Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Richie Sambora, 2015-01-20 - Ultimate Classic Rock, Richie Sambora On His Split With Bon Jovi, Working With Orianthi + New Music


Richie Sambora On His Split With Bon Jovi, Working With Orianthi + New Music

Richie Sambora - Front And Center - "Every Road Leads Home To You" Live Video

Looking back on his impressive run with Bon Jovi, guitarist Richie Sambora is quick to acknowledge that it was a really satisfying experience. “You have your first No. 1 record, your first hit single and then we had the second one and the 10th one and then you play all of the stadiums,” he tells us. “It’s just insane. It was an insane ride. Thirty years is a good run for anything. Keeping a band together for 30 years is not the easiest thing to do in the world, and we worked really hard at it.”

While plenty of bands faltered as new musical trends came and went, Bon Jovi kept a secure lock on popularity, continuing to play sold-out shows around the world. As one of the primary songwriters for the group — Sambora and collaborator Jon Bon Jovi were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2009 — he believes that there’s a pretty simple reason that the group was able to maintain that intense level of global popularity.

“I think [it was about] good songs and the authenticity didn’t really change. You know, you can’t all of a sudden [be] Bon Jovi and turn into f–in’ Pink Floyd! Some bands try that and it doesn’t work. Stick to who you are and be authentic — I think that was a big part of it — and then just go out there and work,” Sambora says. “I don’t care what band you’re in — you’re a live band, you’ve got to go out there and prove it every night, and we did. We kept on working really, really hard. It was all hard work and that work ethic never stopped. We’re blue-collar kids at heart.”

Eventually, Sambora came to a point where he wanted to explore different musical paths. He started that journey in 2013 when he stepped away from his duties with Bon Jovi and came home. “I just needed some kind of change,” he says. “It’s not about money; it’s about music.” He found an important musical ally when he met Orianthi, the flashy Australian guitarist who has been turning plenty of heads with her fretwork, notably working with Michael Jackson and Alice Cooper. As he told Ultimate Classic Rock, the pair have been inseparable since they met and began working together a year ago.

Recently, they filmed an appearance together on the public television series ‘Front & Center,’ which captured Sambora’s first New York solo appearance in nearly 25 years. The performance finds Sambora performing tracks from his 2012 solo album, ‘Aftermath of the Lowdown,’ some select favorites from the Bon Jovi catalog and also paying tribute to his longtime mentor and friend, the late Les Paul. We spoke with Sambora about the show, which was recorded at the Iridium, and he also gave us the inside details on the new music that he and Orianthi are currently working on …

Listen to Richie Sambora Perform ‘Weathering the Storm’

You and Orianthi have been keeping really busy.

You know what, I’ll tell you, we’ve played so many shows in so many places. It’s been kind of a whirlwind, between the writing process and working with other artists and just us getting to know each other as artists and musicians and touring.

We did the Soundwave Festival down here, but we also headlined theaters in every city that we were in and then [it was] the same thing throughout Europe. We did London Calling and some other festivals out there. We went to Germany and different places and also headlined theaters everywhere there, sold those out too and then we went up and played Summer Sonic in Japan and a gig in South Korea. Everything was like 70 thousand people and we got it with no product, which is kind of surprising that Ori and I were able to get up there and we were second on the bill. We were killing it. We were knocking ‘em dead.

That’s the interesting thing that I feel somehow is missing in music today is people actually having a musical conversation and jamming onstage, having some improvisation happen. I demand that, because I was obviously starved for that a lot in Bon Jovi. I mean, you’re pretty much in that frame and that’s it.

So now I can go out there and both of us, we just feel each other’s rhythms and grooves at the same point. From the first time we ever went out onstage together, it was just a magical thing and everybody saw it. From there, we just kept on going. What’s happening now is that both of our musical views, Ori’s and mine, we’re kind of bringing a lot of people together and it’s becoming interesting.

Because when you’re in a band that’s that big [like Bon Jovi], it takes a lot of time. You don’t even have the time to actually have a foray and any kind of clear process with anybody else, because you’re so busy and you’re on the road. You know, because those tours were massive. The last tour that I did with Bon Jovi was like 18-and-a-half months and 52 countries — not cities. It takes forever. Nobody’s complaining; it’s a dream gig for a musician, But, now there’s a new found freedom which is really, really nice. So we’re breaking out, you know?

Your chops as a guitar player are well-known and documented at this point. It’s really something to throw Ori into that mix. It had to be a lot of fun for you, working that out.

Oh yeah. Honestly, it’s just organic, really. There really was no work, to be honest with you. I mean, we were good from [the first moment]. And honestly, I’ve never run into this in my life. Never. We were just good right off the bat. That was it. We just felt each other the same way and I think both of us were going, “Wow.” Instinctively, it was just really, really crazy. I think people can go, well, I’m just the guitar player in Bon Jovi and she’s the guitar player from Michael Jackson or something — that’s how it can be perceived, quote/unquote.

But look, I used to be a lead singer in all of the bands I was in in my life, so I think I sing pretty well and she sings great. When we sing together, it’s awesome. We’re on a different groove now and I think with this new record that we’re doing, we’re going to be able to cover a lot of ground genre-wise, because we can take it from two acoustic guitars to the heaviest sh-t you’ve ever heard.

Watch Richie Sambora Play An Acoustic Set With Orianthi

You mentioned the album that you’re working on. I’ve heard that you’ve got about 60 songs cooking for this thing, allegedly. That’s a healthy base of material to be working with. Is that normal for you to write that many songs for a project?

No. But like I said, as you go along — it’s been 11 months now — we’ve been pretty much inseparable and we’re always just sitting around jamming. We pick up a couple of guitars and it’s a daily thing.

Do you have anything mapped out as far as when you might put something out?

I don’t know when it’s going to be out. When it’s done it will be out. We started recording right at the beginning of January. We wanted to put it down sooner than that and then all of the holidays came up and then you get a lot of philanthropic things that I do and Ori does and people get busy, you know? People are wrapping up their fourth quarters and all of that kind of stuff. We were going to try to get in there and throw a couple of songs down before the end of year and I said, “No, don’t rush it.”

We’ve got the material — I’ve checked — I have people that tell me the truth and they don’t bullsh-t me, my friends that are great producers. We hit a nerve about probably 20 songs in that we knew we were onto something. I think those 20 are really good songs, but stylistically we started to hit our vein around 20 in and it just kept getting better and better and then we were just bouncing [songs] off of my producer friends, Dave Stewart, Bob Rock, Michael Bearden — just great people.

Who were the guys in the band that you used on this ‘Front & Center’ gig?

