- 05 Mar 09
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.
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.
So what happened?
And then during that time we said to ourselves, ‘why are we rushing here?’ We actually don’t often get a chance to start making music in an atmosphere of no pressure, no expectations, no judgement – just literally for the sake of it. So we said, ‘let’s just take a step back and let’s, out of curiosity, see what we can change about the dynamic of our song-writing. Why don’t we invite Brian and Danny into the process and see what happens?’ Just to see if there was a spark in that extended writing line-up, so to speak. So we did a couple of really quick sessions with them and it became very clear almost immediately that this was gonna be a very fruitful experiment.
Which spelled the end of Rick Rubin’s involvement...
At that moment we just decided to put the work with Rick on hold and concentrate on where the muse seemed to be bringing us. So we laid the Rick project to one side and got into writing material with Brian and Danny. And still we maintained this idea that we don’t wanna think about where it’s gonna go or what’s gonna happen to it – we just wanted to make music for the joy of making music. And we were finding it a very freeing experience. A liberation. And everyone was really into it and in such a great mood. It reminded me in many ways of early on and why we got into a band in the first place. Just that joy of playing.
Do you ever play guitar just for yourself?
Well, at home when I’m on my own, I’m writing all the time. I get a huge kick out of that. So it’s not a case of playing so much as composing, but I work a lot on my own.
I was thinking more in terms of the guitar as an instrument of romance. Like, do you ever serenade the missus with it?
Occasionally, but probably not as much as I should, in truth (laughs). I guess I’m more engaged by the idea of creating something than I am just playing with no agenda of any kind. But this was creating with no agenda in mind. This was just finding great ideas that we didn’t necessarily have a home for, or an ambition for: we just thought that we probably would get into more unusual territory if we didn’t put a label on it. And in fact that turned out to be the truth.
We made great headway early on and we thought, ‘well, we’ll have the album out sometime in 2008 – maybe even early 2008’. But the minute we started to think about a schedule, everything started to become much more difficult as we started to try and reel the songs in, so to speak, and put manners on them, and test the arrangements, and test the themes or whatever.
Surely that’s an inevitable part of the creative process?
In truth, it is just part of the process. For us, whilst on occasions we’ll put out something in that raw unfinished state, we know what a finished song sounds like. We can’t cod ourselves. If something doesn’t have the legs, we know. And that’s a curse and a blessing because it means that we constantly beat ourselves up, and beat up the work.
I’ve heard that you ultimately wound up with 50 songs. Does that mean that there’s another 39 finished U2 songs in the can?
There’s a ream of material that’s in various states of unfinished-ness. Some ideas that we would have spent half-an-hour on have got real promise, but we haven’t looked at again. Or songs we would’ve spent a lot of time on, that for one reason or another just didn’t fit with this collection. So we’ll get back to them. So in some ways, we’re in a very good position for a follow-up album, with so much stuff there. And a lot of quite experimental stuff as well.
How experimental did you get?
Towards the end of the process of making this record, we were trying to balance out the moods. We didn’t want to make an album that was mono-dimensional in terms of its mood and emotion. We wanted to have a contrast of light and shade, and so having got a lot of more moody pieces, we held some of those back. So [for] the next release, we’re not short of dark, brooding material.
You began recording the album in Fez. What attracted you to Morocco?
Well, it was a combination of just the idea that we should get out of our comfort zone and find somewhere where we wouldn’t so readily repeat patterns of work and patterns of writing and approaches, because when you’re suddenly in a new context, everything is fresh and you see everything in a different way. But there’s something that attracted us about the location of North Africa. There was a religious music festival on, which was the very original reason to be there.
I think Bono had been invited a few years running, and he was going through his schedule and he saw this invitation and said, ‘You know, maybe I should go and maybe I should see if the others would like to come’. And then to our surprise, Adam and Larry showed huge enthusiasm for the idea. So we went for different reasons, but mostly a kind of instinctive sense that going somewhere different was going to be inspiring for us.
After Fez, you recorded in the South of France, and then for periods in New York, Dublin and London. Were you looking for a city vibe to contrast with North Africa?
Well, I think our little place in Hanover Quay is a bit limited sonically. You know, it’s not a designed space, it’s a found space. So we knew that for certain kind of acoustic, sonic reasons there were other studios and other rooms that would be better suited for what we were trying to do. So we looked at Olympic and we looked at Abbey Road again and we looked at various rooms in London. And we ended up choosing Olympic.
You recorded in New York as well.
