U2 ended this decade by playing to some of the biggest audiences of your career, in those stadiums, in the round. How has that affected the music — your connection to rock & roll in those dimensions?
It’s only made possible because of the technology, the in-ear monitors. We can hear each other perfectly. Otherwise it would be an absolute disaster. Because of the in-ear technology, I’m right next to Larry, right next to Adam and Bono, in sonic terms.
What about the connection between your head and what you play?
The only way the shows work for me is if I totally lose myself in the music. Everything else will flow from that. If I’m totally lost in the music, everything comes into alignment — my performance, my sense of everything that is happening musically and my ability to react to it. It’s a case of not allowing thoughts, the conscience mind, to be engaged in the process. Keep the subconscious in control — you’re in a more creative place.
When you were making No Line on the Horizon, could you tell you were making an album with that possibility — that you could lose yourself in the music?
We did make an album with that character, because of the way it came together. A lot of times, we were playing in a room, and there was a particular moment when it all came together. That’s what you’re trying to achieve in a live context. [Brian] Eno said of those sessions, they were some of the most inspiring he had ever experienced, in all of the years he had been in a recording a studio. I know what he meant, because of the way we set up the sessions — the songwriting workshop, which then turned into the recording workshop. There were a lot of moments when it was so exciting, and it was all happening — the music was being invented in real time, in front of everyone’s eyes. And the songs had an inner DNA, a real power and substance. They were true works, because of that. There was no opportunity to allow our fingerprints to be on the pieces.
Were U2 in this decade a different, even better band than they were in the ’90s?
I hate to draw direct comparisons. We know more now, which is a great thing and a bad thing. So often, in the past, we would end up somewhere not knowing how we got there or what we were doing — and have to find a way out of a roadblock, like in our time in Berlin [recording Achtung! Baby]. We had a vague instinct for where we wanted to be, and the songs Bono and I were working on, trying to encourage Adam and Larry to get behind. They were rough sketches and very unimpressive sounding. But our instinct held out, and we eventually got there.
Now we never need to be quite so vulnerable. We know how it works a bit better. Our strength is we waste less time now. It still takes a long time to finish a U2 record. But we don’t end up lost, which we would have in the past.
You do go through periods of rebirth, like that stretch from The Joshua Tree through Rattle and Hum to Achtung! Baby. And it’s a pattern that seems to repeat itself in each decade.
We are the band that is always looking for the thing that has never been done — or never been heard. That’s partly because we get excited when something like that arrives. It’s fruitful for us, but also people expect it. That’s the U2 thing — we don’t see what’s going on and find a way to do it. We try to think of something that’s never been done. Maybe it comes from the fact that we’re still using a very simple array of sounds.
What you foresee for U2 in the next decade?
I can’t think that things will change radically for us, because we are already enjoying being in the band. It matters to us that we still make music that connects, and we are still capable of potentially doing our best-ever album. It’s not a foregone conclusion that our best work is behind us. That still makes it really exciting.
It also makes you unique at this juncture in your career.
We get that. Sometimes I think, “Why has it been so difficult for people in the past to maintain that?” We’re still learning. We’re still ambitious creatively, in terms of where we can take the band. There’s an awful lot there for us.
Is that belief true for all four of you?
We all genuinely believe it. It’s not arrogance. It’s because we are still hungry. There’s no reason why we can’t do this. You think about other art forms and artists — filmmakers, painters, sculptors. It doesn’t follow that your best work is done in your late twenties, early thirties, and then it’s downhill. Unfortunately, that’s the way rock & roll has panned out. But we don’t buy that. Our only limitation is our ability to apply ourselves, to be hard-minded on our work. We push and push until we get to those special pieces of music, those lyrics. And it doesn’t arrive on call. You can’t turn it on. It needs time spent &38212; and time spent in the right frame of mind.
There is no short cut. We end up, at a certain point, at the same place — the band in the room, trying to make something happen. And when it does, it’s a magic thing. There is no denying it.