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RIFF - December 2002

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RIFF magazine, December 2002 "Best of the Edge."

Who? The Edge, guitarist, keyboardist, sonic architect of U2. Why? The release of the second volume of the Best- Of (1990-2000) of the Irish group takes a backward look over a decade when the Edge cleared the way for a new role for rock guitar. Ambiance, texture, use of effects, this compilation shows how this guitarist still has a major influence (from Radiohead to Coldplay, via all the Nu-metal Whammy fans.)

Dave (The Edge) Evans has had a great life. The man who, in 1992, inducted Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, and Jeff Beck (for their participation in the Yardbirds) into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is the same guy who, at the end of the 70s, swore by insolent punk rockers and them alone. The same guy who is part of a group pictured on an Irish stamp. The same guy whose remarriage this summer set the celebrity gossip magazines aflutter and, from Lenny Kravitz to Quincy Jones, brought the best-dressed to Provence. The same guy who invented the sonorous colors of one of those rare biggest rock groups in the world. And hes also the same guy who, in March 78, found a springboard to success with a novice lineup, called at the time in a sort of premonition Feedback and the Hype. Hes the guy whose incomplete chords, harmonics, delay, fuzz plugged into a Whammy, slide, and feedback knocked the guitar off balance in the extra-innovative album Achtung Baby. And, yes, the guy wh o is as guarded with his words (especially with French journalists) as with his solos. However, through Edges words, here are a few keys to help you better listen to the music of the four U2ers (Bono- singer, Larry- drums, Adam- bass), with the guitar in the spotlight.

The Best of 1990-2000 and the Third Millennium
Two years after the ATYCLB album, destined for success thanks to a return to the real values of U2, one year after the end of the Elevation Tour which followed it, the 2nd volume (1990-2000) of the groups Best of is coming out. With two new songs, Electrical Storm a classic U2 ballad, and The Hands the Built America, a grandiloquently romantic, neo-celtic song which is on the original Martin Scorcese film The Gangs of New York. Nothing revolutionary here, but it eases the wait, because U2 is recording their next album, expected in summer 2003. Edge, whose 41 years havent dampened his enthusiasm, seems satisfied.
Its going great, he says. Were setting out to make an album closer to our early ones, simple, with stripped down arrangements. Were hungry. Hungry for a music with life force. Its another evolution, after the 90s one, when we embraced the concept of a rock group, which wed previously distanced ourselves from as much as possible, in order to reconstruct it again. That was our policy for the last 10 years. And thats why it was so hard to choose the songs for this Best Of. We listened to everything again, trying to choose the numbers that seemed to us to stand the test of time. I think all of us like this revisionism

Anti-guitar hero?
Is Edge really the incarnation of the anti-guitar hero? Or is he a reworked version of it? So much bad music, derived from the blues, is only a prop for guitarists, who go up and down the neck as fast as possible, which, really When I started electric guitar, I did the same as everybody else. When I was 15, I transplanted others concepts, worked on a few scores from Rory Gallagher and others, but not much more. And to boot, the mid-70s music didnt inspire me.
The day we saw the Jam and the Sex Pistols on TV on Top of the Pops (BBCs flagship musical series at the time ed.) -- it set us free. We were all hanging out together and the question got turned on its head. No longer was it about knowing if you could play this or that and how fast, but about asking if you had something to say with the guitar. That changed it all for me. The guitarists Ive liked have all been determined to answer that question. Neil Young is all about that, while staying with the basics, just like Tom Verlaine with Television. Anyone who got to go to a Jam concert in 1980 knows that Paul Weller had a big story to tell by hitting one chord on a Rickenbacker. The difference between those guys and a guitar hero is that the instrument stops being an object you brandish in the face of the audience, but a means of touching them. As for me, you know, playing has to justify itself. I can appreciate someone improvising, just taking off with a drummer and a bassist, but other things interest me a lot more, like, for example, understanding the importance of the guitar in the construction of the song. Im more Pete Townsend (who was one of the first to encourage Edge ed.) than many of the others.

Echo is his style
Since U2s first album Boy, Edge has been playing around. With effects, beginning with using an echo, which, in the years to come, would succeed in making his playing instantly recognizable. We were working on a song, and Bono just kept saying I hear it with a sort of echo, as if the chords were repeating. Eventually I decided it was worth a try, and I found an echo chamber for our next rehearsal. At first I didnt like it at all, it just muddied the sound. But then I bought myself an Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man. Despite several flaws, that brand produced some effects with real personality, and I loved the sound of that pedal. For weeks and week I practiced using it and integrating it with the songs wed already written. In the end it gave me new ideas for writing more songs. Id found something which matched up with my desire for impurity. Not the normal sound of a guitar, but my own way of coloring it, controlling it. Since then, the Edge has moved on to a digital delay with the Korg SDD-3000 which he finds warm, even despite its computerized aspect. Recently, hes also used the Electronic T.C.