Some of them played on my last record ‘Aftermath of the Lowdown’ and a couple of guys, you know, sometimes people take other gigs. My drummer Aaron Sterling is an amazing drummer; he was playing for [John] Mayer for a while, so I got this guy Victor Indrizzo who is awesome. He’s an awesome drummer. Even in that little room, I mean, this room is small. There was not a lot of room for me to be a showman or do anything, but the music speaks for itself. Everybody was playing and singing their ass off. There was no overdubs — that’s it.

It’s very real. It had to be cool for you to play that room and get a chance to celebrate and remember Les Paul. Certainly, that’s a venue that had a special connection with Les, so it had to be really cool to be playing there.

I was choked up. Because I put his seat [on the stage]. His son had his seat — you know, I was family. It was further than friendship, further than musicianship. We hung out and talked about real sh-t besides music. He and I were very, very close. When I met him, a friend of mine brought him over to my house for my birthday one year. He showed up with Les Paul and Les gave me this amazingly beautiful white Les Paul that he wound the pickups for me and everything.

It was like the fairy godmother coming down and hitting you in the head with a wand, you know? [Laughs.] That was the first time I ever played it live [on ‘Front & Center’] — I’ve used it many times in the studio, but I’d never taken it out live. So I’m sitting there and Les’ chair is right next to me and there’s this really great picture of him that his son brought me and I’m playing the guitar that he gave me. I got choked up, man. I did. I miss him. He was 93, but he wasn’t 93 — not in his head. He was sharp as a tack and he was still playing. So we played together a lot. It was a pretty touching moment.

Watch Richie Sambora Perform with Les Paul

I’m here in Cleveland and got a chance to see him play at the tribute show that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame presented in his honor not long before he passed. I know you were there. It was a great night and it was great to see him play.

You know, that evening after the show, I was in my room and Rusty, his son, calls up and says, “Hey, Pop wants to see you. Come on up here.” We ended up being there for like three hours, just eating and shooting the sh-t. That’s the way it was with Les. There was no boundaries, and we’d talk about anything. I just had an amazing relationship with him. Who the hell does that? You know? It’s like I’m blessed. It was great to do that.

You’ve been opening some of your recent shows, including this one, with a cover of Leon Russell’s ‘A Song For You.’ What brought that one into the setlist?

I sat down at the piano one day and started playing it, and I went, “Damn, I wish I wrote that song” and I said, “Well, I’m going to do it, anyway!” You know, the interesting thing about it, I thought if I walked out without the guitar, as the singer, it would change the perception immediately. I think that’s an important part of what needs to happen. You know, when you’re attached to these huge projects and bands and stuff, people have this perception of what the complexion of that looks like, whether it be a sonic complexion or a physical complexion or a general complexion of who you are as a person.

Everyone has their perceived notion of that, and Ori and I just want to be recognized as our own artists at this point. I think that we both have earned it, at least a shot at it — because if it doesn’t pay through, it doesn’t pay through. But I don’t think that’s going to happen. First of all, the songs are just really, really great and I’m going to surround this with a lot of talent and we’re going to make a record that people should be curious to hear because it’s truly an anomaly: It’s me and her. I said something in an interview the other day, I said, “You know, in my perception, I think she’s probably the best female guitar player on the planet and on any given night, she’s the best guitar player on the planet.”

The interesting thing is our voices together and there’s a relationship and all kinds of great energy that’s happening that you’re not going to see anywhere else, because nobody’s doing it. She’s my partner — I get it — that’s going to be the project right there. It’s really our two personalities that are driving this boat and everything we’ve learned. Lord knows, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve done everything in this business from being the manager to being the producer to record company president to songwriting — everything. The last 30 years, I’ve been all of those three times over, so I have a lot of experience and she’s got a ton of experience herself.

She’s a dynamite producer herself, she can run a board like nobody else, knows what to do, plays her ass off, sings her ass off, writes her ass off — she’s great. We’ve all got a lot of friends too, which is great. It’s very communal. My house out in California, Lord knows who is going to walk through that door. We have dinner parties sometimes, and it’s Gregg Allman, Dave Stewart, Stevie Wonder. It’s crazy and so wonderful. Then her friends come by and she’s got a bevy of them, like Tal [Wilkenfield], who plays bass with Jeff Beck and sh-t, she’s over at the house jamming. Brooklyn Allman, we just wrote a couple of songs with her and took her in the studio. That reminds me, I gotta mix that sh-t. She’s going to be somebody to watch.

Watch Richie Sambora Perform ‘Hard Times Come Easy’

When you’re laying stuff down, do you keep things pretty organic, or are you not afraid to build it up, depending on what the song calls for?

You know what? I’m into the deconstruction of things these days. I am utilizing space as much as I can. Piling up would decrease that and I think the more personality that you can give it — I mean, look, there are tracks that are going to be massive [with] guitars, because we want to do that. That’s what we do! The songs call for that. Then there’s other tracks that you’re very minimalist [with the approach]. There will be a good range, between the 60 songs and everything that we have.

We’ll be able to sift through what’s going to be this record, you know, because there’s two records here for sure. Right now, I can make two records, easily. Maybe one record. Like, I have this cockamamie idea — I have a pretty big house in California and I have this giant foyer with marble flooring and very high ceilings and the reverb and everything for singing and playing. Acoustic instruments, though. You bring electric stuff in there, it’s going to start being boomy. You know, put a piano in there and maybe an upright bass or a small bass rig and a couple of acoustic guitars and some percussion. It could be an interesting way to go about making a more acoustic album also.

I don’t know which way it’s turning now. I’m not really sure. We’re just going to get a studio and start cutting and see where we’re at. You know, get a bunch of musicians, all of our friends, because we’ve all played together in my house so many times now. I’m waiting on it, waiting on a dream.

That’s a good place to be. Because as you’ve said, you’ve kind of been known for one thing and it’s got to be great to be able to just break out and do whatever.

Obviously, look, as a songwriter, I certainly know when that cake is baked. I just won’t write a bad song anymore. I’ll just throw it out and I’ll stop halfway through. I mean, if you listen to my solo albums, really, those songs are pretty-good sized stories lyrically and melodically. They’re pretty much all in the ballpark.

Whether you like it or not, is one thing, whether stylistically it’s your bag. But from a songwriting perspective, I made sure. I’m the the police when it comes to that. That’s how I got inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, man! [Laughs.]

You Think You Know Bon Jovi?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Twin Peaks, 2015-01-15 - Nerdist.com, TWIN PEAKS Revisited: Episode One


TWIN PEAKS Revisited: Episode One

Welcome to the first ever Twin Peaks: Revisited, a weekly series dedicated to recapping every episode of David Lynch and Mark Frost’s now-legendary television series, as well as the prequel film Fire Walk With Me. With Twin Peaks returning to TV next year on Showtime (with original series star Kyle MacLachlan now confirmed to return), now is the perfect time to revisit the show along with me, or watch it for the very first time. This column will contain NO SPOILERS, so newbies, you can read with ease — I’ll only be talking about events in the episode we’re reviewing. Before we get into the nitty gritty of reviewing the first episode though, a little backstory is in order, about my own relationship to the show, and why so many years later it remains so very near and dear to my heart.

