Salvador Dalí believed that the ultimate goal of surrealism was to convey and outwardly represent the unconscious. He felt that this secret-passageway self was most present in the classics, and thus the classics became for him a new way to further his surrealism. Daniel Lanois is investigating a similar prospect on Player, Piano, the latest bloom within the vibrant vivarium of his endlessly evolving creative canon. This one sees him turn to the instant intimacies and hereditary cognomina to be found in the reams of older harmonics as a means for making sense of a reeling few years.
For any greenhorn Lanois-learners who might be reading: Daniel Lanois is the producer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and orchestral thinker that the best of the best call when they want to take their recordings to photostatic, frost-bound cities of aberration with feluccas dotting their furthest horizons. When those sacred dogs want to say the darn thing, they enlist his help, and when they do, Daniel Lanois’ presence on whatever comes out of those sessions is the lateen sail in ravishing violet spiriting away all that might have otherwise been devastatingly and unaccountably ordinary without him. He is the boy with the absinthe egg and his imprint on any piece of music, whether belonging to him or someone else, is an audible blush. He is also the charismatic card sharp of underwater badlands, known and sought after throughout the tune-talking world for his born-in marauder’s map of the astral, as well as his full-throated belief in the sovereignty of the good. All of this comes out in the sensorium of his sun-dewed sounds.
Lanois’ fatidic contributions to the melodies and moods you likely associate with many of the most groundbreaking artists in the High Atlas of contemporary music could form their own vulgate Latin Bible. Yet, his is a lyrical lability with a sin-gifting source, and one older than the birth of tragedy but younger than the Athenian death. Daniel Lanois makes exactly one thing no matter what the canvas or whom the watercolors: God-bucket switchblade sounds with a signature pigment and scrawl that is forever upping the vig on whatever had everyone in clover yesterday. He is beloved by the big-voice boys and the boozehounds alike for his diagnostic dominion over the shadow-battle in any song and his relentless discovery of fuzzsicle grooves, having become over the years, for all intents and purposes, the mythopoeic Magellan of mission statement music. Everyone from Bob Dylan to Bono to Brandon Flowers has been bettered by his brotherhood and become both more and less of a bruiser under his banner.
Striving even to shortlist the major musical accomplishments in the evergreen tale of Daniel Lanois would be barmily akin to an attempt to empty the Irish Sea with a ladle or string a Stradivarius with spaghetti. I suppose you could start by calling your German attention, baby, to some unforgettable fires he ceremoniously lit like atonement ritual candles under some fairly famous Joshua trees once upon a time or three. You might make mention that he is the Glitterforce One behind the soundtrack to Sling Blade, Red Dead Redemption 2, a snow-kiting slew of solo albums, and seven Grammys. However, if you did rally round any of those rapture traps or their hundred siblings bearing his name, Daniel Lanois would only duck out from under the pummeling verses of your praise and assert that he was but merely one aliquot in the array of gathered spray paint poets that made any of those dreamling roundelays and ruptures possible. His response to his own stratospheric success can put you in mind of what Henry Kissinger once memorably said about the Shah of Iran: “He is that rarest of leaders, an unconditional ally.” Lanois has, admirably and indecipherably, maintained the heart of a tinseled scamp and the soul of the knight who slept above the stables throughout the entirety of what can only be factually reported as an Alfa Romeo of an artistic trajectory.
Player, Piano, his fifteenth studio album, represents the latest in his uninterrupted line of gossamer riddles and arrives full of lost telegrams to lonely places. It has inner weather marked by Herakut graffiti, limerence, petrified lightning, and drops of poppy. If the album was a color, it would exude the brindles of autumn – scented terra cotta, carob versus umber, burlap versus buckram. Fear not, it is nowhere near as gee-willikers as these motley mumbles from a brainspun mumchancer trying to accurately capture its blow radius make it sound. Player, Piano is, above all things, a record defiantly holding sweet Dumbo’s feather of belief even as it bites a hole in the sky.
