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Reading between the line (part 1)

As U2 gear up for the release of No Line On The Horizon, they meet HP to talk about the creation of their latest masterwork, meeting world leaders, the way they’re perceived in Ireland, the current state of the music business and their future plans.

Olaf Tyaransen, 11 Mar 2009

It’s not yet 9am on a bright February morning in Galway City, and Bono is putting your Hot Press correspondent through some serious aural torture. “Sorry, man,” he apologises in that familiar cigar-smooth, Mid-Atlantic purr. “I’ve just got to run you through this security machine for a moment.”


Relax, readers, the U2 singer hasn’t gone Guantanamo. But the screeched feedback from the two digital recorders placed around my mobile phone’s loudspeaker as he runs his own through a London airport x-ray machine isn’t easy on the ears. He’s en route to Berlin for a midday meeting with Angela Merkel’s office and, never a man to waste a precious moment of his increasingly busy days, he decided to call yours truly to clarify a few points we’d discussed in London some 60 hours earlier.

A moment later, he retrieves his phone from the other end of the scanner. “You still there?” he asks. “You’ve just been x-rayed... and have come up wanting. Your soul, Olaf, is being viewed by British security.”

Bono’s in good form – and not just because Angela Merkel’s government has agreed to budget another €900million in African aid for 2010. As U2 gear up to release their 12 studio album, No Line On The Horizon (which any number of critics have already hailed as being possibly the best of their career), they’re seriously getting their promotional boots on. A few weeks ago U2 played at Barack Obama’s inauguration. Last weekend, they performed the album’s first cut ‘Get On Your Boots’ at the Grammys. In March they’ll be doing a week-long stint as David Letterman’s house band.

Before that, though, they were scheduled to open this year’s televised Brit Awards at Earl’s Court. So let’s rewind a couple of days to the late afternoon of Tuesday, February 17, and the moment a sleek back Mercedes pulls away from the front entrance to Claridge’s Hotel. I’m sitting in the back with The Edge, fervently hoping that we get stuck in rush hour traffic. We’re heading towards Earl’s Court for U2’s tightly-scheduled soundcheck, and my interview time with the skull-capped guitarist is to be measured in miles rather than minutes.

The 47-year-old is polite, softly spoken, thoughtful and articulate. He only occasionally looks across at me, talking mostly to the back of the driver’s headrest.

Olaf Tyaransen: So this is the longest-ever break between albums in U2’s entire career.

The Edge: Yeah (smiles). Unintentional, but yes.

Was that because the original Rick Rubin sessions were abandoned?

Well, we started work on music pretty much immediately after the tour. In that very casual way that we tend to after a tour, because everybody’s so fried that you don’t really rush back into the studio. So I was writing on my own and Bono was scribbling lyrics on his own, and slowly we started to get around to the idea of making some music. I did some work with Rick one-on-one in Los Angeles, and then we finished off a few songs which we demoed in Abbey Road in Studio 2, which was a fantastic experience.

When you say ‘songs’, do you mean finished tracks with lyrics?

Well, one of them was ‘Window In The Sky’ which was the track on the compilation that we put out [2006’s U218 Singles]. That compilation was a little bit of a distraction, but it was something that we wanted to do. It was what we call ‘the truck-stop CD’. We just felt like it was missing out there in the wider world for casual fans – something on CD thatwas a sort of summation of what we’d done over the years. So we put that together with ‘Window’ as the new track, and a couple of other things that we worked on with Rick that we didn’t really finish but were sounding really good. And then we did ‘The Saints Are Coming’ as well, which we did with Green Day for the New Orleans event for the reopening of the Superdome. So we were pretty busy with Rick doing stuff, and it was all progressing well. We did a couple of preliminary demo sessions and there were quite a few tunes that were showing promise.

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