Canadian Musician - May/June 2021 - Page 39

Lorenz , recording take upon take and putting hours into editing such a small piece of work .
“ We were so involved with the details of this little one-minute piece ,” he says , “ and I thought , ‘ This has never changed .’ Technology has not allowed this process to change .”
While he considers himself largely old-school , Lanois still keeps up with current production trends , in part by listening to hip-hop radio on his drive home from work .
“ I appreciate that some of that is as crazy as it is ,” he says , later adding , “ those folks are doing very far out stuff and a few times I ’ m jealous .”
With 11 Grammys , a Juno , a star on Canada ’ s Walk of Fame , dozens of critically-acclaimed and high-selling records that have reached classic status , and countless other accolades , Lanois has little , if anything , left to prove at this point in his career . As a producer , his credits include albums by U2 , Bob Dylan , Peter Gabriel , Neil Young , and more . He ’ s also released nearly 20 solo and collaborative albums , worked on the soundtracks to successful films like Slingblade ( 1996 ) and Dune ( 1984 ), and even co-scored the video game Red Dead Redemption 2 . So how does he measure success in his professional and personal life at this point , when he has all this behind him ?
“ Our musical tastes , our fascinations , what we get excited about – that ’ s what keeps us going , really ,” he says , thoughtfully . “ We want to make the best music we can . It might be a couple of shekels in the bank , but that ’ s not what it ’ s about .”
Lately , Lanois has been preparing for the release of his newest solo effort , Heavy Sun , the first album in his new Maker Series . The album , which was released on March 19 th on eOne Music , was recorded in Los Angeles and Toronto , and saw Lanois joined by his Heavy Sun Orchestra , which consists of Jim Wilson , Rocco DeLuca , and Johnny Shepherd . Lorenz also has a large presence on the album , in part as a guide to Lanois , helping decide the best treatment for each song . It seems Lanois has reached a point in his career where he is able to do more or less whatever he wants , and the lowered stakes help make the recording process more enjoyable .
“ There ’ s always a fun element to recording , and certainly that was the case with Heavy Sun ,” he says .
Lanois ’ approach to producing , songwriting , and recording varies from record to record . He ’ s always open to experimenting with different recording methods , production techniques , and musical elements . There are times when he arrives in the studio with a record almost fully written , and other times when the music and lyrics are entirely written , or at least fleshed out , right there in the studio . In the case of Heavy Sun , Lanois and his bandmates entered the studio with plenty of potential jumping-off points , but no real songs written .
“ Somebody might have the beginning of an idea ,” he explains , “ and then the next member of the orchestra makes a suggestion and off we go .”
Lanois makes a point to never write anything in stone , as aspects of any song can change during the writing , recording , and mixing stages , and often , it ’ s experimentation with no particular objective that yields the best results .
“ I think I ’ ll forever be an experimenter ,” he says . “ And it ’ s those experiments that lead the way often , sonically and otherwise .”
While improvisational tactics shape much of Lanois ’ music , he still has to put his foot down every now and then and decide that a song is finished , lest he fine-tune it forever , in both the recording and mixing stages . One ploy he uses is setting limitations . He still works with a maximum of 24 tracks , so he is able to use each track to its full potential and keep from going overboard . He also plays to his strengths , being cautious not to try anything he doesn ’ t have enough experience with .
“ I suppose another way to look at it , is to become a master at a few sounds is probably better than flirting with a lot of options .”
Though he ’ s accomplished more than most could ever dream , Lanois will be the first to admit he always has an awful lot left to learn . These days , he ’ s immersing himself in piano composition , something he hadn ’ t explored much before . This is something he enjoys , as he says he ’ s always excited to learn new approaches to music .
“ I ’ m not a piano player , so everything ’ s really fresh to me ,” he says .
Though he ’ s been playing slide guitar since his earliest days of musicianship , Lanois admits he ’ s a bit rusty at the moment because of his newfound interest in the piano . He ’ ll get back to his slide guitar eventually and refresh his chops , though . He ’ s managed to maintain his skills this long through constant practice , but is always looking for new things to try as well . In fact , even songwriting was something that came later to him , when he had already been a notable producer for several years .
Lanois was drawn to music production as a teenager simply for a love of music . He started playing when he was nine or 10 , first on a penny whistle , then a slide guitar , then a regular guitar . Somewhere along the way , he picked up a little tape recorder from a flea market , complete with a microphone and speakers . “ That ’ s how I got hooked on recording ,” he says . Lanois ’ brother , Bob , took an interest in this new hobby as well , and together they designed and built a music studio in their mother ’ s basement in Hamilton , ON .
“ It was just a regular summer house , nothing that special ,” Lanois says , “ except that there were a lot of special things happening in the basement .” Bob Lanois sadly passed away on April 19 , 2021 , just weeks after Canadian Musician ’ s conversation with Daniel . Bob also went on to have a long and influential career as an engineer , producer , and musician , working with Emmylou Harris , Willie P . Bennett , and Blackie & The Rodeo Kings , among others .
Never being involved in sports or anything else , Lanois quickly became completely wrapped up in music , which he considered his “ secret world ” and his “ escape .” He wasn ’ t all too concerned with where it would eventually take him at the time , but he knew it was something he wanted to spend all his time doing . Still operating out of the basement studio , Lanois worked on gospel records by regional songwriters , which deepened his understanding of music . It would still be quite a while before he would try his hand at writing his own songs , however .
“ I was happy to be just , you know , the guy in the studio who helped people along with arrangements ,” he says .
Lanois famously went on to produce music by some of the most accomplished songwriters in history , picking up all kinds of different musical lessons along the way . Throughout his career as a record producer , he ’ s been exposed to a wide array of writing styles , witnessing songwriters like Peter Gabriel , whom he hails as “ very inventive ” and an “ unorthodox composer ,” refine their craft .
“ I was able to be in contact with somebody who operated outside of the regular songwriting rules ,” he says of the one-time Genesis frontman .
Though Lanois doesn ’ t think his approach changes too much from record to record , no two albums he has ever worked on , as the artist or a producer , have involved the same process . When Lanois met Bob Dylan in a New York hotel room before the pair began working together on 1997 ’ s Time Out of Mind , Dylan read Lanois the lyrics he was working on , and asked if Lanois thought they had a record . Though he hadn ’ t heard a single note yet , Lanois responded , “ Yes , Bob , I think we ’ ve got a record .”
Dylan then listed some records so Lanois could get an idea of the atmosphere and sound he was committed to achieving . They were all old blues records , from artists like Charley Patton and Lit-