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The Gearspace.com Community 12th October 2021 10:38 AM

Interview with Daniel Lanois
 
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Back in 2008, the polymath Canadian producer/composer/musician/engineer/younameit Daniel Lanois joined us for a super cool Q&A. Daniel is perhaps best known for his production work with U2, Peter Gabriel, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Brian Eno, Spoons, Emmylou Harris and more, but he has also released a critically-acclaimed discography of his own, has composed/produced film music (Dune, Sling Blade) and most recently has dabbled in video game music production and composition with Red Dead Redemption. It was a treat to have Daniel with us for a couple weeks answering questions about his methods, gear and creative processes. We hope you enjoy re-experiencing this Q&A as much as we've enjoyed putting it together!


What Albums or even just tracks made a big impact on you? - Gurubuzz

  • Sly Stone - In Time
  • Timmy Thomas - Why Can't We Live Together
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Stevie Wonder - Signed, Sealed, Delivered
  • The Supremes - Keep Me Hangin' on
  • Booker T and The MGs with Al Jackson
  • The Meters
  • Staple Singers
  • Link Wray - Fire and Brimstone


Just a note to say how much I enjoyed Shine from start to finish. The guitar sounds are some of the most beautiful I've ever heard. I was wondering what guitar/amp you featured on San Juan? - Musicispower


San Juan was played on a Danelectro guitar and a Gibson tweed amp circa 57. I was playing upstairs in my front room and Adam Samuels was recording downstairs. I did not know he was recording. I went downstairs and he played it back. I did a vocal immediately on a 77 that was set up. The mic was hot with a lot of LA2A and I sang softly.



I would like to have your insight of how you "work" with a band, particularly in the pre production and songwriting stage? - Saudade


First things first, find out what's in the hearts of people. If it's a band situation I try to maximize the skills of the band members. Even if there are limitations. If the limitations are too great I won't do the record. Once we're in the arena together, that's where the dynamics begin. One idea feeds another and before you know it, if things are going well, you have the power of momentum. That's what I like about team spirit. Regarding song selection, I look for melody in song. A fresh lyrical angle is always good. Any component that will help us do something original is always welcome.



Can you share any insights on the recording of Brian Eno's Apollo? I can hear a lot of what seems like tape manipulations but what synths and keyboards were involved?

Also can you tell us about the rather distinctive guitar sound on "Deep blue Day"? - Baikonour


The main synth was a Yamaha CS-80. This is a polyphonic synth, one of Yamaha's first. On Deep Blue Day there are two guitars, a strumming Strat plays the rhythm and the steel guitar is my Sho-Bud single neck Professional. They were both recorded DI. Eno put a massive treatment on everything. The complexities of the chain are unspeakable! But those treatments were worked on for weeks on end.



I read in an interview that you were using cheap handheld recorders (Zoom?) in some sessions. Could you elaborate a little on this technique? - Kosi


Always use a crystal locked machine. That way when you ultimately align your varied sources they will stay in sync for the duration. Recently we found that our most exciting drum sound was the recording on the camera used for video taping a session. The camera sound blended with our regular mic'ing set up turned out to be an exciting combination.



Can you talk about some of the equipment and techniques used on Time Out of Mind & Teatro? I am mesmerized by the vocals and organ sounds. That album has such an incredible vibe. - RMcFarland


Time Out Of Mind and Teatro are similar. They both had large groups of people playing at once in big rooms. The art of making records this way is all about balancing the sources of sound so that there is not any one ingredient too loud in the room at a given time. These recordings are like Jazz recordings really. The singers in the room were never drowned out by the instruments acoustically. All kinds of curious automatic placement of instruments happen naturally when you open a lot of mics in a room. At a certain point you become slave to the situation and accept the fact that spill is part of the formula. The vocals are full of instrument leakage. Doing vocal repairs and overdubs becomes tricky. A simulation of the presence of the band must be built for vocal repairs. In the case of Dylan, if he wanted to repair a vocal line I'd pipe the track into two huge Altec Lansing speakers set at just the right volume to mimic the presence of the band around Bob. The thing about Bob's vocal is that he puts out a lot of mid-range. The microphones are friendly to this quality. Any mic on Bob sounds good. Time Out Of Mind features a vocal reprocessing thru a small guitar amp that we mic'd and put back in the mix. Bob wanted his vocal to sound like rock and roll recordings of the 50s. There was definitely overdrive happening on those records. Preamps have gotten a lot cleaner since and so the vocal into a guitar amp was my way of getting to the sound of the old days.



