All for one: Neil Young and Daniel Lanois team up to make new solo album, 'Le Noise'
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Some of your louder rock 'n' roll bands can make the Ryman Auditorium floorboards rattle a little. Few, though, have shaken the pews like Neil Young with just his electric guitar.
Young has been known to make a racket with a distinctive guitar sound that has influenced two generations of musicians. The low rumble he sent through the foundation at the Ryman in June, employing the technology he used on his new Daniel Lanois-produced album, "Le Noise," was something very different, however. In the audience, the air seemed to vibrate — as well as the listener's ribcage.
"Even though it was shaking the building it wasn't loud enough to hurt you," Young said recently in a phone interview from California.
It was that sound that drew Young to Lanois, whose all-star collaboration list includes U2, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan and Peter Gabriel. Lanois has given over his Los Angeles mansion to the pursuit of new sounds: Many of the rooms are crammed with gear, set up to make something unique and new. Young was immediately intrigued when he plugged into the elaborate system built by Lanois and engineer Mark Howard.
"The house is alive," Young said. "The music was all through the house."
What emerged from those recording sessions is new, even for the ever-restless Young. "Le Noise" is full of interesting sounds and experiments, on both acoustic and electric guitars.
In a sense, it's Young as he first emerged as a performer — alone with his guitar singing about things completely personal and wholly universal. But 45 years worth of technological advances make it a very different experience. Lanois' setup allows Young to inhabit all the spaces that a band would — high guitar notes, low bass notes, the rhythm, the melody — simultaneously.
"We might've just reinvented rock 'n' roll to a degree, to have it just being one person and for the record to have all that power; it's something, man," Lanois said. "It's the opposite to where other people are going. Most rock records now are just piling more stuff on top and compressing it more and (equalizing) it more. Well, we went the other way. We decided to feature the landscape more so you could see what the centre of it was."
At its centre, of course, is Young. Two of the 64-year-old's three most recent albums of new material have carried heavy messages about things like electric cars and energy consumption ("Fork in the Road") and the Bush administration ("Living With War"). Young acknowledges "Le Noise" is much more personal than those albums, but he's not going to label it.
"I think it's a — I don't know — a spiritual record in some kind of ways," Young said. "There's a lot to do with love on the record. Love is in almost every song, and so it had a spiritual layer to it. It's not trying to do anything. It's just trying to be itself."
And on a handful of songs — "Walk With Me," ''Sign of Love" and "The Hitchhiker" — that description sounds about right.
Other times, it feels like Young is as contrarian and relevant as ever. On "Angry World," with its looped vocals working like the background noise that fills our lives these days, Young points out, "It's an angry world for the businessman and the fisherman," perhaps shining a light on the fight over the oil spill.
"Peaceful Valley Boulevard" is cast in the mould of classics like "Aurora Borealis" and "Cortez The Killer," showing how mistakes made centuries ago grow and magnify over time until God cried tears that were a "pounding rain" and "a child was born and wondered why."
And then there's the brittle and beautiful "Love and War," on which Young lays down this shocking statement: "When I sing about love and war/I don't really know what I'm saying."
Isn't that a profoundly confusing statement from the artist who gave us "Ohio" and "Impeach the President"?
Young chuckles before answering.
"It's such a deep subject and there's really no one answer," he said. "There's nobody who really knows. It just seems to be a part of the human condition is to get in wars over and over again for as long as human beings have been around. So I have opinions but I'm not so sure that they're right."