Preparing To Hit The Road

28 Feb 2001
It's a Beautiful New Day according to, as U2 find studio magic with All That You Can't Leave Behind and prepare to hit the road with renewed vigor. have posted an interview with Bono on the album, the songs and the upcoming tour - below our edited highlights but check for the complete interview.

'Bono isn't satisfied with his sound.

So U2's lead singer asks his interviewer to hold on for a minute, and summons one of the world's most overqualified telephone repairmen, who's just arrived with him at a rental house near the Pacific Palisades.

"Edge, there's a bit of a hiss on this line," Bono says.

With a few twists of a screwdriver, U2's guitarist makes the noise disappear. "We've got a scientist working for us now," Bono says proudly.

But as the singer goes on to explain, some sonic problems aren't so easily fixed - even with help from the Edge.

In the wake of 1997's electronics-dominated Pop and the gaudy PopMart tour, both of which were poorly received in the U.S., U2 was ready to leave behind the sounds of dance music and paint with what Bono calls the "primary colors of rock."

From 1980's Boy through 1988's Rattle & Hum, U2 became one of world's biggest bands by using those primary colors - the Edge's echoing guitar, Larry Mullen's martial drums and Adam Clayton's minimalist bass.

That changed with 1991's Achtung Baby and 1993's Zooropa, which moved the band from anthemic earnestness to electronics-enhanced irony.

This time around, as the band struggled to make a "valid noise," their hopes of making a big rock record evaporated, Bono says.

Instead, All That You Can't Leave Behind, released Oct. 31, became an album of infectious, radio-ready songs dominated by the seductive sounds of soul.

On songs such as "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of" and "In a Little While," U2 turned to a gospel-inflected R&B sound in the vein of late soul pioneer Curtis Mayfield, driven by gently syncopated drums and The Edge's melodic rhythm guitar.

"We got bored with the songs we were writing," Bono says. "And the way we had to do it was emotionally we got to a place that was very raw. I think that's what you can call soul music ... that place where you reveal rather than conceal."

Bono has left behind the aloof rock-star persona he developed for his '90s tours - in recent TV performances, he's even doffed the wraparound sunglasses he's been wearing for years.

He also spent much of the past two years working on behalf of Jubilee 2000, a charity organization that aims to convince the world's richest countries to forgive the massive debt owed them by the world's poorest. The Biblical concept of Jubilee - that every 40 years debts should be forgiven and slaves freed - resonates with U2's music, Bono says. "It's an old Judeo-Christian idea and I guess redemption - redemption is an idea that we've always been interested in."

sonicnet: After Rattle & Hum and before Achtung Baby, you said that U2 had go away and reinvent yourselves, and that's exactly what you ended up doing. A decade or so later, what did the musical and mental transition from Pop to the current album entail?

Bono: I suppose you have keep things interesting for yourself. One of the ways we've managed to do that over the years is just staying out of our depth a little bit and not knowing what we're doing fully. And I suppose you discover who you are when you're drowning [laughs] and you're trying to stay afloat. And that's the way recording has been for us since our first album.

So we made this record called Pop and we got excited about mass production and mass media. We were excited about what was happening in black music with DJ culture and hip-hop. We felt that white rock 'n' roll had gotten very, very boring, and so we threw ourselves into the club culture in the U.K. and in Europe. And we kind of got lost in it, really, and woke up in an old ballroom in the bottom of a hotel in Washington, D.C., when were rehearsing.

We couldn't get the gear out of the truck because it was on the road, and so we hired an old Vox AC-30 [guitar amp], a toy drum kit, and a wedding-band kind of P.A. And we were in the basement rehearsing and playing. And Howie B., who was the DJ who worked with us on Pop and who was on the road during PopMart, walked into the room and his head was spinning. "What is that sound you're making? What's going on here?" And we said, "Howie, this is a rock band." And he was like, "I never heard anything like that. You should make a record like this." And we said, "You mean without you?" And he said, "Or anyone like me."

He really is the one that got us to just lock ourselves in the room and just make music out of the primary colors of rock music. And I mean, we had help from [producers Brian] Eno and Dan Lanois, but ? they're extraordinary people ? but we're extraordinary for other reasons, like we don't have to talk to each other in the studio, we know each other so well that we could get on with the task at hand: To see what a rock band can do in the beginning of the 21st century. Could we make a valid noise?

And I suppose what we came back with was this idea was that, well, maybe not. The only thing that would make a rock band valid right now would be if that rock band could write songs that would transcend the time they were made in. So that's how we got to this album.

sonicnet: In addition to it being rock album, though, I felt like this is really a soul and pop album.