Yeah. Wyclef Jean has a room there and we moved in for a couple of weeks. I don’t know whether it’s just the gypsy instinct we now have after touring around the world for so many years, but it does seem that if we stay anywhere for too long, everyone loses some of the inspiration and excitement. So moving around did keep the energy up.
Did Bono’s various extracurricular activities impede the recording?
We figured it out. It’s been a feature of the last few records where we know Bono’s gonna not be present for periods of time during the making of the record. So we just plan around that and I use the time to work on the musical side of things. It adds a different sort of rhythm to the process. But being away, I think, also helped everybody really focus on what we were doing. So being in Fez, that was the only thing we were concerned with from one end of the day to the other – making music.
Did you bring your kids over?
No, it was just the band and a couple of crew and Brian and Danny. It was very focused. I remember clearly at least two or three songs being born in that location. And very quick. Like, maybe three or four hours. We’d start with one little idea – it might be a rhythm or a chord progression or a guitar or a keyboard sound – and then very quickly through a series of ideas thrown in... ‘Unknown Caller’ came together in about four hours. It was a live performance and once we had hit that arrangement, we only ever played it once. So that song, there were a couple of iterations that were different leading up to that version, but that definitive version was only ever played once. That is also true of ‘No Line On The Horizon’ and ‘Moment Of Surrender’ and ‘White As Snow’. Although ‘White As Snow’ we had to do a little bit of editing afterwards, but basically there’s four songs that were only ever performed once in their final version. Because it was that kind of a free-flowing song-writing workshop atmosphere. That’s why we thought this album was gonna be easy, gonna write itself.
And then it all went pear shaped!
It’s funny how the other songs just took a very long time. Because the song-writing, as it were, just wouldn’t come. We needed patience. We went down a few blind alleys before we got songs like ‘Get On Your Boots’, ‘Stand Up Comedy’, ‘I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight’.
Moving away from music for a moment, as a prominent Dublin hotelier are you worried about the credit crunch?
It’s very weird what’s going on out there. I don’t think anybody’s gonna be able to escape from it. I am concerned, but at the same time I think it will eventually come back. It’s really a case of when, not if. I suppose we’re in a slightly better position than a lot of people in that we hadn’t started work yet on the next phase of The Clarence. You now, The Clarence is still open and it will remain open in its current guise. We might start slowly sort of enacting the process of getting ready for the build, but in the interim we’re quite happy to just let it run as it is.
How about the proposed U2 tower on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay?
I’m pretty out of touch with that, because we’re sort of the junior partner in that whole project. I think that the issue with that, as it is with a lot of projects, is that finance has just dried up. So it’s a case of waiting it out until financial conditions change and make it possible to go ahead.
Speaking of financial conditions within the music industry, what do you make of bands who’re practically giving their music away? Like the Radiohead experiment?
I think everyone’s scrambling to find a new way that you can earn a living from making music. Certainly for artists like ourselves who have a healthy touring reputation, we’re probably the best placed. But it’s really tough for younger groups and bands that don’t do a lot of shows live to make money. I think Radiohead were very smart and very brave to try that approach of a brand new model – the honour system. It’s like the shareware system. Same concept – you get it free and you give what feels right. And I don’t really know whether it was successful or not, but it’s that sort of out-of-the-box thinking that’s necessary, because the music industry has become a victim of its own lack of imagination with respect to the digital revolution. So if there’s an original idea out there we certainly could use it (smiles).
You’ve come up with a brand new format to release this album on, haven’t you?
We’re looking at a kind of a widget that would offer a much more rewarding visual coefficient to an album on a computer screen. Because there isn’t really anything that takes advantage of this quite decent visual medium of the computer screen – or the TV screen in your living room if you’ve got your computer hooked up to it. We – and you, I’m sure – are of the generation that loved vinyl records not justbecause of the music, but because of the artwork and the opportunity that that sized format offered the bands and the creative team involved to do all kindsof things. The CD is not a fair swap for the beauty and the sacred quality of a great piece of vinyl. So if the computer is the future of music, let’s take advantage of the screen. We haven’t quite figured it out, but that’s what we’re looking at.
Are you looking forward to playing the Brits tomorrow night or is it frustrating to just be playing one song?
