To most music fans, Daniel Lanois is most familiar as a producer — a seven-time Grammy Award winner for his work with U2 and Bob Dylan, with many others also on his résumé.
But Lanois is a performing musician, too, with a variety of solo albums and film soundtracks to his credit and, now, a new band called Black Dub that recently released its first album and is on the road.
“I’m a studio rat,” confesses Lanois, 59, who was born in Quebec and launched his producing career in a studio he and his brother Bob built in the basement of their mother’s home in Ancaster, Ontario. “I love that arena, and I always will. It’s really a great place of sonic innovation for me.
“But there’s nothing like the stage to tap into one’s resourcefulness. You only get one chance on stage, and you have to look at your ingredients, and that’s three other mates on stage with you. So there’s something fantastic about that moment of paradigm, if you like.
“And I suppose if I didn’t have access to the stage, then my studio work wouldn’t be as good. It’s all about the balance, isn’t it?”
It’s easy to understand why Lanois’ scales tilt toward the production end, of course. He’s shared the Grammy for Album of the Year twice — for Dylan’s “Time Out of Mind” in 1997 and U2’s “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” in 2005. Lanois and cohort Brian Eno were also named Producers of the Year (Non-Classical) in 1992 for their work on U2’s “Achtung Baby” album.
And those are just part of a track record that includes work with Peter Gabriel, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson and, earlier this year, with fellow Canadian native Neil Young on “Le Noise,” whose title is a nod to Lanois, and with Killers frontman Brandon Flowers on his solo album, “Flamingo.” Most of these ventures are chronicled in his new memoir, “Soul Mining: A Musical Life,” which he says is “the story of the unlikely rise of a French Canadian kid ... a one brick at a time story” that accentuates the positive over the sensational.
“There’s no dirt or gossip in the book,” Lanois notes. “It’s really about the creativity. I describe my encounters with some very, very powerful brains and some incredible imaginations I’ve been associated with ... but it’s mostly about the fire that burns inside, and the creative process.”
Black Dub is certainly a product of that passion, part of a performing lineage that started with his first album, “Acadie,” in 1989 and also hails from another past association. Lanois had befriended and done work with the late singer-songwriter Chris Whitley and recently ran into his now 23-year-old daughter Trixie in Belgium, where she resides.
“She slipped me a CD of what she was doing,” Lanois recalls, “and I was impressed with her ability and her gift. She has grown up into quite a powerful artistic and singing force. So we recorded a song called ‘I Believe in You’ and knocked the vocal out in one take.
“I took that as a sign to embrace the situation and start this band.”
Lanois recruited well-credentialed drummer Brian Blade and Daryl Johnson on bass (though Johnson, who battles various substance addictions, does not tour with Black Dub), fusing together rock, R&B, gospel and Jamaican dub styles into a sound and creating what Lanois calls “a great vehicle for me to go after some music that I’ve not been able to chase after on my own solo records.”
“There’s sounds on there that, if you listen closely, you might scratch your head about how Lanois did it,” he adds with a chuckle. “But that’s my technique. You can think of it like you’ve just made the most beautiful suit, and now it’s time to put the pocket on. It’s not an overdub; it’s a variation on a theme, on an already existing component.”
The key, Lanois says, is that these sonic tricks are designed to serve the songs rather than simply dazzle for the sake of it.
“I like for things to be related,” he explains, “and I think by following this fundamental rule of not allowing a foreign body into the work, they will always be genetically connected, somehow.”
Lanois considers Black Dub’s self-titled debut album to be just the beginning. He and Blade are also working on an instrumental album, but Lanois foresees more touring for the band in 2011 and is already talking about bringing the rest of Black Dub down to his home in Jamaica, where he’ll “be hammering out a few tunes for the next (group) record” during the holidays.
“We’re going to keep our nose to the grindstone with Black Dub for a while,” he promises. “We all feel like there’s something special going on here that we need to pursue and nurture and develop. I’ve always done my best work in collaboration with others, anyway, so it’s great to have yet another avenue to do that with.”
Daniel Lanois’ Black Dub and Rocco Deluca perform Monday, Nov. 22, at the Magic Stick, 4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 day of show. Call 313-833-9700 or visit www.majesticdetroit.com.
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