Bono: Thank you. Thank you. It's a weird thing. We're just discovering the power of press release. People are saying it's a rock album, it's a return to roots, even though the opening bars of "Beautiful Day" - it's a drum machine and a string loop. And most of the album is - it's like a soul record and it's new and fresh territory for us, like "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of" and "In a Little While" - we've never done anything remotely like it. But people love the press release and it seems like it's louder than the album, even when people are hearing it.

sonicnet: How did it become such a soul-oriented album?

Bono: Because we discovered the craft - we got to the place where we could write songs, really good songs, but that's all they were ? there was no magic. It probably goes back to the first thing I told you about - having to be out of your depth, to find something extraordinary inside of yourself. And so, then we got bored with the songs we were writing. And the way we had to do it was emotionally we got to a place that was very raw. I think that's what you can call soul music ... that place where you reveal rather than conceal.

sonicnet: On "Kite," you sing of being "the last of the rock stars when hip-hop drove the big cars/ in the time when new media/ was the big idea." How close does that come to summing up your feelings about being in a big rock band in this age of hip-hop and rap-rock and teen pop?

Bono: I just kinda wanted to put a date on it. Like the way you might in a diary. And it was also some bait for rock critics who might get annoyed. I always feel it's one of our jobs in U2, as well as kind of singing your life, is just occasionally to annoy people. [laughs] What do you mean "the last of the rock stars"? I could see a lot of people were gonna get cross with that one.

sonicnet: "New York" has nods, I think, to both Lou Reed and Frank Sinatra. How did that song come together?

Bono: There was a verse about Lou Reed, that didn't make it, and a verse about Frank Sinatra [that also didn't make it]. And Lou has an album called New York, and he mentions my name on one of the tracks, "Beginning of a Great Adventure." And I just think he is to New York what James Joyce was to Dublin. And I just couldn't help it - I just did a little impersonation of him in the first verse, and I hope it'll make him smile. But when I saw him a few weeks ago, I didn't tell him. A lot of the lyrics were written on the spot over two takes, and then I went away and kind of, collaged it up based on my experience in the summer in New York last year. It's not autobiography, but it is based on - I was there when it was 104 degrees, and I watched some people do their very best to destroy their peaceful lives.

sonicnet: "Walk On" is another track that really seemed central to the album. You took the album title from the lyrics?

Bono: It was inspired by a Burmese leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and her struggle for free elections in Burma. She left her comfort of her home in Oxford, as an academic, and her family and her son and her husband, and went to do the right thing for her people. And it was just one of the great acts of courage in the 20th century. And it's continuing into the 21st century, and her life is - she's been under house arrest for some time now, and people get, you know, we all get very worried about how she's doing. At first, I was writing it from the point of view of her family, or her son, you know, her husband, and then in the end I kept it a little abstract and just let it be a love song about somebody having to leave a relationship for the right reasons.

sonicnet: What are your tour plans for this album? I know it's going to be in arenas and it's going to be stripped down and perhaps shorter in length? Is there anything else you can say about it?

Bono: I can say that, having been through what we've been through, over the last years, that there is a kind of bond between us now ? when we play, molecules in the room start vibrating at different speeds. The chemistry that we caught on the album is still with us, and you don't know how long it's going to last. But I think it's going to be a really special thing for the four of us to be on stage at this time. I don't know quite how to explain that to you, but just having been in the band for a while, I've never felt this kind of force, and I hope we can keep it like that until the summer, until we get to see everyone in March, April, May, if we're still playing like we are now.

.... Transcendence, elevation, liftoff. Edge was at a Radiohead concert in Dublin - I couldn't make it - and he said he felt it was magic there.

sonicnet: If you can look past this album and this tour, what can you see in the future for U2?

Bono: I don't know. I really don't know. I've been waking up with melodies in my head and I think there's some more songs for us to make. I can see, I think, through to the next album, but I can't see further than that.

sonicnet: At the same time, it's hard to imagine that U2 won't, at some point, break up. Or maybe it's not.

Bono: No, I agree with you. I mean, we certainly don't ever - we don't think about it as an ongoing thing. I think it's not helpful to think of it going on - I think you've got to justify every record by its own merits. In one sense, every time we go in to make an album, we break up the band and reform it. So, I don't know how long it's going to go on. I love to sing now, you know, I feel like I found my voice on this album.

Read the unedited version of this interview at


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