It’s a little bit frustrating just doing the one song, but we haven’t really played much in front of a live audience for the last few years so it’s always great, particularly when you’ve got some new songs, to get a chance to play them live. It’s funny how they take on a different personality. Like ‘Get On Your Boots’; really we were trying to give it a more 21st century sound on the record, and it’s sort of almost hip-hop meets early rock ‘n’ roll combo feel. But it’s gone a little bit more to the rock ‘n’ roll side when we play it live. I guess the chemistry of the band is a bit more evident.
What gives you the bigger buzz – creating new music in a sunny Moroccan courtyard or playing live in front of 50,000 people?
There is something incredibly special about the interaction between U2 and the U2 audience. It’s very hard to compete with that in anything else that I will ever do in my life. But in terms of just experiencing a unique thing with your friends, the fact that the creative chemistry between the band themselves is still as strong – we’re actually writing material that I think is as good as anything we’ve written – after so many albums and so many years is great. And it was an amazing thrill to be in the room when some of these songs were coming together. And it’s a real hairs on the back of the neck moment when you’re playing and suddenly something really special starts to happen in the room and everyone kinda knows it and gets it. And those magic moments, there’s a lot of them captured on this record. Which is great.
Has it become easier being in U2?
No. I think it’s very similar to the very beginning so nothing’s really changed. The spirit of the band as a creative unit is the same – it’s quite intense and we put ourselves under a lot of pressure. And we never succumbed to the temptation of resting on previous achievements and thinking that we now know how to do this and therefore ergo everything we do must be great. We’ve held onto this idea that it doesn’t come easy and it demands everything you have to give. Also, there’s no formula you can use. Because all our best moments seem to come at the moments when they’re least expected, and they come in ways that no-one can predict. And it’s just about being alert to the possibility that something could just happen in the room, and even if your head is somewhere totally different, you’ve got to be aware that Bono’s gonna do something and we’ll be off. Or Adam or Larry or myself – or Brian and Danny, in this case. The most important thing is to recognise when there’s something happening and be sensitive to it, and not think in any sort of formulaic way. Because we’ve never survived on craft. Craft is the least important part of what we’ve learnt over the years.
What’s been the biggest mistake U2 have made in their career?
Well, there’s a consistent mistake we make which is that we think things are gonna take less time than they do, but I imagine if we thought pessimistically with our schedules, we’d probably work half as hard (laughs).
Well, work always expands to fill the time you’ve got to do it in.
Yeah. We get ourselves into this situation a lot where we’re like, ‘Oh wow! We’ve really gotta step up to the plate and we’ve gotta do this because there’s so much happening. It’s embarrassing not to have this album finished, we’ve gotta get this thing done!’ So that’s a natural and I think a necessary thing. It’s like you guys writing. I mean, if you didn’t have a deadline...
I’d rewrite forever!
You would! But our schedules are self-created. And we always seem to get that wrong. But you know in the end I don’t think that’s a mistake. I’ll have to think about that one actually... (pauses). I think maybe for a while our mistake might’ve been allowing a certain kind of judgement or a tone that was prevalent about our band and our work to sort of become internalised by ourselves. And not having the confidence to judge what we had done accurately and go, ‘You know what, we’ve done some pretty good stuff over the years!’ I think we spent too much time thinking about what other people thought of our work and not enough time probably realising that our fans were right (chuckles). And in my experience now, music fans are pretty much always right. The judgements of the cognoscenti are not necessarily that accurate. It was very sobering for me to realise that far from disco sucking, disco actually was far more interesting than a lot of rock ‘n’ roll of the disco era. And the genius of the Bee Gees. I’m wondering how I could have missed that at the time – but I did.
Because they weren’t deemed cool.
Because they weren’t cool. But it’s absolutely brilliant. And the many millions of people that knew that were actually right. So that we probably didn’t figure out early on.
U2 have always had their media detractors, but recently it’s been even more intense than usual – in Ireland, at least. I’m thinking about things like the Lola Cashman court case. Given the ridicule the band were subjected to at the time, do younow think it was a mistake to take your former stylist to court over a cowboy hat?
It’s a hard call, because that was a point of principle for us. Had we known the way the whole case was going to go, we might have tried to short circuit that whole thing earlier on and gone about it a slightly different way. But it’s very hard if you firmly believe that somebody has stolen your property and is selling it at Sotheby’s, it’s very hard to swallow that and leave it alone. It stuck in the throat. But that’s water under the bridge at this point.
You’ve also been getting a kicking over your tax situation. Do you think you’ve been unfairly singled out?
