Daniel Lanois is a name that deserves to be mentioned alongside the finest sonic experimenters of the 20th century – and the 21st century too. Whatever you're listening to – whether it be acoustic or electronic, roots or futurist, underground or pop – if you listen closely you'll hear traces of the sonic signatures of Daniel Lanois. And what's more he's still experimenting as eagerly as he ever has. At a point when most musicians with anything resembling his level of success would be resting on their laurels and playing on old successes, he still has more hunger for the new than people a third his age, and as a result is creating music as beautiful and new as ever before.
Daniel grew up in Hull, Quebec. His family was not well off, but there was a strong musical foundation from the beginning: his father played fiddle, his mother sung, and there were regular family gatherings where live music was at the centre of things. As his childhood went on, he soaked up Motown, R&B and rock'n'roll, then the psychedelic explosion, and by the time high school was approaching, he was already fixed on music as the only game worth pursuing.
From the very beginning, Daniel built a reputation with local musicians as someone who could work the studio but thought as a musician, and this steadily spread across Canada, as he moved to bigger premises and bigger jobs. The 1970s were spent as a journeyman producer, honing his technical skills – until towards the end of the decade, his reputation reached the ears of Brian Eno who recruited him to help with his Ambient series of albums.
The work they did on those albums together, and with musicians like keyboardist Harold Budd, has entered into legend. They perfected the idea of studio-as-instrument, making every part of the production an integral component of the overall texture, and striking the perfect balance between avant-garde experimentation and straightforward pleasure in sound that Daniel has continued to pursue in everything he's done since then. Daniel's well-grounded, no-nonsense approach to the studio proved to be the ideal counterpoint to Eno's cerebral flights of fancy – with common ground in their shared mischievous love of spontaneity. The Ambient albums reached a culmination in 1983's Apollo, in which Daniel's slide guitar glides through the soundscapes, evoking the weightlessness of space. These sounds have continued inspiring ambient and electronica experimenters ever since, from The KLF's epoch-defining Chill Out in 1990 through untold dancefloor and downbeat records right up to the present day.
And Daniel continued to experiment too. Though his connection with Eno would lead him onto working on some of the biggest selling records of the time, by megastars as big as U2 and Peter Gabriel, his approach in the studio was always as exploratory as when he was making the Ambient albums. Indeed, often this is what would make his productions so unique: there was never a formula, just a determination to find the right approach for the right artist. He and Eno helped bring the electronic music culture that they themselves had helped to inspire into U2's Achtung Baby.
This refusal to sit still, this constant hunger for new ideas and techniques, has defined Daniel's solo work too. Though his albums have been few and far between, everyone has dug deep for inspiration and roamed widely in its sound and style. Most recently, he has hit a rich creative seam, and on the rhythmically complex Flesh and Machine and now on the gorgeous, weightless Goodbye to Language, he is going all the way with that experimentation. On both of these records he connects the most forward-looking instincts that constant contact with studio technology can develop with the natural rootedness that only a lifetime in music can give a person.
When a musician with as much expertise and experience as Daniel tells their own personal truth, you should really listen closely.