NMW // The Superleague of Extraordinary Gentleman // Feb 23, 2009
NME, February 23, 2009
They sell out world stadiums, hang out with presidents, even save people's lives, but when NME was invited into
U2's Dublin studio for three days two weeks ago, it was just four blokes making cups of tea and chatting.
worked with The Eagles, Emmylou Harris, Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor, Pearl Jam, Paul McCartney..." recalls Louisville,
Kentucky-native Dallas Schoo. "And no one compares to this guy. He's something else..."
Dallas Schoo is The Edge's
guitar tech. He has been for over two decades, leaving his Lynyrd Skynyrd gig to join the band on the second leg of The
Joshua Tree tour. He knows more about The Edge's guitars than the guitarist does and -- to play Cilla for a second --
the two of them are blatantly a little bit in love with each other.
How many guitars do you normally use in one night,
"Oh, about 20..."
Dallas leans in. "It's 18 actually, Edge..."
The guitarist and tech giggle. They
If you ever find yourself in Dublin and want to visit U2's studio, take a walk from the city center to
the northern banks of the Liffey River. When the U2-centric graffiti changes from a solitary scrawled logo outside Pizza Hut
into a mass of murals, portraits and personal messages ("Hi, we are Zoe and Alice from Croatia. We wait till 2:30 am. Bono
and Edge come and do photograph"), then you know you've found it. It's where NME and U2 are today, the band here to
intro music for their opening slot at the 51st Grammy Awards. NME's here for the next three days to learn where the
members' heads are at, whether their next promotional push will see the band's significance swell or not and...um...to have
a little snoop around, to be honest.
While the Edge and Dallas coax spaceship noises from their guitars and ponder
the future of the giant Lemon from 1997's PopMart tour (The Edge: "We actually tried to sell it to The Mighty Boosh. We thought
it might be their kind of thing"), Bono listens to playbacks of the Grammys intro, a minute-and-a-half of hip-hop-cum-art-rock
noise that the band intend to bolt on to the beginning of their new single, "Get On Your Boots." Studio technician Declan
queues up a variety of mixes. Bono –- beads, denim shirt, omnipresent blue-tinted, very expensive-looking sunglasses
-- gyrates his hips, bellowing, "This sounds f**king brilliant!" over the top of each one.
Bono: "There's about 16
different vocal parts on there!"
The Edge: "Really? It sounds like you."
Bono looks crestfallen. "Well, there
At the very end of the live room there's a storage space, housing wall-to-wall flight cases, Larry Mullen Jr.'s
excess drum gear and yet more of The Edge's guitars. Beyond that there's a kitchen-cum-hangout; inside, one of U2's on-hand
crew is cooking Cajun turkey, another is testing a newly purchased mixing desk the band have bought for their forthcoming
world tour. On the wall hangs a wood-carved canoe (Bono: "We bought it for Adam [Clayton, bassist]'s birthday. He hasn't used
it as much as we'd have liked"), a framed Elvis autograph (The Edge: "We bought that for Larry's birthday. The boy's a big
fan") and in the dining room, a framed copy of the Northern Ireland peace agreement. While Bono talks about his DATA (Debt
AIDS Trade Africa) charity with assorted folk, on various surfaces we spy a New York snow-globe, the debut Longpigs album
The Sun Is Often Out, a chord book for Nirvana's In Utero and a Sotheby's catalogue addressed to Adam Clayton.
around the dinner table, the band have convened to take a look at a new edit of their new single's promo video.
"It's too...obvious...there's nothing...y'know...special. It just seems a bit ZZ Top to have a song title with boots
in it and then girls wearing boots in the video."
On a MacBook screen an ensemble of booted ladies crawl towards the
band like a giant S&M tarantula. NME is thinking this video is awesome -- it could only be better if one of the
women's boots turned into a rocket launcher.
"Oooh, I like that bit!" says Bono as one of the women's boots turns into
a rocket launcher.
Next month the Dublin band release their new album, No Line on the Horizon, so nailing awards
ceremony intros, approving video treatments and, "Oh, do you need us to green light those press shots?" are once again fixtures
of the band's day-to-day existence. After aborted studio time with Rick Rubin in 2006 (those sessions capturing their collaboration
with Green Day on a cover of The Skids' "The Saints Are Coming"), once again they've teamed up with longtime production cohorts
Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois to create their 12th studio album and their first since 2004's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb
-- the longest gap between studio albums in the entirety of the band's career.
It might surprise you to know that Bono's
hair smells like rose petals (he gives NME a little cuddle later in our trip), or that his way of greeting NME
is to boisterously grind his knuckles deep into the ruts of our spines. Or even to learn of his and The Edge's forthcoming
Spider-Man: The Musical project (The Edge: "We're going to take it to Broadway, but it needs another couple of songs
first"). Yet chances are, the sheer...subtlety of No Line... will prove to be the most shocking revelation surrounding
U2 circa 2009.