I think there’s a problem of scale for us in Ireland. And I think Bono’s work has also cast us, and particularly him, in a certain light as far as the general public are concerned. And at times it’s sort of a quite silly situation where every time there’s any kind of a problem, you get the (Dublin Northside accent), ‘Well, where’s Bono now?’ Ha, ha! When the East Wall was flooded – “Where’s Bono now?” When Waterford Crystal are in trouble. It’s just slightly out of kilter.
Do you ever get any personal grief walking around Dublin?
No. Most people know the score. They know who we are. They know that we are going to act appropriately in every aspect of what we’re doing. We don’t go into explanations. We don’t go there. But in the end, I don’t think most people think that we’re squirreling money in tax havens. We’re not! We’re not living in Monte Carlo or Lichtenstein. We’re living in Ireland, we’re paying tax in Ireland. We’re totally tax compliant and we always have been. Our business structures and arrangements are there because we operate in every country around the world. We play concerts all over the world, we work all over the world and we pay tax all over the world. It’s just people speculating about what’s what, and coming to conclusions and... (shrugs). We’re not willing to go there, and why should we? In the end, my feeling is that’s between us and the taxman. As it should be for every single person in the country. Why should that be the subject of public debate? It shouldn’t be!
What are your feelings on all of the corruption that’s been uncovered by the tribunals over the last few years?
I think there’s a culture of getting the job done by cutting corners in some cases, and I think we’ve come unstuck in a serious way because of a certain sort of looseness. Which is probably ok in certain areas, but you don’t want looseness in areas like the banking sector. You just don’t want that. Or in government. You don’t want fuzziness, you want very clear strict straight lines. But it’s very much part and parcel of the way things get done in Ireland, and you could argue that that way of doing business and that way of operating has also over the years been hugely beneficial. So it’s very difficult. It seems now that every entrepreneur and every successful businessman is being viewed with total suspicion for being overly greedy and taking advantage of the boom years. Well, it’s like you can’t have it both ways (laughs).
How do you mean?
What we need now is jobs. We need entrepreneurs, we need people who are willing to get out there and have ideas and do stuff. So I would be a little bit concerned now that we might swing the other way and we might turn the clock back to that period before there was any kind of economic prosperity on the horizon. I think we just have to keep our heads together. I mean, Ireland’s been so brilliant on so many levels over the years. It’s shown so much great leadership in so many areas of culture and politics – the politics particularly of the developing world or whatever. But it’s not a time to panic. It’s time to get the house in order, but I would be very much in favour of not allowing this heads on pikes mentality to prevail, because I think it’s very counterproductive.
The vast and cavernous Earl’s Court venue is buzzing with activity as a small army of workers prepare for tomorrow night’s mega-bash. Cleaners, carpenters, technicians, soundmen, assistants, cameramen, security personnel and the occasional celebrity scurry to and fro. Busy, busy, busy...
No more than ourselves. As soon as we arrive, The Edge is ushered off towards the stage and Hot Press is directed towards the band’s dressing room (the Kings Of Leon are just up the corridor). Manager Paul McGuinness and publicist Regine Moylett greet me warmly, coffee me up, and take me into a small side room.
No sooner have I taken my jacket off and pulled up a seat than Larry Mullen, Jr briskly walks in. Dressed entirely in black, the blonde-haired U2 stickman easily looks 10 years younger than his 47 years. He’s affable, courteous and professional. However, there’s a cold steeliness to Larry’s eyes that suggests he’d go through you for a shortcut if you ever pissed him off.
Olaf Tyaransen: We’re under a bit of time pressure here so I’m gonna ask you to talk pretty quickly.
Larry Mullen, Jr: I’lltalkprettyquickly! (Laughs). No, it’s all a bit chaotic, but if there’s stuff you want to clarify later I’m sure we can figure it out. But I’ll talk fast.
Edge tells me that that the birds were shitting on your drums in Fez.
Yeah, they were. They wrecked my new electronic drumkit. It was just one of those great moments, you know. This idyllic place, everything is just perfect – or not perfect, but pretty close to it. From a musician’s perspective, anyway. Brian Eno’s on one side, you’ve got the rest of U2, you’ve got Daniel Lanois doing his thing on his guitar. The roof is open, the sun is shining. And suddenly the birds are shitting on you! That suddenly brought us back down to reality.
Was it the legendary Joujouka drummers that attracted you to Fez?
No, not at all. The original idea was to go to this spiritual festival that goes on every year in Fez. And I was certainly interested to go along and see it, but there was talk at one stage of us performing at it. I think every time you record, you need to be placed somewhere. It just seemed like a good place for us to be. I don’t really understand why – and sometimes you don’t.
