Bringing out greatness part of Daniel Lanois's workday

Karla Hayward
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Musician and music producer Daniel Lanois will perform in St. John's Oct. 16. Submitted photo

We often forget just how many people contribute to the making of a hit album. The band alone doesn't carry the weight of a record's fate. There's the input of the producer, for one, and it shouldn't be underestimated.
Daniel Lanois is a master producer, as well as an accomplished musician in his own right. He's worked on albums for some of the world's greatest musicians, including U2, Peter Gabriel, Bob Dylan and many, many more.
It's oft been said that the albums he's worked on tend to be among a band's best, such as U2's "The Joshua Tree" and Dylan's "Oh Mercy." Industry opinion says he's simply able to draw out the best in people. So, how does he do it?
"I wait. I sit and wait. I'm patient. I call it spotting. Through a workday, there will be standouts. … I see them and I document them through the day. I'm very dedicated to my journals and workbooks. … It's not a lot different than understanding lines and curves to make beautiful architecture or clothing; you want to optimize a certain kind of line for a certain kind of musician. And that's it. It's just assembling the best ingredients and trying to serve the project by throwing the ingredients back at them," he explains.

Recorded on film
Many of those workday moments have been captured in a documentary Lanois debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2007, called "Here Is What Is."
Co-produced by Adam Vollick, the film shows footage captured during the recording of Lanois's album of the same name.
It also features some of Lanois's frequent collaborators like U2, Billy Bob Thorton, Brian Eno, Emmylou Harris and Brian Blade.
Lanois says the documentary was intended to "see if we could capture part of the creative process." Through it, he says they, "Crossed into the U2 world at one end of the spectrum and we also crossed into the Zion Baptist church world at the other end. … Just to display that great music, great singing, can sometimes come from the neighbourhood, from the church, and that's certainly where Brian Blade learned to play the drums and where I came up, singing in a choir."
The name of the video and record come from a Jamaican saying, "Which simply means you don't need to look too far way because the riches are probably under your feet. And you can start with the gift of the human voice. Without any instruments, without any training, you can look to the sky and sing," Lanois says.

Getting an early start
Lanois began in the music industry at an age when most of us were mostly concerned with dating the opposite sex and avoiding skin breakouts.
"When I was 14, I went for a rowboat ride with my uncle Paul and I told him that I had lost faith in the system. I saw a direction that I believed in and I wanted to dedicate myself fully to music. And I wanted to quit school. A normal uncle would have said, 'You're crazy, stay in school.' But my uncle said, 'I say you follow your instinct and go for the music 100 per cent.' We rowed back to shore and that was it."
From there, he became a "studio rat" and eventually he and brother, Bob Lanois, began producing music from a studio in their mother's basement. The rest, as they say, is history.

Famous influences
Asked whether he's ever irritated that the careers of the bands he produces generate so much more attention than his own music, Lanois is matter of fact.
"That's OK. One feeds the other. We might not be coming to St. John's if we were only playing the Air Canada Centre."
And he admits that the music he produces influences the music he creates.
"That's just human nature. It's almost by osmosis. … It's a two-way street. I always come out of a project with new exciting knowledge, and I leave knowledge behind for my friends to do what they want with."
Daniel Lanois will perform at Club One on Thursday, Oct. 16 at 8 p.m. He will be joined by bassist Marcus Blake, guitarist Jim Wilson and drummer Steven Nistor.

Organizations: Zion Baptist church, Air Canada Centre

Geographic location: Joshua Tree, Toronto, St. John's

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