Telling the Story

8 Dec 202213

Telling the Story

'Bono's new memoir elevates the audiobook into an art-form', reported the Times in the UK last week. Its director and producer, Scott Sherratt, has worked with a host of stellar artists, has a 'Spoken Word' Grammy to his name, and has just been nominated for another, for Questlove's book Music is History.  But what could prepare him for a summer working with Bono, searching for 'the next level up' ? 

Brian Draper spoke to him for Here's Part 1 of our special two-parter conversation.



Congratulations on creating something truly special here, Scott! What, for you, makes an audiobook great?

My idea of an audiobook is a stand-alone creative work of art. Not a companion piece to the print book, but its own creature. If the book is the screen play, the audiobook is the cinematic event. Hopefully!

It starts with the basics; the story, the voice, the narrator, the performer. And Surrender would honestly be great if I stripped everything away and it was just Bono telling the story. He has such a beautiful voice, he's such a great narrator.

And great is a great place to start.

And from there?

Bono is always searching for the next level up. He wants to see where 'this' can go. How can we allow it to be fresh, unpredictable?  And for me, that's incredibly exciting.

He wanted to do all these crazy things, and allowed me full access to his entire musical history. That never happens - to be able to find and incorporate early demos, isolated vocals, unheard songs!

With Bono's blessing, the folks at the U2 archives were giving us anything we asked for, which felt a little, "No way! This is crazy!" To be trusted and encouraged to dig in and reshape and play with these wonderful recordings is an honour.

There's also the incredible bonus that the band have re-envisaged their music for Songs of Surrender. So, something new was going to happen.  And while the 'Songs of Surrender' are new versions, I still had to re-work them for the audiobook, so there are many things that don't exist anywhere else in the world. Surprises and treats throughout!

What do you think Bono was looking for in you?

We had a long conversation before I went over to Europe to join him, to feel each other out, and for him get to know me. I never want to apply any preconceived idea or notion to any project, and I think my 'whatever it was' made sense to him.

Elvis Costello says that when Paul McCartney asked him to come to his house to write songs with him, he couldn't just show up with his Beatles fan-card. He had to be prepared. Same thing here. I had to be ready, and I was.

And so, to work!

We set up his room in this special way. There are many things I do to ensure it's going to sound fabulous (long-form voice recording is different to commercial recording or even podcasts) and I wanted him to be comfortable enough to just start singing if he wanted to - which he did!

I never know what kind of a storyteller someone will be, but Bono is incredible. His written words became more fluid, more open to his visual imagination, as he spoke them. I'd watch him discover things, as if for the first time, while recording each day.

And you began to find a chemistry?

In our early days, as Bono and I bounced ideas of each other, I would retreat to my hotel room and create rough-draft mixes through the night, to play him the next day. Somehow, wonderfully, we seemed to be on the same page, and Bono encouraged me to "Go wild!".

He's also very funny. Being able to laugh with (and at!) one another is essential when you're sequestered away together for weeks at a time. For the most part, it was just Bono and me, so we fell into a nice reciprocal rhythm, and exquisite things began to happen.

We'd make adjustments to the text, to the performance, as we went. He's incredibly active, all the words are full of energy, and he's one hundred percent present for all these alliterative twists and turns … In part, it was about keeping him where he wanted to be.

One particular thing meant a quite lot to me. We were having a debate over a 'music cue'. He wasn't sure about it, while I loved it to pieces. It took me forever to find an alternative I could live with, but it was sounding more like a documentary at that point. Bono said, "You know, it just doesn't sound like us." And I thought that was so beautiful, because he had internalised where we were at. The "us" was me, him, and this wonderful new thing we were birthing.

What was your approach to using the U2 material?

The 40 song-title chapter headings gave us a framework, and listeners will hear portions of the new 'Songs of Surrender' that start each chapter - though further reimagined for the audiobook.

