Tuesday, January 24, 2017

U2 2017-01-24 Rolling Stone, U2's Adam Clayton Talks 'Joshua Tree' Tour, 'Songs of Experience'


U2's Adam Clayton Talks 'Joshua Tree' Tour, 'Songs of Experience'

Bassist on how band will approach classic 1987 album onstage, when to expect upcoming studio LP

U2 bassist Adam Clayton breaks down the group's upcoming 'Joshua Tree' tour and discusses plans for the 'Songs of Experience' LP. Franka Bruns/AP

By Andy Greene

Thirty years ago, the wild success of The Joshua Tree transformed U2 into the biggest band on the planet. Radio hits "With or Without You," "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and "Where The Streets Have No Name" catapulted them from arenas into stadiums and found then hobnobbing with Frank Sinatra, appearing on the cover of Time magazine and sharing the stage with Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and B.B. King. "Certainly looking back on playing the tour at that time, it should have been an extraordinarily, freeing, joyful opportunity," says bassist Adam Clayton. "But it was actually quite a tough time trying to deliver those songs under the pressure of growing from an arena act to a stadium act. I, for one, don't remember enjoying it very much."

He'll probably enjoy it more this summer when U2 take The Joshua Tree on a victory lap three decades down the line. "I think this summer run is almost an opportunity to take it back," he says, "and look at those songs and look at what was going on then and see where we are now." We spoke to Clayton about the impetus for the tour, how the show will be structured, if fans can expect to hear rarities and what's happening with Songs of Experience.

I know that the Innocence + Experience Tour was originally slated to go into 2016. What happened?
Well, the idea was really that we wanted to make sure we focused on the [Songs of] Experience album. By the time we finished the Innocence tour and came full circle to focus on the album, it was clear we weren't going to be able to flip it really quickly into the Experience side of the material and put it right back out on tour. As a challenge that was, "OK, we're going to have to look at this differently." Also, in the course of that year, some kind of strange political movements seemed to start happening. First of all, there was Brexit in the U.K., which was just a signal that things were changing. I'm not sure how people took it. Then, quite quickly on the back of it, was the rise of Trumpism. And that was like, "Oh, OK, there's something going on here. There's maybe something we missed and we need to start watching this." That sort of encouraged us to go away from trying to finish the record too quickly without being able to factor in some of the things this is telling us.

I think it's interesting to be able to go back to the Joshua Tree record because when we put that record out and when we were working on it, it was a bleak world in terms of America and the U.K. You had a Thatcher-ite government in the U.K. that was trying to destroy the coal-mining business and set up a different kind of economy in the U.K. In the U.S. you had Reaganomics and the kind of imperial power inserting itself into Central American politics and some pretty bad deeds going on from drug money funding arms for that war. That was an interesting setting, but ... looking back from 30 years, the story that it tells me the most is how much I've changed and how much I need to look at good, liberal values and how the world is really looking and what I accept from the news and what I want from politics now from someone that is less likely to be standing at the barricade. I'm all in favor of new artists coming up to be people that make a lot of noise, but I'm happy to still be a part of the movement.

I know the first thought was to maybe do one American Joshua Tree show and one in Europe. How did that grow into a whole tour?
Well, one of the early ideas was that perhaps, because the Experience tour when we get back out to it will be an indoor tour that's focused on the production we had pioneered on the Innocence tour, it was going to be that production taken further. But we thought, "Well, maybe in honor of The Joshua Tree we could go back out there and do shows that are much more rooted in what that experience was about." That's because when we took the Joshua Tree show out a couple of interesting things happened. That was a tour that started in arenas and in the course of the year-long progress of that album, since that was back in the very, very old days where when you put out an album, it sold and there was word of mouth and it got bigger and eventually it got to Number One on the charts and everyone knew it. So when that happened we were forced to go from arenas out into stadiums, and that was a huge, huge step for a bunch of Irish guys who were 25, 26 and had just put our back into this thing called U2 and it had been a five-, six-, seven-year sort of journey for us, a pilgrimage in many ways.

When we went outdoors in the stadiums, we didn't have any tricks. We didn't know how to do it. We steered away from video reinforcement, which was just happening at the time. We thought it would, in some ways, dilute the music. We had a fervent belief that the music was absolutely adequate and big enough to fill a stadium, so it was really a challenge to us. It also meant that every night Bono had to really put himself out there to try and connect to people. In some ways, that was a thankless task. You can't win in a stadium. No matter how good the songs are, you're still just a speck on the stage and you're still dependent on the PA system. That was very, very frustrating.

