Soul Mining: A Musical Life

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9780865478596: Soul Mining: A Musical Life

Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, U2, Peter Gabriel, and the Neville Brothers all have something in common: some of their best albums were produced by Daniel Lanois. A French-speaking kid from Canada, Lanois was driven by his innate curiosity and intense love of music to transcend his small-town origins and become one of the world's most prolific and successful record producers, as well as a brilliant musician in his own right.

Lanois takes us through his childhood, from being one of four kids raised by a single mother on a hairdresser's salary, to his discovery by Brian Eno, to his work on albums such as U2's The Joshua Tree, Bob Dylan's Time Out of Mind, and Emmylou Harris's Wrecking Ball. Revealing for the first time his unique recording secrets and innovations, Lanois delves into the ongoing evolution of technology, discussing his earliest sonic experiments with reel-to-reel decks, the birth of the microchip, the death of discrete circuitry, and the arrival of the download era.

Part technological treatise, part philosophical manifesto on the nature of artistic excellence and the overwhelming need for music, Soul Mining brings the reader viscerally inside the recording studio, where the surrounding forces have always been just as important as the resulting albums. Beyond skill, beyond record budgets, beyond image and ego, Lanois's work and music show the value of dedication and soul. His lifelong quest to find the perfect mixture of tradition and innovation is inimitable and unforgettable.

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About the Author:

Daniel Lanois is one of the most respected and sought-after producers in the music industry. He has won eight Grammy Awards and is also well known for his own music. He is currently in the band Black Dub.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

The Ottawa River is the dividing line between Ontario and Quebec, or between English- and French-speaking Canada. When I was a child, as far as the eye could see, the river was often covered by miles and miles of floating logs making their way to the paper mill. That heavy sulfur smell in the air was taken for granted. The riverside road was flanked by log mountains, long-nosed cranes pouring their mysterious solution—one step closer to paper pulp. My parents lived on the Quebec side of the river, the French side, in a government housing community by the name of Projet Dusseau. We were French Canadian. I spoke only French until the age of ten, and I remember having a wonderful upbringing in that community. I never thought much about the fact that we were poor. Kids don’t think that way.

The Quebec landscape was fascinating to me. Wooden bridges were covered up like birdhouses to keep the snow away. Wooden staircases with roofs were a common sight. If the snow piles up too high, and the weather goes mild, you might not be able to get out till springtime. Chains wrapped around tires for better traction. Cars commonly equipped with tow ropes and battery booster cables. This maple-sugar country is very aware of the power of seasons.

If you weren’t ready for the winter, you could freeze and die. In those parts, preparation for survival comes naturally, even to a young boy. Preparation for survival is always in the wings, constantly kicking at your shin—even the shin of a young boy. When the thaw comes, you can hear the waking maples creaking, drinking in the snow water that creeps up the branches of dormant trees—that’s how you get maple water. A spike in the tree interrupts the flow to the branches, and if your hillsides are clean, nature’s nectar makes for a nice drink. The varying densities in the journey from maple water to maple syrup to maple sugar are dependent on how long one keeps the water boiling. Much like the winemaking valleys of France or the Bourbon-making valleys of Kentucky, the maple-sugar-making valleys of Quebec produce their limited quantities and fine vintages, with taste relative to the quality of the local soil, the intensity of the sun, and the tender love and care of a specific maple-sugar farm.

I remember the springtime ritual—the pouring of boiling maple water into the white snowbanks. As the water crystallizes against the snow, children run up with sticks and twirl the toffee into a homemade confection—nature’s gift to the sweet tooth. Back in the day, my grandfather’s sled—horse-drawn, hot bricks laid down beneath the feet of the passengers to keep everybody warm—was the family vehicle.

Sunday church runs, people wrapped in furs—the house of God was the house of cooperation. The priest’s sermon could easily segue into village news: someone just had a baby, hand-me-down clothes needed, so-and-so’s well just dried out, announcement of the church bazaar, help needed to raise a barn. Yes, the house of God was a crossing point for relevant village information. The barter system was in use then. My eggs for your wood, my plowing for your corn, and so on.

Every house was a food-making house, and my grandmother Aurore’s house was no exception. She really knew how to work the maple sugar. Her sucre à la crème (maple sugar fudge), refined by generations of home recipes, was pretty much the best. At the savory end of the spectrum, my grandmother of course made tourtière (spicy meat pie). These old recipes were closely guarded. Boasting of a better crème or tourtière was not uncommon from one house to the next.

Kids walked to school in those days—I liked that about the project. We were on the edge of rural land and so my brother Bob and I wandered everywhere after school and did whatever we wanted. Many hours were spent by the railway tracks or at the river’s edge doing boy things: skipping stones, laying pennies on the rail lines, watching them get squashed by the train. We were fascinated by the writing on the sides of the railcars, like Canadian Pacific Railway, Canadian National Rail; others were more specific to provinces and towns. Exotic names like Saskatoon, Thunder Bay, Wa Wa, and Mississauga sure stirred the imagination. Rolls of steel coming from the west, cattle cars, empty flatbeds, boxcars with open doors—we made up stories about their sources and destinations.