You’d visited Morocco before, hadn’t you?
Yeah, we’d been before and we liked the vibe. It’s just a very interesting place. Musically its influences are Arabic, you know. There’s nothing Moroccan, necessarily. Like, the drums are Egyptian. They’re Egyptian drums and it’s fascinating to watch – complex and all as it is. But no, it was really just to see the festival. And then to debunk there for a couple of weeks and record, as well. But the idea that there wouldn’t be an idea was very much part of it. And that was what was attractive to me.
As a drummer, do you have any sort of academic interest in the history of drumming or of drumming styles?
I’m about as basic as you get as far as drums are concerned. When I started, I was a huge Gene Krupa fan because what he did sounded simple enough to me. And I liked Buddy Rich and I liked a lot of the jazz players, but I always knew that that wasn’t where I was going to be. So I never studied with that in mind. When I was a kid, when I went to learn how to play, I got frustrated that I had to only learn on one drum, that I couldn’t use more. I was one of those kids that got bored easily.
This was when you were in the Artane Boys Band?
I wasn’t there for very long. But they wanted you to learn these things over and over again. And they were absolutely right. But I wanted to play Croke Park. I wanted it now. And it was the same when I was learning how to play. I wanted to be better than I actually was. I never thought I was better than I was. But I guess I missed a golden opportunity to become proficient, and I ended up with U2. So you’ve gotta weigh it up (shrugs, laughs).
How good a drummer are you now? Would you say that you’re at the top of your game?
I would never say I was at the top of my game, not by any stretch. I think within U2 we’ve always worked as a team...
Even though it’s your band!
I guess (laughs). No, I’ve always wanted to be part of a band. That was always the idea. So I’m a very good member of U2. I’m not sure I’m even the best drummer in U2. But that doesn’t really bother me. I’m interested in being inventive and I’m interested in being creative. And I don’t care what that takes. And that’s not necessarily about chops. There are some extraordinary players, really great players, out there.
Do you ever throw a lyrical suggestion at Bono?
Absolutely. That’s part of the rich tapestry of U2 is that there are no rules, and everybody hasan opportunity to contribute on whatever level they want to. And early on in the record, I got an opportunity to go into a studio and to do my drum parts. Edge is in another part of the world, I send him those drum parts. He’s got guitar parts he sends me. So we work very much like that. Not on everything, but on a lot of the stuff.
I spoke to Ronnie Vannucci from The Killers recently...
He’s a great drummer!
He was telling me that the band put much of their new album together via email, just sending each other their various parts and working independently of each other. Do U2 do much of that?
It’s not as set in stone as that. We use that technology if Edge is in another part of the world, as I say, and I’ll be somewhere else, and we’ll work together. But what we don’t do is we don’t go back and forth by email. I’ll send the idea, Edge sends his idea, and then we’ll come together as a band and thrash it out. And we know what we’re talking about. So we all get a sense very early on of where the song is going. And it goes and meanders for a long period of time, and in the last two weeks of a record is when you actually realise what you have and when things start to change and move on. The things you held onto as being so important, they disappear – and that’s part of the game. We don’t write in a traditional fashion and we never have. We’re not very good at writing in a traditional fashion.
You’re a bunch of amateurs!
We are! But that’s what separates us is that we are... if you want to pitch yourself against some of the greatest singer-songwriters or just songwriters, we’re not songwriter-ly and if we try to be songwriter-ly what we do is we lose that thing that makes it special.
Could U2 continue without any one member?
I’m sure it could. Of course, it’d be very hard for U2 to continue without Bono, but think of Van Halen, think of AC/DC. But I don’t know. Do I see myself doing this into my ‘70s? No, I don’t. There will be a time. Whether that’s on an individual basis or a band decision. But right now I just think it’s very exciting to be out there making music. Making music and being creative is an incredibly amazing thing to be able to do. And the fact that people still want to hear what you do and people still want to come and see you. Why would you give that up? It’s a very hard thing to give up. And it’s not the money, it’s not the success, it’s just the challenge of being creative. Within the band, it’s the creative thing that drives people. It’s not being at the top of your game. Will we ever be as good as so and so? You can make all the comparisons, but I think that’s an error. You can only be as good as your last record. It’s a cliché, but it’s true.
You recently told an interviewer that you didn’t like seeing Bono palling around with people whom you consider to be war criminals, i.e. Bush and Blair. Was he upset with you?
