In the January edition of Guitar Player Magazine Edge talks about how All That You Can't Leave Behind came together - offering insights into how its development differed to previous albums. Now, he explains, 'instead of building from electronic tools, we build up the material organically, and then add more modern elements on top of it.'
Below a few choice extracts from the interview - but you can also hear mp3 audio snippets from the interview, with Edge talking about 'reuniting with his Explorer, the glories of fuzz, and a less-complicated signal path.'
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GP: Did you intend to go for a more stripped down sound on All That You Can't Leave Behind?
Edge: We're the kind of band that has a chemistry and a vibe when we play together, so we wanted to start the whole writing process with the band in a room. We quickly found our band sound to be very fresh -- especially after the more electronic leanings of the last two albums.
GP: This album seems to meld the other, more organic U2 sound with some of the electronic elements of Zooropa and Pop.
Edge: All That You Can't Leave Behind is not a roots record. We realized at a point during the Pop album that we were getting into musical areas that are not what we do best. As we delved more into the beat-driven sound, we had taken the sound of the band further and further away. The organic sound is what made us unique in the first place.
GP: What were some of the things you learned from the dance influences that carried over to the new record?
Edge: We were given a huge education in rhythm -- pure and simple. Rock and roll started out as dance music, but somewhere along the way it lost its hips and became rhythmically simplistic. The emergence of hip-hop and dance culture has upped the ante in the rhythm department -- and there's no going back. Listeners aren't going to accept lazy rhythms anymore.
GP: Is there a song you can point to on the record that reflects that aesthetic?
Edge: "In A Little While" is one. That track started out as just a band number, but when we finished, we felt the tune was a little too traditional -- it hadn't found its own uniqueness. We put a drum loop on top of Larry's drums and then the song really came together. From our point of view, melding those elements is an incredible challenge. Now instead of building from electronic tools, we build up the material organically, and then add more modern elements on top of it.
GP: Were Achtung Baby, Zooropa, and Pop such departures because you were looking to keep your music fresh?
Edge: Yeah. We were very inspired by what was happening in dance music and hip-hop. Technology has always been a very important dynamic in pushing music forward. You can point to almost every important developments in music and see a technology that went with it. The fuzzbox launched rock and roll into the '60s. So for us, it seemed perfectly natural to be up to speed with the state-of-the-art technology happening in the dance culture. In that blend, we hoped we could hold on to the essence of what U2 is about. That's been, at times, a fine line you draw. We felt we crossed it during the making of the Pop record, and we had to bring things back a bit.
GP: Did the more traditional band approach for All That You Can't Leave Behind make you look at the guitar differently?
Edge: Yes. It put a lot of emphasis back on the guitar -- the parts and the sound. On the last few records, I used the guitar principally to create textures that add light and shade. But on this album everything rested on the original band arrangement, so the guitar parts had to be in place first. I think the end result is our most "guitar" album since Achtung Baby.
GP: Why do you think you enjoy the natural sound of guitar more now than 20 years ago?
Edge: I suppose since we came out of this period in the late '70s and early '80s when punk was happening, some of the punk ideals really struck a chord with us. Things like moving away from the rock aristocracy of the time were a big part of how I played then. I wanted to step away from the prototypical rock guitar thing, and making the guitar tones more abstract was a way to do that. But now, it feels so fresh to really explore the natural tone of the guitar.
GP: It sounds like the guitar still excites you.
Edge: I find it to be an ongoing challenge to keep the guitar from becoming too traditional -- which can happen to even the best ideas and the best styles. They eventually lose their fire and their ability to reach you because they get overused. I'm constantly trying to find uncharted territories by looking for sounds and tones that inspire new feelings and stop me from becoming too staid. Ironically, on this record that meant plugging a beautiful vintage guitar straight into a lovely vintage amp. That was pretty inspiring for me.
GP: Do you see the guitar getting phased out of pop music?
Edge: Pop music is a strange thing. I can't say guitar will always be a part of pop, but I think that guitar music will always survive and have a particular place in contemporary culture. I can't see that going away. It's the instrument that has always been at the forefront of rock and roll, and it defines it.