GUITAR WORLD September 1997
GUITAR WORLD – September 1997
As a loping rhythm fills Pittsburgh's Three Rivers stadium,
many in the crowd of 30,000 exchange quizzical looks. The giant video screen flashes images of happy, loving people, and the
guy with the guitar on stage sings something about "hands touching hands."
Slowly, the song works its way to the chorus
which, as the audience recognizes the tune, is picked up with a roar. "Sweet Caroline/bah bah BAH/Good times have never felt
Is this how the guitar hero spends his time--leading Neil Diamond karaoke for a stadium full of people?
If you're The Edge and this is U2's Pop Mart Tour, the answer is "yes." The karaoke bit--he's also done The Monkees
Daydream Believer--is his moment during the show. "I can go out and be totally crap and be loved for it," he says. It's one
of many tongue-in-cheek moments in a show that features the world's biggest video screen, a giant olive skewered by a 100-foot
toothpick and a 35-foot tall mirror-ball lemon (a kind of citrus cousin to the Parliament-Funkadelic Mothership), from which
The Edge and his mates emerge during the encore.
Let's just say it's a far cry from the band's "three chords and the
truth" slogan of yore.
But then again, so is everything U2 has done during the 90's, since the sincerely self conscious
Rattle and Hum closed the door on the era of the Properly Earnest and Highly Concerned U2. 1991's Achtung Baby and its companion
Zoo TV tour the following year brought with them a more playful U2, and nothing's been the same since.
for The Edge's dedication to redefining the guitar's role in rock and roll. Along with REM's Peter Buck and Echo and the Bunnymen's
Will Sergeant, The Edge (who was born David Evans, 35 years ago, in Dublin) brought a new sensibility to guitar herodom during
the early 80's. When U2 roared out of Dublin with its populist, spiritually minded anthems, there was no question it was a
guitar band. But what a guitar: The Edge offered a ringing, thoroughly original tone that sounded more like Gabriel's trumpet
than Jimmy Page's power chords.
What The Edge brought to rock was ambiance with oomph, an uncanny knack for both setting
and helping to define the mood of such U2 classics as Sunday Bloody Sunday, Gloria, and I Will Follow. Working with producers
like Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois at the close of the 80's, his approach became more nuanced and supple, whether he was spreading
hazy blankets of sound over With or Without You and Bad, or deploying the raw rawk licks on Bullet the Blue Sky and Desire.
More recently, on Achtung Baby, Zooropa, and this year's Pop, he's assimilated bits of industrial, ambient and techno, combining
dense layers of effects with his patented sure-fire melodicism.
The Edge's devotion to his craft is perhaps illustrated
by a brief, but telling, moment in August of 1993, when U2 was rehearsing for the North American stadium leg of the Zoo TV
tour, in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Bono sat with some journalists in a catering tent, having his dinner and talking about all
things U2. On-stage, The Edge stood alone, rehearsing the stun-gun opening of Zoo Station over and over again. At one point,
Bono halted his discourse in mid-sentence. "How long have we been talking? An hour?" he asked. "The whole time we've been
in here, he's been up there playing that part."
The singer gazed towards the back of the stage as the two-chord lick
seared the speakers again. "Amazing," he muttered, "Just amazing."
Guitar World: Now that you're into the tour, what's
been your own reaction to Pop Mart?
The Edge: I think it's just exactly as I thought it would be. We've always been a
band that's really reacted in a chemical way to the audience. So for us, the opening night in Las Vegas was the real critical
test--how would it be, coming in cold with a whole bunch of new songs, playing them for the first time in front of an audience.
And then there was all the new technology. The first night was, "Wow, how is this all going to work?" I have to say I
was really relieved because with all the things that we tried to pull together for that opening night, I think there was a
chance it could all have been too much and too ambitious. But I feel we were able to make it all work, and I was really happy
coming off stage from the first show, even knowing that there was a long way to go.
At this point, now that we've got
a few shows under our belt, everyone is very comfortable on-stage and the shows are starting to get more, I suppose, confident.
The communication with the crowd is there from beginning to end.
GW: How is Pop Mart different from Zoo TV?
I think the only difference is that the first run of Zoo TV shows were in smaller indoor arenas, which meant that there was
a kind of a different chemistry to the event. There was built in intimacy and built in communication to those shows because
of the size of the venues, whereas with a stadium, you really have to project and have a lot of confidence in what you're
GW: Is there a theme or a message that you want Pop Mart to convey?
