Published May 01, 2018Upon seeing these two names together your first thought might be that it's a typo — why on earth would Venetian Snares (aka Aaron Funk), Winnipeg's two-fisted breakcore bastion, and Daniel Lanois, a legendary pedal steel player more famous as a producer — be collaborating? The answer, simply, is mutual respect.
When Lanois was introduced to the music of Venetian Snares some six years ago, he was understandably blown away. "When I first heard that real symphonic one, I call it the Hungarian record [Rossz Csillag Alatt Született], I thought 'Oh boy, we've got a smart cookie here,'" Lanois tells Exclaim! So he did what any fan with his clout would do, he tracked down a phone number and called him.
"Dude just rang me up about four years ago, telling me that he really liked my music, and I was like, 'Well... that's neat," Funk says. "I was glad he discovered my tunes and he was diggin' 'em. I've really respected his work for many, many years, so I was pretty happy about that. But yeah, it was kind of odd, having this guy phone me out of nowhere."
Fast-forward another couple of years and Funk is doing a stint in Toronto between European tours, so with time to spare he calls on Lanois for a friendly jam session at Lanois's old Buddhist Temple-cum-studio. While neither had any intentions beyond messing around, that first session proved incredibly fruitful, and the unlikely duo decided they should do it again. Three separate sessions later, they had more than an album's worth of material, which became Venetian Snares x Daniel Lanois (there's a bonus record available for anyone who pre-orders online), with each track recorded off the cuff.
"They're all live performances, and it's just the two us," says Lanois of the album. "Anything electronic and rhythmic comes from Aaron and the harmonic content comes from me. It's a curious partnership here because, obviously the steel guitar is a very traditional instrument, so it's kind of like playing a clarinet with Aphex Twin.
"The great thing about this project is how spontaneous it is," Lanois continues. "It's quite the feeling for me, because it's so renegade. I'm so challenged by him when we play — it's almost like navigating an avalanche of sonics, and then of course, having to respond to it too. I feel like a kid all over again in my first psychedelic band."
While it sounds nothing like it, this album has all the approach of a free jazz record. Tracks often start with Lanois's languid guitar work, calling you home for supper, before Funk's improvised drum patterns rain down like cluster bombs in a train yard. And the two just rally back-and-forth throughout each track, but perfectly in sync with each other, probably because they were joined by wires the whole time.
"Dan was on his pedal steel, but I also had a feed of him, so while we were playing, I could process everything he's doing," Funk explains. "So I could run him through synths, delays, reverbs, harmonizers, and get this really cool shit that's responding to what he's doing, but responding perfectly. I felt like I was Lee Perry or something, doing those jams, because I could just dub him out or pretty much endlessly fuck with his output on the fly."
Fans of Venetian Snares are on pretty solid ground here: all they have to come to terms with are the soft guitar stylings of Lanois (which fit in far better than you might think) tugging the tracks along. Long-term admirers of Lanois, on the other hand, have a harder pill to swallow. This is still a breakcore album at heart, and therefore pretty far outside his wheelhouse, but it does have that Lanois spirit of trailblazing emanating from every odd corner.
When you look at some of his collaborators throughout the years — Brian Eno, U2, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and Peter Gabriel, to name a few — it's hard to see how Funk could compete, but according to Lanois, he's right up there.
"This is the first time I've worked with somebody who has that large a palette of colours to draw from," Lanois enthuses. "Working with Aaron... it's like you're having a very delicate afternoon tea party and then suddenly some guy just knocks all the sandwiches down and slaps a burrito on the table [laughs]. It's wild."
You can expect another release from Funk under his Poemss project with Joanne Pollock some time in the future, which we're told is going to be "pretty different" and "very intense."
Lanois, on the other hand, is set to receive the Order of Canada next month, but is currently in L.A. working with "some Southern boys, trying to get that Mississippi flavour."
Venetian Snares x Daniel Lanois comes out May 4 via Planet Mu.