TORONTO – Nestled in an industrial corridor of Toronto’s west side, a low-slung old building with chipped off-white bricks and a bright red door conceals Daniel Lanois’s new cathedral of sound.
The building used to be a Buddhist temple. Lanois bought it years and ago and renovated it, and he’s here now preparing for his ambitious Nuit Blanche installation.
He’s also only a few days away from the release of Neil Young’s “Le Noise,” which Lanois produced, and a little over a month from the debut release from Lanois’s Black Dub outfit.
It seems like a lot for someone still recovering from a near-fatal motorcycle accident, but Lanois says he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’m made of the studio,” he says with a smile.
How much time is he spending there, exactly?
“How much time am I spending in the studio? I don’t know — 47 years?” he replies with a laugh.
“I think if you were to open me up you’d probably find equipment in there.”
The healing process since Lanois’s June accident has been a long one.
The crash occurred as Lanois navigated the scenic Silverlake enclave of Los Angeles atop his dazzling BMW HP2 Megamoto — a two-cylinder Supermoto with a sleek blue frame and white tank.
Suddenly, a car in front of him pulled into the parking lot of a variety store and Lanois hopped up onto the curb to evade the other driver. He smashed into a telephone box and when he came to, he was lying on the sidewalk while onlookers called for an ambulance.
Lanois suffered a fractured collarbone and pelvis, six broken ribs and a troublesome amount of internal bleeding.
Now, he’s mobile again after months of physiotherapy and some time in a wheelchair.
He’s still dealing with ramifications from the incident. He says there’s a twist in the bone on eight different ribs, which didn’t mend properly. His lung capacity isn’t what it used to be either, though he says that he expects to recover from the internal bleeding with time.
The Quebec-born, Hamilton-raised superproducer — best known for his work with U2 and Bob Dylan — says he now has good days and bad. This was a bad day, but he shrugged away expressions of concern.
“I think we’ll be all right,” said Lanois, clad in a grey cashmere V-neck sweater and black skinny jeans, with his shaggy beard inching up to the edges of his cheekbones.
“I just want to keep doing good work. That’s what I do. Or hopefully.”
Lanois is particularly proud of his Black Dub collective, whose debut release is expected to drop in November.
The project seamlessly integrates elements of dub, trip hop, soul and rock. It occasionally brings to mind the alley-crawling din of The xx or Portishead, but vocalist Trixie Whitley’s unchained vocals lend the self-titled record a unique feel.
The album was recorded largely live off the floor, without overdubs. Lanois says he was able to work that way mostly because of Whitley, whom the producer has known since she was two years old. He said her talent made studio trickery unnecessary.
“I was a friend of her dad’s and that’s really the connection,” said Lanois, referring to the late musician Chris Whitley, who died in 2005.
“It was a chance encounter with Trixie and her mom in Belgium when Brian Blade and I had a show out there. She said, ‘I’m singing now.’ I heard her sing, and she was a very special singer and all-around writer, a great writer — just a force, a great force.
“I thought it might be fun to put a band together and invite her to be part of it.”
Whitley will join Lanois in Toronto for his Oct. 2 performance at Nuit Blanche, an all-night art festival which features installations across the city.
Lanois will place 24 speaker towers around the downtown Nathan Phillips Square to create what he calls “an enchanted forest of sonics and visuals.”
The multi-disciplinary installation will require him to perform for 12 hours straight.
“I might have to take a leak every now and then, but I’ll be there,” he vows.
On this day, Lanois is interrupted in the midst of planning for the event. He asks for a few minutes to continue working, during which time he manoeuvres around a massive console, tweaking levels and exploring ambient textures he might want to tap into for his Nuit Blanche presentation, much of which will be improvised.
When an aide asks if he wants anything to drink, he orders a water mixed with Italian soda and a “tiny bit of tequila, (to) take the edge off.”
As is usually the case, he’s friendly and accommodating, offering a tour of his studio space. He even lifts his sweater to reveal a softball-sized bruise on his right lower back, a souvenir from the motorcycle accident.
But he also seems eager to move past the collision and months of rehab that followed.
“I’m thinking straight and I’m doing good work,” Lanois said.
“That’s probably the most important thing.”