The Edge interview: Memory Man
GW I tried to count the number of guitars you were using onstage the other night. You played an SG, a Tele, a Les Paul, a Strat…
THE EDGE They all do different things. I’m always trying to get the best version of the sound as possible onstage, the sound as closest to what I recorded, but obviously I can’t drag every guitar I own around the world. And I still use 17 of them onstage! I make some compromises. For instance, the Tele I play onstage, it’s not the Tele. That would be a blue Sixties Telecaster with a Bigsby. I played it on the original demo for “Vertigo” and I’ve never been able to fully recreate the sound. I get close, but the moment when you’re inspired and something happens, you can never get that again. Unfortunately.
GW Let’s talk about your relationship with Bono. Obviously, he’s a big wheel in the world arena in a way he never was before. How does that play within the band musically? Does what he’s doing make it harder to rock with him, or does he rock harder?
THE EDGE I think he rocks harder. He’s got more to prove. He has to show everybody that he hasn’t gone soft. Music is still his main thing, so it’s not like he’s got another day job and music is something he does on the side. Put it this way: he wouldn’t be in the meetings he’s in, meeting the people he’s meeting, if it weren’t for the band. And he knows that. He knows he’s pushing his luck talking to all these politicians and beating them up for money.
In certain other ways his extracurricular activities have helped. He’s out of the studio more, but when he’s in he’s in—100 percent. We have his full attention now, whereas in the past he might have been with us in the studio, kicking ideas around, but in the back of his head he was elsewhere. It’s better this way. We don’t want a distracted Bono; we want U2 Bono all the way.
And there’s another thing that’s come from Bono doing this other work: it’s helped me try to figure out why I want to keep doing this. Why do I want to be in a band still? Why do I want to tour?
GW To meet girls, right?
THE EDGE [laughs] Beyond the obvious reasons! Going back to what I said before, it’s about getting those early feelings back. I remember my first rock shows. I remember the feelings. I remember my listening to the first records that excited me. Those feelings are important, and I never want to lose them.
GW I know what you’re saying, but is it always possible to keep that excitement? As you get older, your relationship with music changes.
THE EDGE Sure, but that’s why you have to change the music. On Achtung Baby! It was a matter of us defiling our sound. We wanted to rethink everything that U2 was, and we successfully did that. On this new record, it meant stripping it right back to that spare, skeletal sound of our early days. The music on “Vertigo” was, with the exception of one guitar overdub toward the end, recorded in one take—guitar, bass and drums. And it sounds like one take. Being able to make that kind of racket at my age is very exciting.
GW Are you still using Herdim picks, the ones with the dimpled tops?
THE EDGE Absolutely. They’re these really cool nylon picks. I just like the way they sound. They make a blue and a red one, but I like the way the blue ones sound. I hold ’em upside down, too. I never analyzed why, they just sound better.
GW Could it have something to do with your approach to delay?
THE EDGE Maybe. Anything I can do to get some extra texture. When you get right down to it, pure sound is pretty boring. This perception that a lot of studio people have about fidelity and purity, that it’s what everybody wants—it’s a load of rubbish. You want something to sound incredibly exciting. What I like about using the pick upside down and hitting the strings with the rough edge is how it sounds to be like the resin in a violin bow. I like that fight it gives me.
GW You’ve never endorsed any one particular guitar. Any reason?
THE EDGE I’d really, really have to believe in the thing. I don’t want to be that guy on the posters: “Buy this guitar” and all that crap. I’ve talked to a few companies over the years. Plus, I’ve had a lot of people do custom stuff for me—that’s different. Again, I don’t want to be a poster guy in music shops.
The closest thing I’ve done to endorsing something is with the U2 iPod. To me, though, that’s a medium for selling music. As technologies go, it’s really important and useful. And the timing couldn’t have been better. If something didn’t come along to help bring music back into people’s lives, I could see music being in serious trouble very soon. It was almost upon us.
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