They’re very different processes. But even for
Peter and U2, who really push for newness
and originality and take a lot of time doing it,
raw performance is still a friend. The end of
Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer”—the whole
ad-lib section at the end—happened in a
very spirited moment that lived very far away
from the initial rhythmic discoveries the song
was built on. And I think all these artists, no
matter how different, want some spontaneity
Occasionally, I’ll use a fuzz
wah for a little more tone
variation. But the truth is, I
don’t really like playing with
my feet. When you don’t do too
much pedal work, it makes you
resourceful in other ways.
and freshness and for the thing to have some
combustion. Artists who like first takes—Neil
Young, Dylan, and certainly Willie Nelson—
you just have to be ready for them. You learn
to treat the studio like a stage and create an
atmosphere that invites a good performance.
But you also make sure everything is right—
no crackles and hum. The worst thing you can
do is say, “Stop everything, we have a broken
cable.” But I tend to live beyond those concerns now, just through preparation.
After worrying about someone else’s work
so deeply, it must be nice to do something
more personal, immediate, and seat-of-the-pants—like a solo instrumental piece or the
Sling Blade soundtrack.
There’s something wonderful about singularity, and I love going to that place where
there’s no interruptions, no outside opinions
or influence. I just find my center, find my
sound, and out of that emerges a pretty pure
form. I feel that way when I’m playing pedal
steel, certainly. Being alone is probably the
setting that enables me to get to the deepest
within myself as a player.
What guitarists have you itched to produce
over the years?
I wish I could have produced Ali Farka Touré.
Every now and again I hear something in
African players where it sounds like they’re
finding something on the instrument that
we’re not. It’s a fascinating style.
Do you look for a guitar that has a certain
kind of voice or one that’s more versatile?
I keep instruments around for specific aspects
of their sound. I still have my white Fender
Mustang, which you can use with the two
pickups out of phase, which sounds wonderful when you play with a soft touch and the
amp really cranked. I also have an old butterscotch Telecaster, which I think might be a
’ 51, and when I shake the neck on that thing,
the pickup, which is a little loose, makes this
mad sound like something’s trying to crawl out
of the guitar—especially when I’m running it
through an echo. I use my Vox MandoGuitar a
lot and my little brown Guild with an L.R. Baggs
M1 pickup, which is what we used with Neil. I