DANIEL LANOIS at the Winter Garden Theatre (189 Yonge), Friday and Saturday (June 10 and 11). $45.50. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
When Quebecois big-name producer Daniel Lanois met with Paul Martin and Bono some months back, he laid out a plan to save the Canadian music industry. And you know, it's not bad.
"I suggested why not do what the Irish do?" he explains over the horn from his temporary house in a Mediterranean-style villa in L.A. "Which is, don't charge taxes on publishing royalties. It's good for artists, and as an added bonus, somebody living in New York might move to Toronto after saying, 'I'm sick of paying taxes on my publishing income.' Suddenly, Wynton Marsalis is at the table.
"That means Canada has just become a good competitor," says Lanois, the man on the other side of the glass during sessions for Peter Gabriel's So and Bob Dylan's Oh Mercy and who was inducted into the Walk of Fame last Sunday (June 5).
"So not only have you got Canadian artists living at home, but now - want to play better trumpet? Might be nice to play with Wynton. We choose to remain oblivious to that kind of thinking."
Lanois says that, like Jim Carrey, he escaped such obliviousness. His Ace Ventura moment, then, would be the breakthrough relationship he forged with Brian Eno in Hamilton, of all places, at the dawn of the 80s.
It's a time he remembers fondly, but as another image-enhancing opportunity squandered by a Canadian system slower than cold maple syrup.
"Brian Eno was in Hamilton for five years in between doing Talking Heads and Devo, and he's working with Bowie. 'He's in Hamilton!?'" enacts Lanois incredulously. "'What! Where's the mayor?' 'Oh, I think he's busy scrutinizing some grant forms for the puppet show. Don't worry about Eno, that bald-headed fuck - we're getting a $900 grant for a puppet show. '"
Regardless of the lack of zeal for Eno, things still worked out all right for Lanois. During the time Eno was living at Lanois's place, the two toyed with sound, and the result was a series of ambient records. According to Lanois, "In some circles that body of work is regarded as a force."
Lanois's newest album, Belladonna, harkens back to those albums from the Eno sessions, he says, both in terms of form and philosophy. He says it exemplifies the courage to operate outside the current commercial confines.
But after co-producing five multi-platinum U2 albums (including their latest, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb), as well as having a hand on material by N'Dea Davenport, Emmylou Harris and Ron Sexsmith and composing the noteworthy Sling Blade soundtrack, he's in a comfortable position to operate outside said confines.
Good thing, too. Belladonna is a calm, captivating listen - so much so that it gives you the feeling that the album is actually listening to you. It's minimal, mournful and gently hopeful, with a more western than Latin influence. Belladonna's protagonist, Lanois's pedal-steel, is produced so immaculately, you can picture its strings gleaming in the sunlight of the Baja Peninsula, where the album was recorded.
Something more upbeat, then, would have been better to play at the hypothetical all-star party Lanois wanted to throw when he was here a couple of weeks ago.
"When I was working in Toronto making the Dashboard Confessional record, Nelly Furtado was a stone's throw away from the studio working on her record," he says excitedly. "Jim Sheridan, my Irish-American friend, was in town directing the 50 Cent movie, and Jimmy Iovine flew in, because he's the matchmaker now, and Jimmy hooked up Danny with Dashboard Confessional, he hooked up Jim Sheridan with 50 Cent. All this is happening in Toronto while Nelly Furtado is working on her album.
"Let's rent the top of the Four Seasons. Let's not let this pass. Don't wait for the Walk of Fame stuff - let the word be heard, brother! Tonight! It's OK! You don't have to wait for the grant application!"