DANIEL LANOIS: I COULD GET TO ANOTHER DIMENSION
Daniel Lanois: It was a rougher place, and anyone that was looking was saying, ‘Well, let’s go blue chip—Beverly Hills, Hancock Park…’
… yeah, but this place has such character. It has soul. I’ve never seen the kind of windows you’ve got in there before. It’s grown to become its own entity.
Daniel Lanois: It’s a rare bird—100-foot pine trees, eucalyptus trees. When it rains, it’s fantastic. We even have our own weather here, a little bit. It never gets as hot as it would otherwise. It’s always a little bit cooler because of the reservoir. Anyway, thanks again for coming—it was a bit of a disaster up in the hills [at Newcomb’s]!
Here’s the thing: if you don’t tell people it’s a disaster, they’ll never know! It’s like that thing what Eddie Van Halen said about making a mistake on the guitar: do it twice and smile. Everyone thinks it’s all part of the plan! There’s a lot you can get away with if you just don’t tell them you’re getting away with it.
Daniel Lanois: Right! Well, we had this kind of romantic notion about having our friends who ride bikes being there—but none of them showed up! Bizarre.
Do you think it was the heat?
Daniel Lanois: I think it was a little early in the day, and I think there were other motorcycle events going on, that’s why—some faraway ones. But I like the sentiment: the idea of motorcycles and music. It was Rocco’s idea because he’s up there all the time. It sounded sweet.
Well, I will say, with ambient music, that it’s hard to make it sound bad. You get the right sound system going and it always sounds pretty.
Daniel Lanois: Yeah, because it’s textural.
It’s different because when it’s beat-oriented, there’s an obligation to go along in a particular kind of rock ’n’ roll direction. Sometimes you simply want to be transported somewhere else—and that’s what ambient music does best. It takes you somewhere other. But when you started doing ambient music, was there any kind of confusion or crossover with New Age music?
Daniel Lanois: First of all, I met Eno in late 79 and then we made a bunch of ambient records in my studio in Canada. He invented the term ‘ambient music.’ We made half-a-dozen albums over the course of three years—and I loved it. I was very skilled, and I’m a good musician, and he came into my world with this vision, and I thought, ‘This is amazing—the least commercial thing I’ve ever heard, I’m most excited about!’ And we just forged ahead and made these records. We loved our work. We developed a whole system of processing that I still use today. I was not really hip to anything ‘New Age,’ particularly—I come from more of a folk and rock ’n’ roll and soul music background. I didn’t know who Eno was! That shows you how sheltered I was in that small town I was in—didn’t know anything about Roxy Music. So I quite innocently entered this world that he created, and I loved it—so I became very supportive of his thing and I was able to find him some shortcuts because he comes from art school and he’s a pretty good musician, but I was a studied musician. So I was able to say, ‘This might work better, try this, let me do an edit here…’—and things moved fast. So that was kind of the beginning of it, but … I don’t even know what New Age music is!
Early ECM label releases. The Windham Hill label. [The artist] Deuter.
Daniel Lanois: Ohhhh, Windham Hill! Was that not the beginning of the squeaky saxophone? I will say though that the saxophone has taken a terrible turn somewhere, where it got so squeaky to the point where the whole tourist business loves the saxophone. You can’t go to an airport without hearing [ … makes horrible sax sqronk sounds]. It’s like with Jaco Pastorius—that guy’s so great, he’s invented this form … then every bass player from that point on was thumbing the bass up the wazoo! It was ridiculous!
It’s interesting how something like that, you wouldn’t think it would be so influential. And then you’ve got decades of it.
Daniel Lanois: Decades of it! I never bought into the ‘easy-breezy’ aspect. I call it ‘massage music.’
Chocolate cheesecake music.
Daniel Lanois: Just to ruin a form, or reduce it to something that’s so watered down and so far away from the origin of it that it’s maddening. But anyhow—that comes down to taste. I’ve been lucky enough to have been involved in what I call a few scenes—the rise of a scene. Like the ambient records with Brian Eno—I don’t mind saying it: it was Eno’s idea, and I helped him the best I could, and we made beautiful records, and I was happy to have been part of the building of those beautiful records. They’ve lived on. We listened to The Pearl by Eno and Harold Budd—it’s a beauty! I recorded a Harold Budd record here, actually. It’s one that didn’t get noticed a lot; it’s beautiful, just straight piano. It’s called Bella Vista. I met him in a diner—hadn’t seen him for years—and I said, ‘Harold, I’ve got a really nice piano at my place. Could you come by?’ And I had the studio downstairs—he was not hip to the studio—and I had the piano already miced, and I brought a few girls over, had some wine. He came in and I introduced him to the girls and said, ‘They’ve never heard you play. Would you give them a little idea of what it is that you do?’ So Harold sat down and he played for half-an-hour—he played beautifully—and we did it again, another half-hour another time. And I was recording the whole time, and we went in, and with the engineer I was working with at the time—Adam Samuels—we put a lot of work into it. We chopped out the lesser-interesting material, and we made a record and presented it to him as a gift. I said, ‘Harold, this is my gift to you.’
Did he know you were recording?