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U2 Producer: Steve Lillywhite

Steve Lillywhite
  • Genre: Rock
  • Instrument: Producer


Steve Lillywhite spent several decades as one of the most acclaimed and successful producers in British pop music, over the years compiling an impressive resumé which included work with U2, Peter Gabriel and Morrissey. Born in 1955, Lillywhite entered the music industry in 1972, landing work as a tape operator at Polygram; after handling engineering and mixing duties on a pair of LPs for Golden Earring, he earned his big break producing the demo recordings which landed the group Ultravox a contract at Island Records. Lillywhite soon joined the label as a staff producer, and after the release of Ultravox's 1977 LP Ha Ha Ha, he moved on to helming records for new wave acts including Siouxsie & the Banshees, the Psychedelic Furs, Eddie & the Hot Rods and XTC, for whom he produced a series of acclaimed albums including Drums & Wires and Black Sea.

In 1980, Lillywhite's profile was raised considerably via his work on
Peter Gabriel's acclaimed third solo LP; that same year, he also produced Boy, the debut effort from a then-unknown U2. Lillywhite remained U2's producer of choice throughout their early career, with his credit also appearing on 1981's October and their 1983 breakthrough War. He also helmed Big Country's acclaimed 1983 debut The Crossing, as well as efforts from Marshall Crenshaw (Field Day) and Simple Minds (Sparkle in the Rain). In 1986, Lillywhite's most high-profile project yet arrived in the form of the Rolling Stones' Dirty Work; a year later, he produced the Pogues' excellent If I Should Fall from Grace with God, as well as the Talking Heads' final studio album, Naked. Lillywhite also helmed the solo debut from former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne, 1989's Rei Momo.

For wife Kirsty MacColl, whom he married in 1984, Lillywhite next worked on 1989's
Kite, as well as the Pogues' Peace and Love; as the new decade dawned, he kept an atypically low profile, most notably producing the La's' self-titled debut in addition to MacColl's Electric Landlady. His next major collaboration was with ex-Smiths frontman Morrissey, for whom he produced 1994's Vauxhall and I; that same year, Lillywhite also oversaw the singer's Boxers EP, and in 1995 they reunited for the full-length Southpaw Grammar. Lillywhite's other primary activity during the mid-1990s focused on the American act the Dave Matthews Band, for whom he helmed the 1994 major-label debut Under the Table and Dreaming, as well as 1996's Crash. For the like-minded Phish, he also produced Billy Breathes. Morrissey's Maladjusted followed in 1997. ~ Jason Ankeny, All Music Guide
Steve Lillywhite

Steve Lillywhite (born in 1955) is a well-known British music producer. He is the former husband of the late singer Kirsty MacColl with whom he fathered two children, Jamie and Louis.

He first entered the music industry in 1972, when he worked as a tape operator for Polygram. He produced a demo recording for the band Ultravox, which led to them being offered a recording contract with Island Records. Lillywhite soon joined Island as a staff producer, where he worked with many of the leading New Wave artists.

In 1980, Lillywhite produced Peter Gabriel (III or Melt) notable for its aggressive sound, achieved in part by the absence of cymbals throughout the album. The same year, he produced Boy, the debut album of the then unknown U2. Lillywhite went on to produce October and War, of which the latter proved to be the band's major breakthrough.

He moved on to helm projects by Simple Minds, Big Country, Talking Heads, the Rolling Stones and Annifrid Lyngstad known as Frida and formerly of ABBA.

In late 1983, Lillywhite was approached by Rush to produce their album, Grace Under Pressure. The band had unanimously decided that he should be the producer, and he had agreed to work with them. However, before pre-production, Lillywhite relayed a message to them that he was not the right man for the job, and so he would not be working on the album after all. Rush ended up doing the bulk of the production on Grace Under Pressure themselves with assistance from Peter Henderson.

During the '90s, he made his mark with albums by Morrissey, the Pogues, Travis, Phish and several sets by Dave Matthews Band. Following a staff role as managing director of Mercury Records in London, he produced U2's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb and Jason Mraz's recent Mr. A-Z. He was brought into produce the debut of The La's, who where notoriously unhappy with modern studios and pieced together their album which they famously hated.

In 2000, Lillywhite was fired from his fourth album with Dave Matthews Band when the band members did not like the direction it was going. The unfinished tracks appeared online, and are known as The Lillywhite Sessions. Most of the tracks were re-recorded, without Lillywhite, for the 2002 DMB album Busted Stuff.

In 2002, Universal boss Lucian Grainge invited him to become a major-label Managing Director. Lillywhite promptly signed singer-songwriter Darius Danesh and exec produced Darius' debut platinum-selling album "Dive In", which spawned 3 top ten hits and Mercury Records' first number one in 18 years.

Lillywhite collected consecutive Grammy Awards for Record of the Year with U2's "Beautiful Day" and "Walk On." In 2006, Lillywhite won three more Grammys: Producer of the Year, Non-Classical, for U2's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, Best Rock Album also with U2's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb; and a partial win for Album of the Year for U2's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.

Partial discography