I spoke to Edge a few weeks ago. He wasn't sure the show was going to start with "Streets" and go right into the album. How do you see that happening?
We haven't really sat down and worked out the dynamics of it yet, but I suspect it would sit as the crown in the show. I think we would definitely want to open with perhaps something that is not dissimilar to the Songs of Innocence run [where we did our early 1980s songs] and get people in the mood for this thing that's coming and you give some sense of history of where it came from. Then it'll be a scene change. … This is my guess. We won't know until we start playing it around quite a bit. We will either start with "Streets," or end with it, I might think, but there will be a scene change. Whether or not we go completely in sequence, we've yet to work out. But I think it'll be the beginning of the traditional musical journey that we've always referred to in that period where the songs will take us through a version of America that certainly seemed true and possible at that time. In many ways, perhaps that was the very end of the period of thinking of America as wholesome and benevolent. Really, things have changed quite a bit from that point on. It's going to be hard to see how the country goes back to where it would like to be.

I imagine one challenge in playing it in sequence is the four most famous songs are the first four. Then there's seven straight that are lesser-known to a mass audience. Doing them all in a row could be a challenge in a stadium. Do you worry about that?
Umm … I think we really have to wait and see. I think anyone that's coming to that show clearly knows that record well. What we would need to figure out is whether that's a suite of songs [and] with our new knowledge of 30 years hence we could breathe life into them in a different way, or whether we kind of bundle them together with some other songs that are thematically in keeping with those. Again, I wish I could be more positive with that, but we aren't that far down the line. We have the aspiration, but we haven't quite figured out how it'll happen. But it will happen and we always toy around and experiment until it feels right.

That fans are super psyched to hear "Exit," "Red Hill Mining Town" and "Trip Through Your Wires." These are songs that haven't been played in 30 years, or even ever in one case.
"Trip Through Your Wires" I think we were pretty good at playing during the original Joshua Tree tour. I think "In God's Country" was in that set, but "Red Hill Mining Town" was never played live during that period. It fell into the midtempo malaise and I think we can now figure out ways to get around that.

Might you play any Songs of Experience songs during the show?
It would be very much my wish that we could play something from Experience as part of the show, maybe one or two songs. Again, I caution that by saying we really have to see the arc of this show and we have to figure out whether those Experience songs would work well in a stadium in this context, but I'd love to see some of that material out there and people being familiar with it before the album comes out.

Broadly speaking, it must be hard to make a set list since there's so many albums and certain audience members that just know the big hits, and then there's the hardcore fans craving deep cuts. Satisfying them both at once must be difficult.
It is difficult. You very quickly realize when you're up there that there are those two types of songs. There are the songs with broad, mass appeal that people respond to in an instinctive ways. I suppose that's what hit songs are. Then there's, as you say, the more intellectual side of what I'd call the "bedroom songs" that people have a personal, intimate relationship with, but they don't share that with the rest of the world. I think we always try and walk the line between having those great emotional moments that are much more about what's happening in the crowd. The song unleashes the experience that people are having in the crowd, and then those other songs that one can pull back to the stage and they're about the music that's happening on the stage and the audience can participate in that.

I told the Edge the two songs the fans are always talking about are "Acrobat" and "Drowning Man." You've never done either of them. Do you think they'll ever be played?
We rehearsed up a version of "Drowning Man" for the 360° tour. I think we rehearsed it up until the moment we were rehearsing in stadiums. I think some of the fan chatter said that. I think in the end it seemed like really an obscure song to submit a stadium audience to [laughs]. But it has something. It really does have something. What we were doing with it was quite interesting, but you instinctively know that's not going to carry in a stadium. It could carry in a club situation because it is … that's right off War. It probably isn't that well-known, but it is a beautiful piece of music, really evocative. Perhaps there is a way to put it in.

How about "Acrobat?"
"Acrobat" is a funny one. There's a lot of anger. Again, I think when we were originally planning that tour it was just one song too many off Achtung Baby, but perhaps there is a way of bringing it back in. Perhaps not for this tour. I guess we're going to have to align everything, to a degree, that is pre–Joshua Tree and then Joshua Tree. Then after Joshua Tree, perhaps Achtung Baby would be too big a gauge, but who knows how it'll pan out once we start planning two-and-a-half hours in a stadium.

Do you ever talk about doing a fan show in a theater or club that's advertised as just the obscure songs? The thing is, if we were looking for innovative, different ideas to reconnect with our audience, I think all these things are valid. But we're still very much kind of plowing ahead with new material and that's our focus. This was just an opportunity to step sideways and honor Joshua Tree. I think when everyone saw it as something we could move forward with, there was great momentum and excitement within the band, but I think this is a step that is not really part of our language. It's just unique that we're choosing this year to do this.

Do you think if you put out "With or Without You" as a single today, it would be a big hit, or has radio changed so much it wouldn't work?
I think you could put it out. I think you'd have to Melodyne the vocal. I think you'd have to squeeze and program the rhythm tracks. Eventually you'd get something that sounds familiar on the radio and it would research well, and you might get a bit of traction and it might be a hit. But I think if you put it out just as it is, it would get lost in the noise and bubble of that particular sound that's popular at the moment.

