November 15th, 2006
In music there are definitely people who get more credit than others. Everyone knows who Sid Vicious is, what did he do? A lot of heroin, broke a lot of objects on stage, killed Nancy, and played bass for the Sex Pistols for a bit. Then there are those who are responsible for the setting the standard in modern music. Most people today don’t know this ,but there is one guy in this world who is responsible for helping invent ambient music and a lot of today’s great modern music. That man is Daniel Lanois. I met Daniel randomly. I was DJing a fashion show in Downtown Los Angeles. It was kind of funny considering all the fashion people there didn’t know who he was and were too concerned with who had the coolest pair of skinny jeans on to even care. Anyway, he was nice enough to let me hang out with him at his place in Silverlake and do this interview. Thanks again Daniel.
Randall: What do you do to coin your style for your music and producing? I know people as long I have been alive people have been trying to capture something similar.
Daniel: My style is really an approach, and the approach seems to vary from application to application. I have that beautiful Steinway piano behind us and I have a stereo microphone hooked up to it. If some happens to pay a visit and they play the piano and then we are ready to record. So preparation is a big part of what I have always done and it still is. I keep instruments plugged in basically and that increases my chance of some lovely spontaneous moment as people stop by. So there is not really a lot of preconception to my sound beyond preparation. That’s really what it’s all about. At any given time I will be excited about a few tools, a few bits of processing and I will become a master of those tools at that time, and that has evolved over the years
Randall: In your opinion, how does your style fit in with modern music?
Daniel: I think there is a quality that has never gone out of fashion or has been given stylistic boundaries and that is having soul. And that is what we respond to as music listeners. When we get the impression that the person making the music is a believer, and they were just pouring themselves out and doing the best they could with what they had that is a very contagious quality. I think that is what is ongoingly present in my work. In reference to contemporary sounds it’s hard to define because it’s so referential living in post modern times, for example a lot of the rock and roll we listen to is borrowing values from the 70s and is essentially is using guitar basses and drums. As far as electronic comes that’s where the ambient sounds would exist in contemporary efforts.
Randall: Last I heard you were working on producing Dashboard Confessional’s new album. What kind of touch did you plan to add to his music? According to Wikipedia ,which we all know isn’t always accurate, Don Gilmore took over production. I was hoping for you save poor Chris from the teeny bopper scene.
Daniel: I didn’t produce the Dashboard record, Don Gilmore did. I was asked to do a few demos with him and there were a couple of things that may survive the finish line, but Don Gilmore is the man. He went on the investigate other possibilities for himself.
Randall: Which Artists you have worked with that have been the most interesting to produce?
Daniel: Well I have been very lucky because I worked with some of the greats. Bob Dylan is very fascinating to me. He is one of American’s great lyrical treasures. It was very inspiring to work with him. Just sitting next to the man himself and watching him weave his lyrics was very fascinating to me. Eno, we always have done very beautiful and innovative work together. So I think about him all the time and the same kind of thing in the early 80s we did a bunch of ambient records and those values were a great part of my bedrock and have been with me ever since. Small toolbox, a lot of dedication and becoming a master of a few ways of doing things. I still do that now. Don’t embrace too much at one time only embrace what you are excited about.
Randall: What work were you most proud of?
Daniel: The Pearl, which is an Eno/Harold Budd record. U2’s Achtung Baby was a strange and bizarre masterpiece. There was a lot of torment in that process, and it shows up in the music, but it has beauty in it as well and it’s kind of a strange furry beast that you would be happy to have sit at your dinner table.
Randall: When I last saw U2 on the Vertigo I noticed they had The Arcade Fire open for them for some dates and at an LA show they came out to “Wake Up” off of their latest album Funeral. Would you have any interest in ever producing them?
Daniel: Oh, I like them ,I heard them at Spaceland. I thought they were great. I think they have some special qualities. They are upbeat, rhythmic, kind of celebrative, but they have melancholy in there too. Joy surfaces as well it is a unique combination of feelings. When I did come out to the Spaceland show I did think that the singer had come out of the David Byrne School, but then a friend of mine said not only the David Byrne School, but the Bob Marley and David Bowie School. I guess they should carry the torch and show us to the next level. In regards to me producing them I operate by invitation.
Randall: You mentioned you go between 3 different locations Jamaica, Toronto, and of course Los Angeles. Why Jamaica, Why Toronto, Why Los Angeles?
Daniel: I went to work in Jamaica to work on some recordings with Jimmy Cliff; I kept my work papers alive and have a place down there. Toronto is sort of home, stomping grounds, I’m French Canadian I grew up in Hamilton which is next to Buffalo on the Canadian side, and that’s a stone’s throw from Toronto, so I keep a nice apartment in Toronto. Los Angeles I don’t know how that happened, my manager moved to Los Angeles and it sort of turned out like this.