Lacking the pomp of any of the band's records made post-1991 (Achtung Baby), yet with a soaked-in-the-barrel
wisdom unlike any of their fledgling works (Boy, October, War) or their stadium-sized breakthroughs (The
Joshua Tree, Rattle and Hum), it's got more in common with the soupy jams of The Edge's favorite modern group The
Secret Machines (his favorite new band? Secret Machines spin-off School of Seven Bells) than anything the Irish band has ever
"I'm pleased you said that," says the guitarist. "We actually went into this record just to make music
with each other, just to have fun, and not sure whether we were even going to release anything at the end of it all. I think
because of that freedom we've found a sound that isn't what you might expect from us. This is definitely the first U2 record
where we're not trying to prove anything to anyone. And -– time will tell on this, obviously -– I think it might
just be our best record."
Dallas is eating a banana. The Edge flicks through a copy of Time magazine on the
table. Bono stands by the coffee-maker, stirring a cup of tea and gyrating his hips, despite there not being any music being
played in the room.
"Want anything from me?" he asks.
NME, thinking the singer is merely offering us
a cup of tea, politely declines.
It's only when the band's press person Frances digs us in the ribs that we realise
that we've just passed on our interview time with Bono.
"He was asking if you wanted to do an interview," says Frances,
"not if you wanted a tea! You might be the first person in 25 years to say 'no' to Bono..."
says Frances. "At least you can talk more to The Edge tomorrow."
For a man who owns several homes across the globe,
Dublin' Clarence Hotel -- the very establishment in which journalist and guitarist are both currently sitting, scoffing cheese
and ham sandwiches, chips and Pepsi (NME) and Guinness (The Edge) –- and a 140-foot yacht named the Cyan, the
U2 man is one of the most humble people you might ever wish to meet. He may list his six-string influences as virtuoso Irishmen
Rory Gallagher and Thin Lizzy, but his musical philosophy is closer to that of the Velvet Underground's Moe Tucker. "Moe once
said that she didn't really play drums," the guitarist says, "but she played Velvet Underground songs. I like to think the
same of me, my playing and U2 songs."
He also loves the Bee Gees, prefers disco to rock, owns 375 black skull caps,
enjoys making animated movies with his son at home, is described by Bono as "a Zen, sci-fi punk" and thinks Rolling Stone
listing him as the 24th best guitarist of all time in a 2003 feature was "silly." He also drives an Audi TT (very sensibly
it transpires, as he gives NME a lift to the studio later), has no problem with letting us make a horrendous racket
on his collection of guitars in the studio and has a laugh that sounds like a cartoon mouse with a heavy cold. Band insiders
say that to understand U2, you first have to understand its driving force, The Edge. And there's few people who understand
the man we just blew interview time with more than him too...
NME: Bono comes in for a lot of stick -–
as his friend, does that hurt you?
The Edge: "I think he's well up for it and he could avoid some of it if it really
bothered him. But I think he genuinely thinks that a lot of the criticism of him is sort of ill-founded and a bit trivial
and that he's got more important things to worry about. I think he's gone through different phases of being sensitive to it;
at this point I think he kind of enjoys getting up people's noses because, you know. He thought it through so much more clearly
than any of his critics."
Why does he get so much hate?
"I think people hate it when others get above
their station. So the idea that a lowly singer in a band would be walking through the corridors of power, talking to world
leaders, people go, 'How come he's doing that?' And you know he wears his heart on his sleeve, he speaks his mind. So, hanging
out with George W. Bush -– which he knew was uncool, deeply unpopular in certain quarters -– he knew for his own
reasons that it would get the results. And he was right. The amount of extra American investment in African development that
occurred during that administration, compared to even the Clinton administration, was huge. A large part of why that happened
was because Bono was willing to be in photographs, take the meetings and make it a popular issue."
Does Bono mixing
in those kind of circles make the band uncomfortable sometimes?
"Well, as his mates, you don't like to see him
take the custard pies of journalists around the world. I mean, I tried to talk him out of meeting George W. Bush when he told
me he was going to do a photograph with him. And he said, 'Well, I think it's the right thing to do.' So, in the end, I kind
of just said my piece and let him get on with it. You have to understand that the man actually wants to save people's lives!
But anyway, he was right. He proved me wrong...again!"
A day later we're invited back to the studio to see the
band perform three songs for us, the crew and still-the-best-reason-to-watch-BBC2: Lauren Laverne. The purpose of this short
live run-through is to provide The Culture Show with live content, but it also provides a fascinating opportunity to
watch the world's biggest band, um, f**k up.
While Dallas and the crew run through the band's allotted three songs,
playing them better than the band themselves with do in 30 minutes' time, playboy bassist Adam Clayton fiddles with his belt
("It does appear that you can see my schlong!" he says in a voice pitched somewhere between Kenneth Williams and James Bond),
while drummer Larry Mullen Jr. vigorously (and in NME's case, painfully) shakes the hands of all assembled. Bono sits
in a sealed-off room, watching yet another edit of the "Get On Your Boots" video.
