I spoke to The Edge (pictured with Bono and friends) by phone in October 2000, just before the release of All That You Can’t Leave Behind, an album that, for me at least, marked a creative rebirth for U2, albeit a fairly brief one. Here are some edited highlights.
HOW ARE RELATIONS WITHIN THE BAND?
We’re very lucky. Most groups last a couple of years and that’s your lot. We’re extremely lucky that we’re still around after so many years and it’s down to, I suppose, having worked out a lot of these things. Maybe because we don’t end up in areas of competition with each other. We all do what we do, we do different things. There’s not a lot of reason for us to fight, almost. Bono sings, great singer, great lyricist. I help him out with the lyrics sometimes. I play guitar, do a bit of backing vocals. Adam plays the bass. Larry plays the drums. In that sense, where would we argue? Because we were mates, I suppose, from the beginning, there’s a lot of real respect and trust there between the different members of the group. We’re pretty tough with one another. It’s not necessarily like we go into a U2 session and everyone’s completely polite. Everyone is prepared to tell you exactly what they think when it comes to it. I guess we have to and we do have pretty robust relationships with one another, and also with our producers, y’know? Brian (Eno) and Danny (Daniel Lanois) are pretty full on, and Steve (Lillywhite). If something’s just not happening, you’re not going to have a lot of people shutting up and pretending just to be polite. They’re going to let you know, and that’s the kind of relationship we want with people that we work with.
Larry is our drummer. He holds the things down, in many ways. He’s anti anything pretentious, anti-anything too arty, flowery, anything too basically off the point of being a rock’n’roll band. Larry is generally going to tell you something’s too long or it’s too slow or where is the melody? He’s pretty straightforward. Adam, he’s got an incredible instinct for being unusual in his bass playing, he’s kinda naturally avant-garde. He doesn’t actually think about it, that’s the way he is. He’s got a great sense of the loyalty factor. He’s always there backing everyone up. Bono’s got the vision still of what we might be able to do. He’s always pushing. He’s a great guy to have on your team because he’s got incredible energy. He’s dogged, y’know? He’ll just keep pushing. I’m the guy that tries to make sense of it all, musically, and try and tie it all together. I tend to start a lot of the ideas or come up with chord patterns that we can toss around or whatever. I’m the guy who’s hanging on to all those great demos, “We should try this one again.”
DO YOU THINK YOU AND BONO ARE BEING OVERLY GENEROUS CREDITING WHOLE BAND?
Sometimes I do, yeah. But then again I know that it is a band. Really deep down I know it is a band and I know that without Adam and Larry it wouldn’t be U2, and I know that ideas I come up are never fully fleshed out until there’s a U2 band arrangement of them, and it’s at that point that they really go somewhere and get somewhere. As well as feeling like I have maybe a larger responsibility than Adam and Larry for music, I know that they make me look very good! And I guess that’s the way a band works: people are in bands, hopefully, and I know in our case, because we’re better than we would be as individuals.
WHAT’S THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION ABOUT U2?
I don’t think people realize that a lot of what we’re doing is instinctive and quite seat of the pants. It looks probably from the outside like everything we do is thought through and discussed with a huge bunch of marketing folk and advertising executives discussing everything. We’re having a blast, we’re having incredible fun. The PopMart tour and 40 foot lemon and all that, we laughed — we had such fun, just the idea of it and then to actually get to do it was incredible. I guess I felt that was probably the most rock n’ roll thing we’ve ever done, although a lot of people might think of it as more glam. I think rock ‘n’ roll should be a bit out of control and a bit ridiculous because … the magic can exist when things are a little bit out of control and when all the ends are a bit loose, we haven’t tied everything down and it’s not too considered or too professional. Because we’re a very successful band, I think people don’t think that we’re capable of that kind of madness. This record, I suppose, is actually less of that and more of just writing our songs. But those moments like Zoo TV and PopMart, I suppose we saw this opportunity to do something that was taking stadium shows into a different place and we just ran with it. We went as far as we could. I don’t know whether that makes any sense, but…
ARE THERE U2 RECORDS YOU DON’T LISTEN TO MUCH?
I don’t listen to them at all. I can’t think of one that I really wouldn’t want to hear. I think the first couple of records just because they are very much part of that era, part of that time. There’s a couple of tunes that have really survived well, but a lot of it sounds very much of that era. It doesn’t sound particularly like it’s survived maybe as well as some of the later records.
WERE YOU DISAPPOINTED FANS DIDN’T MAKE THE LEAP TO POP
I don’t agree that they didn’t. In fact somebody reminded me the other day that Pop was No. 1 in 26 countries. There is this kind of perception that it didn’t do well. I think what happened was that there was this sense out there somewhere … that the Pop album was going to be a huge blockbuster, and everyone maybe in the industry was thinking that it would be like a 20 million seller or whatever. Well it didn’t do that, there’s no doubt about that, but I think it might be nearly 10 million, which is pretty huge. I certainly am not disappointed with how it did. I guess it was a more difficult record maybe than a lot of people were anticipating, but I really still stand by it. I think it’s a great record, I think the songs are really strong. If I have anything negative to say about it’s simply that the ambition of the arrangements was maybe something that didn’t connect with everybody. We were experimenting with a synthesis of band and dance-stroke-trip hop aesthetics which I really think worked in many ways. But I think that people missed the sound of the band probably in some of those recordings.
DID YOU FEEL HARD DONE BY IN AMERICA WHERE IRONY IS A FOREIGN CONCEPT?
We definitely could have been more successful in putting over the ideas that we were playing with. We’re used to playing with some heady concepts and expecting everyone to weigh in there and follow. I think with the Pop tour more than the album, I think with PopMart in America, I think we just left people scratching their heads a little bit. I would have to say it’s more that we didn’t communicate what we were up to very well.
DO YOU HAVE TO? SHOULD YOU HAVE TO?
“Should we have to?” (chooses his words carefully). We never would play down to our audience or try and spoonfeed them. But at the same time if you’re going to call your album Pop and PopMart, those words have got so much baggage. When we were planning the tour and when we were choosing the title of the album, to us it was “Pop” on a much broader sense. It was pop art, it was the whole thing. I think a lot of people just got the “Pop” as in lightweight and that was as far as they got with it. They just thought, “No, I don’t want to have anything to do with that.” I think that it was maybe as simple as that. Maybe we just didn’t get that side of it right. The choice of name for the tour, as simple as that, I think that threw people. Also, dressing up as Village People in your first video, again it’s a challenging thing to do for a lot of people who are into rock ‘n’ roll! It’s not for everybody. Again, I think it’s a great video and I would certainly do it again, but I think we did lose some people at that point and I understand why.
NOTE: Unrelated to the above interview, my gossipy rock bio Strange Days: The Adventures of a Grumpy Rock ‘n’ Roll Journalist in Los Angeles is available here. For more info, go to strangedaysbook.com
Copyright © 2000, 2013 by Dean Goodman. PLEASE DO NOT CUT AND PASTE THE WHOLE THING