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U2 Atomic: Daniel Lanois

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ABOUT DANIEL

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Daniel Lanois Information

(Note: I originally created this page around 1994 to provide general information on Daniel Lanois, whose music and production I admire. I wrote the text from information compiled from a variety of sources and it's presented here non-commercially, as a public information resource. The original home for this material, www.nyx.net, deleted my account after my newsreader stuffed about 600K of newsgroup headers into my home directory. Unable to find any back-ups of the file, it was assumed to be lost forever. This material was only recently unearthed from an old archive and I'm now making it available on my own server, trnsnd.net. I hope the informational value of this encapsulation justifies its existence. -- Chris, 2001. New Note (2/24/01): See new omnichord information below!

New FAQ: To all who have written for whatever reason over the years--thank you for your interest and support. Sadly, I don't have any contact information or the ability to pass anything on to Lanois or his management (though perhaps I should be glad that I don't ever have to deal with the cut-throat music "industry"!). I try to reply to the emails that I receive, but I'm often very tied up with work and life (and sometimes even music!) and some inevitably fall through the cracks in my email account. They are all read, though, and I have appreciated everyone's enthusiasm for Mr. Lanois.

Thank you.

Who is Daniel Lanois?

Daniel Lanois is a musician and producer. He has produced award winning records for U2, Peter Gabriel, the Neville Brothers, Bob Dylan and many others. In addition, he has recorded two solo records of his own songs, ranging in style from ambient instrumentals to traditional folk to rock.

Early Background

Daniel Lanois was born near Gatineau in Quebec, a French speaking province of Canada. At the age of 10, his family moved to Hamilton, Ontario, where he was forced to adjust to a new area and learn a new language. He has said that he's always felt like an outsider, and believes that these early experiences were largely reponsible for this feeling.

As a French Canadian, Daniel Lanois grew up with strong folk music traditions. He grew up in a very musical family, as his father and grandfather both played violin and the rest of the family often joined in on the performance of traditional folk songs. These performances would often go on late into the night.

As a result of these early experiences, Daniel Lanois feels a great affinity for what he has come to know best: acoustic instruments, traditional melodies and the spontaneity of improvisation.

"I can never get away from tradition, because I like it and because it's a part of me, but I also like experimentation. New sounds, New angles. Because sounds by themselves can pull emotions from a listener. So just a sound is enough to create a mood. Can almost tell a story by itself. If you combined the power of suggestion from sounds, with melody...a story, then you can have something real strong."

Musical Development

Daniel Lanois' musical career began quite early on. Daniel and his brother Bob were always tinkering around with sounds. They had a little tape recorder that they used to play with, recording whatever they could get their hands on. This laid the foundation of his production skills that would continue to develop, as he became more experienced and gained access to better equipment.

Daniel and Bob eventually invested in a 4-track recorder and set up a small but practical studio in the laundry room of their mother's house. They started advertising their service: $60 and they would guarantee any band a demo tape. Not only would Daniel and his brother produce these bands, but they'd also help write and arrange the songs, doing whatever was necessary to help make the music better. As time went on, word got around that Daniel and Bob did an excellent job and the business began to outgrow their minimal facilities.

After Daniel and Bob had established themselves and had a steady stream of clients, they relocated their studio into a bigger space down the hill from their mother's house. Thus began Grant Avenue Studio. They recorded many folk, country and gospel records there, and began to build themselves a reputation as an experienced production team.

It was at Grant Avenue Studio that Daniel Lanois first met Brian Eno. They spent weeks on end experimenting with the manipulation of sounds. Lanois has said that it was a very good time for him to be exposed to that kind of concentration. Ever since then, Brian has been a great friend and teacher for him. He also gave Lanois some important professional opportunities, such as the introduction to the immensely popular band U2.

Producer Extraordinaire

Brian Eno suggested that Daniel Lanois produce U2's "The Unforgettable Fire" album because U2 wanted to develop a custom studio around themselves for this album. Brian told them that Lanois was doing very similar work and that they should meet him.