Edge: I suppose the show is
really trying to reinforce the point that commercialism is just part and parcel of the process of being in a big band. It's
just part of it. You can't pretend it isn't. That doesn't necessarily mean it should affect the music or the intention of
the band or artist involved. I suppose the Pop Art movement really touched on that, pointing out that commercialism is part
of this era and that art and music shouldn't see it as the Big Bad Wolf, but to learn that it is possible to have a sense
of the commercial world and still be true to your work.
I think the sentiment that has been prevalent for awhile, and
which was strengthened by the grunge movement of the last five years, is that commercialism is death. Anybody who accepts
the big record deal or uses a big studio or anything that takes you away from the barest essentials of a rock and roll band
is the enemy. I think that's a very ghetto mentality. When rock and roll started out, it was about freedom and refusal to
accept the constraints of society. In a bizarre way, it's ended up creating its’ own constraints and its own boundaries.
I think they're very white, middle class boundaries. If you look at the corresponding artists in black music, they don't have
that sense at all; they see that commercial viability is like another skill, another thing that should be learned about and
that one should become good at. They don't see any conflict between selling lots of records and being authentic.
Yeah, but they didn't come out shouting about "three chords and the truth" either.
Edge: I know...I'm not sure everyone
is ready to hear this (laughs), but in some ways we're sticking out our necks with this tour. What we're really attempting
to do is put over some really strong, very personal songs in an arena that attempts to acknowledge the scale of the band's
success and the scale of these big shows. In some ways it is kind of a schizophrenic place to be in, where on one the one
hand we're singing songs like Mofo, which is a deeply personal song that Bono wrote the words to, and on the other we've got
this gigantic production that is like a piece of some fairground from outer space that's landed on planet earth. The show
is all about being a show, but the band's songs and performance really come from a different place.
GW: So it's really
about that dichotomy.
Edge: Maybe that's why we're drawn to it. There is something bogus about playing to people's expectations.
Throughout our career, we've had opportunities to do the safe thing, and some would say that our reasons for not doing so
boil down to simple perversity. I think--I know--it's because we're suspicious of doing what's expected of us. You must do
what your led to do, and for us that's always been taking risks and looking to debunk notions that have grown up around the
band and the work that we've done, and to really look for what's now and what's current, what speaks about this year, and
not last year, not two years ago.
I suppose what people are struggling with is their conception of what the band is versus
what the show seems to be about. The public's notion of what the band seems to stand for is quite one-dimensional. It denies
our humor. It denies a lot of humanity that's there. I suppose we're hanging on to humor because it's important for us. When
it really gets down to it, we don't write humorous songs very often. So our shows are our opportunity to fill out some of
the gaps that might exist in the albums. It's a chance to have some fun and have a laugh. That's what the show is: as much
as anything else, apart from giving us the opportunity to meet our audience and play new songs, it's fun.
raise an interesting point in that Pop, despite all the hullabaloo about the techno elements in some of the songs, has a lot
in common with U2's 80's albums.
Edge: Absolutely! I think anyone who's spent time with the new album will notice that
some of those songs could have been on our second record, October, or Unforgettable Fire or The Joshua Tree, in terms of the
intention and the idea behind them--the themes and the emotions behind the lyrics. Without it having been an intention at
the outset, I see this album almost as being a compendium of musical slices culled from all the different phases of the band's
The broad range of songs on this record is consistent with the position we've always taken on certain issues and
the kind of songs that we've always written. I think when the album really starts to sink in; fans will understand that, in
the end, the show is about the music.
I don't think we would've called the tour Pop Mart of called the album Pop if it
had been a kind of throwaway record of radio-friendly hits. I think it works as a tour concept and as a title for the album
because, in fact, the album is anything but that. It's some of the most soul-searching music we've released in the last ten
years. In some ways it's a very personal and intense record.
GW: So how did Pop develop? Early rumors had it that
this would be a real rock and roll record. Later reports suggested that it was all techno.
Edge: First of all, most of
the stories that circulated before the album's release were more idle speculation than based on anything we had led people
to believe through press releases or interviews. The only thing we were sure of when we went into the studio is that we wanted
to produce a vital record. We weren't clear about the kind of music it would be.
We were also interested in experimenting
with new production and songwriting techniques. And we did experiment very broadly with a lot of the material. But it soon
became evident to us that all our favorite recordings were the ones that we recorded pretty much as a band, with certain embellishments.
But it became clear in the studio that the most interesting approach to almost all the songs was the band approach--the band
GW: All that experimentation and it still comes down to the four of you.
