Feb
26
2002

The Other U2 Grammy Connection


26 February 2002
The Other U2 Grammy Connection
Canada's Daniel Lanois could also win Wednesdays, writes Greg Quill of the Toronto Star.

And in a revealing interview, Lanois, co-producer of All That You Can't Leave Behind, also throws light on the earliest moments of Beautiful Day: "On the last U2 album, we'd just about finished one whole piece, when The Edge started blazing away on his guitar, making a sound like shattering metal, while Bono was ad-libbing over the end section of the song. Suddenly, Bono shouted out, `It's a beautiful day!' and in an instant, a minor fragment of improvisation at the back end of one song became something much bigger and more important, more emotionally powerful than what had gone before.

"We dumped the original song, built another one around that fragment, and re-cut it. And `Beautiful Day' became an anthem.'

..........

Nudging 50, but still projecting a waif-like, lost-boy vulnerability, Daniel Lanois squirms with embarrassment when he contemplates yet more Grammy nominations. He's up for Record of the Year and Album of the Year on Wednesday for his work on U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind, plus he is to be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame at the Juno Awards in April.

The multi-award-winning Canadian music producer is arguably the most influential and sought-after recording studio auteur of his time, with a list of credits that includes the best work by U2, Peter Gabriel, Willie Nelson, Robbie Robertson, the Neville Brothers, Emmylou Harris and an assertively reconstituted Bob Dylan.

At a stopover in Toronto on his way to a business meeting in Montreal earlier this week, the intense, contemplative singer-songwriter in his own right is rehearsing a couple of his own songs in a downtown hotel room in preparation for a live-to-tape performance later in the day at MuchMusic. Large sheets of paper with carefully blocked lyrics and chord notations are strewn around his feet. An ancient Gibson acoustic guitar, a sorely abused instrument with a cracked deck rescued from a pawnshop in a town Lanois can't remember, leans against a chair. Several times in the next hour, he'll pick it up and strum it affectionately.

"I can only accept it as a compliment, as encouragement, and that's great," Lanois says of the looming Junos lifetime achievement nod. Big, black eyes and a self-conscious smile shine from beneath a toque drawn tightly over his head and ears, down to his eyebrows.

"But ... well, I thought I was just getting started."

There's not much of a scheme in Lanois' meandering career. All he ever wanted to be, from his early childhood in Hull, Que., was a guitar player, he says. But his curiosity about how music works and the ways sound can be manipulated to create "emotional documents" sidetracked him in his teens, when he started recording gospel music for his mother's church friends with his brother, Robert, in the basement of their home in Hamilton where the family had moved in the late 1960s. A decade later, the brothers were running their own small recording outfit, Grant Avenue Studios, something of an anomaly in a city where steel production and auto manufacturing were the major, maybe the only, occupations.

Because their rates were lower than those imposed by big-name studios in Toronto, and because word spread among the musical community that the Lanois brothers had set up an organic, creative cocoon in Hamilton, Grant Avenue soon attracted more than its share of local talent. Parachute Club started there, as did Martha and The Muffins, roots rocker Ray Materick and children's music star Raffi.

Diverted from his own musical path by the mechanics of recording, and disdainful of doing things the way they had always been done, Lanois began experimenting with the guts of his recording apparatus, "putting components together in defiance of manufacturers' recommendations, coaxing the equipment to behave in ways that weren't intended," he says. With Parachute Club drummer/composer Billy Bryans, he began creating the layered, resonant landscapes of "ambient sound" that would later become the Daniel Lanois trademark.

When one of those tapes found its way to avant-garde British composer/producer/ Brian Eno, who took Lanois on as engineer on a project he'd begun with fledgling Irish rock band U2, his reputation as a producer/engineer with extraordinary patience and intuition shot him almost overnight into the rock 'n'roll stratosphere. His dream of being a musician and songwriter was pushed well and truly aside for almost two decades, notwithstanding two solo albums (the folksy Acadie and For The Beauty Of Wynona) and several evocative movie soundtracks (Sling Blade, Birdy, 9 1/2 Weeks, Blown Away and Trainspotting).

Then suddenly, a couple of months ago, Lanois announced in the Los Angeles Times his decision to turn down producing work for the foreseeable future. He's making another album of his own music, his first since 1993 "maybe I'll do two or three," he says before he'll work again for other artists.

"I'm a musician first. I can never get that out of my system. Songs are forming in my head all the time. And when they're ready to be heard, that's when I have to get them down on record, get out and play. And I can't do that while I'm producing someone else for two years at a time."

It's a formidable step. As a performer, Lanois is a relatively unknown quantity, though his solo albums, as simple and uncluttered as his productions for others are often complex and expansive, have received universal critical acclaim. He has shared stages with such luminaries as Sting and Elton John, and has moved shell-shocked rock audiences with his understated delivery and subtle, delicate songs, many of them flavoured with nuances of Quebec folk music and patois. But he's no concert star, not yet.

"I've been the extra band member in just about every session I've ever produced," he explains. "My method is to learn to play the songs, to get into the arrangements, understand how they work, and, in most cases, to play extra guitar parts. I've been learning as I go. It's time to make a move on my own..."

...some songs don't begin until they're finished, he says.

"On the last U2 album, we'd just about finished one whole piece, when The Edge started blazing away on his guitar, making a sound like shattering metal, while Bono was ad-libbing over the end section of the song. Suddenly, Bono shouted out, `It's a beautiful day!' and in an instant, a minor fragment of improvisation at the back end of one song became something much bigger and more important, more emotionally powerful than what had gone before.

"We dumped the original song, built another one around that fragment, and re-cut it. And `Beautiful Day' became an anthem.

Read the whole of this interview at www.thestar.com
This article is tagged to:
Awards, Collaborations