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- Posted on Nov 4th 2010 11:30AM by Lonny Knapp
"I realized that I don't have to be a bad man on the bike," he tells Spinner, flashing a mischievous grin. "I can be a bad man a lot of other ways."
Since recovering from the accident, he's made up for lost time with recent credits including 'Flamingo' -- the solo debut from Killers frontman Brandon Flowers -- and his high-profile collaboration with fellow Canuck Neil Young on 'Le Noise.'
But Lanois' not just a hired hand. He recently invited Spinner to the Temple -- his new studio in a converted Buddhist temple in Toronto's west end -- to unveil his personal project, a collective called Black Dub. "As usual," he says, "we are shooting for the stars."
Lanois is an innovative knob-twiddler whose use of studio effects and inspired recording techniques has earned him a place among the world's most sought-after producers. But he went back to basics when recording Black Dub's eponymous debut, capturing the majority the album live off the floor without overdubs.
After years of chasing perfect takes in the studio, the producer found the old-school approach humbling.
"I'm a studio rat, and I've spent my whole life building sounds and doing so many innovative things in the studio, but if you are resourceful, you don't need all the bells and whistles," he says. "It's a bit deflating, cause I can be in the studio for months chasing these sounds, and then we'd huddle up in the front room and knock it out in one take -- but that's the way they did it in Motown."
The Grammy-winning producer says that in recent years, he has yearned to be part of a band, and was considering hooking up with his friend and former client Sinead O'Connor, but changed his mind when Trixie Whitley -- daughter of late bluesman Chris Whitley -- slipped him her demo.
"Sinead has been asking me for years to put something together," he says. "But then Trixie came along, and I took it as a sign that I should assemble this collective."
It's easy to hear what caught the producer's ear. A video clip of Black Dub recording the track 'Surely' at Lanois' Los Angeles studio finds the 23-year-old holding her own with the seasoned musicians, and harnessing a voice that belies both her stature and age. "We recorded that live at my humble cottage, and what you see, is what made it on the record,' Lanois explains. "Clearly, Trixie has the capacity to deliver a live vocal."
Lanois cites famed Jamaican producer Lee Scratch Perry as a major influence. As the name implies, the band borrows liberally from Jamaican dub, but then mashes up equal parts R&B, free-form jazz and classic rock to create their own sound. Tracks such as 'I Believe in You,' 'Nomad' and 'Ring the Alarm' -- a cover of the Tenor Saw reggae classic -- feature complex rhythms and long instrumental breaks, and could be written off as indulgent jam-band schlock, if not held together by solid hooks and topped with Whitley's sweet and powerful voice.
In Black Dub, Lanois wears many hats; he serves as facilitator, primary songwriter, producer, and guitarist. The 59-year-old musician has a knack for surrounding himself with great musicians, and is certainly no slouch either. In particular, the album highlights the producer's prowess on the guitar.
"I just plug into an amp, and give every ounce of blood I got," he says. "I'm happy to stand there and have it be heard."