Those attending Daniel Lanois’ show at the Commodore Ballroom on Wednesday night (July 5) might notice a small but significant adornment to the renowned producer’s wardrobe—the Order of Canada pinned to his lapel.
At the time of his phone interview with the Georgia Straight, Lanois—who arguably shaped the sound of the 1980s with his production work on classic albums like U2’s The Joshua Tree, Peter Gabriel’s So, and Bob Dylan’s Oh Mercy—has just received his award. He’s reflecting on his musical journey with a sense of pride that a French-Canadian kid went from recording in his childhood home of Hull, Quebec, to winning Bob Dylan his first Grammy in 1990, and now, being nationally recognized as a lifelong contributor to Canadian culture.
“People are still looking for the magic button to push, asking me ‘what button did you push, Daniel?’” says Lanois. “We can’t take responsibility for talent, but for hard work, I’m ready to accept whatever they’re going to give me.”
Of course, for Lanois, the music is more important than the hardware. But when the hardware represents a contribution to the musical consciousness of thousands of people, it’s well justified to take a moment of happy reflection.
“We’re all looking to create masterpieces,” says Lanois, speaking about U2’s ongoing Joshua Tree Tour, which is selling out across North America 30 years after the album’s release. “We all hope that our records live on, and that’s the sweetest thing when something outlives our own egos.”
Lanois’ catalogue is far from complete, and for a producer who’s most famous for pioneering the sounds of a decade now firmly associated with nostalgia, he’s excited about how technology has pushed live performance and production to new, uncharted places of coexistence.
“It’s all bleeding together for me now,” says Lanois. “Modern times have offered a magic carpet ride.”
This is the first time Lanois has been able to take his studio artistry on the road. He’s especially looking forward to bringing the experience to the Commodore, which he calls one of his favourite rooms in Canada.
Wednesday night’s show promises an aural-visual experience that, according to Lanois, must be seen to be believed. Aside from playing selections off his 2016 steel-guitar heavy instrumental album Goodbye to Language, Lanois and two collaborators will play a mix of classic songs and electronic compositions, accompanied by visual projections and prepared film. Lanois promises an experience that will be technologically driven and visually striking, with a few surprises and “some moments of explosion.”
“It’s a show for anyone who likes excellence,” says Lanois.
As for what he’s listening to now, Lanois is busy juggling a handful of projects, working with artists like Winnipeg’s Venetian Snares, and the contemporary soul group Tinariwen from Mali in West Africa. He’s also a fan of the L.A. hip hop scene, spending time with A$AP Rocky, and praising D’Angelo’s last record as “rhythmically potent.”
“I’m a fan of Rihanna, she’s a powerhouse. I like what Beyoncé’s doing. The pop side of me responds to the girl singers,” says Lanois.
Lanois’ list of desired collaborators stretches far and wide. While he's proud of his Canadian roots, he says the digital age has led to the growth of an international identity in music, where collaboration between people from an array of musical backgrounds is easier than ever.
“Everyone feels like they’re a part of the universe, we’re not so regionally minded,” says Lanois. “You can see what folks are up to and how they live.”
At the moment, Lanois is focused on how that globalized musical potential can activate imaginations in a small, intimate live space. While he’s honoured to look back on his storied history of working with the greats to formulate their masterpieces, he’s also content to carry that tradition to whatever room he’s in at the time—in a recording booth or the stage of Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom.
“I’ve always seen myself as someone who is helpful to others and can provide a glimpse into the unknown for them,” says Lanois. “That’s still going on, whether it’s with Venetian Drums or onstage with my mates.”
“In these shifting times we still make records, but it seems the ultimate destination is the stage.”
Daniel Lanois plays the Commodore Ballroom on Wednesday (July 5).