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U2 Joshua Tree Tour 2019
· Night 12 setlist for U2:UV at the Sphere, Las Vegas, 25/10/23
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· Night 2 setlist for U2:UV at the Sphere, Las Vegas, 30/09/23
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All that he can't leave behind

Posted on Thursday, July 04 @ 01:14:22 CEST by Macphisto

(The Globe And Mail) -- He's better known as the Grammy-winning producer of Bob Dylan and U2, but songwriting is Daniel Lanois's 'first life.' ROBERT EVERETT-GREEN talks to him about his trademark sound and upcoming album.

ST. JOHN'S -- Daniel Lanois has a lot of respect for the spoken word. Or maybe it's anxiety, about how words can pin you down, make things too specific, or not specific enough. He had scarcely said anything, sitting on the hotel ottoman in his python-skin jacket, before he began tuning his 12-string guitar, as though preparing a more dependable voice than his own. Our real conversation began with a song.

That's been the way with Lanois, ever since he broke out of a studio in the basement of his mother's house in Hamilton to become one of the leading record producers of his generation. He communicates with the world through song, and especially through those parts of a song that can't be paraphrased or written down. He's a wizard of sound. Listen to any of his recordings with Bob Dylan or U2 or Peter Gabriel and you can feel the magic transfer of meaning between sound and text.

Lanois alone with a guitar is something else. It's where he started, picking out songs that somehow settled the fire in his belly that might otherwise have raged up and destroyed him.

"Songwriting is my first life," he said quietly. "It's what got me out of delinquency, and kept me out of jail."

Three decades and many Grammys later (including a fistful for U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind), Lanois has gone back to first things. He's taking a year-long sabbatical from the producer's life, to put together a forthcoming solo album, samples of which will figure prominently on his two sold-out concerts this week at the Montreal International Jazz Festival.

He's been a long-time away from the solo game. His last album, For the Beauty of Wynona, came out in 1993. Like his two previous discs, it was met with admiring reviews and modest sales. Almost every other year since then has been spotlight time for one of Lanois's clients: Emmylou Harris in '95 (Wrecking Ball), Bob Dylan in '97 (Time Out of Mind) and U2 in 2000 (All That You Can't Leave Behind).

"I want to write my little songs, I want them to be like Polaroids of life," Lanois said, after singing me another new number in English, and one more in French. The Polaroid simile was carefully chosen. Lanois's work as producer is more often like a wide-angle film on highly saturated colour stock. He's famous for his construction of lush studio atmospheres that retain the immediacy of live performance, often through an inspired alliance of new and old technologies.

He learned long ago how to anatomize records and the effect of everything in them, from the scuff of a high-hat to the amount of air in a vocal track. He talks about depth of field the way photographers do.

"Depth of field is the very ingredient that allows you to keep questioning the way a record is being made," he said. Sometimes the questioning settles on something on the edge of the image, some little riff that points at the goal to which the process has been unconsciously heading.

That happened with U2's Beautiful Day, one of last year's inescapable singles. During the sessions for All That You Can't Leave Behind, the band's guitarist, The Edge, was determined to find a home for a certain chord sequence -- "which was just Bo Diddley, by the way," Lanois said, strumming it out. But the band couldn't get it to work anywhere. It took some fooling around while the players were out of the studio for Lanois and co-producer Brian Eno to find the rigid yet transparent structure that made the sequence feel right.

"The band came in and we knocked out this version, and it had something, though there was still no song. And Bono was just riffing and making things up, and right at the very end, somewhat as an afterthought, he yelled out, 'It's a beautiful day, it's a beautiful day.' And after that, we just kept chipping away till we had the song. It's a totally fabricated thing." Being paid to find a hidden quintessence and rebuild someone else's music around it gave Lanois the producer a freedom that wasn't so far removed from the hell-raising liberties he took as a kid from a single-parent family on the streets of Hamilton. As he sees it, his job was often to lay hands on someone else's property and bang it up good.

"It's almost like a kind of vandalism, very organized highly paid vandalism," he said. "You go in and rock the place, and make as much of a mess as you can . . . You're in someone else's world, and the pressure that they feel is not coming to bear on you.

"The studio as a laboratory has always been fascinating to me. Going in alone, late at night, with no natural light. And the bravado of it is, 'I'm going to do something that's going to impress the world.' It's almost like being a safe-cracker. I always think I can pick the lock."

Writing his own songs is a different kind of caper. Lanois has a roots musician's respect for the plain organic statement of a thought in music.

"Usually the melody comes first for me, and often the tune will contain the sentiment," he said. The words emerge around the tune, as though they were already there in coded form.

His new, as yet untitled album, on the Anti- label run by Epitaph Records, will have the same immediacy as his work for others, but with less of the splendour of what has come to be known, somewhat confiningly, as the Lanois sound. The songs will take on whatever colouring they seem to need, he said, from a simple folk-style rendition to something with the weight of rock or the spice of the Acadian material that characterized his 1989 album, Acadie.

At 50, Lanois feels he has relaxed somewhat from the driven posture he adopted through much of his career. Cracking the safe is no longer the only thing on his mind.

"I think I used to block out certain things that life has to offer. Concentration can be connected with a very narrow vision. You sometimes have to pretend that life doesn't exist to have the arrogance to get your idea across."

After years of residency in the United States, he has closed up his legendary New Orleans studio and lives the life of a nomad. His return to songwriting and performance is perhaps the best kind of homecoming he could have.


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