Edge: I can't say that that
was a surprise, but it's reassuring that after pushing things so far in the other direction, we discover that the most interesting
approach is really the four individuals playing together. We always knew that was what was special about anything we would
release, but we went on quite a roundabout journey to come back to some essential U2 arrangements and productions.
Was this a gradual realization, or did you have some kind of collective epiphany?
Edge: More gradual. We actually were
working on a lot of the songs simultaneously, including some that never made the final cut and have been put aside for another
day. A lot of the songs on the record had different incarnations and arrangements. "Mofo," ironically, started out as quite
a traditional sounding four-piece arrangement, and then went in a much more techno direction. But the final version was brought
back somewhat by removing any loops, anything electronic in the percussion department and anchoring the song with a single
drum performance by Larry layered on top of some of the elements of a more techno arrangement.
That's kind of an interesting
metaphor for the way the album was made. There was no clear direction in terms of developing the songs, which often happened
via the combination of sometimes seemingly conflicting sounds and approaches that created the most interesting final arrangements.
Larry would sometimes play against a keyboard or percussion loop, so you get that combination of the nineties mechanical techno
aspect with this very human performance aspect. None of the songs were very pure in their approach; there were always a few
different directions taken.
GW: What was the lure of the loops on those elements?
Edge: We were listening
to a lot of music that was built around loops and sampling; hip-hop music, a lot of trip-hop coming out of the UK, and then
dance culture, techno and house. It has a feel, it has a sound. Some of it I really like. We just wanted to see if the aesthetics
of this music would be an interesting addition to what we do. We've taken on board new ideas and allowed them to filter through
the band. We absorb them and they become a natural part of our sound. I suppose what was radical about some of the starting
points on the record was that we'd start with a loop and then take it on from there, often with Larry replacing loops and
working on drum performances.
GW: So what adjustments did you have to make as a guitar player?
that was something that just started to come through as the songs were getting finished. We would get to a stage where we
had a final vocal or close-to-final vocal, and then we'd attempt some rough mixes to see what we had. At that point, I would
start to experiment with different guitar sounds, to try to push the songs into a kind of newer feeling. I suppose that's
something we've inherited from the trip-hop dance culture, where sound itself is kind of the motif, where the notes and how
memorable the parts are have as much to do with their sound and their texture as with the actual melody being played.
sounds I used for Mofo and Gone were very dance culture approaches, but because the parts are played on electric guitars as
opposed to keyboards, they have a different feeling.
I've always liked trying to take the guitar in a different direction.
There are a lot of guitarists out there who play in a conventional way and do extremely well, so I don't really feel the need
to tread that ground too. I'm always looking for territory that is more unique to me.
For me it was liberating to see
that sound and texture could really make a big statement in our new songs. I'm still fascinated by melodies, and I'm certainly
not leaving that behind, but I think that for some of these songs it was a good twist to not do a conventional guitar hook
kind of melody but to try to find some extraordinary sound that could create the same effect.
GW: How did you get
Edge: I actually did a lot of experimentation, chaining up a lot of different simple pedals and finding
a way where the pedals themselves would start to interact and create almost an unstable chain of effects. You know where a
single note could take off and set the whole system into sort of spontaneous and continuous sonic development. It was like
a lot of compression and distortion mixed with a lot of regeneration on echo machines.
My approach was to experiment a
lot with guitars and effects, and when I'd hit on something wild, just roll the tape improvise within the sound I'd created.
A lot of it comes out of a spirit of experimentation in the studio and, sometimes, the rehearsal room. A couple of times I
found a chain of effects that was particularly amazing, and I'd take note of what it was and what the settings were, and at
different times I'd try to re-use the same chain.
The 747 sound is one of those particular chains where I use a Digitech
Whammy pedal, an old Fuzz face and one of my old echo units. It was really an extraordinary signal chain--all the effects
fed off each other. It's hard to explain it, but it's my thing. I love to just play around with sounds in the studio, more
than experimenting with parts or styles or anything. That's what I do.
GW: Is there ever a temptation to create
a song as a vehicle for some great sound?
Edge: Yeah. That does happen, less so now than in the early days of the band,
when a lot of songs were initiated in rehearsal or at sound check based on somebody just coming up with a part and everyone
else just playing along. A lot of my parts would come out of sounds I'd been working on. Sounds from the guitar would inspire
a whole kind of approach to a piece of music. In the old days, almost at the end of that process it was Bono's job to try
to figure out some kind of a vocal contribution to something that was just music.