Is it possible for a rock band 40 years in to score a hit in the climate where most pop artists are in their early twenties?
You know, I do believe that it is possible. I don't know what the particular formula is, but I've never been more aware of any other time that no matter where I am in the world, and I don't know why it is, I keep hearing Fleetwood Mac tracks. I'm going, "Why is it those songs have got such big, strong legs?" Of course, they were poppy in their day. They were very universal in terms of the lyric, but there was something about the sound that wasn't necessarily the classic sound of that period. They had their own unique sound and it seems to have survived the pop music of the day.

Yeah. I think "Every Breaking Wave" is among your greatest songs. Had it been released in a different time it would probably have been a huge hit. It just seems like this is a different world now.
Yeah, it is. The emotional connection with songs [is] different because people don't think of them as parts of albums. They don't think of them as lifestyle. They don't see them as identifying who they are. We live in a world where these songs are dropped and they get passed around and they validate people in a different way.

Do you think Songs of Experience will be out next year? The end of this year?
We all very much feel like it needs to be the end of this year. It's not on any schedule anywhere, anything like that. We're going to get back to that later this year and polish it off and finish it off a bit more. But we think we're there with it. It's not like the switch to do these Joshua Tree shows was because we needed a lot of time. It was just because it's pretty much in the bag. We can still work on it throughout this year, all the little nips and tucks that we want to do. It'll be a pleasure to get out there and play these Joshua Tree songs. In some ways, the experience of playing those Joshua Tree shows and those songs this summer, inevitably, couldn't help [but] have some impact on what that record ultimately becomes when we finish work on it.

The word "nostalgia" is being tossed around in relation to this tour. How do you feel about that?
[Let's out an agonized groan.] It's not something we would be interested in. The reason the audience is there and buys the ticket may be to look back and say, "Wasn't that great? Wasn't that a great period? Weren't we the generation that changed things?" You can't do anything about that. Some people may do that. I think I mentioned at the beginning of the piece, it's probably much more important to use that as a starting point of what the last 30 years have done to us all. Who are we now? How can we continue to act as members of the community and society and make changes and choices for the future?

Do you see yourselves still being in the group when you're in your seventies like the Stones and the Who?
[Laughs] I can't answer that. Maybe they couldn't either. I think it's fantastic that Pete [Townshend] and Roger [Daltrey] are still out there doing shows in their seventies. I would say if you're in your seventies, it's usually the most fun to be onstage with a rock & roll band if that opportunity is available for you, but I don't know if that is something you can plan for. I don't know. I don't know where we'll be in our seventies. I don't know which one of us will be in our seventies.

It's a miracle that U2 have been the same four guys for 40 years. Almost no group can claim that.
We've had a very solid, stable lineup. Hopefully it'll stay that way.

I feel like with Songs of Ascent and everything you've done during the Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience sessions there's so many songs the fans have never got a chance to hear, maybe even a hundred or so. Do you think those songs are ever going to come out on box sets or anything?
Again, I never want to say never. Very often, the things that don't get completed is because we start out with a very broad palette and then again we do focus on the fact that what rock & roll is and what we do are a somewhat narrow palette. You have to focus in on that to be relevant and to be part of the discussion. So we can wander off into the ether and make nice, jazzy, progressive, atmospheric music – it doesn't necessarily reflect what U2 should be doing and how we should be connecting with our people out there.

Do you ever fee like the band is fighting gravity? So few bands have ever done work 40 years in that's connected with a mass audience. At the same time, rock is no longer at the center of the culture. That's a lot to work against.
Ummm … yeah. There are different rules and criteria for the operation. I kind of feel like the technology of how this all works has changed a lot over the years. If you look at the big bands of the 1940s, those bands got cut down to quartets and quintets after the war because there just wasn't the money around to pay for big bands or pay for petrols and buses. Then you came into the period where the electric instruments made that it very few people could make a big sound and entertain people. We're now in a situation because the current music business, because sales in the real sense don't exist, you can't support bands like you used to be able to in terms of economics. Actually singers are now finding, often with computers, that they can make a sound in the digital world and make a voice fit well on it in a special way. They don't have the overhead of a band in the studio or anything. So yeah, the economic forces have changed it a lot.

I also think that in that period of the 1960s there was the counterculture and information was translated through that youth movement and that counterculture movement through music and ideas. The Internet has completely changed that. People relate to each other in a different way and they communicate in different ways. It has more sophistication in so many different ways. We are, to use your term, somewhat swimming against the tide, but I'm hoping that some of those values … I don't know if we can do this again in that sort of way. It will change. The future is going to be different, and who knows what comes with it?

U2 are going on a summer tour that will feature a complete performance of their landmark 1987 album 'The Joshua Tree.'

