THE MAN WITH
THE MIDAS TOUCH
Whether producing Neil Young, U2, and Bob Dylan, or shaping
mysterious guitar textures in Black Dub, Daniel Lanois uses
soul and sonic alchemy to create some of the most beautiful
and distinctive sounds in rock.
BY CHARLES SAUFLE Y
Beyond considerations of genre, style,
or age, Daniel Lanois will ultimately be
counted among the most creative, original,
and resourceful artists to sit behind a mixing desk. His triumphs are legendary—U2’s
The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby (
co-pro-duced with Brian Eno), Peter Gabriel’s So,
and Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind—and he
has added color, immediacy, and intriguing
atmospherics to records by Willie Nelson,
Emmylou Harris, and Robbie Robertson.
This year, he tackled one of rock’s most coveted production gigs—manning the controls
for a Neil Young album that Lanois says will
deliver some of Young’s most unexpected
and enormous electric-guitar sounds ever.
If Lanois has a knack for guitar tones, it’s
because he’s also an exceptionally inventive
player. Solo efforts like The Beauty of Wynona
and the soundtrack to Billy Bob Thornton’s
Sling Blade showcase Lanois’ masterful sense
of touch, space, and composition, and his
dark and haunting Belladonna reveals a
remarkably expressive pedal-steel technique.
In his latest project—a band called Black
Dub—Lanois explores music in the context of an ensemble. Working with vocalist Trixie Whitley, master drummer Brian
Blade, and bassist Daryl Johnson, Lanois
has forged a somber, celebratory, and
groove-heavy sound. The band’s debut
album, Black Dub, frames Whitley’s expressive vocals in a spacious sonic environment
that’s quintessentially Lanois.
Fresh from receiving clearance from his
doctor to tour after recovering from a
motorcycle accident that broke 10 bones,
the modest, soft-spoken, genial, and
gentlemanly Lanois chatted with Premier
Guitar about getting big results from lean
production, capturing unique tones, and
how he crafts some of the spookiest guitar
sounds in the business.
Though you produce contemporary
music, you draw inspiration from timeless
musical sources. What sounds turned you
on in your formative years?
Coming up in Hamilton, Ontario, the
radio was my source of knowledge. The
Motown thing was happening. I also liked
surf music a lot—especially its story-telling
aspect. I was into the Surfari’s “Wipe
Out,” but I really like the flip side, “Surfer
Joe.” For a kid who hadn’t traveled much,
Surfer Joe sounded like a pretty cool
character. When music got psychedelic, I
was fascinated with the sonic experimentations. I started getting the impression
that there were no boundaries and you
could go after whatever you were dreaming about. I’ve been operating that way
Did any guitar players from that period
make an impression?
Jimi Hendrix was probably the most visible.
He’s still one of the greats for me—maybe
the greatest. I heard “Foxy Lady” and
thought, “That’s where I want to go.” I also
really like the instrumental music of the late
’50s, like Santo and Johnny.