Tom Wilson and Bob Lanois will forever be distinguished as founding fathers of their hometown’s rich and influential musical history. Citing the differences in their reputations, however, one could accurately describe the Hamilton, Ontario, natives’ recent collaboration as surprising.
Wilson is known as the notorious party animal behind several critically acclaimed roots-rock projects including Junkhouse and Blackie & the Rodeo Kings. Lanois, along with brother Daniel, is familiar to Canadian audiences as the low-key personality behind the birth and emergence of ambient music from the steel city. They appear, on the surface, to be a study in contrasts, but their The Shack Recordings proves otherwise.
The two, appearing together at the Seahorse on Friday, call the recording a triumph in capturing the essence of the inner creativity.
“I have been talking to people in the industry about doing this for years. Even at the height of what I consider to be my popularity with Junkhouse, I wanted to make what I consider to be a kitchen table record,” says Wilson while barbecuing ribs. “If you came into my kitchen and I was playing acoustic guitar, that’s what you would get. People would look at me like I was from some other fucking planet.” Wilson says Lanois is from that planet. “He’s a guy who, along with his brother Daniel Lanois, hooked up with Brian Eno and created music that didn’t exist before,” he says. “They came up with this idea that wasn’t there, and Bob Lanois was a believer in that.”
The Shack Recordings is the sum of the men’s individual maturation processes, pursuit of fresh artistic challenges and mutual respect.
“I had long been a fan of Tom Wilson from a songwriting point of view, and I was waiting for the right moment to work with him,” says Lanois, who performs vocals and harmonica on the record. “I wasn’t ready musically until we started writing two years ago to work with him. I believe that Tom was ready to surrender himself to a collaboration which involved many different small changes from the past. Changes that would lead him to make a different kind of record.”
The ambitious longtime producer of some of Canada’s most relevant and groundbreaking material, Lanois was successful in accomplishing his vision. The effort is a raw, genuine acoustic release, where the 46-year-old Wilson breaks free of his persona as a showman and emerges as a true storyteller and poet.
“I consider myself a communicator,” Wilson says. “I think where the line gets fucked up is when you abuse either your showmanship or your job as a communicator. You take yourself too seriously. Where the clothes you’re wearing or the hair, the shoes you have on your feet are way more important than the job of communication.”
Lanois was so adamant about letting the music speak for itself, he’d stop recording when Wilson was showing off.
“It’s all about the songs. And not so much about his glorious pipes, it’s all about the music itself,” says Lanois. “It’s a little triumph Tommy and I were able to achieve on this project.”
Wilson agrees. “It’s a completely unapologetic way of presenting songs to people. People who are turning on to The Shack Recordings are doing it because they get it right away. And some of them because they’ve been listening to hear my real voice for 25 years,” he says. “I wanted to record on two-inch tapes and be challenged. I think all of those things came into play, because Bob Lanois is a very strict task master. He’s a hard-boiled coach, and for somebody as gentle and artistic as he is, he has a really good bullshit meter. He doesn’t let you get away with much.”
Despite their different pasts, Lanois says it was easy to work together at this point in their lives.
“I operate from the heart as well, and because I operate from the heart I always get myself totally immersed in all the projects I do,” he says. “With Simply Saucer we wood-shedded for a few days until we had a record, and the difference is with Tom is that it was done over a period of a year-and-a-half.”
Tom Wilson and bob Lanois, Septmber 30 at the Seahorse, 1659 Argyle, 9 pm, $10.