Lead track “My All” serves as symphonic centrifuge to an Ohmic loss that Lanois is lovingly relinquishing to the light. “Lighthouse” sounds like the GoPro trail of a followed firefly. “Inverness” grows out of a graceful gramarye far older than any of our individual emotional grimoires and reminds us via the cocked angle of its tuneful Tam-o-Shanter exactly where we are, both in the unbroken line of history and in the story of the song. “Parade” is sheathed in sealine, a garland of wild nettles round its neck, while “Twilight” is sono-chemical, existing concomitantly with the etiolated sunbeams of “Clinch.” “Eau” waves its rowdy peace under head-shy storms and “Wild Child” is the inversion of its name – it is no noceur at all, but a spray of annealing sonnets in the sand. “Cascade” brims with thornfire, seeming to hoist long-tailed memories and honey-soaked hearts onto a silver horse, saddlebags full of sugar. “Sunday Asylum” bids us adieu with the blue hue of bygone bells. From beginning to end, Player, Piano exhibits the Orbisonian ear Daniel Lanois has for voicings, forever pulling freshwater, frictive sounds with all sorts of skinny little verves seemingly from some Library of Atlantis beneath his own instinctively melodic awareness.
My unshakable feeling has always been that if you have managed to earn proper laurels, you have every right in the world to rest on them for as long as you like. Growing up in Gatineau, Quebec, in circumstances that had to make themselves anew on the daily, and with all the itinerant pluck that comes with an upbringing steeped in heavy manners and polyphonic pit cred, Daniel Lanois would not even acknowledge any such laurels’ existence, much less entertain the first idea about the possibility of them being used for professional pillows. Speaking to this stock-rocket song carrier about the nadirs, nuances, bright elements, and burning wishes that went into making a fully instrumental piano record built out of the tallest rigours of love, for both music and people, was like shambling upon a conversational castle town that only the harmattan winds and perhaps a few semi-fey falcons knew about. Below you will find a verbo-painted depiction of its spires:
QRO: Good morning to you, Mr. Lanois! You have certainly notched up the volume on the sunrise for me today in more ways than I will ever be able to say.
Daniel Lanois: Hi, Dana! How’s it going in Atlanta? I have nice memories of Atlanta. I remember there being little hidden hamlets of bohemian life.
QRO: Oh absolutely, and as my parents were very much a part of those origins, that means I am too! Places like Little Five Points and Inman Park are still the hippie strongholds here, and you still just get such world-class creativity out of those places. Also, me…[laughs]
DL: [laughs] Fantastic, good for you! Thank you so much for taking an interest in my little record.
QRO: My goodness, I will not hesitate to tell you that I could not respond fast enough when I first saw that you had a new record coming. I’ve been mesmerized by your work in all its many forms since I was the tiniest child. I couldn’t possibly put into words what an honor it is for me to write about your music in any formal capacity. Thank you for having me!
DL: That’s so sweet of you, thank you. It’s a very, very active superhighway that we are on these days and it’s just high traffic–but it’s a wonderful world!
QRO: It so is, and if the positive end of the problem that has come with the digital age continues to be that there is simply too much to hear, I think that is a thankful place to be. That said, your record is not white noise, Daniel. It stands apart for so many reasons. I’ve been listening to it pretty exclusively for about two weeks. The first thing I feel compelled to ask you is: is this young Danny’s intrepid mug looking out at me from the cover? I feel like I see your mischief in this little lad’s eyes!
DL: That is me, yes! That’s a found photo, actually. I was looking through old photos with a friend when my mother passed not too long ago, and that was one of those little Kodak camera pictures from the ‘50s. I thought it really showed the limitation and the fascination of that time. All that light leaking in…there’s something about it that suggests, “something’s going to happen!” [laughs]
QRO: Yes! That young boy knows exactly what magic is coming even if you don’t yet! [laughs] On the subject of magic, there is a profound degree of it ebbing from every egg and dart cornice of Player, Piano. As a place to start in highlighting that for those who may not have heard it yet, may I ask you what your first genuinely emblazoned memory of the piano as an entity in your life might be? I’m a piano player myself and I am just curious what role this instrument has played throughout your musical life.
