Which records of the period became production touchstones for you?
I never listened to records for production value
or thought of the word production or thought
I’d be a producer. I only loved records for how
they made me feel, and I was inspired by that
more than technique. And really, falling in love
is probably the first stage of production.
You’re a very sensitive, inventive, and
melodic player, but you’re not too doctrinaire about technique. Has that helped you
stake out some of your own ground?
A big part of finding my voice as a guitar player
was right-hand technique. I studied fingerpicking
as a young player. Some of it was classical, some
of it was Travis picking. But it was mostly very
traditional technique that didn’t apply to anything contemporary [laughs]. But it became clear
this was a unique way to play when most other
players were just using a flatpick. At this point,
I’ve almost banned the flatpick altogether.
Maybe it’s as simple as flesh on steel, versus
plastic on steel. It promotes a certain kind
of tone I like. And tone often commands a
direction for playing. When I get my tone
going through that approach, I don’t feel
any inclination to play fast, which lends itself
more to nice melodies.
In the capacity of producer, what do you
look for in a guitar solo?
Pretty early on in a project, I’ll build a menu of
sounds from the work at hand—things that help
us find a personality for that record. Projects
are very sound driven, initially, and someone
might play something interesting that I’ll document and add to the menu for that project.
I’ll often try to steer the guitar player to those
sounds and try to harness them over the course
of the project. The idea is to remind them of
their most unique expressions.
Chipped, dusty, and oh so lusty: A close-up of Lanois’ trusty Firebird V.
Photo by Melinda Dahl