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

DANIEL LANOIS: I COULD GET TO ANOTHER DIMENSION

November 4th, 2015 | Interviews

Daniel Lanois: No.
So what did he say?
Daniel Lanois: He was very pleased that I caught it in a naïve state.
Was that secret recording a technique that ultimately formed that record—that he was not self-conscious, knowing that it was being recorded?
Daniel Lanois: He was obviously performing to the people in the room—and unaware that we were recording, I think it made for better playing. He was not thinking, ‘I gotta get this right’ or ‘Oh, I made a mistake.’ He played beautifully and he was just so grateful—and at the time I felt that I owed a lot to Harold because it was the beginning of my relationship with Eno, and the record was just so beautiful. I just wanted to do that [recording] for him. We got some great sounds. Just straight piano, no effects. All the recordings with me and Rocco—we didn’t come in with any motives thinking that we were even making a record. We were just playing. We’d come off the road—we played beautifully on the road—but it was not this material.
Are you going to take this material on the road at some point?
Daniel Lanois: Yes—we started on August 29th across the street from the El Rey. Brian Foote [nb. of the band Nudge, on the Kranky label] is having an ambient music night with Tim Hecker. So they came over here, and me and Rocco played a little bit; showed them what our setup was like, and Brian said, ‘Well, why don’t you guys come over and do this ambient night?’ So we want to take this on the road—we’re road dogs, anyhow. I told Brian, if you can get me some work, I’m happy to go out there—because we do the steel guitar thing, but I also do an electro thing. We could always do something at Hollywood Forever.
That would be the perfect place for it.
Daniel Lanois: We’re ready to travel, man. We might take some of those little loops, get one going in a little box and play with that just to increase our palette of colors.
You should get some Buddha Boxes. Eno loves ‘em!
Daniel Lanois: I have a bunch of little East Indian tabla practice boxes, and they’re great. Now you can get the app on your phone—that’s really nice.
What was the first sound you remember hearing in your life?
Daniel Lanois: [long pause] I can’t answer that. I don’t remember!
All right then—what’s the first sound you remember hearing that you remember really liking?
Daniel Lanois: [Just then, his iPhone’s default ringtone sounds.] Not that one! Well, musically, I love the sound of the violin that I remember from when I was a kid. My grandfather was a violin player—a violoneur—a fiddler; played jigs. My dad did as well, but my grandfather was pretty good. So I remember being mesmerized by violinists. I’m French Canadian, so I caught the tail end of those old country ways—gatherings of people who had no money, but set up entertaining shows at someone’s house, play cards, drink and shout and have a real good time with the violin. It made a big impression on me, and we were talking about this—me and Rocco—how in that kind of rock ’n’ roll environment, we never separated ourselves from the adults. We didn’t think, ‘Well, these people are really out-of-touch, they’re corny, it’s a fucked-up situation—I can’t wait to leave the house!’ It was not the feeling [with us] at all! I loved my grandfather and the way he played the violin. These gatherings were significant to me, and we wanted to be like them! Stay up a little later, peek through the door, see a little hanky-panky going on—and it was exciting! That was actual rock ’n’ roll! Rock ’n’ roll was not something you discovered once you leave the house—it was in the house!
So it wasn’t necessarily about rebellion for you when it came to rock ’n’ roll.
Daniel Lanois: Not at all—not at that stage of it, anyway. I felt that that was the most interesting part of what was going on in the community—right in our houses—and it was at these gatherings. And my uncles were funny and sang funny songs [sings in earthy and impenetrable French]—things like that. It’s about making a stew and everything has to rhyme with on—like croissant and so on—like it’s ‘99 Bottles of Beer,’ you just keep adding an ingredient. I loved my uncles, and I loved that they were funny. I guess I didn’t even know what rock ’n’ roll was except that that seemed more exciting than the average life. I caught the tail end of 50s rock ’n’ roll—everything, all the cars that went with it. We wanted to be like our parents, our uncles; most kids grow up and they roll their eyes at their parents. It’s infinitely boring and they just can’t wait to escape this terrible ordeal—and it was not like that when I was coming up. I never rebelled! Ever! I had my recording studio in my mother’s basement for a decade! She loved it. I loved her. We grew up together. There was none of this, ‘Oh, I gotta get away from these people and be a punk!’ I was already recording Rick James in my house! My mother is cooking eggs for Rick James! Tell me that’s not rock ’n’ roll!
What did you record for Rick James?
Daniel Lanois: It was not an album, it was demos. He lived in Buffalo, which was close to Hamilton in Ontario, and Rick was connected with Canadian musicians, because he was in a band with Neil Young called the Mynah Birds. Eddie Roth, a great organ player in the area, said, ‘There’s a kid that you should record with, Rick.’ And we recorded some demos for him, and recorded a lot of fascinating people in this basement! In an average neighborhood! I don’t remember ever wanting to leave that house to find a more interesting place geographically where things would be ‘cool,’ or that my mom was not cool.
Well, you made your own scene.
Daniel Lanois: Well-put. If you’re smart enough to build a scene, you own it—that’s who you are.
And you’re never bored.
Daniel Lanois: Never bored. And we feel that way about what we’re doing here, playing this beautiful music—and it’s powerful, it’s orchestral; it’s profound. It is not coming at you; it is not pushy in any way. It was invitation in it—I think that’s what’s beautiful about it. As many bends in the road as there might be, I think there’s still a nice welcome mat, and it’s saying to the listener, ‘We invite you to come on this emotional journey with us.’ And I think that’s a very sophisticated place to have gotten to—we’re not ramming anything down anyone’s throat here.
You’re just being.
Daniel Lanois: Just being. And we have no motives—we’re not thinking, ‘Jeez, let’s make this kind of record, for that kind of label…’ None of this kind of talk. And this gets back to how I’ve always operated: what is the matter at hand? What do you have? Not what your proposal is, or what your spreadsheet is showing, or if you’re trying to get a budget or anything like that. No. Here’s what we’re doing—it already exists—and what do you think of it? It’s the only way I’ve ever worked. I’ve had hits. I’ve produced hits for a lot of people. But we don’t go in thinking that we’ve got to make a hit. I’ve never worked that way—I was telling Rocco about that this morning. If something seems to be resonating, you stumble upon something through a natural way, and a little something sticks up its head and says, ‘I’m viable. I could get to another dimension if you just fertilize me and water me.’ At this point in my life, I just want to make the most beautiful music as I can make and have it embraced by as many people as possible.

DANIEL LANOIS CURATES AN EVENING OF AMBIENT/ELECTRO MUSIC WITH SPECIAL GUEST ROCCO DELUCA AND VISUALS BY ADAM CK VOLLICK ON FRI., NOV. 6, AT SLEEPLESS: THE MUSIC CENTER AFTER HOURS AT THE DOROTHY CHANDLER PAVILION, 135 N. GRAND AVE., DOWNTOWN. 11:30 PM / FREE / ALL AGES. MUCH MORE INFO AND COMPLETE LINEUP AT MUSICCENTER.ORG/SLEEPLESS. VISIT DANIEL LANOIS AT DANIELLANOIS.COM.

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