U2 Album Still Not Finished
Edge Interview: Part I
But Edge confident as deadline looms, learns MOJO’s Danny Eccleston.
WITH THE RELEASE of U2’s 12th studio album delayed until February, and the band still
mixing furiously in a London studio MOJO are unable to name for fear of an instant fan-siege, guitarist The Edge has called
the MOJO office with a progress report.
In line with U2’s late preference for enigmatic titles, the album seems certain to be called No
Line On The Horizon – although Edge insists that anything can still change (U2 have even been known to
record backing vocals in the mastering suite).
He goes on to reveal that they’ve shelved the songs recorded with Rick Rubin in 2006 and that much
of the material dates from sessions with stalwarts Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, who co-write. Confirmed track titles include
Moment Of Surrender and Unknown Caller.
There follows the director’s cut of the interview reported in the issue of MOJO magazine that’s
on the shelves right now…
MOJO: Well, my first question has to be, have you finished yet?
Edge: [Coolly] Not quite.
That’s why we’re here.
So, why finish up in London?
Well, it’s good to get out of familiar surroundings
when you’re looking for a different perspective. Get out of the comfort zone.
If you’d stayed in Dublin, would you have just carried on producing material rather than bringing
everything to a conclusion?
Maybe. Also, a good mix room is always important. Our studio in Dublin is more like
a glorified rehearsal room really. It doesn’t have proper acoustic treatments for mixing and whatever. So we always
mix in a studio that’s properly set up for that process.
Is the album still going to be called No Line On The Horizon, or is that a red herring?
not totally firmed up but it’s still the working title.
So, what the hell does it mean?
It’s an image. It’s an image, Bono tells
me [laughs]. It’s like when you’re moving forward, but you’re not exactly sure what you’re heading
towards – that moment where the sea and the sky blend into one. It’s an image of infinity, I suppose – a
kind of Zen image.
Is it a metaphor for how U2 make their records? No deadline on the horizon?
Guilty your honour! We were talking about this. Our work process is all about allowing inspiration to arrive at any time during
the process. So there’s no finality, there’s no formality, until it’s in the shops. U2 albums never get
finished; they just get released.
So do you think that helps the record? You can use material you started months ago, but as long
as you’re re-examining it right at the last it can still sound contemporary?
Yes, I think that’s true.
Song titles, lyrics, melody lines can change right up until the last minute. I think our records are always… it’s
the last few weeks when things really come into focus. It might take us a long time to establish the basis of the record musically,
but then a lot of stuff will change.
Famously, Chris Blackwell came down when we were doing Achtung Baby and with a week to go he said,
There’s just no chance you’re gonna finish this album; I’ll come back in a month’s time and check
on your progress. So he left town, and sure enough we finished at the end of that week! It’s like this ground rush.
You seem to be going nowhere and then suddenly you hit the last period and then everything starts to move and everything clicks
into place. It’s just the way we do it because I suppose inspiration is the ultimate thing for us. It’s not craft.
So when things start to really get close, it’s a really inspiring time and everyone just gets onto a whole other level
of creativity and we go into overdrive and all these ideas start coming through.
Has anything survived from the first bout of sessions [from September 2006], the Rick Rubin material?
actually laid all that stuff to one side. Really out of deference to Rick and that set of songs we just said, Ok, that’s
that, and we drew a line. So none of the Rick material went into this project. Everything has been written subsequently.
Is that because you weren’t that keen on it in retrospect?
I think there are some
fantastic ideas there and they will, I’m sure, be finished off and see the light of day. We just felt like we wanted
to put off the decision about what kind of record we wanted to make. And then we went in with Brian [Eno] and Danny [Daniel
Lanois], literally just as an experiment to see what would happen. And suddenly there was this excess of stuff, ideas…
and we just thought, OK, this is clearly where we are at our most potent at this moment, working with Brain and Danny, so
let’s follow that idea down the road and we’ll get back to the material we started with Rick at some point.
What were the Rubin tracks like? Were they unusual for U2? He’s quite hands-off isn’t he, as a production “entity”?
Rick’s just an amazing intelligence and a guy with
a huge love of music and an instinct for it. He gave us great advice as much as anything. His whole thing is, Don’t
go near the studio until you know exactly what you want to do… which of course is the opposite of how we usually work.
But we were following Rick’s approach with Rick and we were working on songs and working on ideas
and they’re still there. So I’m still excited by the possibility of trying that approach. It reminds me of what
happened on our first album [Boy, 1980]. We went in, we had all the tunes – although even then we didn’t
have all the lyrics – we had all the arrangements down to the point where we could just go in and record the album.
We could have done it in a day, and of course the backing tracks had a great completeness, because we knew exactly
what the tunes were.
The way we do things now, there are drawbacks. I feel for Larry [Mullen, drums] sometimes. He’ll be
playing drums to Song A and then somewhere along the line the whole song gets thrown out, but we keep the drums, and then
something else happens over those drums. Then sometimes we’ll replace those drums at the very end because he
plays differently depending on what the vocal is. So even if it’s the same tempo, the same backbeat, the same chords,
if the vocal’s different, the drums don’t feel quite right. So, there is something to Rick’s approach and
it just means you make all your decisions early… for better or for worse. Ultimately, I feel, for us, it is those last
couple of weeks when you get those amazing new ideas.
How would you describe the overall personality of the new album?
It’s a record
of two halves. One half is songs that came virtually fully-formed out of sessions we did with Brian and Danny – stuff
we’ve only played once or maybe twice and that’s it: just the raw moment of creation. Then the other half is material
we’ve kicked around a while and went through the usual cycle of versions and incarnations. It sounds like a U2 album
but it doesn’t sound like anything we’ve done before and it doesn’t really sound like anything that’s
happening at the moment.