Sunday, January 15, 2017

U2 2017-01-15 Entertainment Music, U2's Joshua Tree revisit rooted in present turmoil


U2's Joshua Tree revisit rooted in present turmoil

John Meagher

Published 15/01/2017 | 02:30

Reprisal: The Edge and Bono on the original Joshua Tree tour at Croke Park in 1987
Reprisal: The Edge and Bono on the original Joshua Tree tour at Croke Park in 1987
Michael Brook is a Canadian guitarist and composer who has worked with such leftfield musicians as David Sylvian, Robert Fripp and Iarla Ó Lionáird. But Brook has played his part in U2 history, too, even if his name is unlikely to register with many.

In the mid-1980s, Brook invented an instrument he called the infinite guitar, which allowed an electronic guitar note to be held with infinite sustain. His Canadian compatriot Daniel Lanois was intrigued by its capabilities and brought it to the attention of the Edge who, along with the rest of U2, was busy working on a follow-up album to The Unforgettable Fire.

That sustained-note technique would soon become very famous thanks to its use on 'With or Without You', the lead single of the resulting album, The Joshua Tree (both released in March 1987). The song is so well known by now that it's almost become sonic wallpaper, but listen to it with fresh ears and note how distinct Edge's playing is.

'With or Without You' has been a staple of the U2 live experience ever since, and it will feature at Croke Park on July 22 when U2 take The Joshua Tree on the road to mark its 30th anniversary.

It's the first time the band have toured a catalogue album but if there was one they were ever destined to showcase again, years later, it's this totemic 1980s release. Their biggest seller by far, it shifted 25 million copies and while I could make the case for both The Unforgettable Fire and Achtung Baby being even better albums, The Joshua Tree is, clearly, U2's most emblematic long player. Tickets go on sale on Monday at 9am and one can expect Joe Duffy to be fielding call after call on Liveline that afternoon from distressed U2 fans who weren't able to secure tickets amid the sales frenzy.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Edge said he couldn't say definitively if they'll play the album in sequence, but it would be quite a surprise if they didn't. And what a start it would be: the opening quartet - 'Where the Streets Have No Name', 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For', 'With or Without You' and 'Bullet the Blue Sky' - is the sound of U2 at their stadium-baiting best and each of the four has long been part of the furniture of their live shows.

But while these songs - not least the incendiary 'Bullet' - are perfectly calibrated for Croker's scale, much of what's great about The Joshua Tree is to be found amid the non-single album tracks. 'Running to Stand Still' is one of Bono's finest vocal recordings and its subject matter is rooted close to home. It was inspired by a Dublin that was being torn apart by a heroin crisis fuelled by such notorious criminals as Tony Felloni and 'Ma' Baker, and the line "I see seven towers but I only see one way out" referenced the Ballymun skyline from the vantage of a pre-fame Bono growing up in nearby Cedarwood Road.

'Red Hill Mining Town' is a portrait of a blue-collar Britain that got an unmerciful kicking by the Margaret Thatcher administration. Remarkably for such an anthemic song, it has never been played live by U2. "I think," Edge noted, "it was probably one of those songs that due to tempo and arrangement, never found a place within the live set."

And then there's 'One Tree Hill', which is the band's sweet homage to their New Zealander roadie, Greg Carroll, who perished in a motorcycle crash in Dublin in 1986. The striking image conveyed by the title refers to the volcanic peak of the same name in Auckland that Carroll had taken Bono to some years before.

For an album whose sound is regarded as so American, and whose Anton Corbijn-photograhed cover evokes the great expanse of its desert plains, it's striking to note just how many of the tracks are concerned with places outside of the US. Besides the three album tracks mentioned, 'Bullet the Blue Sky' is about the unrest provoked by American foreign policy while 'Mothers of the Disappeared' looked at the crimes of the Argentinian and Chilean dictatorships.

If the album captured much of the turmoil of 30 years ago, it's being revisited once more at another time of great unrest. The Edge has admitted as much, telling Rolling Stone this week: "That record was written in the mid-1980s, during the Reagan-Thatcher era of British and US politics. It was a period when there was a lot of unrest. Thatcher was in the throes of trying to put down the miners' strike; there was all kinds of shenanigans going on in Central America.

"It feels like we're right back there in a way [a reference to Brexit and Trump]. I don't think any of our work has ever come full circle to that extent. It just felt like, 'Wow, these songs have a new meaning and a new resonance today that they didn't have three years ago, four years ago.'"

U2 started work on The Joshua Tree in early 1986 with the same Brian Eno-Daniel Lanois production team behind The Unforgettable Fire. The first time the public heard any new material was on short-lived RTÉ series TV GAGA back in January 1986, when a seemingly stylist-free U2 played an embryonic version of 'Trip Through Your Wires' and something called 'Woman Fish' that was soon abandoned, never to be resuscitated. A wise move.

