Rolling Stone magazine once called Daniel Lanois “the most important record producer to emerge in the eighties.” The vast majority of music lovers will second this, and it can be argued that Lanois was also the most important record producer of the nineties. From the perspective of the 21st century, the Canadian is undoubtedly one of the most important record producers of all time.
Lanois’ production work with Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel, U2, Bob Dylan, Neville Brothers, Emmylou Harris, Robbie Robertson, Willie Nelson, Neil Young, and many others, has yielded countless classic albums, that continue to stand the tests of time. In addition to this, Lanois also enjoyed and continues to enjoy a successful career as an artist, expressed in solo albums, or in collaborations.
Daniel Lanois was born on Sep 19, 1951, in Hull, Quebec. The family was poor, but their house filled with music, and the youngster was steeped in the traditional folk music of Canada, as well as the pop music of the day. As a teenager he set up a studio with his older brother Bob in the basement of their mother’s home in Ancaster, Ontario. The two recorded many local artists, and developed a reputation for their musical as well as technical skills, and their eagerness for sonic experimentation.
Lanois continued working as a producer in his twenties, with acts like Martha and the Muffins (in which his sister Jocelyne played bass), Ray Materick, Spoons, and many more. In 1981, when Lanois was already 30, Brian Eno heard his work and invited him to contribute as an engineer to Eno’s solo album Ambient 4: On Land (1982).
Eno and Lanois found that they had similar attitudes to music and to using the studio as an instrument, rather than a technical facility. It laid the foundations for a decades-long collaboration. Lanois also contributed, as a musician, producer and composer, to Eno albums like Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks (1983), with Lanois playing slide guitar, The Pearl (1984, a collaboration with Harold Budd), and Thursday Afternoon (1985).
In 1983, U2 invited Brian Eno to produce their four studio album, despite resistance from Chris Blackwall of Island Records, who feared the Briton would “bury them under a layer of avant-garde nonsense.” Eno in turn invited Lanois to engineer and co-produce the album with him. The result, The Unforgettable Fire (1984), became one of the biggest albums of the decade.
His work on The Unforgettable Fire put Lanois on the mainstream map, and after working with more leftfield artists like Michael Brook, Roger Eno and Jon Hassell, he was invited by Peter Gabriel to work on the singer’s fifth album, which became So (1986). It was the most commercially successful album of Gabriel’s career, with classic singles like “Sledgehammer” and “Don’t Give Up,” and it was nominated for a Grammy Award for Album of the Year.
Following this, Eno and Lanois produced another classic album, U2’s The Joshua Tree (1987), which won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year. At this point, it seemed as if Lanois could not put a foot wrong, and an endless stream of critically acclaimed albums followed.
Some of them were relatively obscure, like Jon Hassel/Farfina’s Flash Of The Spirit (1988), but other Lanois productions were commercially very successful, like Robbie Robertson’s self-titled debut solo album (1987), Bob Dylan’s Oh Mercy (1989), The Neville Brothers Yellow Moon (1989), U2’s Achtung Baby (1991) and Peter Gabriel’s Us (1992). Achtung Baby won Eno and Lanois a Producer of the Year Grammy Award, and Oh Mercy is widely regarded as marking a triumphant reinvention and revival of Dylan’s career.
In 1989, Lanois had kickstarted his solo career, with his highly regarded debut solo album Acadie, which highlighted his skills as a guitarist, vocalist and song writer. The album had a strong acoustic flavour, but also drew on the ambient sonic experimentation he had pioneered alone and with Eno.
More stellar and widely lauded productions by Lanois followed during the nineties, including of Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball (1995), Bob Dylan’s Time Out Of Mind (1997, it won an Album Of The Year Grammy Award), and Willie Nelson’s Teatro (1998).
The new century began with the classic U2 album, All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000), co-produced again with Eno, which earned three Grammy Awards, for Best Rock Album, and two Record of the Year Awards for the singles, “Beautiful Day” and “Walk On.”
As the century progressed, there were more major productions. Lanois contributed to the Steve Lillywhite-produced U2’s How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb (2004, it won eight Grammy Awards), and the Lillywhite, Eno and Lanois co-produced No Line On The Horizon (2009, which was nominated for two Grammy Awards.
There were more important productions, by Brandon Flowers, Neil Young and Rocco Deluca, but overall there was a sense of Lanois winding down his production activities in favour of his work as an artist.
Lanois had released his second solo album, For The Beauty of Wynona, which contained the classic song “The Maker,” in 1993. Following this he wrote the soundtrack for the movie Sling Blade, which was released in 1996.
In the 21C century there have been a slew of albums on which Lanois appears as an artist, including solos albums like Shine (2003), Belladonna (2005), Here Is What Is (2007), Flesh and Machine (2014), and Goodbye To Language (2016), and collaborative albums like Black Dub (2010, a band album by Black Dub), Venetian Snares x Daniel Lanois (2018, a collaboration with Venetian Snares), and most recently, Heavy Sun (2021, a band album).
Lanois’ work as an artist spans the entire, widespread range of his career, from the traditional musical roots from his childhood to the sonic experimentation of his teenage years and with Eno, and includes elements of all the genres he works in, whether rock, folk, pop, R&B, blues, soul, world music, avant-garde, and more.
* Early 1970s Recorded local artists with brother Bob in studio in basement of mother’s home in (Bob died in 2021)
* 1976 – Started Grant Avenue studios in Hamilton, Ontario. Worked with Martha and the Muffins in 1981.
* 1982 – Start working with Brian Eno on Eno’s solo albums
* 1984 – Eno invites Lanois to coproduce U2’s The Unforgettable Fire
* 1987 – coproduces The Joshua Tree
Won seven Grammy Awards in total
The Unforgettable Fire – U2, 1984
Thursday Afternoon – Brian Eno, 1985
Hybrid – Michael Brook, 1985
Birdy – Peter Gabriel, 1985
Voices – Roger Eno, 1985
So – Peter Gabriel, 1986
The Joshua Tree – U2, 1987
Robbie Robertson – Robbie Robertson, 1987
Acadie – Daniel Lanois, 1989
Oh Mercy – Bob Dylan, 1989
Yellow Moon – Neville Brothers, 1989
Achtung Baby – U2, 1991
Us – Peter Gabriel, 1992
For the Beauty of Wynona – Daniel Lanois, 1993
Wrecking Ball – Emmylou Harris, 1995
Time Out of Mind – Bob Dylan, 1997
Teatro – Willie Nelson, 1998
All That You Can’t Leave Behind – U2, 2000
La Bella Vista – Harold Budd, 2003 (secretly recorded in Lanois Los Angeles living room)
Stumble into Grace – Emmylou Harris, 2003
How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb – U2, 2004 (track “Love and Peace or Else”)
No Line on the Horizon – U2, 2009 (plus songwriting credits).
Flamingo – Brandon Flowers, 2010.
Le Noise – Neil Young, 2010.
Black Dub solo album, 2010
Battle Born – The Killers, 2012 (co-writer on tracks “The Way It Was”, “Heart of a Girl”, and “Be Still”).
Heavy Sun solo album, 2021
Watch the full interview with Daniel Lanoir Below