Interview: Daniel Lanois and Stephen Stills have a chat on the ’60s ‘Sound’

I’d just like to share with you an entertaining chat that Daniel Lanois had at Bonnaroo this past weekend. (The ‘Roo news will end one of these days; today is not that day.)

Famed producer Lanois — as I previously mentioned — has helmed and co-helmed some of the greatest albums from U2, Bob Dylan and Peter Gabriel. He’s had a slew of great solo sets and collaborations with Brian Eno. And over the weekend, he was seated across from songwriting great Stephen Stills, who was present for his previous band Buffalo Springfield’s co-headlining slot at the fest. A few journalists were on hand

“‘For What It’s Worth’ is such an obscure title. How did you get away with that?” Lanois asked Stills.

“It beat ‘There’s a Man with a Gun Over There,'” he responded, funnily quoting his own song.


“But how about ‘What’s that sound?'”

“That sounded like five things from the top 10 in 1966,” Stills laughed. “I dunno, it was an era where trying to be obscure was kind of hip to do. Everything had a double meaning. But the song stands on itself. Neil [Young’s] opening notes are what people remember the minute they hear it.”

“It makes me jealous because we go to a lot of trouble making a hook… and you guys did it with two harmonics,” Lanois lamented, imitating those two famous guitar notes with a “ding ding.”

Lanois also took a brief moment to explain his technique and mindset when laying down studio work — versus taking the stage, which he did with his group Black Dub over the weekend.

The laboratory is a place of experimentation, so a lot of my ideas are born there. An I hope that never gets taken away from me. And the other end of the spectrum, of course, is when you finally get a chance to bring it to the stage, there’s a resourcefulness that kicks in in that environment that doesn’t exist inside the laboratory. Tom Waits says [that]for innovation to reach the stage… you have responsibility which is that you only get one shot at it, so you’d better make it count and you’d better communicate with your mates on the stage. There’s something powerful about the spirit of the moment.