And then from there on, once there was
some kind of a vocal idea we'd develop it further into more of a song. Bad, for instance, was an improvisation. We were all
in the rehearsal room, playing together. There were a couple of minutes of just improvising with the music, and then Bono
started improvising melodies. We kicked that idea around for an hour or half an hour, then had another go where we were a
bit more conscious about what we were doing. Then, after awhile, we discovered places where this piece of music could go and
put it all together in a cohesive structure to form what became the completed song.
That's a technique that we used a
lot, and worked really well for us because none of us were really schooled musicians. So it was the spontaneous bouncing of
ideas off of each other that created a lot of the things. Our playing was a lot better than our understanding.
So much of modern dance music is by nature guitar-less, which makes it seem like an odd source of inspiration for you.
Yeah, but they've got such great sounds. I think they're using sound in a way that's very, very, exciting, very unique. It
started with sampling and manipulation of samples, but now it's gone onto a whole other end of things--like Daft Punk, this
French duo, who produced and extraordinary sounding record (Homework, Virgin).
A lot of things I'm excited about seem
to be in this area right now. That's not to say we're going to become a techno act. We're still the same band. But I do believe
there's a lot of exciting work going on in dance music, and a lot of rock and roll sounds like karaoke to me. It sounds like
it's just "in the style of..." That's something we've always had a problem with, we've always wanted to find new ground rather
than trading on old ideas, whether it was ours or someone else's.
GW: There were a lot of extra-band projects before
Pop--the film music (Batman Forever, Golden Eye, Mission: Impossible), the Passengers (a collaboration with Brian Eno). What
brought those on, and what effect did they have on the band?
Edge: I think what you see there is the result of boredom.
We all agreed that we were going to take a year out. We couldn't help ourselves; some offers came along and we were feeling
a little bit at loose ends. So we decided to do some stuff. The first thing we did was the Batman song ("Hold Me, Thrill Me,
Kiss Me, Kill Me"). Then we did the Passengers record.
That was kind of a long standing proposition between ourselves
and Brian Eno, to work on an album where Brian was the producer but also a musical collaborator--where it wasn't a U2 record,
per se, but we would all work together.
It seemed that it was the ideal opportunity to do that. We felt it would probably
be a lot of fun, and working with Brian is always great. Also, we felt it would be better to start being in the studio again
and working together with something like that rather than steaming straight into a full-fledged U2 record and having to deal
with the process of re-acclimating ourselves and dealing with each other under a high-pressure situation. So we decided that
would be a nice, fun project to warm up with.
GW: And Mission: Impossible?
Edge: I think the Mission: Impossible
single was, again, something that came along. Bono and I didn't feel that it was right to do a U2 song, since we had just
started to make our own record. But Adam felt that he and Larry could do something interesting, so they went off and did the
Mission: Impossible song. Because it was Adam and Larry, I think people were really interested in it. If it had been U2, I
think it would have been one soundtrack project too many. As it happened, it became a much bigger movie than Adam and Larry
had imagined it would be. It actually became a high profile release, which I think they were delighted about but hadn't really
GW: Why do you have more lyric-writing credits on Pop than you've had in the past?
Edge: There was
more input this time. Bono and I have developed an effective partnership in developing the lyrics. In most instances, my role
was more like an editor's or as a sounding board for him. And then in some cases, I contributed a lot of lines and ideas for
lyrics. It works well. The daunting responsibility of coming up with 12 new lyrics at the very end of an album, when we've
all been working so hard on the music, is a shared thing now. I think Bono finds it easier. It speeds things up as well.
Does he ever just tell you to shut up and play yer guitar?
Edge: I know him well enough to know when to suggest some changes
and when to leave him alone.
GW: What accounts for the very searching and, in several cases, spiritual nature of the
lyrics on Pop?
Edge: I think it took me a little by surprise. Certain songs were put on the record at the last minute.
Some songs that we felt were going to be finished and make the record didn't. It was only when we finished and sequenced the
album, put the whole thing to bed, that I realized it was quite a spiritual and intense record.
It's really hard to say
why; obviously that represents where we are as a band, Bono and I particularly as the lyricists. In the end, these are the
issues we find interesting. It's the usual love and faith in crisis; that's what it's about. They're the crucial issues. There
are a lot of great bands out there writing great songs about beer and girls. I just don't think we're ever gonna do that (laughs).
GW: Do you ever have any sense of why you're drawn in that direction?
Edge: There is a sort of spiritual crisis
going on as old concepts and institutions--religious, spiritual institutions--are being left behind without anything to replace
them. It's like people are adrift, struggling to find some kind of clarity. At the moment, they're just left with a lot of
questions and uncertainties.
