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Propaganda - Issue #30 - Edge interview

ISSUE #30 :. 

You want to know what is happening with the new U2 album. We want to know what is happening with the new U2 album. Only four men have the answer -- and one of them is The Edge. 
Interview: Martin Wroe
Additional reporting: Jim Carroll

Right here and right now, there is only ONE thing we want to talk to the Edge about. Yes, we do want to know about The Million Dollar Hotel and we do want to know about what music he is listening to at present but, more pertinently, we want to know about the new U2 album, slowly cooking over a stove which Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois are tending in Dublin's docklands.

When Propaganda sits down with The Edge to have a cup of tea, he's quite chipper. 'There is a good chance that this could be our best record yet, it's all in the next couple of months.'

It has taken a while, hasn't it?
We could probably have had an album finished last year and had it out before the end of the year but I don't think it would have been as good a record. I'm really happy we stuck at it. When I wake up in the morning I'm really excited at what we're creating -- which is not to say it's easy, but there is some great stuff going on.

How would you describe the album-to-be?
I would say it is very much a band record, it's us playing together, very simple, perhaps back to like our first few records with guitar, bass, drums, maybe some keyboards but not that much -- I might have done a couple of different guitars on some tracks but still very simple. It's in the face of the way technology is pushing music forward. Rather than go in that direction, this is an attempt to bring it back to what a band does best. I'm a huge fan of dance music, but we have an expertise, something special that no-one else can do. And that's where our focus is.

So these back to basics rumours we have been hearing are true then? 
It's a very simple record. This place is really a kind of glorified songwriting workshop, a rehearsal room that we've added recording equipment to. Consequently, the emphasis is not so much on the sonics but more on the nuts and bolts of the material, the ideas that go into it. We can either keep working here and find a way of bringing them alive sonically, or else we might even look at recording some of them elsewhere. But most of the effort has gone into the material.

It sounds like you have rediscovered a lust for rock & roll?
We certainly haven't given up our interest in exploring the fringe of what the band is capable of and what a band can mean today, but for the moment, we are interested in exploring what actually it is to be in a band, in the face of where music is being pushed by technology. There is stuff you just can't do with samplers and drum machines -- there are certain feels and sounds that only a band can produce. Previous to this, we would have been excited at exploring the outer limits of where the band could go as a band, and still hold the centre. Now we're happy to explore what the centre is all about, the band itself, what that can do. There is a certain kind of vitality and immediacy, an impact that music can have when it is chopped back to its primary colours.

Any tracks which stand out at this stage?
Stuck In A Moment (Which You Can't Get Out Of) is very strong because it's so unusual: it's like an incredible pop song, but done by us and done our way so it sounds like a U2 song but it's incredibly melodic and also has this gospel aspect. Another track called Home is going to be a stand-out, very uplifting and beautiful. There's a tune called Elevation which has an almost hip-hop groove -- but being played by us doesn't sound like anything out there.

Have you been digging out many unused gems from before for this record?
[Laughs] I suppose I am the archaeologist, I will find the rough mix from four months ago that has the classic drum fill on it. Generally I can find it, these are the things that you tick off in your subconscious -- 'That's classic, whatever happens that is going to make the album' -- and when you find that, you keep your hands on it. The subconscious is weird, if you really are consumed by something, it will keep working and sometimes it will get the answer. It tends to happen when you're really in it -- and that's the way it's been for the last six months.

It's clear that when it comes to songwriting, it's a combination of the four members. Has this continued on the new record?
Oh yes, there is no demarcation. Like yesterday, Larry was sitting down and going through this tune that we had pretty much left to one side most of last year and hadn't really thought about. It was just this very atmospheric two minutes that we had, which we thought might be a little interlude. And suddenly he goes, 'Wow I think this could go somewhere else' and hums this melody line, which was actually very cool. So we tried that , we hummed it into a cassette player, I've worked on it and it's ended up being the centre piece of the music on this new song. Larry might only do that twice on a record, but they might be some of the most important steps. That happens the other way too: there might be a drumbeat I have in my head that I'll hum to Larry, and he goes off and develops it -- and hey presto, we have some other angle on a song.

Despite this democracy, I assume each member has a certain role?
Well, my role has developed into probably instigator of musical ideas, putting forward chord progressions or whatever could go towards making a U2 song. That said, it's always a surprise when you see what happens to them; what ones fly and what ones don't.
At times I felt sorry for Bono -- at different moments he would have loved to be in a studio with us, but happened to be on a plane going to some meeting. Mostly, it worked out okay, because the rest of us have a hell of a lot of work to do on our own. I felt I benefited hugely from having the amount of time that I did to work on music, on chord progressions and guitar ideas. He didn't have as much time as he might want to work on the lyrics but we've no gun at our heads and when this next deadline comes along, if we're not happy, we can always put it off a little longer. I'd say the benefits of Bono not being around for certain periods have outweighed the negatives -- we've made good use of the breaks. That said, if there was more than one person scattered then we would not have a record at all.

Did many ideas destined for the new album end up finding space on the Million Dollar Hotel soundtrack? 
Wim had already earmarked The First Time from the Zooropa record as something he wanted in the film and it seemed like a mutually beneficial situation to allow The Ground Beneath Her Feet to go onto the soundtrack -- since it was pretty much finished, it was perfect. There's also a tune called Stateless, which again was one we felt was a beautiful tune but that might not make the U2 record. So when Bono was starting to put the soundtrack together, he asked whether they could go on the soundtrack record. It seemed like the perfect thing to do with them, because they weren't going to make the U2 album. The only one that was in any doubt was The Ground Beneath Her Feet, but we already had so many great ballads that it seemed like we didn't really need another one.

An American college band -- Mnemonic -- released a cover version of The Ground on their website before your version had even been aired on radio 
They've released their version of our song before we've released our version of our song? That's very funny, some kind of a first but it's great, I love that stuff. The internet should be welcomed with open arms because technology has always been good for music. Whatever shape it's come in -- cassettes, or CD's -- music has benefited. The record companies should stop being so scared of it and get into it: the truth is that people are interested in great music along with great artwork, great pressings -- great quality -- and while the market for proper CD's will always be there, that doesn't mean people won't download music from websites. There will be additional forms of distribution which can be instigated by the record companies or the owners of the copyright.
In fact, I heard of a great idea -- Project Nigel I think it was called -- where music on the net would be encoded with some sort of watermark, so that whenever it was transferred on the net someone would have to pay a tiny amount to the copyright holder. That would make every person on the net a possible music outlet; far from trying to stop people compiling their own websites for music, it would turn it around, and everyone out there who's into music could put together compilations. It would cost a few pence to send them to your friends or to download them and everyone is served -- the musicians get something out of it, the record companies who own the copyright get something out of it and people get the freedom to do what they want. I think that's creative, turning what people see as a negative into a positive.

There's talk of a tour next Spring, isn't there? 
I was just looking through a Japanese magazine at some shots of the Chilli Peppers on the road and my heart did sink! But I'm always somewhat daunted at touring, it's not unusual for me. I can't conceive doing the stadium show in a more impressive way than Zoo TV and PopMart, they were purpose-built ways of doing those big shows, so in some ways I feel we've done the stadium thing. We've achieved that when a lot of bands were saying it couldn't be done.

So we can expect something a bit different next time around?
It will be a little bit less of a big deal in every sense and I'm looking forward to that -- simply because the workload last time was astonishing. We had fantastic designers and great people to help us, but basically we oversaw everything , and it was too ambitious given the amount of time we had to do it in. I imagine we'll start smaller, try and keep more options open about where the tour is going. Perhaps we won't tie ourselves into a set period of time. That said, I looked at the concert film the other week and it was great!

What does The Edge in 2000 feel there is left to achieve?
As a songwriter and guitar player there's a lot more I have to learn, and also for U2. Whatever we have, I have no idea how it works, but I do recognise that it is unique and special. When we're on it, there's no one like us and I'd love to see that continue. There are challenges along the way -- like how are we going to do it in ten years time, when we're all nearly fifty! How will we be able to keep doing what we're doing? I don't know all the answers to that one yet!