Daniel Lanois: The frontier spirit

Daniel Lanois's music has taken him to the Moon and back, via U2. Now he's taking pedal-steel guitar into a new realm. Alasdair Lees hears how

He is playing a piece from his new album, Belladonna, a dark collection of instrumentals that places the pedal steel centre-stage, backed by little more than drums, piano and acoustic guitar. Full of the kind of murky sonics that Lanois has brought to his Grammy-winning production work for Bob Dylan, U2 and others, it sees Lanois taking pedal-steel-playing into fresh territory.

"The playing I'm doing now is a continuation of the playing I did with Brian Eno, but maybe a little less western," he says, referring to their 1983 collaboration, Apollo. "I've found a more gospel style and my knowledge of the instrument is far superior. Traditionally the pedal-steel is played in a much more country way, but I've been evolving my chord sequences."

After three song-based solo albums, Lanois decided it was time to clean his palette. "I did it just to get myself off the song hook. I thought it was time to revisit that great chapter that I had with Eno in Canada," he says. "There was something about the dedication we had in finding sonics that had never been expressed before. It was a great laboratory, a fantastic place of experimentation and great results. We became masters of ambient music simply because we loved it and we were dedicated to it. I hope this album is a revisit of those values.

"I decided that I wanted to make an instrumental record because the mind and the imagination of a listener is freed in a certain kind of way in the absence of lyrics. I didn't want to dilute the effort of this instrumental music by putting lyrics on it. I wanted to make a really beautiful, timeless record - perhaps wear the shoes of Miles Davis - and make a record that would be transcending and elevating to the listener."

Lanois's father and grandfather were both noted French-Canadian fiddle-players in his home town of Hull, Quebec. "On the piano, you can hit a few notes and you'll be in tune because they're just keys," he explains. "On the pedal-steel, it's like a violin - you constantly have to be using your ear to pitch. The pedals are quite complex, too; everybody has their own tuning, as I have mine. It represents dedication: it's not an instrument you can dabble with." His cherished "piece of green maple with 10 strings" is the same one his mother, a singer, bought for him in Ontario when he was nine.

He recorded Belladonna on the Baja Peninsula in Mexico. "I've always had a fascination with the South," he says. "As a Canadian kid, I went to New Orleans [where he set up his Kingsway studio in the Eighties, and recorded the Neville Brothers' Yellow Moon and Bob Dylan's Oh Mercy] to further my education. The bass gets better the farther south you go," he laughs. "I grew up with a lot of beautiful melodies - it was a storytelling culture - but we never really understood the sexuality of bass. New Orleans was the beginning of that journey for me." It was the next logical step, therefore, to move over the border. "I really like the sound of Mexican records. I think south-of-the-border music is exotic and sexual.

"I like the idea of suggesting that, in these fast times, there is a place you can go to: a desert place; a place of isolation or the desert within oneself. When you go to a place where you might experience silence, you could find out something about yourself."

Belladonna was performed in New York in June, and Lanois is to tour the album with the Chicagoan post-rockers Tortoise in October. It should make for a powerful live experience. "This is a heavy record. It's not to be confused with a sweet, atmospheric record that you might do massage to. That's not the nature of the beast."

'Belladonna' is out now on Anti- Records

Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams in True Detective season 2

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Off the wall: the cast of ‘Life in Squares’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Books And it is whizzpopping!

Arts and Entertainment
Bono throws water at the crowd while the Edge watches as they perform in the band's first concert of their new world tour in Vancouver

MusicThey're running their own restaurants

Voices
The main entrance to the BBC headquarters in London
TV & Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'
    Singapore's domestic workers routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals

    Singapore's hidden secret of domestic worker abuse

    David Cameron was shown the country's shiniest veneer on his tour. What he didn't see was the army of foreign women who are routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals
    Showdown by Shirley Jackson: A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic

    Showdown, by Shirley Jackson

    A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic
    10 best DSLRs

    Be sharp! 10 best DSLRs

    Up your photography game with a versatile, powerful machine
    Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

    Solved after 200 years

    The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
    Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

    Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

    Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
    Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

    Sunken sub

    Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
    Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

    Age of the selfie

    Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
    Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

    Not so square

    How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
    Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

    Still carrying the torch

    The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
    The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

    The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

    ...but history suggests otherwise
    The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

    The bald truth

    How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
    Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

    Tour de France 2015

    Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
    Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

    A new beginning for supersonic flight?

    Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash