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Written In A Buddhist Temple, Daniel Lanois' Latest Album Brings Spirit And Healing


The producer's touch on an artist's music can bring out the magic of a melody or the sheen of voices and instruments. Daniel Lanois' studio wizardry has earned him 11 Grammys. He's worked with a host of stars, including Brian Eno, Bono, Peter Gabriel, Emmylou Harris and Robbie Robertson. He's also put out his own albums, and the latest is "Heavy Sun."


DANIEL LANOIS: (Singing) Work so hard, work so hard. Down below, Mary, let me go.

SIMON: Daniel Lanois joins us now from a studio in Toronto. Thanks so much for being with us.

LANOIS: Yeah, you're very welcome, Scott. And thank you for the invitation.

SIMON: There's a real spiritual sound to this album.

LANOIS: It's got a lot of spirit in it, that's for sure. It includes my mates, my singing friends, Rocco DeLuca, Johnny Shepherd and Jim Wilson. These are co-written songs. And I asked Johnny, who's from the Zion Baptist Church, I said, what kind of a place would you like to be when you're not in church? He said, well, a place where I can forget my troubles and be surrounded by beautiful music. I said, OK, well, let's invent a place, kind of a nightclub in outer space where that might just happen. So that was the beginning of the lyrics for "(Under The) Heavy Sun."


LANOIS: (Singing) We gonna roll on down the road. So far we go. yeah...

SIMON: So we should transport ourselves as we listen?

LANOIS: That would be nice. I mean, I think it's the job of art to transport a viewer or a listener. And we like to think that our music can at least paint a picture for someone.

SIMON: I am told the studios from which you're speaking to us, your studios, used to be a Buddhist temple.

LANOIS: Exactly. Yeah, the monks were moving out, and I bought the temple from them 10 years ago. I think there's still a little bit of the monks hiding in the walls and resonating with the music.

SIMON: (Laughter).

LANOIS: So it's kind of a nice place. And so the spirit of Buddha is still here.

SIMON: Let's listen to a track - Johnny Shepherd doing the lead vocal. This is "Please Don't Try."


JOHNNY SHEPHERD: (Singing) For you see I asked to tell what would my future be...

LANOIS: There's only one musical instrument in this piece, and that's the Hammond organ. And Johnny is a master at the organ. He's doing the lead vocal, but he's also a great organist. And on that morning, the creation of this track, he came in and played the organ for about an hour and played beautifully. And then later in the day, Rocco DeLuca arrived, and he says, I have an idea about "Please Don't Try" being a good title, as if to say, it will come to you if you give it time. So we wanted to build a song around this idea and around Johnny's organ performance.


SHEPHERD: (Singing) Please don't try. Let it come to you.

SIMON: You used to record gospel groups earlier in your career, I gather.

LANOIS: As a teenager or late teens in Canada, I was associated with a Christian music organization that brought vocal quartets from all over the world to tour Canada. And they stopped at my studio to make a gospel record in two days. So I was one of the tour stops - got to hear a lot of great harmonies.


LANOIS: (Singing) People got the power.

SIMON: Let's listen to another track, if we could - this one, "Power."


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) We've got the power. People got the power. We've got the power - power. We've got the power. People got the power...

SIMON: Does it feel especially important to hear that now?

LANOIS: Well, you know, when we recorded "Power," it was hardly an original thought, you know, that people got the power and you can make a difference to your own life. But now that, in confinement and in isolation, I think people are thinking about the reset button, whatever that might mean, maybe taking a look in the mirror, and we can't be chasing what we were chasing before.

A lot of us are out of work, you know, including a lot of musicians. We can't tour anymore. So it doesn't mean to say we stop being creative or that people stop being energized by something. So it's a chance to make an assessment of one's life and take a look in the mirror and see what kind of an improvement. In my case, I'm trying to be a better person. And so "Power" means that it gives me a little more time to check myself out and see what the right thing to do might be. Then I'm OK with that, you know, and I think reset button - that's not a bad way to look at it.

SIMON: Yeah. Have you stayed active during this time?

LANOIS: Well, that's the - I have a bit of humor going with Wayne Llorens who - we're in the studio all the time. We didn't know the pandemic had come until much later because we were just in the same place where it left us. That part hasn't changed. But I miss going to - having a martini across the street, and I miss hanging out with friends. And all the spontaneity has been taken away from us largely. So we all miss it.

SIMON: Boy, that's a good - yeah, I - the spontaneity has been taken away from us. That's a really good point - isn't it? - just the kind of sparks and interaction between human beings laughing and having fun and working on something together. This album transports people to the - your club in the stars.

LANOIS: Well, we hope that we can at least provide transport. You know, we have a term in the studio. Does it have liftoff?

SIMON: Yeah.

LANOIS: And liftoff is that moment when you start feeling there's a little bit of magic in something, and you don't know quite how it happened. The hair comes up on the arm, and you feel elevated. And those are the moments we look for in record making.

SIMON: Daniel Lanois - his new album, "Heavy Sun" - thank you so much for being with us.

LANOIS: You're very welcome, Scott, and thank you for the invitation.

(SOUNDBITE OF DANIEL LANOIS SONG, "POWER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.