The One That Got Away


This article first appeared on Culture Catch back in 2005.

"Blood of Eden" -- the special movie mix for the Wim Wender's film Until the End of the World -- is one of my favorite songs ever. It was a remixed track from Peter Gabriel's 1992 record Us, a gorgeous, spacious ballad unencumbered by the surgically percussive elements that made So and Us such massively popular albums.

Last week I had the opportunity to interview the artist responsible for co-producing, playing, and singing on this majestic piece of music, one of the true unsung heroes of rock and roll: producer/musician/songwriter Daniel Lanois.

For those of you who don't him -- and I'm assuming most of you don't -- he's mainly known as a producer, having helmed career-defining records for Peter Gabriel (So, Us), U2 (The Unforgettable Fire, The Joshua Tree, Achtung Baby), Bob Dylan (Oh, Mercy, Time Out of Mind, Emmylou Harris (Wrecking Ball), the Neville Brothers (Yellow Moon), and Willie Nelson (Teatro), to name but a few. And he's also recorded six CDs of his own music, including his current offering, the vividly cinematic instrumental CD Belladonna.

He began his '80s apprenticeship with ambient genius Brian Eno. Together they produced a breadth of work that remains as vital today as it did when it was released back in the '80s. His ethereal pedal steel playing on his collaboration with Eno on Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks is simply one of most sonically challenging uses of an instrument primarily known for its country applications. But with Mr. Lanois hammering, stroking, and feathering it, it becomes an instrument for the cosmos. In fact, his new effort, Belladonna, is really a continued exploration of that instrument with themes and moods he developed on that early Eno effort.

My Lanois sit-down was an amazing interview, to say the least, but upon returning to the studio, I discovered I had a major tech malfunction with my field equipment and I was unable to download the interview. One of the most candid interviews I've ever conducted was now just a special memory.

Bob Dylan was absolutely right about the man. Dylan wrote in his book Chronicles, Vol. 1 that he knew he could work with Lanois because he "didn't have a colossal ego, seemed disciplined -- nothing wheeler dealer about him -- and had an extraordinary passion for music."

After spending an hour asking him questions about his music and art, I can say that this was unequivocally true. I knew that I could contact him and tell him what happened and if his busy schedule would permit, I could try to capture magic in a bottle for a second time. Perhaps there are other questions to be asked when the second interview takes place, but the ones that I recall asking were met with gentle and thoughtful answers. He confided in me that fellow Canadian Neil Young was someone he'd like to produce, someone he thinks he could help deliver a career-defining album. I shared with him that he would have been perfect for Jeff Buckley or even P.J. Harvey, though she certainly has her own clearly defined sound.

His advice to all the up-and-comer songwriters and producers was to experiment with their equipment -- mics, instruments, rigs -- really get creative with how you record a song and how you approach delivering the song. Explore the song with all the creativity you can muster. In the end, I was left with something that resonated from his most recent press release. In it he said: "Some of my favorite records take you on a journey, it would take you to that place and never let you down." One can honestly say that the records I've mentioned above are works of art that do just that; whether one floats along a bubbling brook or glides gleaming on a magic carpet, trips will certainly be taken.

So a valuable lesson was learned in my young podcasting career -- always have a backup or, at the very least, a willing guest that will agree to a second interview. Daniel Lanois has agreed to a second interview. (Yet to happen.) Look for it soon. Converge is the Word!

peace, Dusty