- 08 Aug 22
As The Edge celebrates his 61st birthday, we're revisiting the late Bill Graham's classic interview with U2's lead guitarist – originally published in Hot Press back in 1984...
"Something Keith Richards said: 'This is what I do and I do it well. There are people who play guitar better but there's nobody who does it as well as me because I am me.' There's nobody as good at being Keith Richards as Keith Richards. There's nobody as good at being U2 as U2".
He avoids saying there's nobody as good at being The Edge as The Edge. A man who lets his work speak, The Edge is both well-mannered and self-contained, completely contrasting with Bono's constant urge to self-exposure. But watch him spin a tale and you'll see the sparkle in his eyes.
He must possess a submerged wayward streak to break the rules and role of a rock guitarist in the way the Edge has done. Even as a youngster taking piano lessons, he did it his way.
"I studied it for two years, then packed it in at the ripe old age of 13 and didn't look at it 'till the "Boy" sessions. I always had a good ear. I never used to read the music. I'd just figure it out. But that was no good because the idea was to read the dots and I could never get that together. It was like teaching arithmetic to somebody who already had a calculator".
Though there were no professional musicians in the Evans family, his father was and is a member of the Dublin Welsh Male Voice Choir. Besides, his elder brother Dik, a later Virgin Prune, was also a member of the U2 baby-band.
"We bought equipment together. I owned half a guitar and half an amp, which was kind of difficult since there were two guitar-players and they owned half a guitar each. So we used to borrow another guitar and use the same amp".
His developing style became the reason his brother left: "As a guitar player, I've always done the work of two. One of the reasons Dik left was because two guitar players never worked. I never had that discipline. I was always filling up every spare moment with guitar".
Now he believes "it was a musical instinct to make that tapestry. It wasn't a conscious decision that it was the way to go. It was purely intuitive, that idea of a line, a continuous train of thought through the song".
The combination with Adam Clayton's basslines was also an influence: "His wasn't a very bottomy sound and his playing wasn't with lots of gaps a la black funk bass players. It was a quite continuous sound in its own right. That led me to adopt a similar style and also to stick to the higher registers of the guitar where there was a certain gap between the two instruments and a clarity as a result".
Since then, he's evolved multiple musical abilities, using keyboards and lap steel. Working with Brian Eno, he learnt there were similarities in their approaches:
"I could see how Eno had shaped his career not around any one particular overriding talent but through a collection of, I suppose you would say second-rate, abilities. But the way he used them, that he'd been so determined to follow the areas in music he found stimulating to create a career - that must be totally unique.
"Now I don't think I'm a particularly talented guitar virtuoso. My talent if it's anything is my approach to the guitar by the use of effects, by non-acceptance of the usual approaches to the guitar".
Like all the group, the Edge is insistent that Daniel Lanois also receives due credit: "He's a very good reputation in Canada. He's been voted producer of the year for a few years in a Canadian music paper. They worked very much as a team. They didn't separate their tasks. I think Danny, because of his particular talent with notation and manuscript music, was able to communicate with us in a very specific way that Steve Lillywhite never could and never tried to. I'm talking about arrangements in particular, drumlines and guitars. He was very good on rhythm. He plays very good funk guitar and I think he and Larry got on very well".
He says Eno and Lanois "were constantly setting precedents about the sessions. Brian would say something like "these speakers don't inspire me. They have a particularly hard sound and this is the second mix we've had difficulty with. Let's make the decision now and bring in some new speakers". Now our attitude would have been, "Ah, I'm sure they're alright. Kinda Irish, not following through on an instinct. They had great follow-through. I would choose a guitar to play a certain part and Danny would say "Well Edge, that guitar sounds nice but that guitar over there, I've noticed whenever you've played it, it inspires you. Why don't you use that one?"
The Edge rates Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, Holger Czukay and particularly "Marquee Moon" era Tom Verlaine as his favourite fellow guitarists. He's also a film buff, with a hankering to write soundtracks: "It's more the cinematography rather than the theatre/drama side. Stanley Kubrick's "Barry Lyndon", that sort of thing really interests me".
Boy Dylan once called Robbie Robertson "a mathematical guitar genuis", a description which also seems to fit the Edge's goldcrested style. I hope it won't damage his modesty. Most times I asked the Edge about himself, he kept pulling back to "we", the community of the band. He seems to huddle aside from fame. "I cannot ever really comprehend what our fans see me as", he says, "I can only observe it from the eye of the storm".
"Probably the people who buy our records or go to our shows are far more aware of the Edge as the public person than I am. I happen to be more aware of his private side".
Thus the Edge: the semi-detatched guitar hero.
Vol 8 No. 23 November 15th, 1984
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