Randall: Favorite Venue out here?
Daniel: I really like the Henry Fonda for sound and visibility. It has a good size. About 12-1500 people. I like the sort of panoramic view, it’s a nice long stage and the same thing kind of gets mimicked in the audience, everyone gets a nice point of view. For smaller venues Spaceland. The only problem is you can really only hear the band if you are in front of the stage. I did a little experiment there when I had a spontaneous show. I had these almost headphone packs you put on your belt and you broadcast yourself to that belt and you turn it up into an ear piece so you can hear yourself. That same little contraption can feed a powered speaker. So I had a few people in the audience wear the packs and walk around with blasters. So my sound would be coming out of these blasters and I peppered myself through the audience. It was kind of an experiment to get the sound out to the people.
Randall: Any local artists off the top of your head that have been impressive?
Daniel: I heard a nice band at Spaceland a few weeks ago Sea Wolf. I liked them I thought there was some imaginative writing, a nice way of looking at the world. It didn’t seem to be built on bragretry, or posing, nice songs, well presented, smart people lots of heart.
Randall: At the moment what has been inspiring you to write?
Daniel: I go back to a lot of old records for inspiration. There is a record I like if I am being Romeo I put on Stan Getz called Bossanova. I’ve been enjoying listening to my pedal steel guitar recordings that no body has ever heard. After the singing record we are putting out I am hoping to put out a steel guitar record. They are really beautiful and delicate.
Randall: From one of your more recent albums Shine “J.J. Leaves LA” is one of the best instrumental pieces I have recently heard these past few years. What inspired you to write that?
Daniel: I wrote J.J. Leaves LA in my theater workshop up in Oxnard. I had a nice little shop a fews years back in an old Mexican theater. It came out of a batch of steel guitar recordings that I did over a course of 3 weeks. I was kind of in a funky state of mind a little on the lonely side of the fence and I just poured those feelings into my instrument. Just sitting at my instrument playing and playing and playing I was also using this pedal called a boomerang which would allow me to put in a chord sequence, then I would press repeat to repeat the sequence, and then I would play on top of it so it was 2 steels and that was how JJ leaves LA was born.
Randall: Top 5 Desert island Discs of all time?
Daniel: Miles Davis- Kind of Blue, Jimi Hendrix- Are You Experienced, James Brown- What ever has sex machine on it, hah Just so I don’t’ lose my way keep my head on straight. I would take my own record Apollo a record I did with Eno and Rodger Eno out of a moment of bragetry. There is a record called Fresh by Sly and the Family Stone, it’s got the funkiest track ever on it called In Time. They do a nice combination of live drumming and beat box. On that track you hear that combination and it’s really really good.
Randall: What is the most modern piece of technology you are currently using to cut tracks and what is the most primitive?
Daniel: I am using a computer based recorder. It is a Canadian machine they call a Radar. It’s a bit like protools; it’s in that realm, but a higher grade machine. I make a special effort to hold on to equipment I used for recording, for example I use an RCA ribbon mic there are two models a 77 and a 44, they are kind of like Bing Crosby sort of microphones, where you see old Nat King Cole pictures. The one looks like a Contact C cold capsule I think Larry King had one on his show as a prop for a few years. The 44 is a much bigger angular looking sort of thing. They have a ribbon in them and they give you a real velvety vocal sound so you get that Patsy Klein sort of Elvis sound because they are very kind to low and midrange and vocal sounds really the density is in the low midrange so you have to be careful not to notch that out and ribbon mics are great for that. There is a number of pieces use. I still have these Neve consoles for preamps. In my opinion the preamp is the one link in the chain that did not need to be reinvented. They were great in the 60s and 70s and are still great today. I have a bunch of effects boxes. Then musical instruments that is very important to my work. I collect pieces I got various organs, this Steinway piano, it’s been restored so it has that crystal top end and that deep bottom, hard to find on contemporary pianos. The contemporary ones are a bit harder more brittle. I like Korg too I was introduced to a Korg machine when I went to go work with U2. Edge was using a box called a Korg SDD3000 and I still have some of those as does he does. It’s just really the sound you get out of it. It’s an echo machine that has vco possibilities as well which is that human voice vibrato sound. Then this has an adjustable output so you can hit a guitar amp in a much hotter fashion than you would just straight out of the guitar. I also use an AMS harmonizer. It’s an English company that came out in the 80s and I have used the harmonizers every since.
A Moog Bass module used to create the low end on many of his recordings
Randall: Since you are one of the best ambient producers in music what are your favorite noises and least favorite noises. How do you go about capturing your favorite noises?