Plenty of material was recorded during the album sessions, as proved by the deluxe edition, from 2007, which gathered several B-sides and unused songs. But, intriguing as 'Spanish Eyes', 'Beautiful Ghost/Introduction to Songs of Experience' and the original version of 'The Sweetest Thing' are, it would be foolhardy to make the case that any should have been included on the original. Say what you will about U2, but they tend to know which of their songs should be released and which are destined for the recording-studio floor.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

U2 2017-01-12 U2.com, 'Music Can Pull People Together…'


'Music Can Pull People Together…'

12 Jan 2017

"Thirty years ago, The Joshua Tree found common ground by reaching for the higher ground," explains Bono. "This is a tour for red and blue, the coast and the heartland ... because music can pull people together as surely as politics can pull people apart."

We've got the questions, Bono has the answers.

A tour to celebrate an album from 30 years ago? That’s not like U2. Where’d that idea come from?

Haha, nostalgia is a thing of the past, as Edge is always telling me… and it’s true! As a band we are not known for the rear view mirror… I suppose that changed with the writing of Songs of Innocence. It kind of forced us and me in particular to look back. I began to think that indeed the past is a place worth a visit, even if only a fleeting one, as not to spend any time there can really mess with your ability to deal with the future. Not trying to be clever here, just sometimes, to quote one of my favourite writers – Eminem – you’ve got to go back to tidy your room. The Joshua Tree Tour is a recent idea… it started out as us just doing one or two shows, maybe even a festival for fun, but the more we thought about it, the more excited we got, and the more apt the subject matter of those songs felt for these times.

By the way, a lot of fans in South America, in Australia, in New Zealand, in Japan are asking how come Europe and North America get to see U2 again so soon.

It’s not fair… that’s for sure. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the band feel as disappointed as our fans about taking so long to get to some of our favourite places on earth. All I can say is we are working on it! Thanks for being so patient.

You were pretty outspoken politically at those two US shows in September and October. Some people didn’t appreciate an Irish band ‘intervening’ in their election? Will we see more of that in the Joshua Tree tour?

In the US election… as an Irish band, we clearly didn’t have a vote but we had a voice and wanted to use it to speak out against what we thought was runaway rhetoric, dangerous stuff … But in a democracy the people get the last word - and that's the way it should be. I opposed Trump while all the time understanding that many of the people who support him are the kind of people I grew up with, and can see myself in to this day. In my head at least the election result demanded I ask myself several questions:

Am I missing something here?
Am I out of touch with American values?
Am I out of touch with the American people?

It's clear a giant constituency in the country felt ignored or patronised… they are fearful of the future, as are a growing number of Europeans. I understand and respect that, and I want to try and understand those fears better. Against type, I’m a rockstar who doesn’t like to be surrounded by people who agree with me (at least all the time), which is why I joined a band and I’m still married! Haha

Our audience have always been fiesty, they often disagree with us and each other. I would like to think that everyone who loves their country would feel welcome at a U2 show, however differently they love it. And I think a little humility might be important for me here. I certainly want to understand better what just happened, but I’m going to do that without crossing what are bright lines for me, things like standing against the demonising of immigrants or refugees. I’m Irish for God's sake.

Edge said the world changed irrevocably whilst we were trying to finish off Songs of Experience and that we needed a moment to take that fact in. I think he’s right. He’s also right when he says the reasons our albums have lasted the test of time is, ironically, that the best of them can find a truth in the moment they were made that’s constant in changing times…

As for the Joshua Tree Tour, my hope is that number 1: it is a transcendent night of rock n roll. Number 2, if I were let to have even more lofty ambitions for this rock show, I would love if it became an opportunity for our audience and ourselves to ask the question - what is it these days to be an American or a European?… Thirty years ago, 'The Joshua Tree' found common ground by reaching for the higher ground. This is a tour for red and blue, the coast and the heartland ... because music can pull people together as surely as politics can pull people apart. It’s a great canvas and it would be amazing if it could still be a high voltage meditation on what’s happening now.

What happened to Songs of Experience? I thought it was finished? Can we expect it in the current century?

Ha, yes… possibly even this decade. The band have forbidden me from talking about deadlines and release dates. I can tell you that Songs of Experience is a very personal album, but that intimacy still needs the frame of a more anxious edgy world because that is where a lot of people are at this moment…

Throw us a bone - give us the title of one of the new songs… and a lyric. Are you going to play some of the new songs on TJTT?