DL: I have to be honest, I was always afraid of the piano because I’ve been surrounded by the best piano players throughout my life as a record maker. I feel good on the guitar, and I found my voice on the steel guitar–it’s my dear friend and has been since I was a child. But the piano, I thought, “I’m not going to go there because I grew up in the same neighborhood as Oscar Peterson! I keep Oscar as a shadow in the studio for endless instruction and inspiration.
QRO: I love that! I think everybody needs their heroes in the room when they are creating.
DL: Well, we all came into this because we admired our heroes. What a wonderful world it is when we just push a button and Oscar is suddenly available to us. My bottom line to it all is melody, and this record has a lot of melody in it. I’ll never be fast like Oscar, but I can hang out with Oscar melodically a little bit, I think.
We all came into this because we admired our heroes.
QRO: I certainly believe so! I also think it is very brave of you. I know that you are a sonic explorer by nature and by trade, and it is one thing to find new territories on an instrument that you are comfortable and familiar with, but it is quite another to become a rambler-scout on one that you do not have so much history with. You become the sonic space to explore in that latter situation and it takes a lot more guts.
DL: Now that is interesting. I think of it this way: if a little kid comes into a room and is fascinated by something, the innocence will be the fuel that he or she operates by. I was innocent at the piano and I knew that if I had been a more seasoned player, I would have thought, “Ah, I’ve got to find something better than that.” But no, I was excited by the few things that I discovered and that’s all it takes for me. If I believe that I’ve come upon a little magic pasture, then off I go! I’ve been in the studio the last couple of days, not too far from where you are, with Brian Blade, one of the great jazz drummers, and we’ve been making our discoveries in the room. We can dress it up however we like, but isn’t that what it is all about?
QRO: No question it is, and keeping it in the world of that childlike wonder is the only method I’ve ever witnessed for successfully keeping it true.
DL: There you go! And you girls from the south know what you’re talking about! [laughs]
QRO: We do indeed know a thing or two about a thing or three and I don’t know if that is attributable more to the arcane delta wisdom or the contemporary sass–you be the judge! [laughs] The mention of old-time things makes me remember to ask you about the way this album has one foot squarely planted in the past and the other stretching its curious toes into the future. There appears to be a fair amount of communing with ghosts of bygone places and people on Player Piano–dream-state dances with the ghosts of Erik Satie, Oscar Peterson, and Harold Budd, to name but a few. As a traditionally forward-looking artist, I wonder what you might have unearthed inside and outside yourself in that backward-looking stance?
DL: You know, what you just talked about is always with us. As we spoke about, we come into this admiring what has already been done. There are so many great records. As a record maker, I never aligned myself with the greats as a child. As I grew and got better at what I do, I found myself in the hot seat producing a lot of big records all over the world. But, we are only ever a small fry from somewhere.
I noticed that the records I loved all had something unique about them, that the artist had blazed a trail and found that open pasture. We operate with respect for that past and then we hope to, a term I like to use, “fly over the Cuckoo’s nest” where we don’t want to do a mimic, a copy, or something average that might be a bit of a charlatan compared to the original forces. So, we have to be courageous enough to step over the familiar territory to get to a place where we can go after the unknown. If I happen to find something that hasn’t been done or heard, then I think my job is well done.
If I believe that I’ve come upon a little magic pasture, then off I go
QRO: My whole spirit is nodding the most vigorous yes! You touched on something there that reminded me of a famous quote on my corkboard by an anonymous writer who said, “Don’t describe the jungle, take me through it until I’m sweating.” That is what I have always tried to do with my inkpot and I think that is definitely what you do sonically. With this record in particular, I understand that you were wanting an auditory galaxy that referenced piano records from the pre-rock era and I believe you have very much taken us there on Player, Piano.
DL: Piano recordings have been beautiful for a long time, and those from the ‘50s and ‘60s appeal to me quite a bit. Maybe there was a frequency response that’s just not the same or maybe people were just in a different place philosophically, but there’s a warmth and a body that I liked in the old recordings. I tried my best to tone the piano down. We used the very high-tech technique of hanging cheese cloths between the hammer and the strings! [laughs]
QRO: Wow, that is my kind of analog, sir!
