Daniel Lanois hopes his new album “Heavy Sun,” which blends rock and gospel elements, offers listeners “some kind of refuge” from these “troubled times.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Flora Sigismondi

Daniel Lanois hopes his new album “Heavy Sun,” which blends rock and gospel elements, offers listeners “some kind of refuge” from these “troubled times.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Flora Sigismondi

Producer Daniel Lanois hopes his new album offers ‘refuge’ for these ‘troubled times’

Gospel-fuelled ‘Heavy Sun’ co-produced by Lanois

TORONTO — If Daniel Lanois can offer listeners anything with his newest album, he says it would be a little bit of joy in these “troubled times.”

A year into the global pandemic there’s much to feel anxious about, and the seven-time Grammy-winning producer’s gospel-fuelled “Heavy Sun” could be a breather of sorts with its lush harmonies and church organs.

“It’s got congregation, it’s got good feelings,” the 69-year-old musician explained in a recent interview.

“I’m hoping that people will find some kind of refuge within this body of work, just to boost a little bit of morale.”

“Hard Sun,” recorded in the months before the pandemic, was a collaborative effort between Lanois, best known for his work with Bob Dylan, Robbie Robertson and U2, and his bandmates in the Heavy Sun Orchestra, whom he affectionately calls “the Four Musketeers.”

The group is led by vocalist Johnny Shepherd, an organist and choir director originally from Louisiana-based Zion Baptist Church who befriended Lanois before agreeing to join him on the project.

Beyond co-producing the album, Lanois plays guitar and sings alongside guitarist Rocco DeLuca and bassist Jim Wilson.

Lanois spoke to The Canadian Press about the ways “Hard Sun” marks a departure from some of his most famous works.

CP: You’ve said you wanted this album to take gospel music and move it into the future. Can you explain how that idea first took shape with your bandmates?

Lanois: We sang a few church classics that everybody knew and found ourselves really enjoying singing together. We thought, how can we take the energy this music seems to have to our own arena? So we started developing this space-age gospel sound. I wasn’t about to step into the familiar aspects of ecclesiastical music. Of course, we love traditional music and respect the past, but if we’re going to go into the form, then we have to own the approach. And that’s when records have more of an individual personality. We have the spirit of gospel music and then something new with it.

CP: The album is stacked with an array of musical elements. Not just gospel, but you can almost feel jazz, rock and soul pushing against each other at times. How do you see the relationship between these genres?

Lanois: I love so much music – and all kinds of music. I spent a lot of time in Jamaica, so there was always a bit of a Jamaican tinge to my work. I was in New Orleans, exposed to some of the great bass playing, piano playing, drumming. We are what we eat, and if we eat beautifully cultured music then we become some of that.

CP: How does this relate to your relationship with past albums you made?

Lanois: As I look back at certain chapters of work I realize we were committed to a certain approach at a given time. And we just made the most out of what we had. I don’t think philosophically that has changed much. The tools have changed. But I think the spirit of that is still with us. (With U2’s album) “The Joshua Tree” we were the outskirts of Dublin. No distractions, this was before cell phones. We didn’t employ studio musicians or anything, we just made a record with the people that were in the room. That’s what we love about classics. They represent a very specific snapshot of people at a very specific time.

CP: Many of the albums you’ve worked on became part of the cultural zeitgeist, whether it’s Brian Eno’s ambient albums or Peter Gabriel’s “Us.” How do you feel about having songs that are intrinsically connected with “life moments” for many people?

Lanois: Isn’t that beautiful? It takes a little bit of the ego out of it and the leather pants out of it. Even when I’m gone that song or that body of work will keep touching hearts. It’s the best compliment, really. It doesn’t happen to everybody and I can appreciate that I’ve made a few things that will keep touching people along the way.

— This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 19, 2021.

Music

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Alberta vaccine rollout expanding to front-line health-care workers

More than 240,000 eligible health-care workers can begin booking vaccine appointments starting… Continue reading

File photo
The Red Deer Rebels will have three new assistant coaches when the WHL regular season starts on Friday. Brad Flynn (left), will be on the bench alongside fellow assistant Ryan Colville (right) head coach Brent Sutter (middle). (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Sutter steps down as Red Deer Rebels head coach

Red Deer Rebels Owner, GM and head coach Brent Sutter has stepped… Continue reading

Premier Jason Kenney announced $200 million more money that will benefit seniors living in continuing care on Wednesday. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program expanding

Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program will expand to as many as… Continue reading

Parents and students learned Tuesday what the coming school year will look like. It's pretty much back to business as usual, said Education Minister Adriana LaGrange. School precautions include frequent cleaning, keeping students in the same groups where possible, planning the school day to allow for physical distancing and staying home when sick. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s largest school board says no to United Conservative draft school curriculum

CALGARY — Alberta’s largest school board says it will not use the… Continue reading

Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan is among those who have signed an open letter criticizing the government’s return to stricter health measures. (Advocate file photo).
Updated: Kenney tells UCP caucus COVID-19 dissent OK, breaking health rules means expulsion

15 MLAs released letter on Wednesday critical of new health restrictions

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau watches a speaker appear by videoconference during a news conference in Ottawa, Friday, April 9, 2021. Grassroots Liberals have overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution calling on the federal government to develop and implement a universal basic income — despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's apparent lack of enthusiasm for the idea. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau winds up Liberal convention with election campaign-style speech

OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau wound up a three-day Liberal convention Saturday with… Continue reading

Team Canada skip Brendan Bottcher makes a shot against Italy at the Men's World Curling Championships in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, April 6, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Men’s world curling championship in Calgary in COVID limbo

CALGARY — The men’s world curling championship in Calgary remained suspended Saturday… Continue reading

Pipes intended for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline are shown in Gascoyne, N.D. on Wednesday April 22, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alex Panetta
Non-profit Quebec law centre to aid environmental group targeted by Alberta oil firm

QUEBEC — The Quebec Environmental Law Centre is coming to the aid… Continue reading

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Conservatives cite empathy, relationships as ways to help expand their movement

OTTAWA — Conservatives should show empathy with Black residents who say they’ve… Continue reading

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. New Democrats are reconvening for the second day of a three-day policy convention as they look to push past the glitches of the virtual event's opening sessions and rally around keynote speaker John Horgan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
New Democrats reconvene as hiccups, frustrations plague national policy convention

OTTAWA — New Democrats reconvened Saturday for the second day of a… Continue reading

FILE - In this Monday, Oct. 23, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump speaks during a joint statement with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. Former President Donald Trump plans to affirm his commitment to the Republican Party — and raise the possibility that someone else will be the GOP's next presidential nominee — in a closed-door speech to donors Saturday night, April 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
Trump in 2024? He says only that ‘a Republican’ will win

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Former President Donald Trump plans to affirm his… Continue reading

A cruise ship sits docked waiting for passengers to be evacuated in Kingstown, on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent, Friday, April 9, 2021 due to the eruption of La Soufriere volcano. (AP Photo/Orvil Samuel)
Ash-covered St. Vincent braces for more volcanic eruptions

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent — People who ignored an initial warning to evacuate… Continue reading

Owner of 4 Point Taekwondo Kevin Mejia holds a board as organizer and martial artist Kevin Olsen breaks it in Edmonton on Friday, April 9, 2021. One hundred martial artists from around the world, will be breaking a board for an event called "Break for a Breakthrough." The idea is for martial artists to unite and re-engage with the arts because they may have drifted away or lost enthusiasm as a result of the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Break for a Breakthrough: Canadian hosts international martial arts demonstration

EDMONTON — Whether he’s breaking a wooden board, a clay tile, cement… Continue reading

Most Read