Might. My favourite at the moment is “The Little Things That Give You Away”. Here’s a couple of verses:

"The night gave you a song,
a light had been turned on,
You walked out in the world
like you belonged there
As easy as a breeze,
each heart was yours to tease
Is it only me who sees there’s something wrong here
It’s the little things that give you away
The words you cannot say
Your big mouth in the way
It’s the little things that reveal and betray
Has the hunter now become the prey
It’s the little things, the little things
That give you away
I saw you on the stairs
You didn’t notice I was there
That’s cos you were busy talking at me
Not to me
You were high above the storm
A hurricane being born
But this freedom, it might cost you your liberty
It’s the little things that give you away
The words you cannot say
Your big mouth in the way
It’s the little things that reveal and betray
Has the hunter now become the prey
It’s the little things, the little things that give you away"

Theres a very big tangent at the end of this this, that’s very revealing – but that’s enough for now.

I heard something about another one-off show this year, with the smallest audience ever known at a U2 show… Just Julia Roberts, was it?

No, there are two different (RED) Omaze experiences – one is tea with myself and Julia Roberts. I feel like I won every competition I ever entered just to be in her company. She’s the real deal. A friend and a comrade for many years. Except she still looks like the first time I met her in the 80s and I, well, I’m happy not to stay in the 80s… The other prize is the band playing just for you and a friend. Might break our all time record for smallest show, which was in Bristol on our first tour of the UK – 11 people – but we’re happy to break that record for (RED).

Monday, January 09, 2017

U2 2017-01-09 Rolling Stone, The Edge Breaks Down U2's Upcoming 'Joshua Tree' Tour


The Edge Breaks Down U2's Upcoming 'Joshua Tree' Tour

Guitarist also reveals status of band's upcoming 'Songs of Experience' LP and discusses rare songs fans might get to hear live

U2 guitarist the Edge discusses the group's upcoming 'Joshua Tree' anniversary tour and the status of 'Songs of Experience.' Debby Wong/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

By Andy Greene

Since their formation in 1976, U2 have aggressively avoided any move that even hints at nostalgia. But this year they're going to finally look back by taking their 1987 masterpiece The Joshua Tree on tour in stadiums across America and Europe in honor of the album's 30th anniversary. It's a chance for the band to re-connect with fans after the rather disappointing reception to their 2014 LP Songs of Innocence, and it gives them a chance to hit the road while continuing to put the finishing touches on their upcoming album Songs of Experience. A couple of weeks before the shows were formally announced, U2 guitarist the Edge phoned up Rolling Stone to talk about the tour, reviving rare songs onstage, their next album, Donald Trump and much more.

Can you give me some background on how this tour came together?
Well, when we came off the last tour, the Innocence and Experience indoor tour, we headed straight into finishing the second album of that set, Songs of Experience, which we were pretty much complete with after a couple of weeks of the final touches leading up to the end of the year. And then the election [happened] and suddenly the world changed. We just went, "Hold on a second – we've got to give ourselves a moment to think about this record and about how it relates to what's going on in the world." That's because it was written mostly, I mean, 80 percent of it was started before 2016, but most of it was written in the early part of 2016, and now, as I think you'd agree, the world is a different place.

You're talking about Trump and Brexit?
The Trump election. It's like a pendulum has suddenly just taken a huge swing in the other direction. So, anyway, we then were looking at the anniversary of The Joshua Tree, and another thing started to dawn on us, which is that weirdly enough, things have kind of come full circle, if you want. That record was written in the mid-Eighties, during the Reagan-Thatcher era of British and U.S. politics. It was a period when there was a lot of unrest. Thatcher was in the throes of trying to put down the miners' strike; there was all kinds of shenanigans going on in Central America. It feels like we're right back there in a way. I don't think any of our work has ever come full circle to that extent. It just felt like, "Wow, these songs have a new meaning and a new resonance today that they didn't have three years ago, four years ago." And so it was kind of serendipitous, really, just the realization that we needed to put the album on ice for a minute just to really think about it one more time before putting it out, just to make sure that it really was what we wanted to say.

So we said look, "Look, let's do both. We can really celebrate this album, which is really born again in this context, and we can also really get a chance to think about these songs and make sure they're really what we want to put out." So the two sort of coincided and we decided we were gonna do some shows. And we've never given ourselves the opportunity to celebrate our past because we've always as a band looked forward, but I think we felt that this was a special moment, and this was a very special record. So we're happy to take this moment to regroup and think about an album that's so many years old, but still seems relevant.

Are you going to play the album in sequence at the shows?
I believe we will, and I say "believe we will" because that is certainly the working assumption right now. The show might not necessarily start with Track One, Side One, "Where the Streets Have No Name," because we feel like maybe we need to build up to that moment, so we're still in the middle of figuring out exactly how the running order will go, so yes. We will be playing the album in sequence.

The fans are going to be thrilled. There's many songs you haven't played in decades. Then there's "Red Hill Mining Town," which you've never played.
That's true. I had a couple of days at the end of a studio session where I was listening to that song and working on guitar parts for it, which I hadn't thought about for so many years. That tune in itself is just right slap-bang in some ways what's going on with the U.K. It's not quite as intense, but there's industrial action breaking out all over the U.K. for the first time in generations. It's not exactly a repeat of the Winter of Discontent, but it's wild those issues are coming back. It does seem like politics is polarized in so many parts of the developing world to an extent that I find worrying. I'm sure most people do. Those days were difficult, dark times, and personally we really would hate to see it go back there.