DL: Mine too, and that means that the crystal part of the piano, the top end, the more dancing part has a chance to be heard more clearly because the bottom end is not knocking everything down in the china shop!
QRO: What intrigues me most about this is that you have obviously achieved that softening of sound you were going for, but this is also a record about the power of seeking softness in general to me, which I hear as a running theme throughout the dynamics and message of the music itself on Player, Piano. Have I been rightly informed that the playing technique you used on “My All” is something you picked up from Steven Tyler, a man many would take joy in envisioning tickling the ivories as he is far more frequently publicly imagined slinging the mic?
DL: Yes, he was at my house a few years ago, and I love Steven. We had a nice evening and were talking about life, this, that, and the other thing, and he went to the piano. He was telling me about growing up in a house with a lot of nice influences, there was a lot of classical music in the house, and he showed me how he repeats a right hand chord, a little triad let’s say, but moves the bass line. I was really touched by that and so I kept that approach in my back pocket when I came around to that song and I thought about Steven.
QRO: That is a breathtakingly beautiful origin story for a song that clearly absorbed every droplet of the shared gorgeousness. There is also an Eno trick you’re doing with the individual reverb on these notes. Do you mind talking about that for those without any studio background who might not hear it otherwise?
DL: Of course! If you put reverb on three notes of a melody, what is going to happen is that the first note is going to bleed into the next. It might be a little bit of a trainwreck! By printing each individual note on its own with the effects that you want, in this case reverb and echo, I very slowly and methodically drop in on the effects track, which we try to think of as a musical overdub. It’s not just fairy dust that we put on the piano afterwards, it becomes part of the source of sound. So, when the note changes, the reverb from the previous note does not linger on; a new reverb or echo accompanies the next note. It is almost as though the Taj Mahal was singing along with you rather than just being dormant and echo-y!
QRO: That makes complete sense and I know that you are very methodical in general so to hear a little bit about the way you work in the nitty gritty of the sound-scaping is inspiring.
DL: There’s a little bit of watch repair in it! I can’t recommend it as being very social! [laughs]
We are only ever a small fry from somewhere.
QRO: I get it! I’m your kindred spirit in that as well because I am always interested in how people perceive a piece of art in comparison to how it got born. In my own case, I can certainly say that every sentence that rolls like a fast wave was sculpted like slow and unwilling marble. Everyone thinks that writers are out like Bret Easton Ellis in the ‘80s, looking fabulous while doing coke in arthouse NYC dives, designer trench coat blowing out fashionably behind us as we walk, when, in reality, I am always sat right here, on my own and generally looking like a plate of grunge with legs, trying to conjure unruly words into corrals I am building around them as they repeatedly and viciously buck me off…it’s distinctly un-glamorous! [laughs]
DL: [laughs] Oh, I’m sure your rainbow hair makes it glamorous no matter what! Now that we are talking about literature, you know I love beautiful stories. I’m a fan of Isabel Allende. She’s written some beautiful adventure epics. There are times when I appreciate, especially from a writer of that scale, a letter from that person because a letter would not have the weight of needing to be great or every line being fantastic.
The clarification that comes from simple notes and memos are wonderful from great writers. It is getting back to the simplicity of Oscar’s advice: fall in love with three notes. It’s not complicated by epic expectation. This record is not epic. It is clear, pure, and childlike. It has in it what we love about hanging out with a friend and letting our hair down. I stand by it for those reasons and the simplicity of it. It comes at a good time to me.
QRO: I could not agree more, and you explicating so perfectly what I also love about letters makes me want to recommend something to you that I think you will really enjoy. It is called Letters of Note and is a small-batch effort by an anthologist named Shaun Usher to go through the missive archives of so many authorial names that we all know and cherish. It is blog-based but now has fourteen book-bound volumes since its inception in 2009 and the letters have a live-reading component that has made its way to the Royal Albert and beyond. I get the little newsletter each week and it is like peering into a delightful portkey of some of your favorite pen-smiths!
DL: Letters of Note. I’m writing that down and I’m going to look that up; thanks for the tip!
QRO: You bet, I hope you like it! I always think it is important and informative to know how people are thinking when they believe no one is looking, and that is the kind of undiluted truth you will find in many of these letters.
