If Daniel Lanois had to name his closest friend, you might assume he'd name any one of a number of high-profile musicians — the guys in U2, Robbie Robertson, Peter Gabriel, Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris or Willie Nelson — whom he's produced in the past few decades. But the 53-year-old musician, producer and recent Canada's Walk Of Fame inductee, says he turns to his slide guitar most often for emotional support. "It's a reliable friend that's always with me, and I trust that friend," Lanois says prior to his appearance at the Winter Garden Theatre tomorrow and Saturday to plug his just-released fifth solo effort, Belladonna. (He'll also do an in-store performance at Sam the Record Man, 347 Yonge St., tomorrow at 3 p.m.) "I think people get in a real specific mood when they hear what they call my sound. They get transported to a place — an emotional place, if you like."
In his teens, he would often hang out in downtown Toronto, performing at one of several clubs along Yonge Street at the time. "In between my sets, I'd run over to this club — the Edison — where they showcased country music," Lanois says. "I'd see this great steel guitar player named Bob Lucier and loved the way he played. I later met him and he agreed to teach me how to play. And I've been with the instrument ever since."
At the same time he and his brother Bob were establishing themselves as studio wizards in Hamilton, Lanois caught the attention of King Crimson/Roxy Music keyboardist Brian Eno, who offered Lanois more lessons on guitar and how to create studio ambience and work with sound manipulation.
In turn, Lanois collaborated with the Brit on several of his ‘80s albums, including Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror, Ambient 4: On Land and Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks.
"Belladonna is a revisit of those great experimental years with Eno," Lanois says. "His philosophy was to make your work first, then decide how you could display the wares or campaign them. Since then, that's always been my mode of operation."
On the new disc, Lanois worked with such contemporaries as drummer Brian Blade (Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell), jazz pianist Brad Mehldau and vocalist Daryl Johnston.
Lanois also sojourned in Mexico for a year while recording, absorbing the relaxing vibe.
"In the more out-of-the-way places in Mexico, there was something really beautiful in the tranquility — and the lack of technology," Lanois says. "I found myself asking some fundamental questions: ‘What do I do with my days and where am I spending them?’ I thought, ‘Life is short, I'm gonna go expose my brain to some sonics.’ I found them in the deserts, but I found them in the people as well — some of the happiest people I've met have had very little in Mexico."
IAN NATHANSON/METRO TORONTO www.metronews.ca