Into The Woods: How I Fell In Love With Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks has been my all-time favorite show since it premiered way back when I was 15 years old. Twin Peaks would eventually change television into the auteur-driven art form it is today, especially on cable. But on a personal level, Twin Peaks changed me. It got under my skin and became part of my psyche in a way no television show (or movie for that matter) ever has. The same way movies like Star Wars and The Wizard of Oz made me a fan of sci-fi and fantasy films at a very young age, Twin Peaks opened me up to a whole other world of surrealism and off-kilter filmmaking.

On April 8th 1990, Twin Peaks premiered to record numbers of viewers. I was among them, but I very nearly wasn’t. My brother, who is nine years my senior, was already a graduate of UC Berkeley, and like anyone who went to Berkeley, he disdained the “idiot box” that was television. He never watched TV. So when I talked to him on the phone that day, he said he had to rush off, because he and his friends were having a party to watch the premiere of a show called Twin Peaks on ABC. All I could say was, “Huh? But you HATE TV! It’s the Boob Tube.” “To which my brother responded “Well, yeah…but this is different. This is from David Lynch. He directed Eraserhead and Blue Velvet. This is gonna be weird and cool.” Well, if my television-hating brother was watching this, then I simply had to check it out.

And from frame one, I was hooked. The haunting music, the bizarre characters, and most of all, the utterly compelling mystery of “Who killed Laura Palmer?” had me in its claws. When you are a teenager is when you really first become aware of your own mortality, and here was a show based around a murder victim who was only a year older than myself. By the end of the third episode, which famously features a dream sequence with Dale Cooper in the Red Room with the dancing dwarf, I was simultaneously creeped out and fascinated, and more to the point, I was obsessed. How do you go back to Who’s the Boss? and Growing Pains after this?


Over the summer, between seasons, I watched everything David Lynch that I could; I fell in love with his film Blue Velvet, which in many ways is kind of a prototype for Twin Peaks, and rented it over and over again. I snuck into Lynch’s new film, Wild at Heart, in theaters that August. And when the salacious The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer came out in bookstores, I devoured that too. Twin Peaks got into my headspace in a visceral way, and it’s remained there to this day. No other show makes me crave certain foods, for instance, makes me wary of ordinary household appliances (I hate noisy ceiling fans to this day), or just evokes a feeling in the way Twin Peaks did. Shows have come along since Peaks that are better, and more consistently written and acted — Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, and several others — but all those shows live or die on a literal level; at its best, Twin Peaks is always working on another, more ethereal level.

I say all this is with full acknowledgment that Twin Peaks, which only ran for two seasons and 30 episodes, is only half brilliant. The first 18 or so episodes, which directly deal with the Laura Palmer case (and which have the direct involvement of creators David Lynch and Mark Frost, before they unceremoniously bailed on the show), remain as amazing as ever, but there’s no argument from me that the show goes off the proverbial cliff for its remaining 12 episodes. And, of course, David Lynch’s return at the very end delivered one of the most incredible and frustrating series finales ever.

As an OG fan, it’s been fascinating to watch the show go from national obsession to “failed experiment” in the span of a year, then to all but forgotten for nearly a decade after (something that was especially hard to process since I never forgot it). But in recent years, thanks to home video, the show found an entirely new audience, and more people have watched the series now than they ever did when it aired. Twin Peaks has had the weirdest life and afterlife of almost any TV series ever made. Before it rises again from the ashes, now is the perfect time to go back to where it all started, and see if this TV classic is still a classic, or see if time has passed this show by.

THE PILOT – Original Air Date: April 8, 1990


The pilot episode for Twin Peaks remains one of the best television pilots ever made, rivaled only by Lost and perhaps the modern Battlestar Galactica. Taken on its own merits, it’s also one of David Lynch’s best films, period. At just over 90 minutes, it expertly introduces us to a huge amount of characters, all of whom have their own plotlines and their own connections to the real main character of the series, murdered teenager Laura Palmer. When her body washes up on shore on morning in a small Pacific Northwest town, it sends the community reeling.

From the first frame of Twin Peaks, Laura is dead, only to be discovered by local mill worker Pete Martell (the late Jack Nance, star of Lynch’s Eraserhead.) And make no mistake, Laura Palmer is the main character of this series — her death haunts the town, and part of the appeal of the show is not just finding out who killed Laura Palmer, but finding out who Laura Palmer was, as she’s filtered through they eyes of those who knew her — those who loved her, those who hated her, those who used her, and finally, those that contributed to her death. All of these contradicting ideas about who she was ultimately form the most complex character on the series, and one of the most tragic figures in pop culture. Her dual images in the series — her beautifully preserved corpse, wrapped in plastic like a bouquet of flowers, and her homecoming queen picture, smiling at the camera, taunting the viewer with the secrets she’s taken to her grave — remain the most iconic images of the entire series.


The first 30 minutes of the pilot episode are just about one thing: the residents of the town finding out that their beloved local girl was found dead. We are slowly introduced to our enormous cast, over thirty characters in all — Sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean), who is called to the crime scene with his deputies Andy and Hawk (Harry Goaz and Michael Horse) and who is secretly dating mill owner Josie Packard (Joan Chen). Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook), Laura’s boyfriend, who is cheating on her with local waitress Shelley Johnson (Madchen Amick), who works at the Double R Diner with Norma (Peggy Lipton) and is who is married to sleazy trucker Leo (Eric Da Re).

Norma is having a relationship with Big Ed (Everett McGill), the owneer of the local gas station and is the uncle of sullen biker James (James Marshall), who was Laura’s secret boyfriend. But James was also secretly carrying a torch for Donna Hayward (Lara Flynn Boyle), Laura’s BFF, who is schoolmates with the sultry Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn), the daughter of local hotel owner Ben Horne (Richard Beymer), the boss of Laura’s father Leland (Ray Wise) who is carrying on an affair with Catherine Martell (Piper Laurie) who is the husband of Pete, who discovered Laura’s body way back at the beginning. Whew. You got all that? It’s a lot to take in and remember, and that’s actually leaving some minor character cameos out that become important later on in the series. It’s a massive info dump, but done in the most elegant and organic way possible by Mark Frost and David Lynch.