DL: Oh sure, and we all go through that reckoning, anyone in the arts.
If I happen to find something that hasn’t been done or heard, then I think my job is well done.
QRO: No question at all. Which leads me to tell you something that I think is pretty special about one of your songs on Player, Piano. I heard the raw cut of “My All” before I heard the rendition that made it on the album. I wrote myself a note that the album version was the “smiling brother” of the demo take. Then, some weeks later, I read that this song was you offering your little brother a sonic salute-hug to send him across the rainbow bridge–which sent goosebumps right the way through my spirit and spine.
I cannot explain to you how I knew that this was a sibling song before I knew, but it’s in there, Daniel. You really transcribed your soul and I know that Bob was also your first partner in the sound world so it harbors that much more meaning to hear you make this song for him. I just wanted to acknowledge your astounding bravery and supreme beauty for that.
DL: Oh my, that’s given me such a smile. It’s deep all of that stuff. It just kind of came to me that way. There’s a lyric that goes with it that I may record but it sort of felt like a send-off to me, for years and years of innovative, wild thinking with my brother. We didn’t come up in a house of advantage. My mom was a single mom with four kids, no help from daddy-o, and so I saw the struggles.
We never thought we were in a bad way or anything but looking back I realize that the resourcefulness that we were pushed into as young men, those were very significant, real forces that we worked with, my brother and I. We had this term, “What if?” You know, we started our own recording studio because I tried to get a job in other recording studios and couldn’t get a job, so we thought, “Well, we’ll just start our own!” I had my brother by my side all those years and we grew together. When that goes away, you are left with the forces that we operated by: invent your own way. We had to, so even in the absence of my brother, I still have to.
QRO: What greater way to honor anyone we love, I say. Carrying on the legacy. The viscerality in that one, and the story behind it you’ve just told, reminds me of something Kris Kristofferson said to Joni Mitchell when she wrote Blue. He very famously heard an early live performance of that record and reportedly said to her, “Damn Joni, keep something for yourself.” That’s exactly how I felt listening to all of Player, Piano because you got that kind of bear with it, but especially in “My All.” Do you feel that you keep anything for yourself? Or, do you–as I suspect–leave it all on the dance floor for your listeners?
DL: Giving all is the only way I think. Even when I don’t know what I’m doing, I go in with as much hope as I have and people feel that, I think. When you put a little group of people or band together, we don’t go into this thinking we know everything. We throw caution to the wind and hope that something comes our way, something unexpected. It’s the opposite of pop-song building, I suppose.
I like pop songs, don’t get me wrong, but there’s not a lot of spreadsheet planning in what I do. We just pray that we bump into a bit of magic and we surround ourselves with people that we admire with the hope that something like that will come our way. The last few days have brought a little magic to me, and I thank my lucky stars that I can still wake up in the morning and have that kind of appetite. I think Player, Piano has a few moments like that, moments of “Ooooh, I see the bread crumbs to the dark forest and the light in the cabin in there somewhere, and it might be on the outskirts of Atlanta!” [laughs]
This record is not epic. It is clear, pure, and childlike. It has in it what we love about hanging out with a friend and letting our hair down.
QRO: AH! That’s exactly where it is leading! Come see me and my glitter folk up here in the mountains with the black bears and the blue butterflies anytime! [laughs]
DL: Yes! Speaking of butterflies, at my studio in Toronto, we have a little yard where I planted trees and we have a lot of milkweed. The Monarchs love that, though I’m not seeing nearly as many of them as I used to. So, let’s stray off our subject matter a bit here and say that we really need to be kinder to the butterflies and the hummingbirds.
I’m fortunate enough to have a nice place in Los Angeles with an old garden and I make sure that we don’t use pesticides. We have more hummingbirds, butterflies, geckos, and critters coming around and nesting because of that. I even have red-tailed hawks! The most recent one is a falcon and she buzzes by me because she’s got little ones and she doesn’t know me that well. [laughs] Right next to all of the music, let’s just put a little whisper in people’s ears about not contaminating our green world. There is so much we cannot control environmentally, but we can all control what happens on our immediate properties.
