U2's The Edge Discusses Gear and 'The Joshua Tree' in 1987 Guitar World Interview
The quiet U2 guitarist opens up about the evolution of his gear, his recent discovery of American blues and U2's latest (and some say greatest) album, The Joshua Tree.
Through a succession of Lillywhite helmed outings, Edge continued to carve a niche for himself in the annals of guitardom, though increasingly he turned to keyboards for new and greater stimuli, the treatments of which can best be heard on the 1983 hit, "New Year's Day."
That cut, and others from the same fabric, spun themselves into War, which was about as angry and bold a statement that anybody could ever hope to make. Finding them-selves suddenly thrust into headlining status stateside, U2 went after their new audience like tigers unleashed; Edge, in particular, sliced his way through the new numbers, and on older material like "The Electric Company" and "Out Of Control," he sharpened his razor-like attack to a zenith point this side of dangerous.
However, by the next year, when U2 convened in both Dublin's Windmill Lane Studios and Slane Castle for the Unforgettable Fire sessions, Edge surmised that a change in sonic landscapes was in order.
''Yeah, I did alter with things a bit," he allows. "We all felt it was time for a bit of mischievous reappraisal of what our sound had become. The sound we already had was established, and it was something that we could easily fall back on, I suppose. We were aware that tampering with it was tantamount to sacrilege to some devotees of the band, but we were unashamed of our experimentations. It was time to move on."
Moving on meant a greater emphasis on keyboard textures, while Edge and Brian Eno pulled out all the stops guitar-wise. On songs like "Wire," a frenetic heart-attack-inducing rampage, Edge applied felt tape to the bridge of his guitar, then massively delayed the signal. In general, though, the emphasis of the Unforgettable Fire was on moody surrealism, lows without the highs. For a band principally known for its anthems, it was a gamble; the pay-off was a songwriting confidence that carried through to The Joshua Tree.
"In between the two albums," Edge explains, "I grew tired of options. I was doing strange things on Unforgettable Fire that I needn't repeat musically. Things go in cycles. I was fascinated with keyboards, the DX7, treatments, and it led to a new avenue for us. But now I'm kind of tired of options, and I kind of embrace limitations now. On this new record, I think we've taken the idea of limitations and used them as a new form of inspiration."
For The Edge, inspiration comes in a myriad of manners. But whether they be cosmic or electronic, all appear to be openly entertained and attempted in his quest for quality songmanship.
"What a song is is a subjective thing. There's no one real definition for it. Some of our best songs were written on a one string guitar. I think the surface impression of the new album could throw people a bit. A lot of the lyrics are undersides to things, and they're harsh -- we're exploring some very dark things. My worry is that it all might be too dark for some people. But I've distanced myself from it all, and I think we put the important ingredients of hope in each song.
"Take 'Bullet The Blue Sky,' for example, which is rooted in America, musically and lyrically We were aiming for some of our feelings of the States, many of which are diametrically opposite. That song was inspired by a trip Bono had made to EI Salvador and Nicaragua, but carried over to America as an apocalyptic look at things, the urban side to much of New York City From a guitar point of view, the sort of references I was drawing on were Hendrix and the blues, my listening to Willie Dixon and some old country and blues people like Archie Edwards. It was a watershed, so to speak."
Blues in a U2 song? The Joshua Tree finds Bono and The Edge indulging their recent American roots leanings in some startling applications. While he is quick to stress that the band won't forsake their commitment to hard-driving rock 'n' roll, Edge does point out that he is on the lookout for different forms of musical expression, the spaces that separate them becoming smaller all the time.
"It's not like I've become a blues fanatic overnight," he laughs. "It's not that I know much about it at all, really, I'm still delving. But I see music really carrying over. Blues and folk. There's a huge similarity to Irish folk music and American styles. It's what you do in that context, and as a guitarist, that's what I'm searching for.
"Like using slide, for example. I've done it before, but never like this. 'Bullet' was that kind of song. The set of images and emotions that it is, well, it's not exactly tra la la champagne for two on Park Avenue. So I tried to use the guitar as a form of exorcism, almost, an explosive array of colors to illustrate some kind of strange painting."
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