Neil Young and Daniel Lanois: ‘Le Noise’ collaboration started with YouTube

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Want a gig working with a Grammy-winning Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member? Try posting a smart video on YouTube.

That’s how it worked for Daniel Lanois, who recently wrapped up work producing a new album for one of his longtime rock heroes, Neil Young.


Sure, it didn’t hurt that Lanois has seven Grammys of his own and had previously worked with such stellar lights of contemporary pop music as U2, Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel, Emmylou Harris and Brian Eno.

Still, it was the YouTube stuff Lanois made with his own band, Black Dub, that inspired Young to reach out to his fellow Canadian about collaborating.

“He called me and he said ‘I could use your help,’ ” Lanois told me over the weekend at his house in Silver Lake. “He said, ‘I saw your Black Dub films on YouTube…. I loved those films. Would you film me and record me doing 10 acoustic songs?’ I always wanted to make a Neil Young album. I said I would, of course.”

Their get-together, however, didn’t turn out exactly as Young first proposed it. Instead of 10 acoustic songs, the resulting album, “Le Noise,” which comes out Sept. 28, has just eight songs, only two of them acoustic numbers.

What happened, Lanois said, was that after they began working together at Lanois’ house, the producer suggested that Young try an electric guitar through the sophisticated rig he’d concocted for Young to use for the acoustic numbers. Very quickly the record became an electrified outing, but still just Young and one guitar — no band.

In both the acoustic and electric settings, Lanois created a sonic environment for Young’s new songs that can only be described as gigantic. Lanois previewed the album last week at his house for a small group of music writers, record industry friends and associates, most of whom left wowed by what they heard.

“I think we just hit on it, man,” Lanois said. “We just hit on this twin amp sound. The one amp has the bass part of the guitar and the other has the treble, and this allows me to treat each amplifier quite differently…. We were very sonically driven and innovative.”

We’ll have more soon on the ins and outs of the Young-Lanois collaboration, which Lanois spoke about at length even though it was the middle of the long Labor Day weekend — a subject in itself that came up during my chat with him, and the source of another common reference point between the two artists.

“I told him that I had always been a little bit embarrassed that I paid no attention to holidays and weekends, I always just kept working through everything,” Lanois said. “He said, ‘Oh, I’m the same way. Don’t worry,’ he says, ‘Those are only markers of time as determined by someone else.’

“I thought it was a great line,’ he said. ‘I think it takes a strong person to realize that the imagination never sleeps. You wake up in the night, you have an idea…. We’re very similar in that way. We don’t operate by pre-determined markers of time.”

-- Randy Lewis