What’s so amazing about how Lynch and Frost choose to do this is that the words “Laura Palmer is dead” are never uttered to anyone until the school principal announces it well into the half hour mark — and at this point, everyone already knows. It’s all communicated with looks and innuendo; a distraught look on Sherrif Truman’s face as he approaches Laura’s father Leland, a phone dropped on the floor by Leland when speaking to his wife Sarah (Grace Zabriskie), or an empty school seat that indicates that Laura is never coming back to class again. Everyone just intuits that the worst has happened, and this unfolding of terrible knowledge is brilliantly executed. When a second victim of Laura’s killer appears, still alive but too traumatized to speak thanks to the evil she’s witnessed, the show takes on the tone of a horror film. Or, more accurately, the aftermath of a horror film that we didn’t get to see. It’s almost like the series was set in the town adjacent to Camp Crystal Lake after the end of a Friday the 13th movie, with the looming dread of a possible new tragedy waiting to happen, although no one quite knows when the other shoe will drop.


At the half hour mark, the show introduces us to our protagonist, FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, played by Kyle MacLachlan. Cooper is still the best role in MacLachlan’s career. While Twin Peaks gets widely and correctly viewed as the precursor to a lot of modern TV, one thing that remains a throwback is Agent Cooper. In our world of complicated anti-heroes like Walter White, Dexter Morgan, and Don Draper, Cooper is honest and true; the ideal lawman as portrayed in the movies and television of David Lynch’s youth…with the modern twist being that he’s way weirder. Coop comes from an age when a badge meant you could be trusted implicitly. MacLachlan is clearly channeling Lynch himself when playing Cooper — e.g. the obsession with comfort foods, the tendency for using dream logic and Eastern mysticism to gain knowledge — that’s all Lynch made manifest.

It’s not just MacLachlan’s performance that’s a throwback; despite all the ways the show was ahead of its time, it was also timeless. Sure, there’s stuff in the show that marks it as “so 1990,” but the town of Twin Peaks itself is sort of stuck in a time warp, a reflection of 1950s Americana. The music, fashion and tone of Twin Peaks reflected an an era already long gone by 1990. (Although Bobby Briggs is the big exception to this whole timelessness thing; he looks like he just came from a Mudhoney concert in Seattle.) Speaking of the music, I’d be remiss not to mention the incredible score for the series by composer Angelo Badalamenti. Truth be told, Badalamenti is as important to the success of the show as Lynch, Frost and MacLachlan. His musical cues, from the mournful “Laura Palmer’s Theme’ to the jazzy “Dance of the Dream Man”, are as essential in creating an otherworldly feel to the show as any visual cues.


The remaining hour of the pilot switches from police procedural to black comedy to pure nighttime soap opera in the blink of an eye. Cooper gathers the town together to explain to them that Laura’s murder matches a similar case from a year prior, and this is might be the work of a serial killer. (It’s in this sequence that we are introduced to the Log Lady, the town loony who carries a log with her at all times, in a nearly silent cameo role.) The constant switch in tones can be jarring to people, and more than once, when viewing the show with someone new to it, I’ve been asked, “So, is this supposed to be serious or funny?” To which I always answer, “Yes.” There is no resolution to a single plot thread introduced in the pilot, it’s all about questions. That can be frustrating to many, and because of that, I fully admit that Twin Peaks isn’t for everyone.

Although the show is famous for its weirdness and supernatural elements, the pilot episode is just quirky at best, with Lynch and Frost holding back the truly weird stuff for later. The only hint of something otherworldly being involved comes at the very end of the episode, when Laura’s mother Sarah has a jolting psychic vision. Lynch and Frost did what the creators of Lost would do fifteen years later, basically tricking mainstream America into watching a fantasy genre show, all while thinking they were about to watch something more conventional. And it worked (for a while).

If I noticed anything the most from rewatching Peaks again all these years later, it’s not my own reactions, but those of younger people I viewed it with. What I see as deliberate and careful pacing they just see as slow, and they want all the character’s connections to one another revealed as soon as they make their first appearance, something the show refuses to do. For example, when Doctor Will Hayward is there when Laura’s body is discovered, he simply says, “Good Lord…Laura!” instead of “Good Lord, Laura, my daughter’s best friend!” When Doc Hayward is casually revealed to be Donna’s father about an hour into the pilot, the younger viewer I watched it with was angry that the episode hadn’t revealed that information right off the bat.

If I have a complaint about the pilot episode, it’s that it set the bar so high that the show was rarely ever able to totally match it again. When it did, it was only really with other episodes written by Frost and directed by Lynch. The final verdict is that David Lynch and Mark Frost’s pilot episode for Twin Peaks is still one of the best pieces of television ever made for a network, and no matter what anyone thinks of anything that came later in the series, that first episode has proven to itself to stand the test of time.

Monday, January 12, 2015

U2, 2015-01-12 - Entertainment Music, The loss of innocence: A unique insight into the last year of U2


The loss of innocence: A unique insight into the last year of U2

Before Bono's bicycle accident put everything on hold, Brian Hiatt spent time with U2 through the recording and the release of 'Songs of Innocence', from the South of France to Grogans pub to a boozy night out with family and friends in a Dublin restaurant. This is his fascinating insight into the recording of the album, the months around the release, and the backlash. Warning: This article features Adam Clayton's open dressing gown on Malibu mornings, which put Bono off his eggs and traumatised the singer's daughter

Published 12/01/2015 | 02:30

'This is the big sound," says the Edge. He rattles a basement rehearsal space with three monster chords from a vintage Epiphone Casino guitar, dunked in distortion so ferocious that his black baseball cap seems in danger of flying off. Bono is right beside him, listening hard, squinting at the fretwork through pale-blue aviator shades. The singer is wearing a hat of his own, a jaunty, black-banded Panama-style number that makes it look like he's in disguise, on holidays, or both.

No matter how huge a noise they make, U2 are, for once, playing in a little room. They've hauled an unreasonable amount of equipment and a half-dozen-plus crew members into a purple-carpeted, wood-walled studio at a TV station on the French Riviera, where Bono is leading them through rehearsals for radio and talk-show performances.

On this October evening, Larry Mullen Jr is at his drum kit, in head-to-toe black, running through a clickety-clacking song intro with uninterrupted intensity. Adam Clayton, in a sparkly purple shirt, bass guitar hanging at his waist, is flicking at his iPhone. He's probably checking his email rather than, say, looking for his free U2 album (or trying to delete it).

They're working up a live arrangement of their current single The Miracle (of Joey Ramone). The Edge's jagged "big sound" isn't quite working, even though it's exactly what he used on the version from their latest album, Songs of Innocence. "Songs are never finished," Bono says. Like almost all of their music, Miracle crawled out from a relentless process of forced, hot-house evolution - in this case, over four years, with three different producers. It started as a drum-loop-and-acoustic-guitar-based tune called Drummer Boy, from 2010 sessions with the producer Danger Mouse. Then it turned into a rock-ier larval-stage thing called Siren (one line compared the Ramones's music to a siren song) with heavy input from OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder and Adele producer Paul Epworth, before developing its definitive melody and lyric over two months of sessions with Epworth. But even now, it hasn't quite settled into a final shape.