A ceramic tile factory by the name of Primco was our second backyard. Bob and I collected various discarded tiles and would make up games with them. A few of the Primco workers were sympathetic to our curiosity, slipping us a few irregular tiles to expand our little homemade building set. I loved the smell of that factory. They had kilns burning all the time, and the nonstop action appealed to me. It must have been a kick to see the faces of two brothers sticking their heads inside the Primco windows, looking for tile handouts. Even at that tender age, Bob and I loved the feeling of productivity.

It was a happy childhood, and I was oblivious to the fact that my parents were having marital problems, until I started hearing arguments in the night. Bob, my younger brother, Ron, and I slept in one room, and my parents slept in the other. The arrival of my sister, Jocelyne, meant that we had outgrown the two-bedroom place. Four kids and work not going all that well strained my parents’ relationship, and then it all started. My dad was hitting not only the bottle, but also my mother. I later wrote a song about this called “Jolie Louise,” the rise and fall of hopes and dreams as seen from the perspective of my dad.

 

Ma jolie, how do you do?

Mon nom est Jean-Guy Thibault-Leroux

I come from east of Gatineau

My name is Jean-Guy, ma jolie

 

J’ai une maison à Lafontaine

where we can live, if you marry me

Une belle maison à Lafontaine

where we will live, you and me

Oh Louise, ma jolie Louise

 

Tous les matins au soleil

I will work ’til work is done

Tous les matins au soleil

I did work ’til work was done

And one day, the foreman said

“Jean-Guy, we must let you go”

Et pis mon nom, y est pas bon

at the mill anymore...

Oh Louise, I’m losing my head,

I’m losing my head

 

My kids are small, four and three

et la bouteille, she’s mon ami

I drink the rum ’til I can’t see

It hides the shame Louise does not see

Carousel turns in my head,

and I can’t hide, oh no, no, no, no

And the rage turned in my head

and Louise, I struck her down,

down on the ground

I’m losing my mind, I’m losing my mind

 

En Septembre ’63

kids are gone, and so is Louise.

Ontario, they did go

near la ville de Toronto

Now my tears, they roll down,

tous les jours

And I remember the days,

and the promises that we made

Oh Louise, ma jolie Louise, ma jolie Louise

 

After my mother had had enough domestic mistreatment, she put the four kids on a train and took us from Quebec to Hamilton, Ontario—about a five-hundred-mile journey—and never looked back. Her brother had found work in Hamilton (near Toronto) as a bartender, and had managed to purchase a rooming house that we lived in the back of until my mom got on her feet. My dad was not happy about all of this, and so a few months later he came to fetch his boys. We were walking to school and he pulled up; we were happy to see him so we jumped in the car and that was it—five hundred miles back to Quebec. He put us in a cabin by a lake in rural Quebec, and that’s where we lived for a good few months. My dad was doing carpentry work in town, and so during the week we lived by ourselves. He would come to visit on weekends—we had a blast. We were twelve, nine, and five.

My dad was a greaseball, as were his friends. They were the smart-dressing kind of greaseballs—no jeans. They were slick and dapper, and as this was the tail end of the fifties, there was a lot of excitement about cars. A two-tone 1957 Chevy and all, lots of looking under the hood. My dad was a good dancer. He was funny and looked sharp—very charming, and women like men who are charming. So much gets overlooked in the name of charm. It was a macho time and I liked it.

My dad and his friends were hunters. There was a lot of mythology about the ways of the woods. I remember my dad teaching me how to walk in the woods. He had learned from the Indians; it was all about being at one with the wilderness—one step and then a pause to listen. The results of the “listen” determine the next step, and then another “listen,” and another step. Humans are only ever guests in the woods. In the way that a sailor never underestimates the power of the sea, the hunter never forgets the ways of the woods. Animals have much hearing power; they know a clumsy human intruder from far away. The listening pause between every step puts a human closer to the instinct of the animal.

Wintertime adds another dimension to the ways of the woods. The snowbanks hold secrets. One careless footstep might disturb the peace. Only experience can teach what terrain lies underneath the mysterious white snow. Snow time is better for tracking, but the advantage of seeing tracks in the soft surface could easily be crushed by a hunter’s fall due to not understanding what lies underneath the beautiful white snow.

When the weather is hot, the flies can eat you alive. The sap running down from the pine trees could be your savior. Old Jocko Proux, one of the elders of the community, had survived the woods for an entire week by covering his whole body with pine sap as a barrier against the flies.

They say we walk in circles&#...

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