PHOTO : WARD ROBINSON
tle Willie John . Lanois knew it wouldn ’ t be easy to make a blues record that sounded original , but never backing down from a challenge , he went to a friend ’ s studio in New York and jammed to some of those old blues records , recording overdubs on top of them . After listening back , they picked some sections to rely on as “ an insurance policy … to lean on if things got too normal .” The end result , of course , was the now-classic album .
“ I took what Bob said and made sure that Time Out of Mind was dripping with sweat , that it had mystery , but most of all that it felt like something was unfolding in it ,” he says . “ And I think we built a very nice frame for Bob ’ s poetry and songs .”
Earlier in Lanois ’ career , he recalls the recording process going by much quicker . He isn ’ t sure exactly why , but says it may be because there were fewer distractions around then . When he first started working with U2 , they were all really just kids . Lanois co-produced six of U2 ’ s albums alongside his old friend Brian Eno , and here , he recalls his third record with the band , 1991 ’ s Achtung Baby , saying he recently had a listen to it for the first time in a long time .
“ I was pretty close to that record , obviously , when we made it ,” he says , “ and I didn ’ t want to hear it for a while .”
On this particular album , the band wanted to keep a traditional rock and roll basis , but layer the songs with innovative add-ons .
“ We kept the bones of rock and roll intact with the rhythm section , and then we went off into the cleaning and sonics ,” he says . “ And so , we were able to maintain a good amount of tradition and framework , but stepped into the future otherwise .”
Though Lanois had seen many of the world ’ s best-known songwriters in action through his production work , he only took his first crack at songwriting himself on a whim in the late 1980s . Brian Eno ’ s wife , Anthea Norman-Taylor , approached him and asked if he ’ d like to make a record , to be released on her and Eno ’ s new label , Opal Records . Lanois thought , “ Why not ?” and decided to give it a try .
“ I just rolled up my sleeves and thought , ‘ Well , what am I going to write about ?’ and I just started writing about real life experiences ,” he says .
One song , called “ O Marie ,” is about picking tobacco in Ontario . Lanois never picked tobacco himself , but his brothers did , he was exposed to the culture , and thought it might make for an interesting lyrical subject . That debut solo album , Acadie , was released in 1989 , and there has hardly been a gap of more than a couple years between Lanois ’ solo releases since .
“ I kind of got hooked on songwriting ,” he says .
Lanois compares himself to a writer who writes about lived experiences , saying one may not have lived enough to have anything to write about until later in life . He was in his mid-30s when he made his first record , but is happy that he moved at his own pace and waited until he had enough worth writing about to craft his own songs .
“ I think it ’ s probably best to wait until you really believe you ’ ve got something to say before you make a record .”
As a songwriter , each of Lanois ’ records have seen him develop as a songwriter and pushed him in new directions . Heavy Sun is no exception , as can be heard on its two singles , “ Power ” and “( Under the ) Heavy Sun .”
“ I think the record made me grow ,” he says . “ That ’ s always the case .”
One of the main differences in the recording process of Heavy Sun was that the drum tracks were overdubbed after the rest of the rhythm tracks were recorded . Using a Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer , Lanois and Lorenz were able cut the tracks to the 808 , laying the drum parts down after the fact . The two designed a system wherein they were able to take their favourite drum moments and move them around , which Lanois says was like getting into the hip-hop realm of production .
“ It gets a little tricky because it ’ s easy to get that stuff wrong ,” he says . “ But we ’ re fussy and we don ’ t give up until it sounds good .”
While lots can be done to make any track sound better , Lanois stresses that a record ’ s atmosphere and overall feel has to come from much more than just the machinery used to record and mix it . Good music comes from the heart , he says , and that ’ s what people ultimately respond to .
“ No amount of technology will replace soul .”
When it comes to Lanois ’ legacy , it ’ s difficult for him to pick anything in particular that he ’ s most proud of or wants to be remembered for . This isn ’ t a surprise — there ’ s an incredible amount of work to choose from , and each piece of Lanois ’ work has moved him forward in different ways . There are also many areas left to explore as he continues making music .
“ It seems that time has to go by before I can be objective about work that I ’ ve done ,” he says . As he ’ s continued to take on new challenges later in his career , Lanois has been surprised to see the ways new fans can discover his music . He co-scored the 2018 video game Red Dead Redemption 2 with American neo-soul icon D ’ Angelo , something he never thought he would be doing . He looks back on the recording process fondly , and while some ideas he workshopped with D ’ Angelo didn ’ t lead anywhere , eventually , they were able to provide the game with a soundtrack Lanois calls “ soulful ” and feels “ worked out beautifully .”
40 CANADIAN MUSICIAN