Brian Eno- Daniel Lanois, on the way to change
When we started working with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois for Unforgettable Fire (1984) we learned a new way of recording. We no longer arrive at the studio with finished pieces. We play with a chord progression, a rhythm, a guitar riff, and we build on that. It offers huge advantages. No one in the group knows whats going to happen, we all listen with the pleasure of exploration. Theres the feeling you can only get the first time you play something: the pure thrill of discovery. Thats what led me to work more with keyboards, and with a general guitar atmosphere, than putting the guitar up front in a traditional way. I set to experimenting with a whole pile of things: blocking the vibration of the strings with an adhesive strip near the bridge, playing slide with an echo, using alternative tunings like FADDGD (the Edge often tunes a half-step down from the normal guitar tuning), with an E-Bow (a little machine you hold in your right hand to produce an infinite s ustain).

Solos, ma non troppo
Theyre often absent, always short, but the Edge doesnt mind taking a solo (is this another precursor?) even though his bias is to hold back. When a song needs it, or when a song can really benefit from it as a kind of soul supplement, Im happy to do it. Actually, that happens when the song is nearly finished, and it seems not to be alive enough. Trying a solo in whatever part seems weak does sometimes produce astonishing results. But overall Im a minimalist in this area. I let the music lead me, and I live in fear of playing something gratuitous.

The roaring 90s
With Unforgettable Fire, the music became as strong as Bonos voice. Some people criticized us for making it only one element among others. They said U2 was becoming arty and hip. But it was something deeper and more lasting. Something carried us even farther for Achtung Baby (1991- ed.) We said that album was U2 demolishing the Joshua Tree (the 15-million selling 1996 record ed.) and its the truth. Yet, when we began that record in Berlin (in the Hansa studios where David Bowie and Iggy Pop had recorded, in the 70s, albums like Heroes), we had some rough moments. It was just at the turn of the decade. Wed even asked each other if maybe we should just take a break, and hang on to see what was going to happen.
"For a week or two, inspiration just fled. Nothing. We were looking at each other, wondering what was going on. Bono and I wanted more contemporary rhythms, Larry and Adam were afraid we were just trying to be fashionable. Until at the end of three days spent on one song, which desperately lacked something, I sit down at the piano, looking for chords that can show us the way forward. Then I picked up an acoustic guitar, and I proposed two ideas to the others. They suggested I stick them together. I went back to the piano to do it, Bono seemed to be struck by inspiration and started singing. Adam and Larry joined in with us, and, for ten minutes we orbited this chord progression. It turned into the foundation of One, and suddenly it all came together. We all knew wed found the key. Three months of demos, new from the studio, but we got through the storm with the album that Im without a doubt the most proud of.

Celtic?
We started out by thinking that we really had to find our own style of expressing ourselves: a clear identity. In Dublin, most guitarists I saw in bars had one thing in common: the blues. I took that as a prohibition: dont play blues. So I had to find something else. And I realized that a person could mine another vein, with chords in bourdon, and that way you could bring a melody out over an ostinato note. One open string and a riff on the neighboring one. I thought Id never heard that before, at least not in rock. Because, obviously, theres an Irish unconscious in there. The Uilleann pipes (the Irish version of binious ed. [a Breton wind instrument trans.]) use it constantly. But at the time, that never occurred to me.

Zoo?
After Achtung Baby, U2 added a postmodern stratum to it with Zooropa (1993), an album represented on the Best of 90-00 by only two tracks (there are 4 songs from Achtung Baby). It was sort of insane. We meant to make an EP, and the songs multiplied until there were enough for a new album. We were in the middle of the ZooTV tour (which followed the release of Achtung Baby ed), we were jumping into a plane to meet in the studio at midnight and record

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Mega-Rock
Some years ago we were ill at ease with the idea of being a big group. When we started out we were very influenced by the punk spirit of the era: strip the fat away from rock with your energy. No one really had a big theory about it, but its what people were doing. Coming from all that, and then finding ourselves in the situation of being a big group, it just felt to us like an anomaly, a contradiction. So we decided to put that position to use. We maneuvered it into a sort of questioning everything and a subversiveness. That was the trick for ZooTV (when U2 showed up on stage amongst Trabant cars from the former East Germany, the internet [sic] and rebellious interactivity. ed.)
We werent afraid of being big any longer, because rock owes that to itself. If you feel rock should be a cult thing, an underground thing, thats fine, but then you abandon the playing field to purely commercial music. Whereas rock has a connection with mass communication. Were in the position where we can do wild things. I wanted to play differently than that eras rock aristocracy, rather than conforming to guitar rules. I think I pulled it off. So now I have the freedom to explore the natural sounds of the guitar with some freshness.