I have always been a great fan of your pedal steel playing. It is indeed unique and inspiring. Would you mind telling what your signal chain (mic and pre) is? What guitar and amp are you using? any effects? - American


My guitar is a Sho-Bud Lloyd Green standard 10 string. I'm currently using a Morley volume pedal because it doesn't have a pot that eventually crackles! It uses an optic cell and runs on a battery. The battery lasts for ages. In the studio I prefer to use a Fender Tweed Deluxe 1959. Live I use my Vox AC-30 1962. Playing soft with the right hand and cranking the amp up loud increases my chances of harmonic interplay. The intro to Jimi's Foxy Lady is my source of inspiration for what I'm talking about. Microphone choices - dynamic mic like a 57 or 409 or a ribbon like a Coles or 77 for a darker tone. Usually a 1066 preamp and no compression.



On 'Where Will I Be' how did you deal with the bass drum(s)? Also, what is that really cool sounding string synth that makes a few appearances on the album? - philosi


The drums on Where Will I Be are two drum kits, one left one right. Both kick drums are in. It so happens that the two drummers are both genius drummers. Willie Green on one side and Brian Blade on the other. The foot action between these two guys is enough to keep me curious for a lifetime. I played the bass myself and followed the Jamaican bass formula, turn up loud and play quiet. I recorded the first kit years ago, Adam Samuels recorded the new kit. There's an amazing scene of the new drum take in the film Here Is What Is (on the dvd extras). The symphonic string sound is a revisit to the symphonics that I was on to in the 80s. Essentially one octave up and one octave down on an AMS Harmonizer sent to various echos regenerating on themselves. The source was a guitar.



Looking at pictures on the libretto of Shine I had a few questions. What is the use of the two 57's with an elastic?? Base tracks or used on recording, live monitoring or FX...

Also had a question regarding the two pairs of speakers on the meter bridge of the desk. Why? - studiovv


The twin 57, the first for recording, the seconD for PA. I didn't want to risk a splitter. In regards to the speakers they were paralleled. This is a speaker wiring technique that I've used for years. Some years back I had a lot of success with a pair of Auratones strapped in parallel to a pair of Radioshack speakers. That's the rig I used for the making of Peter Gabriel's So album.



Obviously you've worked in all sorts of spaces, what do you now find that tends to work best for you and how does that relate to both "vibe" and environment versus acoustics, etc. I'd just like to know what kinds of spaces and the materials around them that you like, both in sound and feel. - Dirty Halo


The best way to create space in a blend is not to have too many ingredients but turn them up loud. In regards to physical space, it is staggering how different a guitar amp will sound from one room to another. I've had great results in smallish rooms with high ceilings. The room becomes an extension of the amplifier. The room becomes a speaker cabinet. The full bodied sound heard in that small room may be non-existent in a large warehouse room. The best rock and roll rooms in my experience have been rectangular rooms with tall ceilings.



I frequently use and record an Omnichord and I'm curious about how you record this great instrument? - Omnichord


The Omnichord is one of many instruments that create the sound of an entire band. My fascination with these instruments started long before the Omnichord. The all on-board home entertainment organ was the birth of it all. Check out Timmy Thomas' Why Can't We Live Together. I believe he's sitting at a Lowrey organ with an onboard beat box. The song is killin'. The Omni plugged into a bass amp can give a pretty amazing bottom end.



A friend reminded me last night about the helmet microphone. Would you care to elaborate on this? Where was it used, etc. All I know about it is it's basically a motorcycle helmet with a 57 capsule and the jack routed to the back of the helmet. - Chetatkinsdiet


Yes it's a motorcycle helmet with a 57 diaphragm shoved into the mouth guard. Adam built it for me. This was an attempt at having an isolated guide vocal. People play better when they get juiced up by the singer. With this helmet I can have the singer next to the drums without getting the singing in the drum mics. The idea worked out pretty well except that the singer was gasping for air half way through the song. We should call Louis Vuitton, I think he's doing helmets now.



"Here Is What Is" sounds very much like a band in a room with the pedal steel overdubbed. Can you explain how it was recorded...and what reverbs you used? - Cramseur


Duo Glide has a metronomic spine. It started as a beatbox rhythm that I played drums on top of. I'm not the best drummer but I have a nice feel. The beat box and my drums were slowed down approx 4 semitones. The song was built on top of the slowed down groove. If you watch the Duo Glide scene from the film Here Is What Is you will see the actual overdub take. Moral of the story, curious laboratory preparation with performance overdubbed on top. The recording was done by Adam. No reverbs were used, only slap echos.