"You've got a digital-sounding distortion," Bono tells the Edge. "It's not a sound that can lift. In the pre-chorus, is there a mezzanine level? You got a little brown sauce, so we need it more funky, more like Mysterious Ways. Try it with the Mysterious sound; see if it works." The Edge, stoic Spock to Bono's voluble Kirk, duly dials up that Achtung Baby track's wah-wah soup.

"All right, once more," Bono says, and Miracle shape-shifts once again, into something slinkier and more brash than the album version: Mullen overdelivers on Bono's request for "more cymbals, more dynamics"; Clayton nails what Bono describes as "a bass part so great you could build a house on it," with an occasional glance at a chord chart; Bono emotes at full concert volume into a hand-held mic, shaking his hips a bit, sounding implausibly youthful. "That was some numskull fuckin' business," says Bono. "Really good!"

As the Edge fiddles with his gear, Bono wanders over to offer some director's commentary. "We just need another colour," he says. "Because we're using a swing beat. Making this album, we went back and listened to all the music that had brought us into ourselves, then we said, 'Now let's misremember it.' The Ramones never used a swing beat in their lives - but the New York Dolls, they were glam: they did. People say, 'That song doesn't sound like the Ramones!' But that would not be a compliment, to pastiche them - we're trying to do something more interesting."

The Edge will stay here on his own for hours tonight, working out a new secondary sound and modified guitar part for the song, in hopes of "not going numskull all the way through." "The Mysterious Ways thing was the wrong idea," he'll say over breakfast the next morning, "but it led to the right idea."

U2 aren't touring until later in 2015, but the concerts somehow seem to exist, fully formed, in the mind of Bono. The band tries one of the new album's most exciting tracks, Volcano, which kicks off with a bass hook composed by the Edge. ("He's one of these guys that stays up all night thinking about ways of making you look good," says Clayton.) Right before they reach the breakdown - a shout of "You were alone/Now you're not alone" evoking the moment 16-year-old Paul Hewson found his band - Bono dashes over and yells in my ear: "That's the key moment of the show," he says. It's a crowd-pleasing climax that begs for dramatic arena treatment: flashing lights, a mass singalong. "But it's going to be hard on TV." To make up for the lack of staging, they rework the moment, turning it into a stop-start duel between Bono's voice, Edge's power chords and some impressively reckless thrashing from Mullen.

In a break room, Bono discusses the weekend he spent with his family at home in Dublin, where he watched one of his young son's rugby games; played some guitar with the other, hosted a family viewing of Edge of Tomorrow ("Stupid name, but not a stupid idea - Emily Blunt was brilliant in it, and Tom Cruise is a very fine actor, you forget. He did all the Tom Cruise things; he did all the running"); listened to a bunch of old Pixies albums ("It still sounds like fresh paint 20 years later"); and celebrated his friend Gavin Friday's 55th birthday ("I gave him a Mick Rock picture of David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed - he kind of choked up").

He's excited about playing the new songs for audiences, less so about practising them. "Rehearsing is boring," Bono says, biting into an apple. "I'm bored with the sound of my own voice. And that shouldn't be! Something must be gravely wrong with a singer who feels like that."

He just landed on the Riviera, and on the way to the studio, he happened to catch The Miracle (of Joey Ramone) on the Parisian pop-radio station NRJ. Four decades into his career, it's an experience he still relishes. "It's the greatest feeling you could experience in your life," he says. "It sounded so great! Then the signal started going. We entered a tunnel. It was like, 'Move the tunnel!'"

"We were ready to drive straight into the ocean to keep hearing it," adds his personal assistant, a cheerful young woman named Eabha.

"NRJ is like Radio 1," says Bono, referring to the BBC's pop station. "Everything is at a hyperventilating kind of pace: 'We're having zee most exciting time in zee world!' I just love them, because they'll risk format juxtapositions. This is the dream, to be where you're not expected. It's just the biggest thrill ever. Once you're in your ghetto, once you're in your niche - a niche sounds like some sort of place in a country where you retire and grow vegetables. We don't want to be in a niche!"

Two weeks earlier, Bono is sitting in the back seat of his Maserati sedan, headed to a favourite Dublin pub for a pint or three of Guinness. He's wearing a custom-made jacket, half-denim and half-leather, and what looks like a military-grade platinum version of his shades. He's hatless, revealing an almost Morrissey-like quiff - after dyeing his hair black for years, he's returned it to a reddish brown.

We meet only a few days since U2 pulled off the most audacious stunt of a four-decade career that's never been short on audacity, teaming with Apple to make Songs of Innocence available for free to every iTunes user.

The gift sparked an instant, noisy, sometimes kinda-hysterical backlash: The Washington Post called the album "dystopian junk mail"; The New Yorker railed against a "lack of consent"; tech writers used terms like "spam" and "malware" and "dad rock"; a shocking number of young people on Twitter revealed themselves to be unaware of U2's existence altogether. The narrative seemed to shift by mid-October, when Apple revealed that more than 80m people listened to at least some of the album, but then Bono seemed to flat-out call the whole deal a mistake in a Facebook chat with fans. "Oops," he said. "I'm sorry about that."

"I've said this many times," Bono says, "but, you know, in America, you look up at the mansion on the hill and you say, 'One day, if I work really hard, I might get to live there.' In Ireland, particularly in Dublin, you look at the mansion and you say, 'One day, I'm going to get that bastard.' That's a great preparation for life on the internet."

We're approaching Grafton Street, where Bono recalls driving around in an orange VW Beetle, the Edge's mum at the wheel - "she was our first roadie" - with rolls of wallpaper advertising U2 that they'd paste over all the other posters, including other bands'. "Our original name was The Hype, I'll have you know. We kind of thought that was part of what punk rock was: getting in people's faces. So we shouldn't be surprised when they want to get back in ours.

"I take some pride in being divisive," he says, leaning back in his seat, "what Lee 'Scratch' Perry would call 'a great upsetter.' All my heroes were like that. But I do appreciate that I might have an extra-special annoying gene, which really helps me in this pursuit. At my most nervous, I will smirk, and you do want to wipe that smirk off the other fellow's face sometimes. It's very easy to look at U2 and go, 'There's no junkies in the band as far as we can tell, no one is dead or dying, and they seem to like each other and are in love with their wives. I've had it! Get them out of my face!'

"The thing I hold on to most tightly during a shitstorm like we had last week," he continues, "apart from an umbrella, is the direct line of conversation we have with our audience, who I think have a sense of who we are through this very intimate music we've been making over the years."

