Lanois on Brian Eno, Mexican jukeboxes, and his gorgeous Belladonna
Daniel Lanois has worked with superstars 行 U2, Peter Gabriel, Bob Dylan, Marianne
and Emmylou Harris among them. But he says it was stints with more
avant-garde artists earlier on 行 Brian Eno, Harold Budd,
Jon Hassell and
Michael Brook 行 that made him the commercially successful artist he is
today. His new instrumental album, Belladonna (Anti), is an intensely
moody, steel-guitar-drenched thing of rare beauty, which he's performing
live on tour with renowned "post-rock" masters Tortoise as his backing
band/improv collaborators. We hung out recently at Chez Lanois to glean
some wisdom on the new record, and hear a little loose talk about what it's
like working with your Really Big Stars.
pieces are lovely and pastoral and all that, but most of them do have
something duskier blowing through.
Well, there's always been a melancholy in my work, probably because there's
a melancholy in my life, whether I like it or not...In the track called "Telco,"
the melody is a beautiful piano, and you think, "Oh yeah, that's a nice
little tune." And then the undercurrent gets crazier as it evolves: It
becomes like ambulances, and foot soldiers tromping, and that's my Les Paul
put through this little box that allows you to stack on top of yourself.
And the more I stack onto myself, the crazier it gets. I'm very proud of
this, the purity of the melody and the resistance of it 行 it won't fall
down in the crater, even though the ground is cracking, and buildings are
toppling and wars are going on. It's almost like the quartet that played
while the Titanic was going down. The pedal-steel guitar is sort of my
private moment. I always say it's my church in a suitcase 行 and I play it
of the album was recorded in Mexico. Any particular reason?
always been fascinated by the South. I went to New Orleans some time back
just to figure out how they were doing things down there. And I found
myself liking the sound of Mexican records on jukeboxes. So I went down
there for about a year. It turned out to be a lovely introduction to
another set of values, where people aren't rushing as much, not trying to
cram in as much. And I found a lot of beauty and happiness and laughter in
the faces of people who probably didn't have anything. The desert's always
had an effect on me, those isolated places where the loudest thing you hear
is a fly coming by, and it just means that suddenly you have a respect for
isolation and tranquillity, and you can actually complete a thought in your
own head without the urban crunching on you. And those kind of feelings are
timeless. That's why I called the album Belladonna 行 it's a plant that, if you
eat the right part of it, it takes you on a journey. I thought, I've had
enough of these feelings, really amazing isolated feelings and spiritual
ones, that I'd like to try and put them back into the music, and if a
listener can pick up on my feelings through my music, feelings that I've
felt in the most faraway places, it just might put a little twist in their
life. I know that's kind of a reach, but that was sort of my goal.
did you learn working with Eno?
the time I thought it was all eccentric and completely out of step with
anything commercial 行 and I still feel that way. [Laughs] But funnily enough, they
are the records that people will keep talking about. It's what got me the
gig with Peter Gabriel. It's kind of interesting: When you do things
without a commercial thought, but it just reaches somebody's heart
somewhere, that may ultimately lead to commerciality. Having that kind of
naive intention, where you're just trying to do the best thing you can with
what you have 行 those kinds of pure forms speak of honesty, and people
respond to honesty. And as obscure as those ambient records with Eno were,
we were really dedicated to the thing, we were living it, and it was a
great time of revelation, because at that moment I thought: I will never
again do something that I don't want to do.
did a nice record called Oh Mercy, and it went real smoothly, but it was just
kinda Bob and I sitting on two chairs, and we'd have musicians coming in,
and it had this really dark, concentrated sound 行 you could hear the
details of the playing.
you discuss the concept much?
made me promise that nothing would be done in the daytime. He said
everything had to be done at night. I finally got it out of him that he
believes that the human temple is different at night than it is in the day,
that we are satisfied in a different manner at nighttime; slightly slower,
darker, profound things will be what we look for in the night.