Initially, one of Bono's engineers, Duncan Stewart, mentioned a part of a song to me, just a little keyboard part from 'Pride'. And we thought  "That's a great idea!" ... and so I asked Bono: "What if I dissect these songs, open up mixes, pull out keyboard parts and vocals and guitar parts and we'll find things that make sense for these internal headers and moments?"

For the most part they relate to the song that titles the chapter, but not always. It might be a three-second keyboard part from 'Love is Bigger', or a drum part from something else.

And there were a lot of lyrics to bring to life?

The lyrics are a crucial part of the story he's telling. Sometimes he would just sing; sometimes it made sense to do a new bespoke mix with just an acoustic guitar or a piano and Bono's voice, and bring it up under his narration. 

Bono being Bono, the lyrics are sometimes from the second verse or third verse, (not the first), or part of a chorus, so there's no way to use a continuous piece of music from the beginning of the song. Luckily, I was trusted to remix and reinvent these moments - I'd bring in his vocal, edit it, bring in that verse, and if, perhaps it didn't make sense to cut it right there, Bono gave me license to create the perfect ending or transition.

I might then do something big and ugly to shut it all down with keyboard, and whisk us off into some other place as the story zigs and zags through time!

And you've used sound effects, too, for material within the stories.

Yes, sound effects, what we call 'foley', atmosphere, all guided by the text, by Bono's performance. If it's underwater, let's put it under water! Or in outer space? Let's go!

I had a friend in Galway record a small part for me with three young ladies, 'a group of girls giggling and shouting outside the window,' at the band's first rehearsal in Larry's kitchen. We have a Brian Eno chant, full bar scenes with noisy patrons, special effects and music …

I do try to avoid things that are redundant, "Two shots ring out" - Bang bang! I only feel something if it truly has additive value.

Can you give us examples of where the music in particular helps the book to become that 'stand alone' work of art you talked about?

Bono encouraged me to play with time, such as using a piano from the 2001 song 'Stuck in a Moment' when U2 are still only a young band in the Seventies finding their sound.

Elsewhere, for instance, I matched Edge's guitar sound and played (as if I were Bono) with tremendous squeals of feedback at the birth of 'I Will Follow'.

One of the many things I learned while digging into U2's music is that these songs are so well crafted. In one of the early scenes from the book, when Iris collapses beside her father's grave as he is lowered into the ground, I use a guitar part from a very un-sad, major-key song, 'Landlady'. It's a brief but powerful moment that is another jumping off point in many ways.

How did that idea come to you?

I was searching through decades of music to uncover 'wipes', as we call them, which help the transition from one scene to another. I'd created a wealth of options but not had time to digest them all.

Edge's guitar part really struck me. You can hear the strings pulling off the pick-ups, and when bare like that it just hit me how sad it felt. There's something empathetic about it, and it introduces a beautifully melancholic Fender Rhodes part which I asked a friend, Freddie Khaw, to play. We fully sound-designed this scene, really playing with the stereo field.

Do you have a stand-out favourite musical moment?

As of today, it's 'The Wanderer' with Johnny Cash. This started out as an isolated Johnny Cash vocal moment, then Bono mentioned a guitar part he played on the original song that I really wanted to hear. I had a full session of the song from the archive, a transfer from two-inch tape.

Bono's Gretsch guitar part is a wonderful, twangy melody that we bathed in a Fender Twin tremolo and reverb. I made that the focus around Johnny, and the rhythm of the song, the engine. It's a departure from its original electronica design. The guitar and reverb lend a nice Clash-like quality and Johnny's voice is otherworldly!

There's also a scene in which Bono goes to a little chapel in France, way up on a hill, after his father has passed away. After the service, he returns to the pews and apologises to his father. "I had forgiven him for his own crimes of passion, but I had never asked his forgiveness for mine."

Underneath, I started layering 'Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own' - just piano, and Bono's singing. It's a rearrangement of the song, and it's beautiful. It sounds like the piano is in that church. I played it for Bono and he loved it. It's gorgeous and haunting. 