Stick together
Another notch along, the Pop album (1997) with its techno rhythm, left some people in despair. But it attracted those who think you should try everything once. The only thing we knew when we got into the studio, is that we wanted to make a relevant album. We werent set on its musical direction; trying out other ways of producing and writing was what interested us. Which is what we did. We worked on many, many songs simultaneously, and the majority of them got abandoned later. At last we got back to the evidence: the stuff we recorded as a group, all four of us together, was still the best by far. We usually began with those raw materials and transformed them electronically later; in the end wed throw out most of the clips and keep only a few elements of them in the arrangements.

Guitar and electronics
At the time of Pop we were listening to a lot of trip-hop, hip-hop, and electronic dance styles. All kinds of music where sound and texture take over the role that traditionally belongs to melody. I got inspired by the guitar sections of the album. That meant working on sounds like those from the dance culture, but with a guitar. That bit of research kept me interested for a long time. So many guitarists play so well in the conventional manner that I never could see what else I could contribute to the genre. The techno business allowed me, once more, to go further into textures and what they could bring to our songs. But still, I think a couple of Pop tracks could have appeared on October, our second album, or on Unforgettable Fire, or on Joshua Tree. Not as such, but in the sense of their intentions, their themes, and their underlying emotions. Its a summary of all the different phases of the groups career, with the kind of material weve always written.
U effect to the max

The Edge pushed his sonic journey even further on the Pop album, which marks the summit of U2s experimental period. I did a lot of experiments, linking up a number of pedals. Compression, distortion, regeneration, delay. I mixed a bunch of stuff together, say my Whammy with a vintage Fuzzface and an old echo chamber. The moment when one note sets off a sort of outgrowth which develops like a chain reaction. When it works, I make a note of the links and the settings. And I try them on a song. But whats really different now than early on is that Bono and the others, have stopped pointing out to me that maybe this insistent echo I was using could turn into a gimmick. Anyway, back then Bonos job was to start laying out a vocal line on top of the music that Larry and Adam and I were setting forth. From there, we reworked everything to build a melody. Whereas with Pop, I did a lot of work on the guitars already knowing the finished or nearly finished --vocal line.

You Two songwriting
"Its the same today as yesterday: the combination of all four of us is what produces the pieces. For example, Larry was sitting down listening to a couple minutes of an atmospheric thing wed given up on because it was going nowhere. All of a sudden, it occurred to him we could take it somewhere else. So he started humming a very cool melody line which he then recorded on a little cassette player. I picked the recording up and worked on it, and it ended up as the essential part of a new song. And it can also work the other way. For example, sometimes I get the idea of a drumbeat and suggest it to Larry. He listens, he develops it, and it can give a whole new angle to the song.

Whammy
The Edge was one of the first to use this Digitech pedal ( a harmonizer you can work with an expression pedal like a wah-wah), which is today one of the favorite tools of Tom Morello of Dimebag Darrell, of Vai or of the duo Munky and Head, of Korn. You can do both extreme and subtle stuff with this effect. With a fifth below and a fourth above, atmospheric sounds that evoke almost Asian colors, or, with some delay, just really kooky things.

The Edge as architect
My role as musical idea instigator in the group has progressed a lot. I bring in an arpeggio, or chord progressions, that can become the foundation of a new song. Say, progressions Ive always loved, ambiguous as to major or minor, enhanced by chords stripped down to two or three notes doubled at the octave. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesnt.

Back to the source?
The album All that you cant leave behind (2000) rallied the supporters of a more stripped down U2, with a more indie sound as some put it. Its not a back to roots album. Because we didnt give up on exploration, which is the only reason for a rock group to exist today. But for the moment, were enjoying exploring what we can find from within the group. While recording Pop, we realized that we were getting into areas where we couldnt give our best. There are things only computers or samplers can do, but there are also feelings and sounds that only a group can put out there. We held onto what wed learned and brought together with the dance concept, which was what was behind rock in the beginning. But we did it with a much more organic approach. I even vowed not to use effects sometimes and to content myself with just a guitar and an amplifier. A magnificent vintage guitar and an amp just as vintage, and nothing else. It was a new thing for me, and I discovered another angle on what I could do.

The techs epilogue
Dallas Schoo, Edges guitar tech for 20 years, has seen it all. Summary: For the ZooTV and Pop tours, Edge used 8 combination amps. A 70s Hiwatt and a Randall for saturations, an old Fender Bassman for clear sounds. Starting with the Elevation Tour (the most recent tour ed.) he wanted a simplified setup, which already included many effects, controlled by a Bradshaw system. One or two Vox AC-30s were enough for him, one from 1964 which was his favorite, and another from 1982. He has a massive quantity of effects pedals (Ibanez Tube Screamer for crunch sounds, Jim Dunplo Wah-Wah, Digitech WH-1 [original edition/not the re-issue] Whammy, etc), all kinds of distortions, most of them linked together with presets, and others he can call up separately when he wants even more. It makes for a fair amount of racket, but he cant stand noise gates. As for delays, he used to use only Korg, but now hes also using a T.C. Electronics 2290.