Why do you think that's the only song on the album you never bothered to play live? Is it difficult to play or difficult for Bono to sing?
I think it was probably one of those songs that due to tempo and arrangement never found a place within the live set. It's funny, sometimes great songs ... Think of a live show as an ecosystem. You've got niches to fill. There are uptempo, fast, dramatic songs and those are crucial. Then there are sort of more medium-tempo songs and no matter how great they are, sometimes you just can't find a place for them. So I don't think it was anything more complicated than that. But listening back to it I was like, "Wow, this is, I'm really …"

You may not know this, but within a few days of finishing the album, "Red Hill Mining Town" was our leading contender for the first single. We went ahead and made a video for it with Neil Jordan and we were very pretty confident about it. Then as the weeks went by and we sort of got back our objectivity, views started to change and it became "With or Without You," and I think we were correct.

Then there's "Exit" and "Trip Through Your Wires," which you haven't done since the 1980s. And there's "In God's Country," which has only been done acoustically a handful of times. It'll be great hearing those again.
Yeah. They're all so diverse. That's the thing about The Joshua Tree. It's a very broad, CinemaScope kind of record. At the time we were thinking about it in cinematic terms. I mean, so much of the photographs that goes with the album, the scope was cinematic. We were thinking about songs from that standpoint. And also the literary inspirations and references. In fact, the original working title of "Exit" was "Executioner's Song" because we were using a lot of literature as our jumping off point for the songs in terms of just taking our work in a slightly different direction.

We definitely were falling into the arms of America in the sense that, as a band, punk rock was so much about establishing a unique form of music not inspired or influenced by American music. If you listen to our early records, you can hear the influence of a lot of German contemporary music at the time. A lot of U.K. bands were listening to the same music. The Joshua Tree was the first album where we consciously went, "OK, we spent like four albums thinking about Europe, Ireland, but let's take a look at the roots of this form that we are inevitably a part of." And those were all American.

So we looked at American [music]. We looked at the blues. We looked at the New Journalism. I remember that myself and Bono were reading Flannery O'Connor, the Southern writers. It was a conscious effort to look across the Atlantic and to start to explore America. I mean, for someone from Ireland, it is a vast source of ideas and aspirations and inspirations and generations, America being the Promised Land. We're looking at it in that regard, but also at what America really was. I read about the Soledad Brothers. I read about the Black Panthers. We were exploring America from all kinds of angles. And this time was a Reagan moment where, in some ways, the vision of what America would be seemed under threat. The America of Thomas Jefferson, the America of John F. Kennedy, these were visionaries talking about the ideals of what America can be. We were grappling with those big ideas and now here we are again. It's crazy.

What songs are going to feature in the non–Joshua Tree parts of the show?
Obviously whenever we go to do something live, we are looking to establish a through line, a cinematic core that we can hold to. And we're kind of spoiled and lucky that in the canon there's a lot to draw from. Being kind of early in the process, it's kind of hard for me to say exactly what we'll be looking to do. But I will say that all the old songs are going to be considered and what we finally end up playing will cohere to what the core theme is. You know, we're doing shows in America. We're doing shows in Europe. But certainly the American shows, I have no doubt that a lot of it will be focused on that mythic America that we were writing about during the Joshua Tree.

Do you think it's possible you'll do any B sides from the album like "Wave of Sorrow" or "Luminous Times"?
We've done a few B sides in our shows prior to now, and it's hard in some ways for a song to make the set because it's not about the quality of the song. It's about what you have to leave out to make space for it. We're ambitious to the extent that we always want to cater to what we call our uber-fans who have seen multiple shows. They want to see something novel that they've never seen before, something obscure and unique. And we know that. We try as much as we can to make that possible. But we are also aware that the great majority of the people only have seen us that once, or a couple of times before. There's a very long list of classic songs that they want to hear. It's that balance.

It's often really fun to take something from the past that we haven't played often and reinterpret it, so no doubt we'll be looking into that. But I don't think we're going to put a huge emphasis on obscure and little-heard U2 songs. I think there will be a few for sure. We mentioned "Exit," "Trip Through Your Wires," "In God's Country" and "Red Hill Mining Town." I mean, those are four songs. "Red Hill Mining Town" has never been played and the other three are extremely seldom heard. So, there you go. I don't know. I wouldn't rule out B sides.

