Daniel Lanois on His Experimental New Album: "I'm Not Miley Cyrus"

Daniel Lanois, the flesh half of Flesh and Machine
Daniel Lanois, the flesh half of Flesh and Machine
Photo by Margaret Marissen

Ace steel guitar man, famed producer (U2, Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel, Neil Young) and ambient music trailblazer Daniel Lanois’ latest solo album Flesh and Machine is just out on Anti- Records. It’s what you’d call one of those artistic rebirth sorts of things. Lanois is a bit fed up with the old ways of making music; he wanted to use new sounds to say something genuinely new and relevant about what is happening on our planet.

In conversation with L.A. Weekly, Lanois explained how Flesh and Machine is a soundtrack for "ferocious times."

Flesh and Machine dives into brave new worlds of sound with brash blends of beauty and boldness.

It began as more of a conventional song thing, but as I started building my sounds and garnishing the songs, all of that started sounding more interesting to me than the songs. [Laughs] So I abandoned the core of the matter and went with the toppings.

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This was a process of deconstruction. While processes aren’t new to me — I’ve done this a lot on other people’s records and with [Brian] Eno over the years — I decided that this was possibly entering into new sonic territory.

Once I decided that that’s what the record was going to be, I was able to shed that skin of preconception, and I decided to be as inventive as I can be and try and take people on a journey, the way I remember records did when I was a kid — you know, you’d put on an album and trip out to it and feel like a different person after listening.

The artificial aspect of your music-making — the way it’s sculpted post-recording — is part of the heart of the matter.

It is flesh and machine. You know, I still walk the same tightrope I’ve always walked. I’ve got all my equipment to think about and I’ve got people to think about, and ultimately I want to make soul music.

How much editing and processing was involved post-recording?

Editing is necessary if you choose to be a collage artist. Look at the way Bob Dylan works with his lyrics. I’ve seen Bob juggle some of his couplets around from song to song, and it’s just part of it — not that you want to self-edit to the point of suffocating yourself, but it’s part of the nurturing of works that you don’t want to just roll out buckets of debris; you want to make sure that you tidy up your shop, and that your best works are the ones that are seen or heard, ultimately.

Why make this record now? Were you feeling at an artistic impasse?

Yeah, I’m sure everybody goes through it. That’s what life provides us as we grow and change. I’m still the French Canadian kid that wrote some French folk songs, you know, but those were written a long time ago, and they were true to me then — they’re true to me now — but I can’t make those now because I’m a different person now.

Plus, I’m seeing the studio as a different thing now; I’m not separating the studio from the stage anymore. The rig that you’d see in my studio I’m taking on the road with me, and we’re going to go find a new way to communicate. I’m not abandoning my laboratory, but I’m not going to go and sit in a chair and make a record in Europe for two years straight. I think all that’s antiquated and I don’t want to have any part of it.

I want to invent, but I’m going to be inventing with my live rig; I see it as the tip of an iceberg. I’m just trying to get to that place where I’m excited about my work and I’m stepping into the future with it.

How does your current musical outlook reflect the tenor of the times? Does topicality enter into your musical equation?

Hey man, we’re all living in the same times together, and we can’t turn a blind eye. I’m Canadian and I have a feel for my native compadres up there... pipelines going in and extracting petroleum from the tar sands and a lot of disrespect to the beautiful nature of our land there.

The track “Sioux Lookout” is a contemporary note of cry, a cry for balance, and I made an effort to mix humans with animals in it as a reminder that we have relatives to think about –– we have the winged people, the water people, the four-legged people and the humans, and the humans can’t be tromping everything all the time.

There’s a wild track on the album called “The End,” with all the bombing and ripping sounds.

I see that as a protest song. You try and imagine what it’s like to be in a war zone as a young kid and looking at this madness and wondering how it all came to be. The fire that lives in such a person’s heart I hope is represented in that track. These are ferocious times, and we’ve all gotta be more ferocious.

Who is your audience? What does this new music wish to achieve?

I’m not Miley Cyrus. I respect and appreciate the corner that I come from, and my criteria remains the same: I want to take people on a journey with my sonics. But most importantly, I want them to feel an emotion from them, and perhaps even cause a listener to change a little something about their life.

Daniel Lanois performs at El Rey on Sunday, Nov. 16. More info available here.


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