Over the last 25 years Daniel Lanois has produced landmark albums for U2, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and Peter Gabriel, among many others. Last year — around the time he started to craft the album Le Noise with Neil Young — Lanois began writing his memoirs. The result, Soul Mining: A Musical Life, came out November 9. Co-written with Keisha Kalfin, the book jumps from era to era non-chronologically, focusing on some of Lanois' greatest records. "I tend to think in a non-linear way," Lanois tells Rolling Stone. "And chronology doesn't come into play for the creation of music, so I decided to work that way. It's probably also just the acid kicking back in."
In Soul Mining, Lanois recalls working on Dylan's 1997 comeback album Time Out Of Mind, writing that even though the two had worked together eight years earlier on Oh Mercy, this time around they didn't see eye to eye on what the music should sound like or even where they should record it. "I felt a darkness spreading like an ether," Lanois writes about one particularly frustrating moment. "Everything I ever fought against was spilling down the walls like blood in a horror movie."
In a 2001 interview with Rolling Stone Dylan spoke about his own frustrations with Time Out Of Mind. "I got so frustrated in the studio that I didn't really dimensionalize the songs," Dylan said. "I feel there was a sameness to the rhythms. It was more like that swampy, voodoo thing that Lanois is so good at. I just wish I'd been able to get more of a legitimate rhythm-oriented sense into it."
Still, Lanois says he remains happy with the disc. "I was rooting for Bob and I really wanted to have a hit for him that would return him to visibility," he says. "As it turns out we got the Grammy for Album Of The Year, so maybe that was our destination."
On November 16 Lanois kicks off an eight-city American tour with his new band Black Dub, which features the late blues musician Chris Whitley's daughter Trixie Whitley on lead vocals. "We're going to play all the songs from the album and a few ones from my past like 'The Maker' and 'The Messenger,'" he says. "Bob Dylan said to me once that more than an hour of anything is too much, so we'll probably keep the shows down to just an hour or so."
About a year ago Lanois was commissioned to work on a follow-up to Robert Plant and Alison Krauss' LP Raising Sand. "Alison was ill at the time," Lanois says. "Robert and I did a few things and Trixie sang as well. These are all original songs and now they're just sitting in my closet. We don't know what to do with them. We've been saying we'll maybe put them on the next Black Dub record and have Robert Plant as our guest vocalist. This is all just talk though. I don't know how Robert or our record company would feel about that."
Lanois isn't involved with any of U2's upcoming projects, but he says he keeps in regular touch with Bono. "Bono took advantage of his back injury and brought the band into the studio," Lanois says. "I haven't heard anything yet, but I'm sure it's adventurous." Lanois was heavily involved with U2's 2009 disc No Line On The Horizon, which didn't live up to commercial expectations.
Superstar producer Steve Lillywhite, who also worked on the disc, recently made headlines when he gently criticized the album. "They did not have the one song that ignited peoples imaginations," he said. "It's a pity because the whole idea of Morocco as a big idea was great. When the big idea for U2 is good, that is when they succeed the most, but I don't think the spirit of what they set out to achieve was translated. Something happened that meant it did not come across on the record."
Lanois says he doesn't totally agree with that assessment. "Steve came in late into the project so he would have a late-in-the-project perspective," he says. "The record started out brilliantly. We were just full of life when we started it in Morocco. Bono wanted to make a gospel record for the future. The first third of the record was filled with delight and we really hit on something special. We spent a long time on it, perhaps too long. The usual pressures came in at the end, like what's the first single going to be and what's gonna be in the set. If we had put out the record coming out of Morocco it would have been an amazing record, even at that stage."
Finally, Lanois hopes he'll soon have to chance to cut another record with Neil Young. "He's a great writer with a great imagination," he says. "He's also a great riff writer, which is a breath of fresh air to me. We hit on something that we believe is just the tip of the iceberg for us. If we do work together again I hope we can find something to do that's never been done before. Not a Crazy Horse record, but something else entirely."