Life is measured in more than the quantity of years spent on Earth. There are qualities to be considered too, says artist/producer Daniel Lanois, in a broad conversation on the phone from Los Angeles.
"What wisdom comes your way and for what reasons, it's not just age. It's the blows along the way," he says, then laughs.
Accumulated experience gives you the ability, Lanois adds, to handle more smoothly life's "twists and turns."
Calm, acceptance and contemplation are shot through his latest solo album, Here is What Is, especially the song "Not Fighting Anymore."
"Without getting too personal here, part of 'Not Fighting Anymore' is about the passing of my little brother three years ago. He was always a fighter. In his case, it was because of a disease and he realized he didn't have that kind of life in him anymore." (Lanois' other brother, Bob, recorded and released The Shack Recordings, Vol. 1 with fellow Hamiltonian Tom Wilson in 2005.)
"Yeah, it's got a lot of spirit in it, that one," Lanois says of "Not Fighting Anymore," which is also reminiscent of the imprint he made, as a producer, on Bob Dylan.
Here Is What Is,his seventh album, draws on Lanois' husky voice, weary-yet-hopeful tones, moody musical landscapes, deep appreciation for the voice of instruments and storytelling and how they can form a single, universal mythology.
In clips of dialogue from an accompanying documentary of Here Is What Is, Lanois converses with collaborators and friends such as producer and musician Brian Eno, with whom Lanois co-produced U2 albums.
At one point, Eno declares his opposition to the "idea that it's outside of us rather than inside of us. I think it's all inside of us." The "it" Eno talks about is his creativity and, by extension, principles such as knowledge and beauty. You hear Lanois murmur agreement. On the phone he describes his relationship with Eno as "student-teacher."
There are other enduring give-and-take friendships as well, including Brian Blade, the jazz drummer and Lanois' longtime player in the studio and on stage.
"I'm still mesmerized by him," he says of Blade, who also appears on both the Here Is What Is album and film.
The pair recently played shows in an Amsterdam club and at a festival near Brussels. Lanois decided to challenge himself by playing with only effects pedals and items that he could physically carry on the plane himself. He flew from Toronto and Blade from New York, and "we just met at the hotel. We asked the promoter to supply us with all our instruments---no crew, no nothing."
"It was nice to see him there and we climbed up on that stage and we delivered, in my opinion, a couple of our best shows ever," Lanois says. On a roll now, he continues: "He's incredible. He's a master of improv. I could just turn around and say something to him, as I did at that show. I said, 'Brian, you're one of the top jazz drummers in the world. I want the audience to feel that. Please give us a high-speed bebop beat and I'll join you in a second.'"
For his show at the Marquee, Lanois comes to Halifax with a band made up of "two guys from Delaware and a guy from Detroit---friends I've made in the States." He doesn't say which is which, but Steve Nistor plays drums, Jim Wilson is on guitar and Marcus Blake is on bass.
With both Blade and Eno, Lanois considers the connection---not the separation---of two concepts often perceived as opposing one another on "Sacred and Secular," a piece combining talk and a pedal-steel passage from Lanois. At one point, he describes the instrument this way: "It takes me to a sacred place---it's my little church in a suitcase."
That's not to dismiss the value and need of churches as "crossing points" for communities. "That sense of community: I think that's the heart of church. Now if you accept that, then you realize that congregation in other forms are also church. They could be a gathering place for a show. But, yeah, I like that phrase 'church in a suitcase.' I pull out my old friend and feel that feeling anywhere in the world."