Daniel Lanois records music in some unlikely places. Castles and dairy barns have elicited honest and spontaneous performances in his Grammy award winning albums. Perhaps this visceral approach comes from his first recording studio, the laundry room in his mother's house in Hamilton, Ontario.
Born in Hull, Quebec, Lanois' came from a musical family. His mother sang and his father and grandfather played the fiddle. Moving to Hamilton, Ontario with his mother, Daniel learned to play the guitar and began playing gigs locally with other musicians. Beginning with a rudimentary cassette player, Daniel and his brother Robert began recording their own music. They quickly branched out and offered local bands a place to record.
The brothers upgraded their equipment to a four-track machine offering engineering and production assistance, as well as songwriting and arranging. Gaining a solid reputation, the Lanois brothers opened Grant Avenue Studio in the early '80s.
Recording material by Ian Tyson, Martha & The Muffins, Simply Saucer and Raffi, Lanois' big break came when Brian Eno did some recording at his studio. Eno, who was beginning to break ground with his dreamy "ambient music", taught him the technique of guitar and studio ambience and sound manipulation techniques.
Things began to gel when Eno was tapped to produce an album for U2. The Unforgettable Fire saw Eno and Lanois join together as co-producers. The results of that album impressed another star, Peter Gabriel. Asked to co-produce the soundtrack to Gabriel's film Birdy, Gabriel and Lanois went on to produce So and Us, Gabriel's most successful albums. The million-selling So launched Gabriel as an accessible commercial artist.
Lanois continued to work with U2: He co-produced The Joshua Tree with Eno, and was principle producer for Achtung Baby, which earned him a Grammy.
Called "the most important record producer to emerge in the Eighties" by Rolling Stone, Daniel Lanois has drawn praise from around the world for his work with U2, Peter Gabriel and Bob Dylan.
Lanois earned high praise for co-producing Robbie Robertson's eponymous solo debut in 1987 and, in 1989, for his work at the boards on Bob Dylan's come back album, Oh Mercy. These successes were followed by The Neville Brothers' Yellow Moon, considered to be a breakthrough for the New Orleans soul group.
Lanois likens producing for others to cooking: "I look at the raw materials and see what is unique to that situation and draw upon it. It's the same as if a chef walked into a stranger's kitchen and cooked with the available ingredients."
At Lanois' studio, Kings-way in New Orleans, he finally cut his own debut solo album, Acadie. The singer/songwriter received acclaim from critics for his moody, understated passion and the success of Acadie was followed by For the Beauty of Wynona in 1983.
Lanois has returned to non-stop production work, with Luscious Jackson's Fever In, Fever Out, Emmylou Harris' Wrecking Ball and Dylan's Time Out of Mind. He also found time to record the soundtrack to the Billy Bob Thornton film Sling Blade. Lanois' vividly cinematic album Belladonna features his pedal steel guitar, and takes you on a journey.
"[Instrumental music] can speak louder than singing," Lanois explains. "It leaves a window of opportunity for someone to use their imagination and build their own scenario. You can make your own movie."
"Some of my favorite records take you on a journey," says Lanois. "I wanted to make a record like that, that would challenge the imagination, conjure up images and, most importantly, it would be a reliable friend - it would take you to that place and never let you down."
When not producing, Lanois has been known to take high profile gigs opening for old pals, such as Dave Matthews. Matthews opened for Lanois more than a decade ago. The two have remained friends and mutual fans of each other's work ever since. The Dave Matthews' Band regularly covers Lanois' signature song "Maker", which has been aptly described as a "hushed, propulsive prayer." In addition to being a DMB live favorite, it has graced highly regarded studio and live albums by Matthews, Nelson and Harris.
If Daniel Lanois is nearby, then so is his beloved pedal steel guitar: "It was the first instrument I learned to play." He never leaves home without it.