Daniel Lanois is back on the horse. In more ways than one.
A year after the motorcycle crash that sent him to hospital, the superstar producer and musician has resumed touring -- and riding his bike.
"I only just got back on it," 59-year-old Lanois said recently from his Los Angeles home. "I'm just trying to keep it as a hobby more than a transport. "I'm not on it for running chores or going to meetings or anything like that. Still, my doctor is not very pleased about that."
With good reason: Last time Lanois was up on two wheels, he suffered extensive injuries -- including multiple broken bones, a cracked pelvis, internal bleeding and a partly collapsed lung -- when he swerved to avoid a car that turned into his path. After weeks in a wheelchair and months of physical therapy, he's recovered, though his back is a bit "pushed-in" because of the way some broken ribs healed.
Still, he insists: "First and foremost, I'm as handsome as ever!"
And he's itching to make up for lost time. After cancelling their 2010 tour, Lanois and his roots combo Black Dub -- vocalist Trixie Whitley, drummer Brian Blade and touring bassist Jim Wilson -- will spend this summer on the road, reworking the deep, dark mojo of their self-titled debut album. While prepping for a trio of gigs in Canada, Lanois called up to chat about playing live, holing up in a log cabin and frightening the children.
How was your recovery?
Well, it was a pretty terrible June and July last year. I broke 10 bones, so it was no party. It was more pain than I ever felt. I had an epidural in my back, and once they took that out, I couldn't take painkillers because they upset my stomach. So I went cold turkey and it was quite a journey. But strangely enough, my greatest regret is that I had to cancel my last summer tour. But on the upside, I was able to put in an extra month on the Neil Young record Le Noise, so you got a better Neil Young record but not a very good Black Dub tour.
What's your goal with Black Dub onstage? Are you trying to take the songs to a new place every night?
That just automatically happens. Part of what we do is better live. We don't operate on a grid like a lot of bands. We just perform in a chemically organic manner. It just goes to where it goes to live, and I like it that way. I like figuring it out in the moment, and for folks to see that we are resourceful people who can sweat and pull something out of nowhere.
How do the songs compare to the album?
Well, the landscapes are a little emptier; we don't have quite as many trees. There aren't as many dubs or keyboards. So we can get a little more punk and little more raw in a good way. But the pertinent information is all still there in terms of vocals and harmonies.
As a producer, you seem meticulous. But live sound is so unpredictable. Does that drive you crazy? How do you deal with it?
One thing I do is clarify the lyrics live. That's what tends to suffer. If you've got a front-stack PA and you're in the first 15 rows, you can hear the words. Farther back, you start losing them. To balance out this phenomenon, we also set up rear speakers. It can be as simple as a couple of those lollipop speakers every weekend band has. We put the vocals through that so people in the back of the room get to hear. It's unfair to expect full attention from somebody who can't hear what you're saying.
It's interesting you're concerned about the lyrics. A lot of people might assume you'd be more concerned with the musical mix.
Yeah, not a lot of people ask me about lyrics. But my lyrical schooling has been pretty good; I sat next to Bob Dylan for two albums. But I'm proud of these lyrics; I think there's a lot of hope and dreams in them, and I hope they resonate with people.
Have you been writing recently, and has your accident had any impact?
I think we could safely say the accident has changed how I look at life. I've got a sweet little song called Sugar Bee. In it, I'm asking a woman to join me to dance to the music of Saturday night. It addresses the subject of the busy old world; how some of the simple pleasures of the past have faded and how we need to slow down a little bit and enjoy a bit of cheek-to-cheek with your lover, and understand there's a lot of beauty to be had right in your neighbourhood.
What else are you working on?
I've got two albums on the burner. One is called Songs from the Tundra. I've always had this dream of going to the far North, locking myself in a cabin and coming out with a record. Even if I don't physically do that, that's what's going on in my mind with that. And then I have a project that's going to go way out there sonically. It's very much a laboratory record, a collage where I take ingredients and blow them out of proportion. That might frighten a few young children, but I think it's going to be great.
Black Dub Canadian Tour Dates:
July 3 | Ottawa | Jazz Festival
July 4 | Montreal | Jazz Festival
July 5 | Toronto | Opera House