I think the two songs the fans are most dying to hear are "Acrobat" and "Drowning Man." They've never been done live. Is there a chance they'll finally be done?
That's very interesting. I didn't know that fans were interested in "Drowning Man." I mean "Acrobat," for sure, I guess. It was one of those kind of more dramatic pieces from Achtung Baby. But that's interesting. I'll take note of that. We always want to listen to our fans because in our experience, music fans are seldom wrong. There's something to what they say, so I'll take note of that. I'm not saying we'll definitely do it, but we're at this wonderful situation where we've got a blank canvas.

I think the fans also miss the moments in the show where you took lead on a song, like "Numb" and "Van Dieman's Land." There used to always be an Edge moment where you did one.
Yeah. You know, I do sing a lot as you know, pretty much always backing. But Bono is actually the one who is often pushing me to take a vocal. I'm fine singing lead, but also the fact is we have a really great singer in the band. I guess the opportunity just hasn't seemed right the last few tours. But I wouldn't rule it out either.

I see you're playing Bonnaroo. That should be fun. It's a very different sort of gig for you guys.
Yeah. We haven't played festivals for a number of years, but we did a lot of festivals early on, and I always remember them very fondly for various reasons. There's a kind of gladiatorial aspect to a festival which always keeps you on your toes in a good way. There's also the opportunity to rub shoulders with your peers and be in a background situation with other artists and other bands. One of the disadvantages of doing your own shows is you tend to just not have those opportunities as often. We formed a lot of friendships early on playing shows with Simple Minds and Eurythmics and various other bands. That's an important part of it to me, so I'm looking forward to that.

What's the stage going to be like at these Joshua Tree shows? Will it be like the original one in 1987 at all? I don't think we want to be too slavish, but at the same time we want to acknowledge sort of the aesthetic ideas that went with the record. I don't think we're going to go overboard in reinventing the wheel, but we'll definitely take those aesthetic ideas and kind of update them somewhat. This is The Joshua Tree 2017. It's not The Joshua Tree 1986.

Still, I'm sure the word "nostalgia" is going to get tossed around in connection to this tour. How do you feel about that?
Well, as I said, I think what's important for us is that it's not really about nostalgia. There's an element of nostalgia that we can't avoid, but it's not motivated by a desire to look backwards. It's almost like this album has come full circle and we're back there again. It's kind of got a relevance again that we're certainly aware of.

Will the next record be Songs of Experience or is it possible it will be something else entirely?
No, I think it's Songs of Experience. When I say it's almost done, we definitely want to take this opportunity to think about it, make sure it's really what we want to put out given the changes that have occurred in the world. And maybe a little will change, but we absolutely wanted to take that chance just to reconsider everything. And who knows? We may even write a couple of new songs because that's the very position we're in. We've given ourselves a little bit of breathing space for creativity.

Do you think that when the Joshua Tree tour ends, the Innocence and Experience tour will get revved up again with the same staging and everything as last time?
We feel like that tour wasn't finished. So right now, we'd love to finish that tour. I would imagine it's gonna be with very similar production components. But I would hate to attempt to see too far in to the future. That's the working assumption at the moment, but things can change and nothing's written in stone as of yet. But we like that tour and that project wasn't completed. It is still alive in our minds creatively.

Do you have any idea how the next album will be distributed? There was so much attention paid to the distribution of the last one.
My plan is that Bono and I would sneak into everyone's house and put a CD under their pillow [laughs]. But unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be getting much support from the rest of the band. But, no, again, it's quite interesting the way music distribution and promotion and marketing has sort of been thrown into turmoil over the last number of years. What seemed like the most cutting-edge and innovative ideas six months ago no longer seem novel or groundbreaking. Also, I'm aware that sales of vinyl records are going through the roof. It's just crazy to see that. That speaks about so many things about what the artifact, the object of a vinyl record signifies to people versus a digital download, a file. People, in the end, have an emotional connection with a great record and with the artist.

A digital file is … Look, convenience is wonderful. If I'm being honest, I still have my vinyl collection, but I use digital files 90 percent of the time. But I would never give up my vinyl. And so there's a need for both, and I find that kind of reassuring that in the midst of convenience being king, there's still this deep, emotional connection that people have with the body of work that is an album. So who knows? We're still trying to figure it out like everyone else.

What I find heartwarming is that music culture and music is still at the forefront. People are enjoying it and reveling in it and turning to it for all kinds of reasons. I'm interested to see if in this new post-truth world, music sort of reconnects with the activist-protest thread that it had for so many years and seems to have lost recently. I think that aspect of music has always been, to my mind, an important, crucial part of what drew me to it, and why I think a lot of people are drawn to it. So I feel that this is a moment where music might go through a kind of renaissance of a kind and I'm very excited to see what young kids in their garages across North America and Europe are going to be writing about and releasing over the next number of years. I think it's time to get back to some of that.

OK final question: Do you think there will be an Achtung Baby 30th anniversary tour in 2021?
[Laughs] No plans, but never say never.