Upon moving to the live room, the
band play three and a half versions of the new album's title track, two of its second track, "Magnificent," and four of the
new single; Bono proudly requesting the addition of the intro music recorded for the Grammys. It's a ropey yet enjoyable performance.
Afterwards Bono tells us, "You will never, ever see us play that badly again..." A few awkward exchanges about tea
later, a brief solo run-through of Jose Feliciano's version of The Doors' "Light My Fire" on acoustic guitar and we finally
get the chance to talk.
NME: The Edge told me yesterday that No Line on the Horizon was the first
U2 record that wasn't trying to prove anything to anybody...
Bono: "Well, we certainly disappeared into each other
and it did become about making music for the four of us. When we wrote 'Moment of Surrender' we only played it once
and it was a spell and we were in it. There was no thought about its usefulness. One of us said, 'Shall we put a record out?'
and it was Larry, I think, who said, 'Why? Why don't we just play it?' That way of thinking did affect the way we made it,
because we weren't thinking, 'Oh s**t, we might need to play this song at the Brits'."
So, when did you start thinking
you might actually put the music out?
"About a year ago, and we decided we wanted to put it out in November. Strangely,
we kind of lost the plot then; as soon as there was the pressure to get it done and out, we found it really difficult to finish.
It was only going to Olympic Studios in London that sorted us out. We were going to release two EP sets, Daylight and
Darkness; we had all these ideas, but in the end we just took the best songs and made the one record."
years into your career, it'd be easy to dismiss U2 as dinosaurs clinging on to being relevant...
"We honestly don't
think like that –- the thing with U2 is that we genuinely think of ourselves as contemporaries of bands like The Killers,
Interpol and Kings of Leon. All of those bands went on the road with us and, at first, they were looking at us like we had
10 heads. Then, after a short while, they stopped looking at us like these ancient artifacts and just like we were other musicians.
that what stops you going out and doing the Stones thing, just belting through the hits?
"Well, the Stones still
make some extraordinary music despite what folks say. The thing is, relationships get strained in bands and it's clear that
Mick and Keith’s relationship isn't what it was. I'm always grateful that U2 has managed to keep those kind of relationships
You all seem so close still. How have you managed that?
"By having a band ego. There's
some big egos in U2, but none of them is bigger than the band one. For example, it means the idea is more important than whose
it was. We dropped that back when we were 20. Our circumstance trained us into thinking differently. You have to remember
there was all this punk rock bulls**t going on which was nasty..."
What do you mean by that?
rock was a real...(pauses). The NME was a great cultural beacon in promoting this new way of seeing music and
it really was akin to year zero; the idea was that imagination was the only thing that could hold you back. The problem was,
most of the punk bands were horrible bastards who didn't believe in any of that stuff! Whereas the four of us, we were the
kids in the audience and we believed in it all 100 percent and actually tried to become those ideals..."
hurt not being allowed into "the club"?
"Yeah, because we were Irish and uncool and we didn't realize how powerful
it was to be uncool then. We just thought, 'We'd better get cool,' but thank God we didn't, because it meant we could actually
say things! Cool people don't have the same power to say things. That 'you have to be cool' thing confined punk rock, it crippled
talents. I'm always grateful we got through all that while managing to remain relatively uncynical. And it made us get tough;
it made us tough enough to be uncynical."
And here's the thing; maybe Bono just found the word for us. Maybe we
should have used the word "uncynical" rather than "subtle" when we were describing No Line on the Horizon earlier...
aren't as cool as Nirvana, Oasis, The Clash, the Pistols, The Beatles, the Stones, the Velvets, the Roses, The Smiths, The
Strokes, The Libertines and all those other big names of greatness. But there's a reason half of Dublin has been daubed in
U2 graffit; there's one thing they do better than all those bands. It's why they still matter.
It's that feeling of
smiling in the face of scorn, of making a noise that sounds bigger and stronger than you ever thought it was possible for
four mortals to make; that they're a band who back up their bumbling, awkward moments with rock 'n' roll that wants to save
lives, no matter how many times they bruise their knees in the process. And that their singer -– despite committing
the cardinal sin of wearing sunglasses inside all the time -- has actually saved people's lives. And what have you
Aw, f**k it. It's that feeling of conjuring up passion. And whatever those mean old guys said back
in the late '70s, we can't think of anything more punk rock than passion.
As Bono makes NME a cup of tea for
real this time, Adam flirts with every woman in the room and Larry continues to smash the knuckles of any-and-every extended
palm he sees, we witness a scene of a band at peace, at home.
And look at Dallas! His face lighting up as The Edge
squeezes another space-alien guitar lick out of his Gretsch Country Gentleman in the live room. Now there's a dude
who understands what we're trying to get at here...
© NME, 2009.