GW: Clearly there are no answers offered in the songs.
Edge: It's dangerous to try
and answer. I don't really feel it is our job. Our job, if anything, is to connect in a way, to express something that's personal
to us that other people can relate to, that they might be feeling, that crystallizes something that's out there anyway. It's
much more to do with the moment and what others are going through than it has to do with you. You can write 100 songs that
never mean a thing, and then you might write a song that means everything. There's a certain humbling realization that it
sort of happens to you; it's not something that you can really turn on and off.
GW: Where do the "lighter" songs on
Pop come from--Miami or Playboy Mansion?
Edge: There's a lot of irony in those songs, but also sort of a genuine appreciation
of things that are talked about. Miami is like a little postcard, a few nights out in a very mad town. There are characters
involved that are fictitious, but the general picture it paints is of a very fascinating and very crazy place we spent a couple
of weeks in the midst of making the album. Everything we set out to do during that visit we failed to do, but what we came
away with was a song. It's the accidents that are often the most valuable things.
As for Playboy Mansion, it's a pop anthem,
I suppose. It's kind of ironic. I hope it's not cynical. It's definitely tongue in cheek; it's really just a celebration of
some of the sillier, lighter things and at the same time maybe pointing out or at least shedding some light on where we're
at, sort of the contradictions and funny aspects of life in 1997.
GW: Are you planning to take Hugh Hefner up on his
offer to visit the mansion?
Edge: I don't know. There have been a couple of invitations for us, Bono particularly, to
do the Playboy interview. I have a problem on some levels with that kind of mentality, the Playboy ideal. I feel that anything
that simplifies and reduces people must be, in the end, suspect. I think sexuality is such an amazing and mysterious thing.
To turn it into a kind of cartoon, to almost dehumanize it, is something that must not be good.
GW: So what did you
have to do to this stuff in shape to play live?
Edge: The live situation is a bit different. I've got the technology to
recreate almost every sound on the record. That's the starting point, to get to the point where I can do what I did on the
record. But I've found that simplifying is often a very important part of creating a successful live arrangement. Some things
have been really stripped down, and we're developing new arrangements. If God Will Send His Angels, is very different, for
instance. There are limits to the fidelity of the big PA system in a stadium, so I think you really have to hone things down
to their real essence, because that's what's going to carry.
In some ways it's quite illuminating when you get to play
a song in front of an audience. You really understand its strengths and its weaknesses. I feel good about the material on
the new record. It's turning out to be very strong material, which is good.
GW: How did you decide which songs you'd
play for the tour?
Edge: There's a certain kind of place that we're in at the moment as a band; certain songs seemed to
fit in and others didn't. Also, we wanted to give some material a rest. We decided we wouldn't play Bad on this tour; I think
we could, and I think it would probably fit in well, but we've played that song on every tour since The Unforgettable Fire,
so it was time to leave it for awhile. We hadn't played I Will Follow for a long time, so it seemed like a fine idea to bring
that one back.
We definitely wanted to play a lot of the new album, but we didn't want to play the new songs just because
they're the new songs. We routined them all and rehearsed them up, and basically whatever sounded like it was going to work
live, we put into the set. It's a very organic process. It's really an instinctive thing.
GW: Are there any songs
in U2's repertoire, such as Pride, that feel just have to be played every night?
Edge: I don't think so. It's nice to
have a few songs that people really remember, hits from the radio, in your set. But I don't think that there are any songs
that are essential. We're lucky we have a lot of material to draw from. I'd like to think we could do a lot of different shows
and not necessarily feel we have to do certain songs.
GW: What are you enjoying most about the show?
lemon. We're having a lot of fun with that, the whole kind of discotheque lemon vibe, the Mothership. It's just such a blast.
I'm delighted that it's finally happened. It's one of those mad ideas that came up in one of our meetings early on. We were
in the middle of making the record and slightly out of our minds anyway. It was first put forward as an idea, and to actually
see it there onstage and working and the steps...I mean, the number of engineering meetings and creative meetings that had
to happen before it became reality was astonishing. And it is so ridiculous (laughs). It's the most ridiculous thing I've
seen in a rock and roll show for years.
GW: And you have no problem doing something a little ridiculous?
Not at all. I think rock and roll has to be a bit tongue in cheek and a bit crazy like that. Otherwise it starts to take itself
too seriously. When it loses its humor, rock and roll can become very boring. And the cardinal sin for rock and roll bands
is to be dull and boring. That's something you must avoid at all cost.