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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: How do you look back at the making of Achtung Baby? It is a watershed record and in many ways it represents the equivalent of the Sgt. Pepper of the '90s as it captured the zeitgeist of the transitory time it was made in. It also captured the essence of the various styles of music that were booming in the underground and were ready to spill over ground.

DL: We had a very powerful and inventive team, Eno, Flood and myself. We were very much in control of the equipment, and we were very devoted to the work. Plus, all of the guys in U2 wanted to make something special. Ultimately, that record has a fantastic combination of very raw rock rhythm section, the drums and the bass are very, very raw, and the toppings -the melody, Bono's vocals, guitars —all of the toppings are very inventive. The rhythm section is very classic, but everything else on top is heading to the future, so it is a beautiful blend of these two qualities.

AAJ: How has that relationship evolved further? You are credited as a co-writer on No Line On the Horizon.

DL: Well, the fellas, invited myself and Eno to be co-writers. I think they realized that we had done plenty of work in the past with composition, and decided that these people were so long with us and let's invite them to write some songs. So, that's how this thing came to be. But, it was a very different time. No Line on the Horizon was years later than Achtung Baby. People had very different minds.

AAJ: What is it that keeps people like U2, Dylan, Gabriel, Neil Young, hungry to keep doing it at this point in their careers?

DL: That is a very fundamental question and that question applies to the whole world and not just the artists that I work with. What keeps us interested in innovation? We are human beings, we evolve and we like new ideas. With my current work I want to invent sounds that take us to the future. If there is anything that I have learned from all of the artists that I've worked with, it's that they have a similar appetite to know what lies ahead, around the bend, what's over the mountain. It's just the way it is. Even after 60 years of rock and roll we still have an appetite to know what might be the new thing, what expression still needs to be expressed, and so on. So, as we grow and as we grow through life we look things differently when we reflect on our work.

AAJ: How do you approach work when it comes to working with all these people who have different working methods? How do you inspire commitment? How do you inspire inspiration?

DL: I try to inspire the room we are working in by applying commitment. I have always been devoted and committed to every project I have worked on and I think that it's contagious. If an artist feels that the person they have brought into their world is working hard for them, wants the best for them, they are very committed, then I think that becomes very contagious and has a snowball effect. It's like passing the ball to somebody else, and he throws it back at you and somebody makes a score. You can't do everything by yourself and it's nice to have a friend who believes in you. So, when I'm into projects I have a very simple rule, not to be making phone calls about the next thing but just to concentrate on the thing you are doing and to make it a masterpiece.

AAJ: One of the chief characteristics of most of the music that you write or you help produce is the presence of a spiritual element which contributes to the soul effect these records have.

DL: Well, we certainly like to arrive at soulful results. Somehow it refers to the spirit. I've always believed that part of my job was to raise the spirit which is a way of talking about having a glance into another dimension or to allow people's emotions to be absorbed by the music. There is a term I invented called "emotional phase cancelation." If you are feeling sad and you listen to a sad song, the sad song will eat your sadness and you will be happier. I think another ingredient that I stand by, and it's nice if the music has it, is without question the yearning. We are seekers and we are trying to elevate ourselves into another spiritual dimension. That is why people go to churches, that is why people take drugs or drink, that is why people meditate. We are interested in other dimensions because we are very intelligent (laughing). So if there is anything that you hear in my work that has some sort of tonality that invites the listener to question or to look at life slightly differently, it's because I'm driven by that natural instinct that we have as human beings to raise the spirit.

AAJ: Since a lot of people have benefited from your presence in the studio, what are some of the things you have learned from the likes of Dylan and Gabriel?

DL: Again, that's a natural byproduct of working with people. When you collaborate with someone then of course you go with new knowledge and new inspiration, especially if you were lucky to have worked with some of the greats, as I have. I made two albums with Bob Dylan, which are good albums, and you leave the arena feeling stronger about certain aspects of my work. We leave something behind but we also take something with us. That is the nature of this by proximity, which is probably the true meaning ...my life experience and my osmosis—my proximity.

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