Daniel Lanois developed an early interest in music due to the influence of his violinist father and singer mother. During the 1970s, he earned a solid reputation as a recording engineer. In the early 1980s, he met Brian Eno, who would become his mentor and with whom he would produce some of the most outstanding albums put out by the band U2. During that period he also collaborated with Peter Gabriel, Bob Dylan and Robbie Robertson. In 1989, he released his first solo album, Acadie, revealing his talents as a guitarist and singer. Since then, he has divided his time between his personal projects and his work as a producer.
Daniel Lanois was born in 1951, in Hull, Quebec. Following his parents' divorce in the early 1960s, he went to live with his mother in Hamilton, Ontario, where he studied guitar and played with a number of groups. In 1970, along with his brother Bob, he set up a recording studio in the laundry room of their family home where, for $60, musicians could make a demo on a four-track recorder.
With that experience under his belt, he went into business. From 1974 to 1985, he ran the Grant Avenue Studio, in Hamilton, working with Canadian bands such as The Parachute Club and Martha and the Muffins - whose bassist was none other than Jocelyne Lanois, Daniel's younger sister - as well as with foreign musicians such as Brian Eno.
The major leagues
There was a particularly strong connection between Eno and Lanois. Eno, a songwriter and trailblazer in the realm of sound, as well as a producer himself, discovered that he had much in common with Lanois, who specialized in creating ambiance and atmosphere. Together, they conceived an album of ambient music, Apollo, Atmospheres and Soundtracks (1983), which was the start of a long and productive collaboration.
In 1984, the duo produced a disc for U2, The Unforgettable Fire, an endeavour that piqued Peter Gabriel's interest. The ex-leader of Genesis asked Lanois to help him produce the original soundtrack for the film Birdy, after which Lanois helped Gabriel record So (1986), a disc that enjoyed major commercial success. During this period, the Canadian musician once again teamed up with Eno, on The Joshua Tree, THE major album by Bono's band, released in 1987.
The disc won a Grammy, confirming Lanois' reputation and bringing him other famous clients. Robbie Robertson, former singer and guitarist with The Band, entrusted Lanois with his first solo recording, after which The Neville Brothers came to call, making him producer on their disc Yellow Moon (1989), recorded in a New Orleans apartment that had been converted into a studio. Soon after, Bob Dylan stopped by to record Oh Mercy, which many consider to be his best work of the 1980s.
The birth of a singer-songwriter
Alongside his producing activities, Daniel Lanois found time to work on his own projects. Acadie, released in 1989, reveals his talents as a composer, guitarist and singer. Blending Cajun music, folk and rock, the album features original songs performed in English and French. Four years later, he released For the Beauty of Wynona. En 1996, Lanois broke into film, composing the soundtrack for the movie Sling Blade, directed by Billy Bob Thornton. During that period, the list of his successes as a producer grew considerably longer. Notably, he worked with U2 (Achtung Baby, 1991), Peter Gabriel (Us, 1993), Emmilou Harris (Wrecking Ball, 1995), Bob Dylan (Time Out of Mind, 1997) and Willie Nelson (Teatro, 1998).
In 2003, Lanois put out his third solo album, Shine¸ featuring vocals by Harris and Bono, and soon after made his debut at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. Two years later, he released Rockets, a collection of demos and unfinished songs, and Belladonna, remarkable for his pedal steel guitar. He played the Festival that year and the next, when he took part in the tribute to Paul Simon and performed alongside Emmilou Harris.
Here Is What Is, released in 2007, provided the soundtrack for a documentary film by Adam Vollick, which depicts the musician-producer's creative process. In 2009, Lanois, singer Trixie Whitley and drummer Brian Blade initiated their collaborative project, Black Dub, along with an eponymous disc and a tour.
Following a serious motorcycle accident, Lanois spent most of 2010 convalescing. Resuming his activities, he produced Le Noise, a recording by Neil Young, and returned to the concert stage. In 2011, he appeared at the Festival, presenting the Black Dub project.