HE’S THE EVER-URBANE architect of U2’s prowling basslines and, courtesy of Achtung Baby’s sleeve art, the only member of U2 whose “old chap” is in the public domain. But Adam Clayton also has a plausible explanation of No Line On The Horizon’s tortured delivery and that’s not all. Did Brian Eno really throw “the rattle out of the pram”? And what did Bono get Adam for Christmas? In the director’s cut of an interview printed in this month’s MOJO magazine, all will be revealed… Your host: Keith Cameron.
It’s never a smooth process, finishing off a U2 record, and this seems to have been no exception. Was there much chopping and changing down to the wire?
There was sort of an 11th hour scenario, because we got caught up on the running order towards the end, primarily because we’d all come to the conclusion that How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb had suffered by having a compromised running order, and we didn’t want to make the same mistake this time around. So, we pulled White As Snow out of the ‘maybe’ file, and that seemed to balance some of the up-tempo rock tunes. It gave the listener a break.
We had another track called Every Breaking Wave which, if we’d included it, would have made for a very long record. Anyway, we decided that song just hadn’t reached its potential, so, we put it back in the cupboard for the next record (laughs).”
Before Christmas, I heard a track called Winter. Has that become something else?
That was possibly going to be on the record and possibly part of a soundtrack for an upcoming movie and it didn’t make the record but may still be part of that movie soundtrack. [NB since this interview Winter has been confirmed as part of Anton Corbijn’s ‘visual accompaniment’ to No Line On The Horizon, entitled Linear, included in the Deluxe package of the album]
It sounds like you’ve got a lot of material. Could you release another album quite soon?
Well we could, and it’s part of our plan to not leave it too long. Once the tour is up and running there would be no reason why we couldn’t find a week and go into the studio and work on things. It sort of depends on Bono and Edge’s commitments; they’ve got a Spiderman project in the works too (laughs).
So, Spiderman permitting, you could be working on the new album during the next tour?
It would be nice to continue working in the same way. Instead of doing this record in one solid bloc, we sort of did two-week sessions with Brian and Dan, as writing collaborators, and out of those sessions came a lot of really good raw material. But it wasn’t until April of last year that we went into the studio and said, Look, no one gets out of here until it’s finished.
The breaks meant we could come back to things. And, I think that helped everyone. I think it worked really well for Edge from a compositional point of view; he really got to look at how the album hung together and to see what was missing musically. I think it enabled Bono to complete and fully resolve some of the lyrics.
Originally we were looking at a deadline of last August but I think by taking a break instead of trying to push through we were able to come back to it and to pull in some new material. For instance, I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight came out of that period and Every Breaking Wave came out of that period, even though the last one didn’t get onto the album. It just made for a really good record and I think, from Larry’s and my own point of view, it gave us a chance to live with the material and to really have an influence on how it was finished.
So I think the breaks stopped us getting snow-blindness. I also think there was a fundamental shift in the band, in that the material became much more internalised. It wasn’t striving to reach out to connect to people; it became much more about inviting people to come in and be part of the experience.
That’s interesting. I would say the last two records broadly fell into the ‘striving to connect’ category…
I think that was the end of a period. When we were coming through the ’90s and we were playing a lot of big outdoor shows, we lost some connection with ourselves because it was about reaching out to those really big places and that was how we probably conceived a lot of that music. All That You Can’t Leave Behind was the beginning of the shift back, as we knew we were playing relatively small places, but they were much more musical experiences. I think it took the last two records for the band to value what we had together, to value our DNA. I think this record capitalizes and makes the most of that experience.
Did Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno’s writing credits make them try harder?
I don’t know about try harder but I think they were happier! [laughs] I think they both bring a phenomenal commitment to a U2 project in very different ways. Danny really does stay in the trenches and is the last one to leave the building. Brian tends to be the first man in in the morning, working on things that will influence the attitude of people, get them thinking in creative and inspired ways.
Long, creative relationships are unusual in rock’n’roll, but the mileage and the knowledge and the understanding from having been around with them for 20 years makes them a pleasure to work with. And they haven’t really changed much. They’re still questioning in the same way.
Who has the final say?
I think it is us. And it’s probably swung more that way. We’ve moved into a way of working where Brian will commit to a two or a three-week period then he goes off and does his other projects. And the same would be true of Danny [Lanois]. But there’ll be other periods when we’re just on our own.
