Michael Buckner | Frazer Harrison, Getty Images Now this is a collaboration that…
- Posted on Jan 17th 2008 5:00PM by Steve Baltin
U2 just reissued a deluxe 20th anniversary edition of 'The Joshua Tree.' When you go back and revisit those songs, do they stand up for you?
When work gets brought to the soulful conclusion, if you're lucky enough to hit on that, and you can sort of harness it, that music will have a long life and will bypass the stylistic climate of the time. When you listen to the Rolling Stones' 'Miss You,' they were embracing the disco values of that time. But they did such a great job on that song and that production, even when you hear it now you don't think, "Oh, it's a shame that has a disco tone."
Great soulful music goes well beyond the soul genre. What are a couple of examples of great soul music, including records that may have influenced you?
I think the Jimi Hendrix records for me encompass what we're talking about, soul and values of the time. Those Jimi Hendrix records really made an impression on me and they still do -- the guitar playing, probably the best guitar player that there ever was. And as a relatively young man to get to that place was so striking to me [that] it warrants study even today.
One thing that's always underrated about Hendrix is his songwriting. He was a great lyricist.
He was influenced by Bob Dylan. In fact, somebody said Hendrix didn't have an Afro at all until he saw Bob Dylan with one [laughs]. He loved Bob's sort of whacked-out stream-of-consciousness lyric approach. In fact I asked Dylan about 'All Along the Watchtower,' and Bob said that's a song that was never really finished.
When you look back at your past work, is there anything that surprises you?
There's a technique that Brian Eno and I used to use back then, which goes like this: When you're working on a mix, [it's a] good thing to spend half a day on a mix, and it has intricate settings relative to the song at hand. It's called neutralizing your equipment. But Eno always taught me you don't neutralize your equipment. You play the rest of your album through the mix of the first song you've been working on and you're definitely gonna get some nice surprises. So this is a way of knocking yourself out of your usual way of thinking because happy accidents can be a real friend in record making. This is a technique that he used with Bowie in the '70s. They would even go so far as flipping the tape over and play the entire record backwards on the off chance some little new riff or melody would rise up.
Can you give an example of a happy accident you found this way?
There's a song called 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For,' which is a U2 song from the '80s, and we had been working on another track called 'Under the Weather.' That one did not come to fruition, but the drum track sounds great. This is not a technique that I usually recommend, but the drum track had so much feeling in it that we decided to try and apply that to another song and then we superimposed over the top of that great drum beat of Larry [Mullen]'s. And every now and then you get lucky with a technique like that.
Any examples of when it was just not gonna work?
Well, it seems no technique can work twice. It's so specific to the application at hand. I did some of this on Bob Dylan's 'Time Out of Mind' record. Bob was real interested in the sound of these old blues and rock 'n' roll records. I hooked up with a friend of mine, Tony Mangurian, in New York City, and we looped a bunch of these old records, played on top of them, then did away with the loops, and then did samples of the overlays. There's a song on there, for example, 'Million Miles Away' -- that's the basis of that track.
Who are some of the people you've learned the most from?
I've sat next to Bob Dylan for a good many months and I've watched him hone in on his lyrics. And I watched Bob be quite guarded with his great couplets. And they exist in one song, but if that does not make the finish line he'll take the good couplet and put it in another song. That was intriguing to me because we are conditioned to believe that songwriters sit down and write a song about a particular subject matter written from a certain angle. But it was nice to see that Bob would deal with the lyrics the same way that I deal with my sonics. I'll hit on a sound that I think is very special and it will sit in the sonic orphanage, if you like, until it one day it finds a home.
Can you tell us about your film, 'Here Is What Is'?
A friend of mine said, "Nobody knows what you do in the studio, Lanois. Why don't you turn on a camera?" And I did that. I had this kid, Adam Vollick, follow me around for a year. I put a session together to record some of my songs, and he filmed that and we did pick up some lovely things. He's shooting at the same time we're recording. And we traveled through five cities; went from Toronto then to Los Angeles, where Billy Bob Thornton came over to my house. Years ago I had written the music for Billy Bob's 'Sling Blade,' and we keep in touch. We sat in with the band at a Baptist church for a week, and so there's a roaring rendition of 'This May Be the Last Time.' Sinead O'Connor's in there; I went to her house and recorded a track with her. Then over to Fez, Morocco, with U2. So it's kind of a travelogue, and what I tried to do is talk about the creative process.