We're arriving at the pub, Grogans, where local artists' paintings cover every available spot on the walls. "Low-profile vibes," Bono tells his security guy, as we take a corner table that's been magically held for us. We're quickly joined by a friendly woman in a purple sweater, Lucy Matthew, who's a key figure in Bono's non-musical life: She helped set up his One and (Red) campaigns and aids him in his activism. "Lucy is the reason some people think I'm clever," says Bono. "Moving through different worlds, she's the reason. She doesn't think there's anything unusual about the fact that I'm interested in lots of stuff - which I do know puzzles people, the multiple-personality disorders.

"It's all the zeitgeist, and you chase the zeitgeist. Sometimes it's in technology, sometimes it's in culture, in music, in fashion, in politics, in science. The zeitgeist is the thing. And I don't know an artist that isn't interested in it - but it isn't just happening in culture." Picking up speed, Bono delivers the following impressive mouthful in all of 20 seconds: "Painters met in Paris in the start of the 20th Century, and it wasn't just painting. Einstein delivers his theory of relativity, 1905. You have the Bolshevik Revolution because of those incendiary tracts written by Karl Marx. You have the first Cubist exhibition in Paris. And they're all related, because, what is the theory of relativity? An object changes shape at the speed of light. So now a face can look like that, because a face is no longer what we see."

He returns, without transition, to his own life. "I need to do things in order to learn them," he says. "Entering politics and trying to understand that, that's made a lot of enemies. The lovers and the haters - they've swelled their ranks over the years. I've made my life difficult for my bandmates, I really have. But my wanderlust, if you want to call it that, is just at the very heart of who I am. And even commerce, to understand commerce - I think that's very important. If you told me 20 years ago that commerce took more people out of poverty than aid and development, I'd have scoffed. So if I see technology is transforming music, I have to learn it, so I dive into it. I know it can confuse people, and they think that I've lost interest in being an artist. But that is what I think an artist is."

One thing Bono says he didn't quite understand: the fact that Songs of Innocence would automatically download itself on to some people's phones. "It's like we put a bottle of milk in people's fridge that they weren't asking for," he says. "It is a gross invasion!" He smiles. "But it was kind of an accident. The milk was supposed to be in the cloud. It was supposed to be on the front doorstep."

Some pints arrive, and Bono cackles when I show him a viral joke GIF that displays a supposed new iPhone OS, with his face on every icon. He points out, with some pride, that his silhouette has actually been on the iPhone's Music app (under the 'Artists' icon) for years. "I've hacked into you before you even knew," he says. "I've been looking at you every time you pressed 'Music.' Like, every time you're pressing on my head. How do you think that feels? It's a bruising encounter for me."

Mullen, the band's other alpha male, is least bruised by the backlash: "I couldn't give a rat's ass," he says. "I really couldn't." He's all hard edges, Mullen, from his haircut to his jutting cheekbones to his best-in-band physique. He bristles at his reputation as the band's designated contrarian, and he may be its most essential protector, torpedoing ideas like making Bono and the Edge's ill-fated Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark soundtrack a U2 album. "It's all about instinct," says Mullen. "There are lines I won't cross, but I think the most dangerous thing is not to have the debate. With the Apple thing, I had questions about it, but it was kind of a no-brainer: They want to buy your album, and they want to give it to people for free."

Clayton, the only member of U2 whose personality could be plausibly described as "laid-back", has the most idiosyncratic take. "These digital, online companies cross borders," he says, delicately sampling an antipasto platter at a Dublin restaurant where a signed October-era picture of his band hangs on the wall, featuring a decades-younger Clayton with an awesomely buoyant New Wave hairdo.

"They have infinitely more power than any traditional corporation. From our point of view, we got our record out to as many people as possible. What I'm saying is, look, that power is there. And blaming us for pointing it out seems to be a case of shooting the messenger, really."

Bono dreamed up the Apple scheme with U2's new manager, Guy Oseary, who took over after long-time manager Paul McGuinness stepped down in 2013. "We'd been talking: How do you use this technology?" Bono says. "Because it's using us. So there must be a way to get these songs out to people who may not even know we're there. You know, people have gone to college and left without a U2 album. We had to start again. At the very core of who we are is that yearning for new ears, new eyes, new hearts."

Bono then brought the plan to Apple CEO Tim Cook: They had a pre-existing relationship, in part because Apple has raised around $76m for (Red). (Though new Apple employee and long-time associate Jimmy Iovine closely followed the making of this album, he insists he had no connection to the release plan.) The Apple/U2 relationship had been rudely interrupted when U2 went to BlackBerry for sponsorship of their 360° Tour in 2009. They did so, Bono says, in the wake of an argument (the words "go fuck yourself" were used) with the late Steve Jobs, who was a close friend.

"I had a tantrum, like a child, and went to the competition," Bono says with a shrug. To Jobs' great credit, he adds, the company kept up its partnership with (Red), and the two men reconciled well before his passing.

It's never been easy to produce a U2 record. Iovine quit working as a producer altogether after the brutal experience of Rattle and Hum in 1988. "They exhaust you," says Iovine. "You're wrestling four guys coming in rotation and then all together at the same time. I mean, it's unbelievable how they work. It made me go start Interscope. I'm not kidding! I love them, but I would never go into a recording studio with them ever again whatsoever!"

This time around was no different. "Making a U2 record, it's like trying to get worms back in the can," says Epworth. "You think you've wrestled them in, and then suddenly they've all popped out again. Their process is very much, 'find as many good ideas as you can and make the best ones fight it out.'"

It didn't help that the band was disappointed in the performance of its last album, 2009's No Line on the Horizon, which diluted under-rated U2 classics (Moment of Surrender, Breathe and the title track among them) with what Clayton and Mullen, at least, now see as weaker choices: the lyrically clever but musically inert Stand Up Comedy, the energetic but cluttered Get on Your Boots.

"Boots was an absolutely catastrophic choice for a single," says Mullen, still seething about it, five years later. "It was madness, but the decision was made, and that was the beginning of the end. We never recovered from it." The accompanying 360° Tour was the highest-grossing tour ever, by anyone, but as it went on, U2 kept playing fewer and fewer Horizon tracks. "It was a little bit of a defeat," says Mullen.

After setting aside some early experiments on a "club" record with Lady Gaga collaborator RedOne and other pop-leaning producers - "The work we did with RedOne was very, very exciting, but I'm not sure it was the essence of what U2 is good at," says Clayton- U2 met up with Brian 'Danger Mouse' Burton in 2010. "It was a really inspiring time, those first sessions with Danger Mouse," says the Edge, "that moment where you try to find out if you can work together. We started a couple of tunes that ended up on the album in the first few days." He laughs. "Of course, they went on a bit of a journey."

As song after song emerged in the early sessions, the band dared to dream that it might be easy this time. "I was feeling really good at the beginning," says Mullen. "'Shit, this is going to really work out. We're going to fly through this stuff.' Boy, oh boy, was I wrong."

If anything, they became suspicious of how smoothly it was going. "It had an amazing freshness," says Clayton, "but what happens in our process - and this is the difference between, say, us and the Rolling Stones - is that perhaps the Stones would say, 'We could finish it in six months, but let's do it in the next two months and get out and tour.' And that's not disparaging to them. Whereas we look at it and go, 'Six months, finish it? Nah, we'll take a year.'" He laughs hard. "And as you keep layering on the material, things that sounded fresh start to sound a little bit too innocent, a little bit unsophisticated."

Danger Mouse's favourite U2 albums are Pop and Achtung Baby, and he seemed to push the band in that experimental vein: "There's a part of U2 he's not interested in at all - anything he feels he's heard before or is ordinary," Clayton told me early in the sessions. By last year, the band had a set of songs that could have been released - apparently guitar-light, electronics-heavy, with uncharacteristically subtle choruses (the Zooropa-ish Sleep Like a Baby Tonight is probably the most characteristic survivor).

"We love taking risks and working with new collaborators, because that's how you carve out the next chapter in the story," says the Edge. "But then we realised, 'OK, we've actually not delivered what you might call the hallmarks of our work - the big music.' We were mixing in New York and going, 'This is good, but we've still got some work to do here.'"

Iovine agreed. "They needed to get themselves in a place where that intensity was in the room," he says. "And that's not easy to do."

Danger Mouse went off to work with Broken Bells, his duo with the Shins's James Mercer, and U2 reached out to Epworth and Tedder, along with Zooropa co-producer Flood and Irish engineer-producer Declan Gaffney. Past U2 albums benefited from opposing perspectives, pitting, say, Brian Eno's ear for atmosphere against Steve Lillywhite's radar for hits. Intentionally or not, they recreated that dynamic for Songs of Innocence: Danger Mouse has cast himself as an "auteur" producer, but the band and its new collaborators didn't hold back on changes to his tracks.

"I have the utmost respect for Danger Mouse," says Tedder. "Bono was very straightforward. He was like, 'This is how we work. You're going to do whatever you do and get it as good as you can, and then more than likely your stuff is going to get messed with by somebody else.' So I hesitated for, like, five seconds, and then Edge was like, 'Man, tear it apart. Do what you want.'"

Tedder did some of his most radical surgery on Every Breaking Wave, which had been a lyrical but meandering No Line outtake. "It's about how hard it is to give yourself completely to another person," says Bono. "And the two characters in it are addicted to sort of failure and rebirth."

"I just asked them, 'Is it cool if I just butcher this thing?'" says Tedder, who alternated between joining U2 in the studio and working remotely on the tracks. "And they were like, 'Do your worst. Go for it.'" He added a new chorus melody, turned the old chorus into a bridge, and sent it back to the bandmates. They reworked it on his model, ending up with a tight, hooky pop song, albeit one with lines like, 'Every shipwrecked soul knows what it is/To live without intimacy.'

As they travelled the world to record, the band members found themselves sharing living quarters, which helped them reclaim some of the intimacy of their early years - sometimes perhaps too much so. "In Malibu, it was Adam, me and Larry," says Bono, grinning. "And the sight of Adam in his dressing robe in the morning - often open - is enough to put you off your poached eggs. My daughter is still traumatised! But, you know, he's there with his cup of tea, going, 'How are you this morning? How do you think that all went?' And then Larry didn't seem to get up in the daylight. He turned into Dracula. He was doing drum takes at two in the morning."

Rick Rubin, who produced a pile of mostly unreleased U2 songs a few years back, had a major influence on this album, despite not actually working on it. Rubin told Bono that U2 use their skill at sculpting unique soundscapes "to disguise the fact that you don't have a song." He pushed them to write traditionally structured tunes that would work with, say, voice and piano. "Someone like Adele makes better records than everyone else because her songs are better," says Bono. "In a great song, you can be as naked as a streaker singing a cappella. I'm embarrassed next to someone like Carole King, unless I can come up with something that's as raw as some of her great songs. So that was it. Songwriting school!"

In the end, the Apple deal gave U2 what they needed most: a deadline. Many of the songs made major leaps in the final stretch. "It was quite a thrilling ride the last few weeks," says Gaffney. "All the pieces start to fit - it gained a certain level of clarity that you didn't see coming, and then it was right there in front of you, finished."

Burton returned for some final sessions; Mullen suggests the producer was taken aback by what he heard, but he stuck around to help them finish. "To come back in and hear things that he started, being changed around," says Mullen, "and feeling that it maybe should have been done slightly differently - that takes a certain amount of humility. He was very gracious - he took the lead and went, 'If this is the way that you're going, there is a different version of this that might work better.'"

"They're not my tracks," Burton says, via email. "They're U2's tracks. I'm not happy about a song if they're not happy. Even after years of working on stuff, the guys won't stop trying to make a song better all the way up to the end, and I admire that."

Bono is finishing up at Grogans, but before he leaves, he has to pose for all the photos he promised to fans who tried to interrupt us. "I'll be Bono," he told one young woman who double-checked his identity. "I can be anyone you want me to be." He's crestfallen to learn that another patron, a German woman who wanted to "make a photo" to send home to her estranged U2-fan dad, has already been tossed out of the pub. "Her dad is a U2 fan," he says. "I have to look after the dude."

Finishing his last photo, he makes his way over to Coppinger Row, a restaurant around the corner. Our party has more or less taken over the place, commanding a bunch of tables pushed together. At the far end is Bono's wife, Ali, who's deep in conversation with the members of the Colorado band The Fray, in town for a show. "My wife is romantically and socially and spiritually inclined in the direction of Joe from the Fray," says Bono. "They're just great friends."

Bono is a highly enthusiastic host, bouncing around the table, getting cheerfully tipsy on a seemingly random selection of beverages: wine, a margarita, a flavoured gin and tonic with various fruits floating in it. When one of his guests confesses ignorance of the Troubles, Bono happily offers a concise but decades-spanning history.

Well past midnight, champagne arrives, and Bono offers a series of toasts to his friends. "We want to welcome The Fray, who are clearly frayed at the edges as we speak," he says. "And one thing I'll say to you - in Ireland, it's in every writer's diary: Beware of the cradle at the bottom of the stairs. That's all I'll say to you." He sits down, but then there are more toasts: We drink to Bob Dylan, to Leonard Cohen. Late in the evening, a shot of tequila appears in front of me, unbidden - any iTunes user could probably guess how it got there.

As dinner winds down, Bono announces, "The missus and I are off to do something unspeakable." They adjourn to the restaurant's front section, where they hold hands across a table while sharing a cigarette. It is, Bono recognises, a moment almost sickening in its wholesomeness. What kind of self-respecting drunk rock star sneaks off to cuddle with his wife of 32 years?