Daniel: It’s funny the term ambience gets thrown around very loosely. When I first worked with Eno we had very limited equipment to create those sounds. We had an AMS harmonizer, Lexicon Primetime, and an EMT 250 which is essentially a reverb type of unit. So we made the ambient sounds by re-routing back through the initial processing equipment. So lets say we do a bit of processing on a piano, we would print that sound onto the multitrack, which would then free up the processing devices to handle another job. We would send the already printed processing back to the original boxes. That’s when it starts getting interesting. That’s when you start adding VCO on top VCO and you get these little irregularities. The best of ambient music has that in it. The constant motion of nature that never repeats. Like when a sunlight shimmers on something it won’t be the same in a minute. It keeps moving. So introducing irregularities and the bits of flow that life has to offer within, that’s what gives ambience it’s trembling effect. There are lots of instant ambient sounds available at music stores. When you take them to the workplace and challenge them on with process on top of processing that’s when you get something really organic.
Randall: How do you think music is going to change in the next 10 years?
Daniel: Easy access to tools by everybody. The same thing is going to happen with filming everyone is going to have a camera. Renegade folks are going to make cool films. The successful films will not only belong to those with big bucks. I think the economy is going to be a big drive in music. I don’t think the ratio will ever change from special records to forgettable ones. I think that will always be the same, but there will be a massive amount of volume of it. So you are going to get a lot of people trying to get there foot in the door and to be noticed. So that is going to make it tough on listeners, because they are going to have to wade through more and you are only awake so many hours during the day. So we operate the same way by recommendation. The easy access to tools means you will get more renegade records out there. You might be fooled now a days so many times because you will find yourself listening to a stylist rather than an artist.
Randall: With music technology what is your preferred environment to enjoy music?
Daniel: Some of my favorite listening moments have been by surprise. A lot of the time I will be in a coffee shop and there will be a smart person behind the cash register and they have made a compilation or pull a record out or play something I have never heard. I like surprises. If I put a record on myself I kind of know what is coming. That’s where I have enjoyed my own work best is when I happen to be in a place and someone plays it. Sometimes I think this a great record, but I would never put it on in my own house. I also like sound system installation. In Toronto I have a 5000 square foot loft and I am going to revisit this idea I experienced as a kid when I went to the Canadian National exhibition. It was the 60s pyshcadelic era and someone had did a beautiful installation with about 200 speaker cabinets, hung from the ceiling, all different kind of sized ones and they were all above your head almost like a warehouse kind of a place. The speakers were hung about 5 ft. about your head and they were piping electronic music of the time. Like early electro and it was fantastic. They had a way of distributing these speakers so everywhere you walked without bumping into anything you had an interesting sound. So I already started this experiment of installing a multi speaker system in Toronto.
Randall: What two artists would you like to collaborate with the most?
Daniel: There is a great singer from Montreal called Martha Wainwright. She visited me here a couple weeks back and we recorded one of her songs and she did a little something on one of my songs. When she was leaving I told her I was experimenting with different tracks and she said if you want to sample my voice on one of those and put it in be my guest. So I did that on the weekend and came up with a very very beautiful mixture. She is a very soulful singer. My track is just something I have had on the burner for a while, but I didn’t have any singing on it. It turned out beautiful so I am going to send her a copy of this and there is a chance if she is in agreement with this idea just start a new project you know give it a name and she can be the singer and I can be the musical mastermind.
Randall: What type of Edge do you think is best? No hat Edge? Cowboy hat Edge? Or Beanie Edge?
Daniel: Is this referring to doing eras? HAHA I’m going to get myself in trouble here. I love the Edge in anyway I can get him. I’ve had him in Barcelona, I’ve had him in Malibu, I’ve had him in Dublin, and I’ve had him in Berlin. I will take him anyway I can get him. What is nice about the Edge is he is a very consistent man and always dedicated to innovation and always open to surprises. Anytime we hook up I try and bring a pedal to the project some little gimmick. There have been a few of them. Eno brought in the whammy pedal somewhere in the late 80s. A lot of Edge sounds came out of that. I brought him this little Fuzz Wah pedal. Edge is always great. I do always have a soft spot for where he was it in the 80s. Perhaps it’s because we were absolutely dedicated to the work every minute of the day. I don’t know if he was wearing a hat then.
Randall: Last question you got to jam with Tortoise wasn’t totally awesome or what?
Daniel: AHH Tortoise we toured right across the country. A bus with 10 guys in it. It was great. They are really great people and real smart, really have done their homework. By the time we got to LA we were sounding pretty good ya know. Nice guys I wish them the best and we all share a passion for instrumental music so it was great.
Some of Daniel’s work: