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Interview with

Bono Vox & Adam Clayton (U2)

This interview with Bono and Adam originates from a radio show. You’ll find detailed information on their most recent album ‘No Line on the Horizon’ and what keeps them going after such a long time in the business.

Question: Gentlemen, what made you pick ‘No Line on the Horizon’ for a title? Because there is a bright future ahead of us? Are we heading for the big wide open? Or what does it mean for you?
Bono: People have very different takes on that title. And I quite like that. Some people find it quite frightening. It’s the moment when the sea and the sky become the same color. And you lived in Brighton, so you know that this occasionally, you know, maybe ten times a year, the sea and the sky exactly the same colour and you lose the line on the horizon, you disappear into infinity. And we were thinking about, you know: “What would we like this album to be about?” And I just thought: “Well, I’d like it to have no line on the…” You know, not to be, in that sense, not to have any end in sight. (chuckles) You might say: “So that’s why it took two years.” But actually that’s what the image is for me: No end in sight and the future is wide open. “The future needs a big kiss”, is the opening line of “Get on Your Boots”. And I am optimistic about the future, I think it’s gonna be a very difficult present, but I think the future is gonna be better for that.

Q: So it’s your “Yes, we can”?
Adam: (laughs) You’re putting words in our mouth.
Bono: (laughs) I’d say it’s: “Yes, we must.”

Q: Because there is this line in the song ‘Unknown Caller’, which uses sort of Obama-language: “Go. Shout it out. Rise up. Escape yourself. And Gravity.” That is very similar, isn´t it?
Bono: Yeah, it’s an unusual song, “Unknown Caller”. It has a Greek chorus, literally, because it’s a chorus of voices that shout from the side instructions. And live that’s gonna be incredible if people start singing the instructions or, you know, shouting the instructions. And it’s a character who is really at the end of his rope, he goes into hotel room, motel room, you don’t know what he is capable of doing, he´s really… he is very… he is in despair. And he tries to get a line out on his phone, he can’t, and then the phone starts to text him instructions. He doesn’t know where the instructions are coming from. Is it a friend? Is he cracking up? You know, is it God? And it’s called “Unknown Caller”… but those instructions are, you know, are interesting… declamatory, Greek chorus like moments.

Q: But then: How do the ‘Cedars Of Lebanon’ fit in there – in that sort of optimistic context? Because due to that song the entire album ends on quite a negative note.
Bono: It ends… for an album that has a sort of joyful and playful heart, and the mischief of “Get on Your Boots”, the slyness, that sort of sly sexiness that U2 are just not allowed to be (laughs), or stand up. The… it does end on a kind of a… slightly… well, not just slightly, very sour note. The war in Iraq, the troubles that are brewing on the horizon, they are kept at bay for most of the songs. They’re in the peripheral vision, if you like, of the songs. Even “Get On Your Boots”, you know, you sense it: “The future needs a big kiss. Winds blow at the twist. I’ve never seen a moon like this. Can you see it too? Night is falling everywhere. Rockets at the fun fair. Satan loves a bomb scare, but he won’t scare you. Hey, you sexy boots. Get on your boots.“ It’s a family portrait, a little Polaroid of a fun fair, and a family at it. And he says to her, you know: “You don’t know how beautiful you are.” It’s kind of a corny, little Polaroid, but behind it you sense the… there’s a foreboding… and we were in France, it is my family, and we could hear the bombers and the fighter planes going overhead on their way to Iraq. And we were in our love bubble, and it was a strange feeling… and, you know, because of my life as an activist as well, there is some times I don’t wanna talk about the wars between nations, and you wanna close the door. But at the end of the album, it’s suddenly the peri… what’s on the circumference comes into the centre. And it has this lyric: “Choose your enemies carefully, because they define you. Make them interesting, because in some ways they mind you. They’re not there in the beginning, but when your story ends they’re gonna last with you longer than your friends. Be very careful (laughs), choose your enemies very carefully.” And that’s in the political sense, but also in the personal sense. What are the demons you’re going to fight?

Q: Why is it so difficult for U2 to be just funny and sexy? And do you try to be every once in a while – just to escape the “intellectual”-box so to speak?
Adam: I think we find salvation in music. I think we love pop music, but it’s not our expression. And for us to commit to something we have to believe it, we have to be involved in a relationship with it. And that for us - perhaps as a cultural thing - it comes from a more serious, heavy place for us. I wish it was easier to be loose and sexy and dance… But it just doesn’t seem to come easy.

Q: As for the music: There is some “Unforgettable Fire” in there, some electronics from the ‘Achtung Baby’-era, and some moody mid-tempos from the previous albums. Is this like everything you have done all put into one album? The essence of U2?
Bono: I think everything that we’ve learned brought us to this album. We… this is the album we waited all our life to make. And everything we’ve learned in it - from sonic experimentation, to emotional vulnerability and naivety, to tough mindedness and ready to stare into the abyss… everything that we’ve done, you’re absolutely right, has brought us to this place. But we’re not looking back, you know that? It’s not like we’re… we don’t… we don’t… I was just telling someone today actually, I said: “I’ve never listened to U2. I’ve not heard ‘The Joshua Tree’ or ‘Achtung Baby’ since they were made.” I´ve never put them on. If I hear a song on the radio sometimes I smile, most times I cringe. I love to play the songs live, but that’s all I know. I don’t know really our body of work. And I know as a band we’re always thinking: “It’s the next album; we’ll get there on the next album.” And we’ve gotten as close to it on this. And I’m amazed we’re getting five star reviews around the world, and it’s very encouraging signs. But, yeah, it took everything we had to make this.

Q: What about the artwork: It´s the Bodensee in Germany, isn´t it?
Bono: First of all Sugimoto is maybe one of the greatest living artists. Forget photographer, his photography is regarded as fine art, and, you know, his photographs sell for like half a million dollars. I mean, it’s crazy, he did not charge us for this. And he gave it to us on return for us giving him music. So he can use our music, and we can use this image. And it’s very, very, very beautiful. And it’s just… on the inside you´ll see… (browses through pages). On one of the other formats you´ll actually see the blurred, the image of “No Line on The Horizon”, but not on this one. It´s great!

Q: May I ask what keeps you going after 33 years and 140 million albums sold?
Bono: That! That thought, that the next one might be it.
Adam: I think also we live very much in the live domain. I mean, that’s where we came from. Before we could play, before we knew the subtleties of music, we were on stage at 17 and 18, you know, with some very rudimentary skills. And that’s our self-validation, that’s what certainly I live for, is that moment of being able to perform in front of an audience, to connect with an audience, where the songs live.

Q: If it takes five years to make an album, you must feel like the horse in the stable. Meaning: You have to get out?
Adam: Absolutely, yeah. I mean, it’s… once the songs… (laughs) that as well. Once the songs are out there, you know, they change and grow and they actually teach you stuff about yourself that you don’t realize at the time when you’re writing then or whatever. So, yeah, you just wanna get out there.
Bono: Well, the reason for the delay between the last studio album is… was self-imposed really. Larry was kept this mantra repeating: “Let’s not have a deadline. Let’s just make music for its own sake. Let’s just… let’s get lost.” Whose phrase is that? The great Jazz man? What is that song? Anyway, it’s an old Jazz phrase, “Let’s get lost.” And you know what it means, it just means: “Just go there.” And that’s why working in Morocco, in Fez, helped us. You know, and in a way that medina that… we had a little motel on the edge of this medina. The medina has these narrow streets that you can just go down, you can be walking for hours, you just have no idea where you are. And then eventually turn out in a little… by a mosque or by a synagogue or by a Christian church. Because Fez has got a very interesting cross section of different faiths. And that’s what we did.

And the moment we said: “OK, we better have set a release date”, was the moment we started actually becoming self-conscious and tripping ourselves up, and Larry was like: “I told you.” And I’m saying: “Larry, but we are a band, we have an audience, there may not be an audience.” And I don’t think he minded that much (laughs), but I minded. And so we did try to get the… we tried to get the songs finished by last November - and we failed. But, you know, there’s lots of songs, there is 50 songs, these were chosen from them. It wasn’t just quality what they were chosen for, but because they sit with each other. And myself and Edge wrote a musical in the meantime. I mean, we’ve been busy, it’s not like we’re… we’re not people who, you know, who don’t toil, you know, we plowed the land.

Adam: We made better decisions, you know. Some songs that we would have put on the record in November came off the record, and we brought in new songs. So it’s much more rounded and even out the last minute we were changing the running order. And I think we felt, with this record, before, you know, it was set in stone, very content that it was the best record we could make, as opposed to feeling: “If we only had a little bit longer, it could have been different.”

Q: So you´ve been taking your time?
Bono: I mean, a lot of people have a U2 album (chukles), you know what I mean? Do they really need another one is a very valid question. And, you know, if it’s worth… if it’s worth purchasing - if there is still anyone out there who purchases music - it better be great. And it better have, you know, eleven great songs and not filler. I mean, the other thing that was part of this was trying to get an album, you know, in the traditional sense, because we live in a culture were songs predominate, pop songs in particular. People don’t buy albums anymore, or if they do, they don’t listen to them beginning, middle and end. So this is… I mean, to be pretentious for a second - why not? - it works, we think, in a three act, as a three act. Which there’s an opening, there’s a middle and a close. And they’re very different characters, but we think they all add up. And it’s funny, because the feedback we’re getting is that people put it on, and then they have to listen to the end. And it’s nearly an hour, it’s long.

Q: Therefore it´s you and the Kings Of Leon saving the classic album format?
Bono: Well, you know, the Kings Of Leon are a fine Rock´n´Roll band and they came on the road with us on the last tour. And I loved their last album. And to be honest with you, that’s who we feel, in our heads… if you asked us who we‘re competing with: Kings Of Leon, Interpol, you know, Killers, Coldplay, these are bands that we admire. Someone has told me the other day that Caleb was asked, Zane Lowe asked Caleb: “What did you learn on the U2 tour?” He said: “How to travel, man.” (laughs)

Q: As for the “Spiderman”-musical, will you be acting in there, too?
Bono: No, no, no, it’s just… we just really wanted to see what it would be like to write songs out of a Rock or even a band format. And we’re still trying to talk the band into playing some of these songs, but we haven’t got to that moment yet, see whether they want to play on it, but that would be our dream.

Q: Whatever happened to the idea of recording with Rick Rubin?
Adam: You know, I think it’s still out there. I just think this wasn’t the right record to do with Rick. We did some pre-production, and then we thought: “Oh, we kind of know what that record is gonna be.” And we didn’t wanna make that record. I think we’ll do it, you know, in… I don’t know, five years time, ten years time. We felt there was more from Danny and Brian, to make a record that was more unusual.

Bono: Rick is a minimalist and a master craftsman. And we’re in a maximalist phase and drawing with crayons, rather than, you know, being so painterly… And we learned from him, he’s a very wise man, and I’ll carry some of his words around in my head. And I really can’t wait to work with him, and I think we’ve got some great songs started. But this album we just sensed we had to experiment, just had to, and that’s why we chose Brian and Dan for this.

Q: So what bearded wisdom did you get from him?
Bono: He has fundamental reverence for the text, and I think I would like to do an album that starts with the words. We’ve never done it before. Mostly I write words out of the melodies. So we improvise together as a band, I get the melodies, and then I try put into words what I’m feeling from the music. It’s quite difficult, and I have to use a lot of vowel sounds, because U2 makes kind of opera. You know the way the Italians, you know, they own… that way sound great for opera, because they’ve got all the vowels. But as a lyricist sometimes it’s quite limiting, and which is why on say “Achtung Baby” I sang through distortion pedals to get to a different… and why on this album I’ve tried different characters to get a different tone of voice, like on “Breathe”. But I wouldn’t mind at some point doing an album working back from the lyrics, and that might be the one to do with Rick.

Q: Will you take this opera on the stage?
Adam: Yeah, this one’s gonna run for a while. We’re looking forward to it.

Q: What can we expect? Yet another big production like the “Vertigo”-tour?
Adam: (chuckles): I think it’ll be big, yeah. You know, it’s early days yet, but we wanna go outdoors this time. Well, actually we were outdoors in Europe last time, but we haven’t been outdoors in America.

Bono: We have an idea that was being in the back of our head for about six years, so it’s… it’s a certain way of playing outdoors that’s never been done before. And we want to make it an extraordinary production, something that no one has ever experienced the likes of ever before. We also wanna make the ticket price affordable, at least, you know, break some records in that area. Now, those two impulses are normally contradictory. I think we might have found a way. So… so, that’ll be a real thrill. But there is some risk involved, because it hasn’t been done before (laughs). So until we see, we don’t know quite how it’s gonna work with the crowd.

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