When Sigur Rós performed and screened their film, Heima, at the Vista in Silver Lake in November, Daniel Lanois, who’s best known by many for producing U2, Peter Gabriel, and Bob Dylan’s landmark Time out of Mind album, didn’t make the show, but afterward he was very intrigued by the night of music and film. “They’ve got a film, and then they do the performance right in the theater. That’s so great,” says Lanois, speaking from an L.A. recording studio where he’s working.
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At the time, Lanois was looking at a similar model for his film, Here Is What Is, a documentary that follows a year in the life of the producer as he works with the likes of U2 and Sinéad O’Connor in Morocco and Ireland, and chats with his mentor, Brian Eno, and friends, including Billy Bob Thornton. “I’ve been trying to think of ways of showing visual work without having to go through the labyrinth of the film festivals, where most people are rejected,” the soft-spoken and thoughtful Lanois says. “I’m sure there are a lot of lovely films that never get to the place where the general public can see them. So this is a nice way to do things.”
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Lanois recently premiered Here Is What Is at South by Southwest, and will also bring it to the Vista on March 27. Expect most of the live performance to come from the accompanying soundtrack album, a masterful singer-songwriter work in which you can hear both the influences of those Lanois has worked with and the sonic majesty he can take credit for himself. The 18-track CD features snippets of conversation between Lanois and Eno — something any audiophile in the past 40 years would trade his album collection to listen in on — mixed in with the music. The first of the songs, “Where Will I Be,” is a gorgeous Dylanesque number with a chanting, soft Indian influence. It’s followed by the title track, which starts with a hypnotic guitar line, then morphs into a sort of rhythmic mantra. Lanois intended the song to be just that. “It’s kind of a Jamaican proverb,” he says. “In these times of a lot of cell-phone action, you always get the impression somebody’s lining up the next thing that’s gonna be great. But if they put the telephone down, then they might realize they already have something great in the room that they’re in with their friends. So it’s really just a message about taking notice where you’re standing.”
While the album covers styles from the blues (“This May Be the Last Time”; the instrumental “Smoke #6”) to classical (“Lovechild”), with gospel and country thrown in, there is a common thread in Here Is What Is that Lanois finds when he listens to his work on The Joshua Tree and Time out of Mind. “I think that the best work I’ve done, the work that seems to hold up, harnesses a lot of soul — and that seems to be the ingredient that will outlive all of us.”
DANIEL LANOIS | Here Is What Is | Suma Records
Daniel Lanois will perform in conjunction with two screenings of Here Is What Is on Thurs., March 27, 6:30 and 9:30 p.m., at the Vista Theatre in Silver Lake.