"I want to leave something behind that means something," Daniel Lanois told Rolling Stone' s James Henke, explaining his singular approach to life and record making. "Am I going to follow my own ideas and philosophies, or am I just going to fall in the rut of doing rubbish for the sake of making a living?" Lanois's decision to follow a more meaningful approach led him from recording groups in a homemade studio in the 1970s to forging a partnership with avant-garde producer Brian Eno in the early 1980s to producing some of the best-known—even legendary—acts in popular music, including U2, Peter Gabriel, Robbie Robertson, the Neville Brothers, and Bob Dylan.
Lanois's record-producing capabilities are virtually unassailable: all productions have been hailed. Although Nicholas Jennings, writing for Maclean's, credited Lanois's success as a producer to his "reputation for a lighter touch and for bringing out the artist's best," it is perhaps Lanois's spiritual conviction to capture an artistic moment that has gone the furthest in reaching listeners. "I'm passionate about music," he emphasized to Richard Flohil in Canadian Composer. "I want to get committed, passionate music on a record, so that other people can understand the passion and the message."
Lanois began his recording career in 1970 in a small studio he and his brother Robert built in their mother's basement. "From the beginning," Flohil recounted, "the studio's reputation was strong; there was a nice atmosphere and a relaxed feeling; [the brothers] were good engineers and were able to help many artists sharpen their material in the studio." They recorded dozens of artists from the surrounding area throughout the 1970s. In 1980, because of increased demand, the Lanois brothers were forced to open the larger Grant Avenue Studio in nearby Hamilton, Ontario. Here Lanois's producing talents gained notice through work with such groups as Martha & the Muffins and the Parachute Club. With the arrival of rock experimenter Brian Eno to the Grant Avenue Studio in the early 1980s, however, Lanois's recording direction changed.
Looking for a studio out of the mainstream, Eno came to Lanois's to begin his self-termed "ambient music" series of records. The first of these experimental recordings, which were to become highly influential in the music industry, Lanois simply thought of as "badly recorded piano tapes," he admitted to Rob Tannenbaum in Canadian Composer. But after working on these carefully composed and recorded works, Lanois found he "just got into that pace. Really quiet and atmospheric music that paints a very strong picture with slow detail—almost like musical landscapes," he explained to Henke. The artistic view Eno opened up for Lanois was accompanied by an expanded technological understanding as well. "The challenge of evoking a strong emotion on an instrumental record without the benefit of lyrics forced Lanois to experiment with outboard effects, playing the studio as he would a guitar," Tannenbaum wrote.