QRO: For sure! I have about 4 acres here at my little cottage, all backed up to the national forest, which is hundreds of thousands of acres stretching across several states. I consider myself to be a human guest sitting on the natural property of the wildlife, not the other way around. There is a sign on my porch that says, “Ring bell. If no answer, pull weeds.” That’s my green-friendly alternative to chemical weed-killers! [laughs] I also have a mother bear that brings her cubs into the yard to forage around every single summer and I just wouldn’t dare ever put out something that I thought might harm them.
DL: What a special place to be; it sounds wonderful. I think most people are minded that way now or are trying harder to be. One other thing I will add to this part of the conversation is to say that it’s nice to grow food! Even if you’re in an urban environment, it doesn’t have to be a lot, you can do tomato plants or cucumbers. Kids get to see how food is grown and come up with a little more TLC instilled in them.
QRO: Most definitely, all of which is more needed now in the social sphere than ever before. The little things are the big things. Growing up down here, you would hardly find anybody that does not have a vegetable garden! I routinely walk out and snap okra straight off the plant and eat it right there without a moment’s fuss, or even washing it–that’s how unapologetically paws-to-the-ground feral I am, Danny! Voracious vegetarian wolf-women exist, you know. [laughs]
DL: I knew there was something about you! [laughs] Speaking of the little things and home life makes me think of something my dear friend and co-producer, Wayne Lorenz, said about Player, Piano. He said it was a great “bathtub record.” He was a history major, is hyper-intelligent, and has no problem telling me, “This one is better than that!”
QRO: Oh, that’s a huge compliment though; you don’t choose your bath music lightly!
DL: Exactly, and I thought I was just doing toilet bowl music, but let me explain to you what that means! Many moons ago I made a record with Brian Eno called Apollo, which has a track on it called “Deep Blue Day” that got used in the toilet bowl scene for Trainspotting – so here I am thinking I’m doing toilet bowl music and Wayne comes to tell me I’ve made a bathtub record! [laughs]
There’s not a lot of spreadsheet planning in what I do. We just pray that we bump into a bit of magic and we surround ourselves with people that we admire with the hope that something like that will come our way.
QRO: Perfection! What higher honor on both counts? That’s one of my Top Ten films of all time, by the way, and your toilet bowl music makes me think of the dedicatory inscription on my Dad’s book about his own life in music, which reads: “This book is best enjoyed while sitting on the toilet. For maximum personal enjoyment, the author humbly requests that you make this book your official commode companion.” [laughs] I do think it’s an interesting thing when someone tells you where your music lives for them, especially instrumental music, and when so much of the overall music your make is about place.
DL: That’s interesting what you said about instrumental music because, coming up as a kid, there were these records made called Music Minus One. They were learning records. So, if you were a young trumpet player, you’d get these records where the backing is there but the melody is not, and then you’d get to practice the melody on top. If we think of instrumental records as Music Minus One, the minus is that you’re not hearing a lyric. That opens the imagination up a little bit so that you get to create your own words. It has a little bit of universal language in it.
QRO: It most certainly does. The title of your record lends itself pretty seamlessly to this analogy as well in that it can be read as a nod to the old self-playing saloon pianos of yore or as a simple statement of attendance, as in, “Who’s here? Player and piano.” I read it both ways.
DL: The title was a suggestion from an Irish friend of mine who is also a writer. His name is Simon Carmody.
QRO: Oh my gosh, The Golden Horde! One of the most formidable Irish psychedelian punk-poet bands of them all!
DL: Ah, I’m not surprised you know of him! Well, I called Simon and said, “I’ve made a piano record and I need a title, please help me out.” He came up with it on the spot based off the Kurt Vonnegut novel. He said he didn’t think Kurt would mind!
QRO: I believe he would not!
DL: And since this record is not Dua Lipa and meant to top the charts, he said it would be self-promoting, like Elvis Presley in Acapulco! When I’m in trouble, I call Simon Carmody. [laughs]
The thing about record-making and travel is, if good work gets done, you leave with something in your pocket that segues into the next body of work.