"My ideas about love are probably very unromantic," he tells me later, in a discussion about Every Breaking Wave. "I see love as a decision not made in the heat of the moment. I see it as an enduring thing that doesn't depend on feelings to verify it, though it's great when they do. And, in the end, love is often DNA tricking you into making a much bigger commitment. It's what happened to me, before I even knew what commitment was. I ended up as a young man in the arms of this young woman, in a world somewhat hostile to the concept of the childhood sweetheart and a first love."

Iris, perhaps the most excruciatingly personal song in U2's catalogue, was one of the last Songs of Innocence tracks to take shape, coming together in the last hours of the sessions. It's a song about Bono's mom, who died when he was just 14. He rewrote the lyrics after being deeply affected by the letter the late Isis hostage James Foley passed on to his family through another prisoner. "I realised," he says, "that we will all be remembered by the least profound moments. The simplest moments. In the letter he says to his brother, 'I remember playing werewolf in the dark with you.'

"If I make a swift exit, stage left," Bono says, with a meditative sip of Guinness, "my family and friends won't be thinking about debt cancellation or fighting for HIV/Aids medication, or U2 being on the cover of Rolling Stone, or 50m people hearing Songs of Innocence. They might remember some stupid face I made at breakfast. And that's what I remember of my mother. Like being buried in the sand up to my head, or her saying, 'You'll be the death of me.'"

The album is the closest thing Bono has come to therapy, something he's managed to avoid his whole life, save for one week in his teens. "When I was a teenager, I had a violent period," Bono recalls. "I had an altercation with a teacher where I might have, in front of the whole class, put him up against the blackboard and told him to stop picking on this one person in the class, which I really couldn't stand. So I was sent to this very clever woman and at the end of seven days, she said, 'Go home.'"

It's bizarre, almost, that Bono is only now delving into his early life in his songs, on U2's 13th studio album, at age 54. (As one old friend told him in an email, "All this way to make your first album!") And Bono being Bono, he has a follow-up album in mind: He hopes to put out Songs of Experience as soon as 18 months from now. The idea, in theory, is to have the indoor Songs of Innocence tour jump outdoors when the companion album comes out. "We're hoping Songs of Experience will be less about intimacy," says Clayton, "and more about a celebration of sorts."

Bono has a habit of announcing unfinished albums, something he also did five years ago, telling me that U2 would quickly release a more meditative No Line follow-up from the same sessions, called Songs of Ascent. (That one has yet to surface, and it's unclear how much work it would take to finish it.) "Songs of Experience has to feel like it's justified, that it's relevant," says Clayton. "And if we don't feel it's very good, then I imagine we'll just scrap it, and it'll become something else."

"I've grown to expect it from Bono," says Mullen. "If he didn't announce it, that would be the surprise. That's what he does, that's who he is."

As if to prove that the album is truly in progress, Bono recites what seems to be the entire lyric of a song called The Morning After Innocence that's built around dialogue between his younger and older selves. 'Lead me in the way I should go,' he'll sing in the chorus, assuming it ever is released. 'I'm running out of chances to blow/That's what you told me, and you should know/Lead me in the way I should be/Unravel the mystery of the heart and its defence/The morning after innocence.'

And, by the way, he's still promising to release that other phantom album, now as the third of what he sees as a Songs trilogy. "Songs of Ascent will come," he says. "And there are some beautiful songs."

Back on the French Riviera, U2's rehearsal has died down, and Bono and I head back to the villas he and the Edge share along the coast. As a bodyguard steers us through dark, winding mountain roads, Bono ponders how long U2 can last, and what it might take for them to stop.

"We've been living by a 'one crap album and you're out' rule," he says, as we pass through the porous border between Monaco and France. "There's albums people like more than others, but nobody thinks we've made a lazy piece of work yet. But the question of 'how long' still has to be asked - and I don't think it's answered by 'until we fall over.' We have to proceed with no sense of entitlement."

Arriving at the property, past a metal gate and an ancient-looking tunnel, we get out of the car. It's a starless night, with a nearly full moon casting its sparkling reflection over the Mediterranean. Bono offers a quick history of this retreat: Mullen and Clayton had a chance to share the purchase years ago, but were spooked by the then-dilapidated condition of the main house.

Bono and the Edge bought the property for around ¤2.4m - it's apparently worth far more now - and originally intended to sell the big house, a pinkish-orange mansion. But as kids came along, and kept coming, this place became a haven for their families.

"The kids bring their friends, and we don't know who's their friends and who are our friends," says Bono. "There's music and mayhem and swimming and an actual life here." He shows me to a cabana-like nook on the marble terrace, with pristine white couches facing the sea. Songs from a playlist heavy on 1970s Bowie play from invisible speakers. Inside, house staff have snacks ready in the kitchen. There's an elevator if you don't feel like climbing stairs.

It is, in short, paradise. Or at least not the sort of place that would, in normal humans, breed the kind of existential hunger that might inspire years of obsessive recording and rerecording. The members of U2 seem aware that there's something almost pathological within their collective ethos that compels them to believe, against pretty much all historical precedent, that a rock band can still make new fans, record new hits and get better in their mid-50s.

"We're not fighting anybody else except ourselves," says Mullen, sitting two weeks earlier in a restaurant overlooking a harbour in the Irish Sea. "So it is a really good question: 'Why bother?' Why not take three years off, go take care of your family? And then maybe get together and record something and go on the road and do a greatest-hits tour. And make shitloads of money, like everybody else. Make an absolute fortune. No one will think ill of you. But, no. These guys will go into the studio for four years, cost them a fortune.

"Maybe we're stupid. I don't know," Mullen continues, with a pause that all but dares me to express agreement. "Or maybe we're really clever. And maybe we really care about what we do. I could easily accept going down in flames on this album - if U2 would never record again, I'd go, 'OK'. This is a really good record. To go down in flames on No Line on the Horizon - that I was not prepared to do. So maybe that's what this is about."

For Bono, the answer is even simpler. "Most of our best work is fired up with the idea of 'If only people could hear this song,'" he says. He's taken his sunglasses off, and direct contact with his blue-gray eyes is mildly unsettling.

"And here's a question for you: Why isn't everybody like this? Why do we look mad because we want it like we always have? Everyone else gets to play the 'been there, done that, sonny' card. I don't get it! I mean, some of the most incredible minds and sacred talents haven't bothered their arse in years! They put out lazy work.

"But U2's gone about this like it's our first album. And as the gunpowder fades, there are songs there. Songs where we can get all our contemporaries and everyone in a room and say, 'This is what I've got.' And if somebody comes up with one better than Every Breaking Wave, you know, let's hear it."

Off in the distance, under the glowing moon, the ocean is completely still, not a wave in sight. Bono leans in, and repeats himself: "It's a better question, isn't it? Why isn't everyone like this?"

Sunday Independent