U2 did meet him and they decided that they liked his approach. This was the beginning of some very high profile production work for him. Word was out that Daniel Lanois was an excellent producer and people wanted to work with him.

Peter Gabriel asked Lanois to work with him on the "Birdy" soundtrack because he had heard that Lanois was an expert at transforming sounds. Peter had a bunch of multitracks that he wanted to rework for the soundtrack and thought that Lanois would be the best person to help him remix them and put them in the new context.

Lanois worked with the Neville Brothers after going to New Orleans as a tourist to explore the music of the area (he feels that the best bass and bottom end in music has come from there). Lanois felt that no one had really been able to capture the energy of their live performances and felt that he could offer them the focus and direction that they needed.

While working with the Neville Brothers on their "Yellow Moon" record, he met with Bob Dylan and played him the cover of Dylan's "God on Our Side" that they were working on recording. Dylan was impressed, and asked Lanois to produce his next record, "Oh Mercy."

"You must know when to stop the record. Too much and then you get more ornament. Too little and it's not what it can be. Record production is about results. It's about capturing performances; maximizing the potential of a song. Someone could walk in with a song on the acoustic guitar. You shouldn't let them overkill it. Maybe it wouldn't be right on an acoustic. Maybe it needs a beat or turbulence. It's about having some kind of idea about the potential of something."

Solo Songwriting

While producing all these records for other people, Lanois began to feel a need to begin writing and recording his own music. His contributions to the works of others were no longer enough to satisfy his need to express himself. He has said that he never thought of his music as being a voice that would speak out what was hidden inside, but he realizes that's what it is.

"What you're holding inside you can be released through a record, through stories. Inspiration can come in the strangest places. Song ideas can come just sort of walking on the street. Like you'll see somebody and you'll think, "what an interesting life they have" and you can actually imagine yourself doing what they do and you sort of fictionize. You imagine a story but then you blend the fiction with something from your own life. And the two can merge into a nice song. I often write like that."

Performing Live

Portland, Oregon - September 19, 1995

Warming up new material for the studio, Daniel Lanois played a cozy show in Portland's SE Belmont area. As anyone might expect from a world class producer and top-notch instrumentalist, his performance showcased not only great songs, but an amazing depth of emotion as well.

The music played over the loudspeakers prior to them coming on stage was a live recording of the Neville Brothers (who ironically played Portland only days later), including Amazing Grace, a track that was slated for the Neville's Yellow Moon record, but ended up closing Lanois' Acadie instead. Lanois' chatted with fans and signed autographs while warming his charm for the show. His band was a 3 piece with bassist Darryl Johnson and drummer Brian Blade, one of the hottest up-and-coming jazz drummers around. Lanois performed with 2 different guitars, a gold-top Gibson Les Paul, a vintage Gibson Firebird, and a mandolin. He played five songs of recognizably new material, some sung in English, some in French, as well an assortment of songs from his two solo records (some in much different arrangements). The show included a thoughtful smattering of cover songs to showcase his influences and contemporaries, playing three songs from Emmylou Harris' Lanois produced Wrecking Ball, Where Will I Be, Nighthawk and the Hendrix cover, May This Be Love. He also covered Love Is Blindness from U2's Actung Baby! (U2) and Dylan's A Hard Rain Gonna Fall before closing the set with an Irish instrumental piece.

Danial Lanois is a moving performer and amazing to watch live. His songs gain new dimension through his story telling abilities--illuminating a new French-Canadian song about love's trials by stopping in the middle to ask, "At this point what will a man do for love?" before removing any doubt with a forceful "Anything!"

From the traditions of French-Canadian folk musicians to Jimi Hendrix's electric guitar experimentalism, Lanois bridges musics through their common thread, powerful emotion. If the new record has even half the energy and soul of his live performance, it will be another essential Lanois record.

official DANIEL LANOIS at: www.daniellanois.com

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