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Daniel Lanois on His Dubby, Atmospheric New Song ‘(Under the) Heavy Sun’

Photo: Floria Sigismondi

Moments before I click the link to stream Daniel Lanois‘ blissful new song, my email dings. It’s the producer’s publicist: He’s tweaked the dubby, atmospheric tune with yet another new mix.

“Things are constantly evolving,” Lanois tells SPIN from his Toronto studio, commenting on both the track, “(Under the) Heavy Sun,” and music in general. “I talked to Neil Young about this, and he said, ‘Songs? They’re like animals. They’re alive. They’re changing all the time.'”

Lanois is a master tinkerer: When not recording his own solo albums, collaborating with his band Black Dub and working on major soundtracks (including one for the 2018 adventure game Red Dead Redemption 2), he’s guiding rock giants like Young, U2, Peter Gabriel and Bob Dylan in the recording studio.

His latest cut, premiering below via SPIN, previews the space-gospel vibe of his upcoming LP, Heavy Sun, out in spring 2021.

“Everything started out as a gospel song in this entourage because our organist, Johnny Shepherd, is a Baptist church minister and choir leader,” Lanois says, noting the vocalists’s “powerhouse” performance. “We started on this journey together thinking about spirit and where the next dimension of spirit might be. We invented this place in the song, imagining some kind of spirit nightclub in outer space you can leave your ego at the door. It’s a kind of fictitious, utopian night club where you can cleanse your soul and have a new beginning — not one of sacrifice but one of celebration, entering a new dimension of joy.”

Lanois recorded Heavy Sun by hopping back and forth between his studios in Toronto and L.A., joined at the latter by Shepherd, co-writer Rocco DeLuca and bassist Jim Wilson. He worked with Shepherd and DeLuca in a sort of writing “factory” — “like the Brill Building of the West Coast” — authoring tunes on a back patio. “I’m the studio rat of the bunch,” Lanois adds, “so I’m in [there] building these tracks out of Johnny’s organ performances, largely.”

Fortunately, the producer had the project mostly recorded before the pandemic upended the music industry. (It did force them to cancel a tour, which would have helped “keep the fire burning.”) The real question, he admits, is, “What do we do now?”

“We’re going to make some [videos],” he says. “We made one for this first single, and we’re [hoping] to pick up some streaming and radio play. I suppose there gonna be more live performances by streaming and subscription and all that. The promoters are pretty smart. There may be confusion right now, but I think there’ll be some kind of alignment pretty soon. Maybe we’ll all be doing performances by Zoom or something like that. [laughs]”

In the meantime, he’s continuing to fine-tune Heavy Sun — maybe up until the final minute. “I’m still touching [things] up,” he says, “changing some of the lyrics and making the record company crazy.”