QRO: I can’t tell you how much I love that it was an Irish writer that named it for you too. Not that I’m in any way a flag-brandishing Galway girl with a half-done dissertation on the Celtic wild woman trope or anything…[laughs]
DL: How about that! I’ve felt the magic. I’ve spent a good portion of my life there working with the fellows from U2. I’ve been to the west and I’ve seen the Aran Islands, the intensity of the sea that defies time. May we all get to experience something like that. The thing about record-making and travel is, if good work gets done, you leave with something in your pocket that segues into the next body of work. Beyond all of that, if it’s true that we create in chapters–in my case it seems to be about five-year blocks where I’m fascinated with an approach–a body of work will come out of that which can never be repeated. The feeling, the inspirations, could never be the same again.
I have very fond memories of blocks of time in Ireland, luckily for me very creative blocks because I was with super-smart people trying to do the best work they could. Whether it was hanging out with Brian and Roger Eno, Harold Budd, the fellows from U2, or sitting in a chair next to Bob Dylan for months on end, you can just imagine what it felt like to be in the presence of devoted hearts. By proximity, I’ve had a lot of nice influences, and many of them Irish. That kind of stuff humbles one, gets in you, and you hope it comes out of you as well.
QRO: So well-stated and so utterly incontrovertible. All I am ever trying to do is drink in the full chalice of the potion of my own heroes and influences. If you can even get to a place where a few drops of them bead out on the surface of your own work, I think it’s the best and only salute–to your own internal potential and to them! It also makes me hot-air-balloon happy that you love Ireland as you do. Player, Piano sneaks across the border to make out with our mystical neighbor, Scotland, for a minute too! Inverness the city is one of my most beloved secret places in the wide world and certainly one of my favorites in Scotland, which I adore the whole of. I think your song “Inverness” truly does have the spirit of that stunning locality breathing inside of it. What is special to you about Inverness particularly?
DL: You know, it’s a funny title. It represents the old days and timelessness. The melodies that I bumped into in that little mode largely came from improv, but within it I started seeing ancient times, folklore, and maybe something swimming in the Loch. I started having images in my mind of ancient rivers, cliffs, Galway, everything we just talked about. You can’t help but have respect. I’m just a visitor here, just passing through, and hoping to add to the mythology of it all. It also has a little bit of hymn in it for me, and I love old hymns because I think they continue to speak to anyone who is listening. They defy trends and could have been played at a time of celebration in a bygone era or it could have been something that you would play going into battle. Melodies and phrases that have always been and always will be.
I’m just a visitor here, just passing through, and hoping to add to the mythology of it all.
QRO: Like the vast and unchanging expressions in the catalog of human feeling, yes. That one feels medieval to me and what you were saying about the hymns connects me back to where I grew up, because of course you know there is that long southern link to spiritual music down here. You don’t even have to know what the words are saying or what they were intended for because the emotion remains the same.
DL: The emotion remains the same. That should be the closing line of your writing!
QRO: You like that one? Let’s lock that in! I’ll send you off into your recording day with one final thought and one last question. I want to say that this record is special to me because I live in the Jane Austen world with my Tori Amos heart. It is a hybridized world where the piano is the instrument that most often draws the backdrop. My primary experience of the piano has been with its feminine players and I think that it’s been interesting to watch the last few decades in mainstream music giving the piano over from men like Elton John and Billy Joel to girls like Fiona Apple and Nora Jones. Where do you hope or foresee the piano going next?
DL: In the last few weeks, since the release of this record, I have come up with yet another piano number that I think might be some of my best work so far. This piece that I’m speaking of is untitled so far but I’m planning to include it on the next record. The next one won’t be so piano-advertised, but I can’t wait for you to hear it. I’m from a place called Gatineau and my friend heard this one and said, “You’re the W.C. of Gatineau!”
QRO: Why am I not surprised that you are already miles ahead and thinking your way through the next album? [laughs] Thank you so much for sending me into this week with such a mythic moon-rocket strapped to my back, Daniel. This has been the conversation to dwarf them all for me. Thank you for that, and thank you for the music.
DL: Well, you’re a sweetheart and it’s been a joy. I think we have had a very nice conversation and I really appreciate that. Let’s talk again soon!