May
03
2005

'I like getting into a room and playing with the band'

A great interview with Larry for the Chicago Sun-Times. Extracts.

In a revealing, no-holds barred interview with Jim Derogatis, Pop Music Critic of the Chicago Sun-Times, Larry discusses the tour presale ticket controversy, the iPod tie-up, why it's worth competing with Britney Spears and why 'creative dissatisfaction' keeps U2 always searching to do better.

Q. U2 never wanted to be a band like Pink Floyd or the Rolling Stones, which basically became massive money-making oldies shows.

A. And we won't! With respect to you and your colleagues, when it's time for
U2 to get the bullet in the head, we'll do it ourselves, thank you very much! But we're greedy, and we want to push boundaries. We want to do things that nobody else has done before, and we will do whatever we have to do to achieve that. We're never satisfied. We never feel like we've made our greatest record. We always feel we can do better, we can be better, and that's constant. After every record, we sit down and go, "OK, what was wrong with that? What was right with it?" And next time around, we fix it. We constantly do that, and that's why U2 survives.

There's a very deep unhappiness in U2, because there's a sense that we achieved great success and became a really big band, but we were never a really great band. There was always that thing that we were given all these accolades, but we didn't really deserve it. We got it because we managed to do very well live, and it was all about being big. Being big means s--- to us. It's being great that we want, and that's what we strive for.

Q. That sense of satisfaction destroys so many bands. But you're saying that with U2, it's exactly the opposite.

A. It's the exact opposite: We are not happy. [Laughs] It's like, "How can you be unhappy when you're selling out a tour and your record's doing well?" But it's not that kind of unhappiness. It's a creative dissatisfaction.

We want to do better, we want to compete on the highest level, and that means competing on radio, and competing with people like Britney Spears and all those pop artists who are at the top of their game. The songs that are written for them are pretty spectacular, and we want to compete with that.
Why else do this? There's no other reason. None of us need to do it, we're all financially secure, and for a lot of bands, that's a huge turn-off."I've got the kids now, I've got the money, what do I need this for?" This is revenge for us.

Q. And is it still fun at the end of the day?
A. It really is, and in a way that it hasn't been for 25 years. The band is playing better, and Bono is singing better, and there seems to be a real freedom in what we're doing. Sometimes onstage, it just feels excruciating, because you're trying to hold it down, and you never know what's going to happen.

I don't feel like that now. I'm enjoying the shows, and it's just got a different level of maturity. It's a lot less tense and not trying so hard to be perfect. If you make a mistake, it's OK. I listened to a CD of the last show, and there are a lot of fluffs, but it's OK. There was time when we were all striving for that perfection, and now it's, "It doesn't matter; it's the spirit of the show."

I think on this record, the Edge is on fire. I couldn't disagree with you more about what he's doing. Of course there are references back to the past, but I like that. I like getting into a room and playing with the band and doing those things we used to do. I think what Brian Eno brought was invaluable, and Daniel Lanois as well. But we've got to move on, we've got to change, and we've got to take references from the past and bring them into the future. And that's what we've done.

Q. But U2 never wanted to be a band like Pink Floyd or the Rolling Stones, which basically became massive money-making oldies shows.

A. And we won't! With respect to you and your colleagues, when it's time for U2 to get the bullet in the head, we'll do it ourselves, thank you very much! But we're greedy, and we want to push boundaries. We want to do things that nobody else has done before, and we will do whatever we have to do to achieve that. We're never satisfied. We never feel like we've made our greatest record. We always feel we can do better, we can be better, and that's constant. After every record, we sit down and go, "OK, what was wrong with that? What was right with it?" And next time around, we fix it. We constantly do that, and that's why U2 survives.

There's a very deep unhappiness in U2, because there's a sense that we achieved great success and became a really big band, but we were never a really great band. There was always that thing that we were given all these accolades, but we didn't really deserve it. We got it because we managed to do very well live, and it was all about being big. Being big means s--- to us. It's being great that we want, and that's what we strive for.

Q. That sense of satisfaction destroys so many bands. But you're saying that with U2, it's exactly the opposite.

A. It's the exact opposite: We are not happy. [Laughs] It's like, "How can you be unhappy when you're selling out a tour and your record's doing well?" But it's not that kind of unhappiness. It's a creative dissatisfaction.

We want to do better, we want to compete on the highest level, and that means competing on radio, and competing with people like Britney Spears and all those pop artists who are at the top of their game. The songs that are written for them are pretty spectacular, and we want to compete with that.
Why else do this? There's no other reason. None of us need to do it, we're all financially secure, and for a lot of bands, that's a huge turn-off. "I've got the kids now, I've got the money, what do I need this for?" This is revenge for us.

Q. Why do you care about competing with Britney Spears? You grew up loving the Sex Pistols, and they didn't care about competing in that world.

A. I'm not sure about that; that was a huge commercial idea. For [Sex Pistols manager] Malcolm McLaren, it was all about that: getting the money and doing whatever he had to do to make it controversial. There's little difference between that and Britney Spears taking her clothes off. It's the same instinct. It's all about selling records and getting the cash.

There is no such thing as anything in the music business at its purest form. It's all cursed by commerce, and you can't get away from it. I don't want to be in a band that's treading water. I want to have my 17-year-old niece or nephew say, "I love that new single." I really want that, because I don't want to be relegated into, "That used to be relevant, it's no longer relevant." If that's not possible, then we will stop.

So why is it important? It just is. It's too easy to accept second best. To compete at this level takes huge brain power and a lot of work, but it's what we do, and we thrive on it. There's nothing like when a 17-year-old comes up and says, "Hey, man, I think what you're doing is cool." It might sound absolutely childish, but those are the things that make you want to continue on. When you look at your audience and see the huge variation from students, college kids, and all the way up.

We're Irish, and when we started out, we were always sort of the runt of the pack. Everybody else was cooler than us; everybody else was better than us; they were all better musicians than us. We were always that band.

We came to America and people embraced us, and they have been embracing us
ever since. There's a certain responsibility that goes with that, and it's, "We've got to do this. We've got to remain relevant. We've got to make great music." That's a challenge, and we thrive on it.
This article is tagged to:
Interviews, Larry, Press, Tours, Vertigo Tour