Daniel Lanois, producer to musical greats, enjoys some me time
BY JEFF ELBEL June 16, 2013 10:14PM
When: 6:30 p.m. Monday
Where: Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park, 201 E. Randolph
Updated: July 18, 2013 6:40AM
Canadian musician Daniel Lanois is most often introduced in terms of his Grammy-winning production work for other artists. Notable clients include U2, Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel, Emmylou Harris and Neil Young. Lanois’ haunting musical textures, however, also have won him a devoted following of his own.
Fortunately for those fans, Lanois is embarking upon a busy phase dedicated to his solo material. “I’m prepared to go 13 rounds for the right thing, but I’m counting my summers,” says the 61-year-old Lanois with a laugh. “I’ve been saying no to production requests.”
This week, Lanois is encamped in Chicago for a string of special events. On Sunday, Lanois appeared at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Lincoln Square. Prior to performing with his trio, Lanois introduced short films by Belgian filmmaker Nicolas Provost.
“It’s just to have a little bit of visual excitement before people look at my mug,” says Lanois. The screenings were accompanied by recordings of Lanois’ ambient “prepared music” pieces.
On Monday, Lanois performs in the city’s Downtown Sound series of free concerts. With multi-instrumentalist Jim Wilson and drummer Steve Nistor, Lanois will play music spanning his solo career and recent side project Black Dub. Hymnal pop singles like “The Messenger” from 1993’s “For the Beauty of Wynona” album will be presented alongside otherworldly pedal steel pieces like those from 2005’s instrumental album “Belladonna.”
The set also is expected to introduce material from a solo project due in early 2014. “The new record will largely be instrumental, but it’s going to have a couple of vocal songs on it,” says Lanois. “Poetry doesn’t live far away from instrumental music. There are quite beautiful harmonies on one song called ‘You Are Wonder.’ ”
Lanois is also developing an “ambient music installation.”
“We’re using Toronto as the testing ground,” he says. “Some of the music is rhythmically driven, and some of it is more vaporized, revisiting the work that I did with Brian Eno in the early ’80s. It makes for a fascinating sit-down. I imagine that people would like to congregate in a room with this music and try to raise the spirit, and bring some of the dignity back into the night. People can hang out a little bit, with some comfortable couches and some drinks and some chocolates.”
The soulful music in Lanois’ catalog is characterized both by its rough, handmade edges and by creative manipulation of electronics.
“It’s still walking that line, with technology on one side and flesh on the other,” says Lanois. “Every now and again, I get lucky and it works together. I look for those kind of moments.”
Lanois will present a Behind the Glass lecture at Shure Inc. in Niles for the Chicago chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences at 6 p.m. Tuesday (registration required; free to NARAS members, $25 to public; tinyurl.com/LanoisBTG).
At this point, he’s unsure what direction his speech will take. “I’ll just show up and try to be informative and charming,” says Lanois with a laugh.
On June 1, Lanois was presented with the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, a Canadian recognition comparable to the United States’ Kennedy Center Honors. “I think they were very proud that against all odds, a French Canadian kid from Steeltown would rise to the top of the field,” says Lanois. “It’s a rags-to-riches type of story.”
The third annual Greenbelt Harvest Picnic music festival takes place at Christie Lake near Hamilton, Ont., on Aug. 31. Lanois will again co-curate the event, with a lineup including previous studio collaborators Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, Trixie Whitley and Rocco DeLuca.
“I’m certainly going to get up and play with Emmylou Harris,” says Lanois, enthusiastically. “We love playing and singing together. Neil Young’s with Crazy Horse, so he might be a self-contained unit. I might drop him a note and see if he needs a steel player on a song.”
Jeff Elbel is a local free-lance writer.