Legend has it the vocals for Joshua Tree and so were done with SM57's in the control room with the mains wide open. I try this technique but it is fraught with problems...feedback...thin tone...proximity oddities...phasing issues. What am I missing? - Echobridge


We used a Beta 58 not a 57. The feedback to print ratio is relative to the output volume of your singer. A quiet singer then singing to a PA is a bad idea. Bono's a powerhouse singer which automatically reduces the amount of spill and feedback. This technique is good for him because he likes to be juiced up to get that stage feeling. He's a performer, he needs his PA. Regarding feedback try this...lower the volume of your speakers and don't put the vocal in the monitors at all. You won't get feedback and you have the advantage of the singer having better pitch. This is a technique I use all the time.



How do you go about establishing an album's identity so that all the songs sound like a cohesive whole and so the album itself has its own character distinct from the thousands of other albums that are out there? I'm particularly interested in Achtung Baby in this regard. - Aaron Miller


It's good to build a menu early on. A menu should be made of offerings that relate to the people you're working with. For example, if the guitar player in the band is excited about playing the slide guitar, let that be a flavor that you come back to a few times on the album. If the singer has a good falsetto, put it on display and make something of his strength. I let the flavors of a record come to me. On Achtung Baby we hit on some guitar sounds early on that we loved. For example, the auto-wah guitar intro for Mysterious Ways. This is a sound that we had not heard before. Reinventing the guitar is not easy and so if you hear something original - use it. Eno, Edge, Flood and I were very driven by the processing of sound at the time of Achtung Baby. We carried this theme through the making of the album.



I was wondering about your way of mixingwhat are your favorite monitors, do you switch between multiple pairs? - Alexkemp


I use a combination of quiet listening and loud listening. The loud listening juices me up and causes me to be brave. The quiet listening gives me a realistic view of vocal to track ratio. Listening from another room is good for hearing stand-outs and will quickly tell you if you have dead wood. i.e. meandering sections with no melodies.



"Death Of A Train" is one of my favorite songs and the way the guitar builds throughout and explodes at the end is amazing. Anything you could share about that track would be wonderful. - w2w


I used my 56 Goldtop Les Paul thru an AC-30. No effects. This combo sounded fantastic at that time. I use very thick strings. The solo was played on the lower strings up high. The room we were in had a tall ceiling with a wooden plank floor. The drummer sat in the archway, his kit essentially in the next room with a marble floor. Bill Dillon was on the guitorgan. Just the magic of the day.



My favorite new album is your latest, Here Is What Is. I really love the title track. Could you please help us understand how you get the "low end right" in your mixes on songs like this, particularly with the bass guitar, which is amazingly full and sub-sonic, without being overbearing . - Protools Guy


I played the bass part. Because I'm connected to the chord sequence and know where the vocal accents happen I play the bass with that in mind. You'll notice that the bass flourishes with it's little signature between the lyric lines. Therefore it is not competing with the singing. As a rule I use the Jamaican technique. Turn up the preamp as loud as you can, roll off the treble on the instrument and play lightly with your right hand. In this case Adam Samuels did the recording and mix. It was a Hofner Beatle bass into an API 512 and an 1176 LN.



Do you have any "rules" or "strategies" you always follow? - ThomasWho


There's a rule I like to follow. Keep preamp stations separate from the mixing console. Don't ask the main console to do too much. It should only ever mix. That way I get to lay down a mix anytime I want. I keep my instruments mic'd up all the time. It's good not to waste the time of an artist. If someone sits at an instrument it's good to be able to record them right away.



I was wondering what mics and preamps you use to record Acoustic Guitars and Electric Guitar Amps? - Anguswoodhead


I like the Sennheiser 409 on amps. For a different sound I like a ribbon mic. Acoustic guitar recordings are tough. If you can have a nice big mic further back from the instrument that's usually the best. Further back means no booming. Lately I've enjoyed a U47 or C37a with a 1066 preamp.



How do you approach working with vocalists? - Santiago


I don't use reverbs. I like to use a slap echo with a relevant delay setting. Remember that a muted delay tone creates a sense of distance. I pay attention to the vocals all the time. I don't add the vocal to the track, I add the track to the vocal. If you keep this angle in mind you subconsciously train your brain to build your work around the center.



Shine has to be one of my favorite records of all time and been an inspiration in my music making career. - Matta


Many different mic'ing techniques were used on Shine. The Sennheiser 409 is a nice friend to keep in your back pocket. Great for vocals and guitars. The drum mic'ing is usually the same. 57 tight on the hi-hat, 47 overhead, the Bass Drum Mic changes, sometimes a Coles sometimes a D12. Switching the bass drum around for another bass drum is always the best way to change the kick drum sound.



