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10 novembre 2008

Daniel Lanois brings his eclectic style to the stage

Lynn Saxberg,, Thursday, October 24, 2008

Daniel Lanois plays a number of Ontario dates in the weeks ahead, but the Quebec-born musician has recently been busy working on U2's upcoming album. It's "very sophisticated, rhythmically," Lanois hints. "I think we've just done something that's never been done before. The president of the company is singing like a bird." (Getty Images)

Daniel Lanois is at a creative peak these days -- his brain not only brimming with the latest U2 licks, but also casting back 20 years to reflect on the shaping of his first solo album, Acadie.

A repackaged version of his 1989 debut is in stores this month. Lanois made himself available for a phone interview from New York City, where he was working with Bono and the lads on the next U2 disc.

Will it be another Achtung Baby, or more like How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb? We were supposed to be talking about Acadie, but couldn't resist pressing for hints about Lanois' most famous clients. U2 is due to release the new disc next year.

"It's very sophisticated, rhythmically," said a coy Lanois. "I'm talking high-grade and wicked. We've gotten to a place, a combination of myself and (Brian) Eno, I think we've just done something that's never been done before. The president of the company is singing like a bird."

While Lanois is renowned for the lush sonic landscapes he creates for other artists, his solo debut, Acadie, was a collection of simple story-songs in French and in English, some of the melodic snippets recalled from family gatherings in Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec.

"I like that about my Canadian self," says the 57-year-old musician, "that Canadian ability to tell a story in song. I always sort of had a tug of war, because my studio laboratory is where my sonics are born and I get very excited about my experiments. But then I'm quite a traditionalist; I like it when a song tells a story. That's the duality I'm working with."

One of four children born across the river from Ottawa in Hull, Que., to Gilberte (Jill) and Guy, a carpenter, Lanois spent the first part of his childhood exploring the area around his parents' home. Many of the memories Lanois has of his French-Canadian roots involve music and family.

"There was a lot of hooting and hollering in the French-Canadian neighbourhoods," he recalls. "My father had relatives in Cornwall, (Ont.) so there were big gatherings in Cornwall -- there was shouting and the violins would come out. It was a self-entertaining operation, and I liked that about it. It didn't look to the outside world too much to have a good time."

The good times changed when Lanois' parents split up, and his mother packed up the children and drove to Hamilton, where her brother owned a bar and a rooming house. Not long after the move, Lanois decided he wanted to play clarinet, an urge he says probably occurred to him because he'd seen one on TV. One Saturday, while headed to the movies with a dollar in his pocket, he spotted a penny whistle in a store. The youngster thought it looked like a clarinet, so he handed over his movie money.

"I just played that little whistle until I made everyone crazy, and then I thought I'd like to play guitar like Elvis Presley," he says.

In another twist of fate, a salesman later came to the door offering a music program that taught slide guitar to children. To Lanois' delight, his mom signed him up. He had to walk a mile into the centre of town every week, but he loved it. "I kept going from there. I'm still a slide guitar player."

Lanois went on to open a studio with his brother, Bob, in Hamilton. Daniel's production work caught the ears of former Roxy Music synth man Brian Eno, who tracked him down, then moved into their studio to record a series of ambient albums. Eno also introduced the young Canadian to such people as Bono and Peter Gabriel. In Lanois' recent autobiographical film, Here Is What Is, he portrays the enigmatic Brit as a mentor.

Surprisingly, piano didn't enter Lanois' life until a couple of years ago. He learned to play after restoring an old, seven-foot Steinway grand piano he found in New York City and moved to his home in L.A.

"Just the beauty of that instrument and the commitment that went into the building of it, and the restoration of it, due to my efforts. Everything about it exudes commitment and beauty and respect for the past and an eye for the future," he says. "Everything I stand for lives in that instrument."

Although the illustrious ivories are inspiring Lanois to compose his own modern classics, he has no plans to record an entire piano disc. "It will make its way into my work as a flavour," he says.

However, Lanois is working on a new, as yet untitled solo project that he refers to as The Unknown. He describes the music as "very abstract and based on technology," adding that it "embraces my studio bravado."

As with the new U2 material, he says the music has a "rhythmic sophistication," a fascination sparked for him by American neo-soul artist D'Angelo, whose 2000 album, Voodoo, earned two Grammy Awards.

"D'Angelo did some beautiful rhythmic work that always made an impression on me, and I feel that I've entered the world of D'Angelo with the U2 work, but also with this rhythmic work of mine."

Back to Acadie, which marked the first time Lanois sat down to express himself as an artist. Then 38, he was already a highly regarded producer who had not only worked with bestselling Canadian acts such as Martha and the Muffins and Parachute Club, but also international acts such as U2, Robbie Robertson, Eno and Gabriel. His first Bob Dylan disc, Oh Mercy, came out the same year as Acadie.

"I had pretty much been a journeyman, and I had reached a place where I was very highly skilled in my studio, plus a few lucky breaks had come my way," he says.

"It was a nice vote of confidence for finding something that you believe in and sticking with it and hoping that it rises to the surface somehow. And that's exactly what happened with me.

"And then when I got to travel, I started seeing my roots as a song opportunity, a storytelling opportunity. That's when I wrote my novel, if you like. Everyone in their due time, I suppose. Some people are 18 years old and going to tell their rock 'n' roll story. I waited a little bit."

Twenty years later, he's still at it.

Daniel Lanois' Canadian Tour Dates:

October 24, Ottawa

October 25, Belleville, Ont.

November 6, London, Ont.

November 7, Mount Forest, Ont.

November 8, Parry Sound, Ont.

November 14, Toronto

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