I don’t know if he was. I didn’t discuss it with him. Bono is a big boy who understands that there are differences of opinion and there always have been. That’s just the way it is. We’ve been disagreeing on everything except music for more than 30 years. There is an impression out there that U2 is some kind of corporate team – that we move together and we all agree on everything. But we don’t. That’s not how it works. It’s important that people not understand that, but that they recognise that that is the case. That we all have a point of view and an opinion and we don’t always agree. And I think the older you get the harder it is to find things that you agree on. And that’s why having a creative basis is so important – because that is something that we do agree on.
Are the friendships within the band as strong as they were when you were in school?
You ask yourself that question. Are you still friends in the same way as you were with people you knew when you were 15? You grow up, you have a family, things change. You’re not a gang of four guys from Dublin kicking against the world anymore. Things have changed. Friendships have changed. They’ve developed. They’re different.
Speaking of family, you’ve now got three kids. Is it difficult combining a rock ‘n’ roll career with the responsibilities of fatherhood?
It’s a real challenge, just trying to get the balance right. I haven’t figured it out. I really haven’t figured it out. I don’t know. There’s a certain amount of guilt that goes along with being away for long periods or being in the studio. You’re distracted a lot of your time. Of course, your priority is your family. But this is my job, this is what I do. I’ve been doing it since I was a kid and I’m not qualified to do anything else. And I hope my family are resilient enough to withstand the pressures and difficulties that my life imposes on them. It’s not comfortable all the time.
I guess Adam’s the lucky one there.
Well, I don’t know if he’s lucky. I think having kids is a really lucky thing. It’s certainly different; it’s a lifestyle choice. He’s made a different choice. But he doesn’t have the complications, you’re right about that. It’s not as complicated.
What do you make of what’s happening in Ireland at the moment?
On an economic basis? If I thought it was just an Irish phenomenon, I’d be really concerned. But I think it’s a worldwide phenomenon. So everybody is going through this. What was particularly difficult for Ireland is that it was so good for so long – we couldn’t be touched – and to have it go so badly wrong so quickly is a shock to everyone. I don’t know. I’m not an economist. I’m not even close to an economist. I hit things for a living. But I live in Ireland and when you see what’s going on... (shakes head).
In fairness, it’s not going to hit you that badly...
It doesn’t particularly affect me the way it’s affecting other people. I’m a rich rock star. There’s a lot of people really hurting out there and I’m not in that position. We tour internationally, we sell records internationally. So there is a certain amount of discomfort, I have to say. I haven’t felt that before. I didn’t feel it in the ‘80s, but I’m definitely feeling it now. There’s a different mood. Rich people and successful people are all lumped in together now – and there’s a perception that everyone’s ripping everyone off. But I think that will settle down. I think it’s a kneejerk reaction, and it’ll find its level. Or else there’ll be revolt.
There’s certainly a spirit of revolution in the air.
There is revolution in the air, but the advantage we have is that the European community is a parachute. And it was a parachute in the very poor times, it was a parachute in the good times, and I think it’ll be a parachute again.
I take it you’ll be voting ‘yes’ to Lisbon in the second referendum?
I was very confused about Lisbon. I thought it was very, very badly managed. I’m bipartisan as far as politics is concerned, but I thought the government did themselves no favours. I thought they didn’t explain it properly. So you ended up with extremists. So I was very confused about what was in there. I think there are probably some very good things in there, I think there are some compromises. I think there should be an opportunity to vote on it again. I know that’s a hard thing for some people to swallow, but I don’t think the facts were laid out clearly last time. And I think it’s very unfair to expect the people to vote on something when the facts are not obvious. I mean, I think there were government Ministers who hadn’t even read the text of it.
Brian Cowen admitted he hadn’t read it!
Well, I’m not being critical of him, but I just think there was a certain amount of complacency that happened around that time. You know, we’re all on the pig’s back so we can do what we want. That may have been an error.
The chickens have come home to roost.
They have – and there’s no glory in it at all. There’s no glory in seeing people losing their jobs, people who’ve never been on the dole. You know, I’ve been on the dole. I didn’t find it humiliating, I just found it difficult going in there and... oh, I dunno. It was just a difficult thing. But I was 17 at the time and there was a certain expectation that this was going to happen. So I was prepared for it. But the idea that you work in the IT sector, that you’re an educated person – all of a sudden your job’s gone and you’ve gotta go on the dole. That must be hard.
Click here for part two of the interview.