Daniel Lanois—the Québécois producer that’s worked with everyone from Brian Eno and U2 to Bob Dylan and Rick James—is currently finishing up an album of ambient lap steel music. The lap steel guitar is intrinsically a contemplative instrument—and it challenges the player to go beyond the temptations of mere navel-gazing to reach that place that is outside oneself. It’s a process that consumes the majority of his time now as he prepares the launch of this latest record. He curates an entire room of ambient electronic music in the penthouse of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion late this Friday night as part of the Sleepless: The Music Center After Hours celebration. This interview by David Cotner." /> L.A. Record


November 4th, 2015 | Interviews

How do you think about these songs when you think about the limitations of putting them on vinyl?
Daniel Lanois: I just think that in terms of attention span and getting to know a record intimately, it’s better for it to not be too long. It’ll be on whatever format—CD and otherwise—but I like those short sides. I like 16½ minutes a side—so I’m going to convince the record company to accept a 32-minute album. And that’s enough for me.
I’d agree, but I think ambient music tends to expand your attention span—you expect to keep going—and in their way, ambient music fans are really intense because they get into a piece and they don’t want it to end!
Daniel Lanois: [laughs] But you’ve heard how quickly the events come and go in this music, so it’s not a long textured thing. Some of it is quite demanding—it’s not coming at you; it has some welcome in it, but it has bends in the road. So it’s quite an active journey and I think that that means that it should not be … we’re not an endless desert expanse. The tonalities in this body are such that they wake you up!
And it’s not a shapeless fog—it’s not this miasma which is just something that sort of exists and then sort of ends.
Daniel Lanois: Right—it’s not a shapeless fog. Well-put! Use that! You’ve seen the full spectrum of the operation here—that sort of fragmented show up there in the hills and then the beauty of this estate and how devoted I am to my work; how much it means to me to build a masterpiece. I don’t rest until I feel that I’ve built a masterpiece. Somebody might say that I haven’t. But I’m certainly trying.
But you do it for yourself—and that way, it’s all the masterpiece you need.
Daniel Lanois: That’s right, but I also do it for the listeners. I’ve always enjoyed this idea that I would take the listener on a journey, and I feel a responsibility to make it as interesting as possible. For the scenery to be innovative and to be fresh scenery and not something that’s been visited in the past—
—not back to the Airport—
Daniel Lanois: —and I’ve never bought into the idea that it’s all been said and done and that they’re all just variations on already-existing shades.
It’s tempting to buy into that, but it’s also an incredibly cynical observation.
Daniel Lanois: I think so.
And of course the end result of that way of thinking is, ‘Why bother?
Daniel Lanois: [laughs] Exactly. So, I think I’ve broken new ground in this body of work and I’m very, very excited about it. [In the kitchen, a stack of new CDs from Warp shrugs and collapses across the tabletop as we sit down.] We’re flirting with signing to Warp. The publishing guy—Alex Hancock—heard some of what you heard in there and he flipped out. He said, ‘Don’t sign anything with any publishing company until I can make an offer.’ So he’s going to put a good word for me to the fellows in New York; I’m preparing a presentation for the New York people—Steven Hill, the head of new projects, has relocated from London.
What does the presentation entail?
Daniel Lanois: It just means I’m going to play them pretty much what you just heard. I’m going to have it hand-delivered! [laughs] I’m not going to have it delivered via satellite, I’m going to have it hand-delivered by my co-producer from Toronto in a little orange Pelican™ Case. Not to sit there and listen to it with them—but just as a sign of commitment to show them that we’re serious about what we do.
To literally go that extra mile.
Daniel Lanois: It’s also so they can put a face to the production work. I also do business with Andy Kaulkin at ANTI- Records here in L.A., and I owe Andy one more record—so I’m going to play him this and say, ‘Andy, I think Warp should put this out—so let me deliver a more commercial record to you.’ I have another more rhythmic record on the boil and maybe that’s a better one for Andy. I know that Eno, who I saw earlier this year, said so many good things about Warp—because he’s on that label—and he made an introduction to Steven Hill for me. He says we should be label-mates. Hey, thanks for coming all the way out for the show, and coming here …
Considering I live in Ventura! But it’s worth it—if you want to go do something, you just go do it. Mileage means nothing!
Daniel Lanois: I lived in Ventura myself for a while. I had my studio in Oxnard at the Teatro on Oxnard Boulevard. It’s touchy there—I got pick-pocketed there, at the Cielito Lindo Café across the street from the theatre. [laughs] I didn’t get hurt, but I lost some important papers like my permanent border crossing card to the States, and once that was gone…
Well, what’s someone going to do with that!
Daniel Lanois: Ah, they were just looking for money. But I lived in the projector booth in the theatre for a year. The pool table here was set up in the old popcorn area. Some strange things happened there—we had somebody drunk, driving a pickup truck, jump over the sidewalk and run right into the entrance of the theatre! Right through that gate!
OK—you know Buddy Burgers—up the block, north a bit?
Daniel Lanois: Buddy Burgers!
There’s that motel right next door to it. Every year or so, they have someone mount the curb and go right into the wall! It happens on a frighteningly regular basis.
Daniel Lanois: They do have a bit of a problem. Usually on Sundays. And then I rented a little house in Ventura after the novelty of the projector booth wore off. There’s a nice little place as you head inland and then you come upon a bluff. The little house I was in was right at the bottom of that—and I loved it out there. It was sweet! What’s the little beach area, by Seaward?
Daniel Lanois: Yeah, and there’s a few little ice cream places. It’s interesting how it really hasn’t expanded out that way. I think that past Neptune’s Net, that’s the end of the earth. I was driving with a friend [back then] and listening to some music, and I saw the Teatro was for rent. And I thought, ‘This looks kind of interesting,’ and I took it with my partner at the time. Made a Willie Nelson record [Teatro] there; finished Time Out of Mind for Bob Dylan there. We started and finished Time Out of Mind in that place; did the soundtrack for Billy Bob Thornton’s Sling Blade there. We found posters for the old movies, some real beauties. A lot of them were comedy porn—guys chasing girls with bras on their heads—Benny Hill-type stuff. I was out in Joshua Tree for a year with my studio—completely oblivious to all the Queens of the Stone Age, but two houses down from them. We were hopping around with the studio. We were even in Ojai for a year. We were renting an estate—a big beautiful stone guest house in the outskirts. I got a little bit tired of being out there after a while so I took an apartment in the city—Cahuenga and Franklin in a very beautiful apartment, and then this [Silver Lake] came up. I snapped it up, got it for next to nothing 14 years ago. Back then, nobody wanted to spend money in Silver Lake.
Back then, it was kind of a rougher place.

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