Close to The Edge
30th Anniversary Retrospective: In a special interview, The Edge reminisces about the early days of Hotpress, explains Bill Graham’s role in U2’s development, and comes clean about what the band have been up to recently in Morocco.
Peter Murphy, 26 Jun 2007
And he was right, there wasn’t much to it really. I mean, in those days stance was important, but Bill always wanted to see through that, to see what was actually going on. I think Achtung Baby is a great record, so he may not have given it its due at the time, but I think he was always a little wary of anything that was coming at him with a big backstory. He just wanted to know what was under the hood, he didn’t really care about the body, the shape.
Strangely enough, he seemed much more on board with the Zoo TV concept.
People might think that it was an aberration – I think it was probably a necessary thing to go through, but it was probably the extent of that particular pendulum swing. That was the question at the time: “Is there any way back from Zoo TV and Achtung Baby?” It’s a lot of people’s favourite U2 record. It might be my favourite U2 record. But you could say we’ve kinda come back from that brink and created a sort of middle ground of subject matter and theme. But it also gives us the license to go out there again if we want to.
On the Elevation and Vertigo tours you revisited songs from Boy: ‘An Cat Dubh’, ‘Electric Co’, ‘Out Of Control’, ‘I Will Follow’. Did the young U2 have anything to teach the older U2?
Well, I was amazed at how sophisticated some of that first record was musically. Of course in those days we wrote songs in a very organic way, music often first, then melodies and then lyrics. But we instinctively would reach for things we felt the music needed, key changes and strange modulations that we wouldn’t really have understood. But now, looking back, the sheer quantity of innovative ideas on that record is pretty amazing. We were actually quite taken aback when we looked at it afresh. Some of the songs have survived better than others, I’m not sure we’d want to put a whole set from Boy in our show, but there’s incredible vitality and life to those songs, and that counts for an awful lot.
One thing I think it did was capture a sense of the band as an intense, gangly adolescent. Even if parts of it are a bit fumbling and gauche, that’s probably the point.
Yeah, I think it was the Village Voice who said, “After this record this band should break up, because they’ll never ever do anything as interesting as this.” (Laughs) And for all the reasons you just said, everything about it was kind of searching, and missing the mark, spectacularly in some places, but it all kinda added up to the telling of a certain story, and it did that very eloquently.
I imagine you watched with some bemusement in recent years as bands like Interpol and Bloc Party and Arcade Fire mined that wintery early ‘80s European sound.
Yeah, it was amazing to realise two or three years ago that that particular moment in time when we were coming through had suddenly become the new zeitgeist for the rock ‘n’ roll alternative underground. It made me go back again and listen to Siouxsie & The Banshees, Joy Division and The Associates, and I can see the appeal. The blues was so overused and trodden into the ground as a form, and these were chords and progressions and melodic ideas that were devoid of any of that influence. In a sense, if you were to say what that movement was about, it’s like rock ‘n’ roll without the blues, without the American influence. I think the German scene was probably a huge influence on us second hand, ’cos we would have been listening to Eno and Magazine and groups that were listening to Can and Neu.