real good dude. When youíre as smart as he is, you find humor in the cracks. I asked Bob about his early days and he said there was this thing in the late '50s where, if a publishing company was interested in your songs, you would get an audition. Youíd walk in and down the hallway there would be all these little doorways that looked like phone booths. Theyíd say, ďGo into booth seven and let us hear your songs.Ē Someone on the other side of the glass would say, ďGo now.Ē Well, Bob would go into these booths and he sang all kinds of songs that heíd written, then, when he ran out of songs, he just started to sing other peopleís songs and pretend they were his. He got his publishing deal and they never knew the difference!

Thank you, Devlin!
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