Daniel Burton has seen it all and would rather stay home. This does not mean he is jaded or a hermit — he just knows what should be done in order to get things done. If you listen to any of his recordings, be it albums by acclaimed artists such as Songs: Ohia, Dave Fischoff or the Early Day Miners (whom he also plays with), your ears will be treated to vivid yet transparent sound images that are downright honest. He is an important fixture (or, "country doctor", if you will) in the music community in Bloomington, Indiana. He has already been to the big city. He has witnessed first-hand the bizarre breeding process that makes up the "big time" scene. He has observed it, participated in it, took what he needed from it, and went back home. And now he has his own humble home studio and does not mind turning yours into one, if that is what you need to feel "at home" — and people like that. And being rather young, there is a lot ahead of him. He knows this, but doesn't really think about it because it doesn't exist yet. Instead, he would rather be busy doing things right now.
You made a temporary exodus from Indiana to California — and you ended up interning at Daniel Lanois' Teatro studio. How did that happen?
Well, I was born and raised in Mobile, Alabama, and of course in 6th grade I bought [U2's] Joshua Tree and really liked it. At that age I was beginning to start looking at liner notes and that type of stuff and started to buy Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois records. Right about that time — a year or so later, I discovered [Lanois'] first album Acadie and I really, really liked it. As I grew older I started to get excited about a lot of his philosophies, which involve recording in your house or recording in a movie theater or a castle — whatever. So, it was sort of a thing where I needed to do an internship for school and I really didn't want to settle on something that I wasn't 100% excited about. I ended up tracking Mark Howard down, who is Lanois' co-producer/engineer. He was very cool and just said, "Well come out here — I want to meet you before I would ever work with you.". So, I flew out there, got to meet him, and he showed me a bit of their operations. So that's how it kind of came about. I worked there for almost 2 months I guess.
You could have stayed there longer but you felt you had enough — you mentioned that in an e-mail to me and I thought it was sort of humorous because you mentioned how while you were there you were polishing motorcycles, buying tube socks, answering pages, going about the town in search of fine wines and cheeses and what not...
Oh yeah — they had me doing everything. I was doing a lot of reorganizing of rooms, moving filing cabinets around and at one point I dusted a motorcycle a number of times.
One of his big old-style BMW bikes?
Yeah, it was! They have some BMWs and Harleys. They're really into bikes out there. It was interesting for me because those guys are really talented and work in a world that I am unfamiliar with, which is major label recording.
But they're also at a point where they can pretty much do whatever they want. It's beyond major label recording in a way.
Exactly, exactly. They're way beyond major label recordings.
So it gets to a point where we're talking about "limitations" — but they're past limitations!
They have none! It's incredible. They have all the freedom in the world to do a record anywhere they want and I found it really inspiring that they found places like New Orleans, Louisiana, and Oxnard, California, to do that, as opposed to "Los Angeles". I think they're in LA now, but when I was there they were making plans to move into an amazing movie palace in downtown Los Angeles, so once again they're not choosing the obvious option there. It's really exciting because those buildings have a "past" and anything that has a past generally has a character and creates a certain atmosphere. I was really excited by the budgets they had to work with, but I'm also from a background closer to a DIY aesthetic. I love that ability to do what it is you want to do and not answer to anybody. And, so, I'm a musician, and I love to play music and Teatro was a full-time job of assisting and engineering. They were very good about letting me run stuff like tape machines and showed me some of their techniques which was really cool. But, I love playing music and I wanted to finish my band's record and I'm really glad I made that choice — it was a difficult one to make.
So you actually got to work with Lanois for a couple of weeks. What did you get from that experience?
At that point he was working on the All the Pretty Horses soundtrack, which actually came out and to everybody's amazement, it was a different fella doing the soundtrack. I think Lanois has some stuff in the movie still, but when I was...