I’m finishing up Dylan’s ‘Chronicles’ and in one of the last chapters he describes a bleak time in the 80s where he was close to quitting music. He recalls a dinner at his house to which U2’s Bono was invited. The evening ended with Bono recommending that Dylan get in touch with the producer Daniel Lanois who had just produced the ‘Joshua Tree.’
Dylan had a few unfinished songs in his kitchen drawer so put the call through. The two met in a hotel in New Orleans:
Lanois sat down. He was noir all the way—dark sombrero, black britches, high boots, slip-on gloves—all shadow and silhouette—dimmed out, a black prince from the black hills. He was scuff proof. He orders a beer and I get an aspirin and Coke. He got right down to business, asked what kind of songs I had, what kind of record I had in mind. It wasn’t a real question—just a way to start the conversation.
Over the course of an hour or so, I knew I could work with this guy, had a conviction about him. I didn’t know what kind of record I had in mind. Didn’t even know if the songs were any good. Hadn’t looked at the songs since I’d shown them to Bono, who liked them a lot, but who knows if he really did. Most of them didn’t even have melodies. Danny says to me, “You can make a great record, you know, if you really want to.” I flatly said, “Of course I’ll need your help,” and he nodded.
He wanted to know if I had any musicians in mind. When I told him I didn’t, he asked about the band he had heard me play with the night before. “Not this time,” I said.
He told me that hit records don’t matter to him, “Miles Davis never made any.” That was fine with me.”Bob Dylan, ‘Chronicles
‘Oh Mercy’ was the album that came out of their collaboration. It’s a good album, perhaps not great, but it forged the relationship. Ten years’ later they work together again but this time produce a masterpiece.
Lanois’s productions often have a layered, ambient sound —a certain atmosphere and texture.
You can see how these soundscapes come about in the short video below. Lanois describing his mixing method and process in real time. I love this video — it’s a window to Lanois’s musical world. Enjoy.