Do you still have those Decca compressors and do you use as much as you used to? - Silvertone


I still have them, haven't used them much recently, but I remember really liking them. Especially on electric guitar.



I believe you use a lot of vintage gear like guitars, amps, mics and so forth. Have you tried any of the new copies/reissues? - ThomasWho


I recorded Sinead O'Connors voice with a Telefunken 251 reissue and had great results. Otherwise I pretty much use my old gear and I feel that nothing has come close to the original tweed Fender amps circa 1959.



Do you have a go-to recording chain for your own voice? - ThomasWho


I'm always searching for the best technique. I've had good recent experience with a U47 three feet back from me. It served well for the vocal but also the acoustic guitar that I was playing. The 47 had no shock mount and therefore picked the sound of my foot thumping through the wood floor. That's as close as I've come to some of the old blues recordings that I've heard and liked.



What was the "Bobometer" you and your brother had at the Hamilton studio? - JTR


My studio in Canada in the 70s used DBX noise reduction. I found that by taking out the DBX on playback everything got more exciting. And so I asked Bob if he could customize two DBX units for me to plug the stereo output of the console into. The two controls on the front were blend controls to jockey from clean stereo to DBX enhanced stereo.



Do you use mix buss compression? - dj_who


I've used different mix compressors over the years. I've used 1176s, not linked up, I like that the left will react differently than the right. For added fun try inserting a couple of graphics before hitting the compressor. Lately I've been using the 32264a in my Neve 8068 console.



Do you have any experience with recording a whole band in the "control room" , having all the studio gear and musicians and yourself -in one room ? - ThomasWho


The best thing about having the console and the engineer next to the musicians is fast communication. It's nice to look somebody in the eye and talk to them openly in the room. You can think of it like a well balanced band that doesn't rely heavily on stage monitoring. The more isolation you have the more people you need to monitor the situation and you just might waste a lot of time dealing with fundamentals.



1. I'm curious about the technique you use for overdubbing separate drum takes.

2. I am wondering if there was any truth to the rumor that 'Wynona' (on Wynona, of course) is spliced together from two different mixes (at about 2'30").

3. I read in an interview that you may from time to time run one track through another track's mix for inspiration, serendipity, or whatnot.

4. I'd also like to commend you on your approach to online distribution with redfloorreccords.com including uncompressed and DRM free audio. - Scottwilson


1. The twin drum kit idea came about because I had an already existing drum part that was magical, and as usual, I always built on top of something that has magic in it. If I had not had the existing drum part I would not have gone after the twin drum kit idea. Try listening to Bob Dylan's Time Out Of Mind where we actually had two drummers live in the room. The song "Can't Wait" is a nice success. My current policy: I don't tell drummers what to play.

2. Very much true. In fact at that time, cutting from one mix to another, even to a 3rd or 4th mix was standard practice. In my experience with my own renegade manual mixing a certain mix may have a stand-out section but the rest might not be great. I make a note of the great section with the view of chopping it into the final mix. There have been extremes of this technique, mixes done in different studios on different consoles.

3. I still use this technique today. You can also try running your multi track backwards for surprising new melodies. Check out an Eno record called Apollo. The track by the name of An Ending (Ascent) is an example of a great backwards result.

4. We're trying to make it easy on people and of course the full fidelity wav files are in keeping with my dedication to high quality.



Did you use an E-Bow to get the distortion on 'Most of the Time'?. I have to say that it is the most beautiful sounding guitar I have ever heard. - Littledoodler


I didn't use an ebow. I used a 1956 Les Paul Jr thru my Vox AC30 turned up all the way. Not the bright channel. The sustain that you hear is just what happened naturally. But I did have the rig in a walk-in pantry closet which I believe played a big factor in the sound.



It has been reported that the LA2A compressor was used for Edge's guitar on the Unforgettable Fire album. - Kilmainham


On The Unforgettable Fire sessions I used my personal LA2A that I shipped in from Canada along with my Neve 1066 preamps. We hardly had any equipment at all for recording The Unforgettable Fire. I know I used the LA2A on Bono's voice and in those days if we had a chain that we liked we would just move it around the room relative to the next recording task. I still follow this philosophy today. If a microphone, mic pre, and compressor chain is working well, I thank my lucky stars and treat it like sacred ground.



The bottom end of the Neville Brothers' Yellow Moon is so intense - huge and deep, but still very tight, and not muddy at all. Any info you could share will be much appreciated! - Stizz


The bottom largely comes from Tony Hall's bass playing. He's a great funk bass player and his notes don't last too long therefore they don't murk up the track. Because the bass playing was economical Malcolm and I were able to turn it up real loud.