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Daniel Lanois: I Look for Commitment and a Lot of Heart and Soul

Nenad Georgievski By

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AAJ: The film shows how you immerse yourself in the studio. Do you operate on instinct in the studio?

DL: In the studio I use a digital machine called the Radar, which is a Canadian machine. That's my recorder, otherwise I use an old console. But my processing boxes are brand new. I keep my ear to the ground with the various types of processing devices. I'm not using Pro Tools, since I use the Radar system. Sometimes it is a bit of a harder job but I still have my beat-boxes and my Roland TR-808, which is the backbone you hear in the sound of a song called "Opera." That's the Roland TR-808 through some echo boxes. I still have Morley pedals for my bass. I use it for some of the bass sounds. I use a combination of ancient equipment and new technology—flash and machine, really. I hope it tells you something about it.

AAJ: When it comes to production, what are the things you look for in people's music which will decide whether you produce them?

DL: I look for points of strength. It's nice if there is a singer in the band and for the singer to have a big personality, something unique about their voice. I also look for commitment and a lot of heart and soul, because in the beginning what we do, which is representing the artist, plays a big part in the equation. Yes, you can apply a lot of muscle and you can pay your advertising after, but essentially it needs to have a lot of soul and it needs to be in existence for the right reasons. So, authenticity is the beginning, and then advertising comes later (laughs).

AAJ: Where is the meeting point between the artist's ideas and the producer's ideas about the outcome? Is your primary aim as a producer to help realize an artist's vision, or to expand it?

DL: I think the producer's job is to produce something magical within the offering of the artist. And I find that a vision comes together quite quickly when a magic moment appears. When that magic moment appears, a new vision comes into play and I don't think people should assume that people are coming into studio with a small vision and that it's all we operate by. I think people are hoping that they are going to bump into something fresh. When that happens then we get to be naive all over again in terms of freshness, and then a brand new vision comes into play for both parties.

AAJ: With some artists you've worked with over a series of albums (like U2, Gabriel, Dylan), does your function alter as you get more familiar with each other?

DL: There is no doubt that there is a relationship that develops and people's roles change. When I first started working with U2 I was to be the engineer of the project, and then everybody in the camp realized that I was very musical. And I was able to make contributions with harmonies, understanding of rhythm and the arrangements -I was able to enter the world of music with them and not just sitting in the technician's chair. Everybody in that camp is very smart, so they realized that my talent was such that I was able to be as much a musical producer for the record making process as Brian Eno is. So that became the strength of that relationship. Everyone knows how to work with equipment to a certain degree, but what is most important to that relationship is the evolution of our musical minds. That's it; you are able to work with the strengths of the people in the room.

AAJ: 30 years ago, U2 contacted Eno and you to produce their record, the seminal Unforgettable Fire. What was the reason for the band to contact you and Eno? What were you able to achieve that the band and other producers couldn't? That record caused seismic shifts in the band's sound and pointed at new maturity.

DL: Brian Eno and myself are very interested in presenting new approaches to the artists that we work with. One way of describing this process is deconstruction—the capacity to deconstruct. A melody makes this, a certain approach makes this, but then, on a second day, Eno and myself, might present the project with another way of looking at that composition. For example, the song "Beautiful Day" that we made for U2 started out as a rock song where everybody played in the room at the same time, but then on the next day, Eno and myself were together before the band came. Brian designed this rhythm box approach, very high speed—"boom chi-chi boom." It gave a motion it did not have before. So, when the band came in they were able to jump on that with their instruments and the song now had a kind of drive in it that it did not have before. In my experience, artists really appreciate that kind of contribution where they get out of their usual way of looking at a piece of music and take it to the next level.

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