It does come down to us ultimately. It used to infuriate Brian to the point of throwing the rattle out of the pram. Now I think he observes it and I think he has a healthy respect for it. Towards the end of the record, when we were in Olympic [Studios, South West London], he had a commitment to finish the record I haven’t seen in him for a long time. He was there and really fighting for the record. Like a true midwife would be.
How early on were you aware of what kind of album you were making?
I think there was a lot more clarity around this record and I can’t explain why. It just felt like people knew what this record was. Again, from a very personal point of view, it was like that from the beginning. When we first got together and started to play together, the sound that happened, there was a richness to it. The sound seemed to be a product of the time it was being created in. It was very unusual. The complex, sort of North African feel that’s a part of the record was there right from inception.”
Did the environment in Morocco have a marked impact on the finished product?
I think there was a time when it was more dominant. Earlier on in the record there was a time when it was a bit more challenging and questioning in a cultural sense - east and west and the war was a bit more central to the record. And then it seemed to shift again and it became the record that it is now. I think you’re aware that something has happened in the world. The world has changed and this record doesn’t actually stand up and tell you that because you should know it anyway - but it acknowledges that things are different now and there’s a different value system. I don’t know if you’ve read The Road by Cormac McCarthy? That has a very interesting, brooding atmosphere about it, a sense that you know that something has happened but you’re not quite sure what it is. I think this record has that quality.
Does Eno like bass?
[Laughs] He loves it if he’s playing it!
Do you and Eno always see eye to eye musically?
We have a really healthy respect for each other. It’s probably taken a little while to get to that point but quite often we’ll be digging in the same hole. The great thing about Brian is that he acknowledges his limitations and I have learned to acknowledge mine. He’ll sometimes take something I’m doing and I’ll think, ‘Oh shit, he’s playing my bass part again!’ And I have to go and do something else. But the result is always better. And quite often it’ll be the other way around: he’ll say, ‘Why don’t you play this?’ Or he’ll give me a part and then he’ll figure out something else around it. It’s very much a collaborative experience.
The thing that I love about Brian is that he gets so excited that he’s got a group of people to play with. Because a lot of his time is spent on his own. I think that’s probably why he can be a little impatient. By the time he’s worked something up he just wants to get off it and on to something else.
Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am is credited on I’ll Go Crazy… What does he contribute?
Will helped early on in the arranging of the demo ideas in the summer. Then when he came in we recut it and he helped us push it up the hill. The final version is a recut that we did late on when we’d kind of played it in a bit. But he’s a lovely, inspiring man to be around.
The version I heard before Christmas is almost more over the top than the version on the record…
You’re absolutely right. We did try and take some of the bells and whistles off it and bring it back down to earth. It doffs the cap towards Motown and it’s great to hear the band do a song like that. Unashamedly it’s a pop song and it’s got a pretty good one-two [chuckles]”
Interesting to hear French horns on a U2 record. On at least two songs I think.
Yeah. They’re a lovely mournful sound. Real brass is something that you don’t hear very much and it is a fabulous sound. Those tunes inherently had those brass parts written into them. But we did find a great horn player who came in and embellished them.
It works especially well with the guitar solo on Unknown Caller…
And that is one of Edge’s great guitar solos. Fabulous.
The internal chemistry of the band must shift over time and the process of making a record must be intense. Have you all come out the other side happy?
Erm… [laughs] I think people are more relaxed now. When you have the kind of success that we had early on it brings a kind of responsibility with it. For some of the band, that became a burden that we fought against and wrestled with. But now instead of thinking that the band is limiting we feel it is very free. And we can do things that we can’t do as individuals.
Most of us daydream about being millionaires. Do you ever wonder what you’d do if you woke up and weren’t a millionaire?
Primarily, I don’t identify myself as a millionaire but I am grateful on a regular basis that I don’t have to think about [money] too much. If things changed, I could live within my means. I’d probably find it difficult but it wouldn’t be the end of the world.
There’s a lot of talk about the concert business downsizing. Could U2 tour on anything other than a massive scale?
I think it can change, depending on our appetite for big tours or for long tours or the economics of it. But for the tour coming up, I think we want to take on the big places again. It feels right to play the songs in stadiums this time. But I don’t know what songs we’re going to play yet. We’re about to go off and do some promo for TV and when we get back from that we’ll be rehearsing for the tour.
What did Bono get you for Christmas?
[Laughs nervously] Actually, we don’t do Christmas presents any more. It was negotiated a few years back. We tend to pass books around.
Interview by: Keith Cameron