Daniel Lanois

Interview-Daniel Lanois


‘Black Dub’

Black Dub


Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.
Red Auerbach (1917 - 2006) US basketball coach


worldbeatcanada radio: There’s a little black magic at play in Black Dub. How else can you explain the delicious sonic duality on the album? In one instant, the listener is astonishingly close to the action and the next, drifting away into a space as big as your best buzz. Such vivid soundscapes can only be created by audio masters and Black Dub has the distinction of being the brainchild of one of this generation’s most momentous producers and gifted musician, Daniel Lanois.

Daniel Lanois: Hi, this is Daniel Lanois. Thanks for spending some listening time with Black Dub.

WBC:  There are few outside of performers who ever get the experience of having their head in close proximity to an over-driven amplifier but you’ve captured that and all the up close subtleties of a live ensemble on this disc. Then you send the listener floating off into space and back in your face again. Can you give us some insight into the process that created this ultimate headphone experience?

DL: My formula is get the bottom right to begin with. So, once the bass lines are strong and you have a lot of fidelity in the bottom then the tops come more easily and you can go further out there with effects. So, the placement can be more adventurous in the presence of really good bass.

WBC: How do you deal with things like separation though, when you're working live off the floor?

DL: Sometimes we separate everything. There's an instrumental on the record called Slow Baby and it's very much a studio/laboratory construction and so when I work that way I can really isolate my ingredients. There are other songs like Surely You're Meant To Be Mine which is a live performance off the floor; vocal and all. And, whenever I do that I don't try and separate. There are two schools of thought. You could separate, putting the amps in different rooms and so on or get people as close together as possible. When you do that people self-balance. So, you can think of it like a jazz band, you know, one musician won't be louder than the other. It’s a self-balancing act and that's the sound you hear on Surely You're Meant To Be Mine.

WBC:  Trixie Whitley, daughter of the late, great Chris Whitley was inspirational to the Back Dub project. Her voice really is a force of nature. Was there anything else about her that gave you the green light to proceed with this adventure?

DL: Well, she's obviously a gifted singer but I like the fact that she grew up in Belgium and New York, she speaks several languages and I think she's an artistic force all around, and I think a great representative for her generation. So, it makes for a fascinating mixture. I just trust her emotionally and that emotion finds its way into song.

WBC:  You’ve commented on the soulful essence of gospel music, not necessarily because of the devotional aspect but what else?

DL: Our drummer Brian Blade grew up in church, playing drums in church. His dad is an amazing singer. So, he came up serving song and choir and his father, the lead singer. And so, I like to reference the church because it's a place where music has a practical reason to exist. It serves a community. And, I like community-based music. We like to use the term soul music as a broad banner for any music that has authenticity in its foundation.

WBC:  Let’s talk about dub or a moment. I always thought guys like King Tubby and Lee Scratch Perry were like the original remixes, bringing up select tracks and burying them in space echo and plate reverbs. How was your approach different on this album?

DL: The classic Jamaican dub is based on spin echoes, like repeat echoes. I use a sampling technique. So, my dub technique belongs in the studio. I sample bits and pieces of already existing ingredients and then spit them back into the track. I might do two or three performances of that and then I go through them with a fine tooth comb and erase all the embarrassing moments. There might be two or three or four striking moments, always unexpected ones. So, I keep the best ones and having done two or three passes then that usually gives me quite a few star moments to feature. Then, what's fascinating when you leave out your source ingredients, you're left with these sorts of flying saucers of source sounds, dismembered and some of them are terrific. And, if you've got your drums isolated from your original ingredients than that can make for a pretty fascinating journey.

WBC: Worldbeatcanada radio is on the pod with Daniel Lanois and that honour isn’t lost on us. Check out the popular live off the floor videos of the band at the official site, blackdub.net. The whole thing was accomplished without overdubs. How did you manage the harmonized guitar bits … live sampling?

DL: I do have some piano and guitar companions. Those are overdubs. So, it's not an entirely live off the floor album. Some are more manicured and more laboratory concoctions. But, once I hit on a nice melody, I try to pay respect to it and enhance it. In fact one of the best bass lines on the record is from the song, I Believe In You.

WBC: It's amazing.

DL: We meticulously went in and doubled every note on an electric guitar. So, here is an overdub on that because I thought it needed that kind of definition.

WBC:  It's really striking.  You have a home in Jamaica and the country is obviously rubbing off on you. As with a lot of your fellow statesmen of popular music like Peter Gabriel, David Byrne, Robert Plant even younger guys like Damon Albarn the music of the world seems to draw musicians in as they become more wizened, and it’s such an exciting nexus for musical ideas right now. Why is music of substance still marginalized in its exposure?

DL: Ah well ... we like to go wherever we hear the real deal to put it bluntly. I feel we have a responsibility to look around to where the reliable sources come from. African music's always had been there for us. Peter Gabriel of course, one of the forefathers, is sticking to his story with very interesting African music. And, there's a new wave in African music right now. So, I think it has never gone away and there is probably a generation of new musicians now who have gone more electric coming from Africa. We've always love Ali Farka Toure. That's a great electric guitar sound. You know, like Led Zeppelin when the guys were seeking out information. They traveled the globe ... Robert Plant and Jimi Page. And, you know they did beautiful things like Kashmir for example. That would have been inspired by the unison Arabic orchestras. So, we keep an eye out for those things that are very inspiring of course.

WBC: Last week we introduced the album with I believe In You and I’d like to take this home with the incredibly funky Last Time. Can you set this one up for us, Daniel?

DL: Well, Last Time is a church classic. I learned it from Brian Blade's father Brady Blade Sr. We did a roaring rendition of it at his church in Shreveport, Louisiana. It's a public domain track and a lot of people have done it, and we wrote a couple of our own verses for it. So, it's a new take on a classic with a really great groove and we do a nice live version as well.

Daniel Lanois was interviewed by Cal Koat for worldbeatcanada radio, backstage at the Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver on February 3, 2011