As the piano plays out, he reflects: "I'll never know if it was related to me asking for his forgiveness in that little chapel, but after my father died, something changed."

There's not going to be a dry eye in the house.

Read Part Two of our interview with Scott Sherratt here

Whether it's the hardcover or the audiobook, Surrender is the perfect gift for the U2 fan, the hooligan, the literary savant, or the pilgrim with wanderlust in your life… or maybe just your ma, da, or dear friend. Purchase the book by Dec 12, for safest delivery by Christmas.

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This is very nce. Thank you for including the audio for reasons to love Johnny Cash. Hearing Bono talk about Johnny and Kris Kristofferson is wonderful. Many thanks! It brings back nice memories from my childhood, hearing that music and also reminds me of seeing Bono last November in Chicago.
I love this!
What a great discovery here on I was at the Surrender show in November 2022 and it made me a deep-diving U2 "fan" for life (rather than an observer on the sidelines as I was before). Have enjoyed so much this past year, including the shows at the Sphere, and this article reminds me of how much I will benefit from listening to and/or reading Surrender once again. Such rich content. Thank you to all who made this article available here.
Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story
I am listening to Bono narrate his powerful memoir on audiobook. Way better than I thought it was going to be, I think it is a truly great piece of work. I especially like how he describes the creation, recording, and performing of the music of U2. Bravo!
I Surrender
Whoa! I preordered the book, started reading it. Then I ordered the audiobook. I synced the audio to the written book. Listened to it while reading the words. How amazing it is to hear Bono’s wonderful voice while reading the words at the same time. Won’t lie. I had tears more often than not. Blessed to be a fan of U2 since the ‘80s and attending several shows over the decades. This book is transformative! Beautifully written, learned a lot. Thank you for writing it Bono.
I’m still there
I’ve listened to the book, tears came to my eyes, more than a little. Thank you Bono, and thank Larry,Adam, and The Edge. It’s real life, thank you
Audio/visual Heaven
Choosing to immerse myself in Surrender is a heavenly gift from the B-man himself. I was playing audio chapter names even before I got the audio version, and then genius, he did the same. I am totally enjoying my Bono world. Thank you. I am so grateful to be connected as a fan.
Thanks Lads
Bono and Scott, wow, words couldn’t catch how wonderful the audiobook is. Part of my daily commute to work it takes me to another world. Have just started my second listen. A masterpiece is an understatement! Thanks so much
A new standard in audiobooks....
I loved the book but I loved the audio book even more... the added foley and music really added depth and atmosphere to the format. I've told people to get the audiobook even if they have the book because it's a whole other experience.
Listen and Read
It’s an amazing experience to listen to the audiobook while reading the text. The book comes to life as the soundtrack plays in your mind. It’s fun to notice intentional discrepancies between the audio and text versions. The book was a wonderful journey for all the things you can’t leave behind.
Great masterpiece!!
I am currently reading the book first and also listening the audio book of chapters I already read. It is amazing, if you have the book you also need to buy the audio book, it gives a different listening experience of the book. Both versions are equally amazing and a treat to your ears.
What a ride..
Surrender is my first audiobook - and wow what a wonderful experience! Bono's voice is so mesmerizing and beautiful to listen to. At times almost too hard to cope with when he describes his heart problems, the terror in France, the poverty in Africa and all his struggles. The songs, the music and the sound bites are truly making this a journey in time and space. An emotional rollercoaster ride and magnificent art adventure. I surrender completely (again). Thank you! Love & Peace from Inger
What a great book
This audio book is something else. It's a great listen!
Magnificent work
I've been an audiobook reader since I found them on cassette tapes at my local public library, and this one is truly magnificent. Fabulous work, Bono and Scott! SO glad that Surrender is out in both print and audio form. Both versions are truly excellent. Please commend everyone on the team. Many thanks. : )
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