U2's The Edge Discusses Gear and 'The Joshua Tree' in 1987 Guitar World Interview
Here's our first interview with U2's The Edge, from the July 1987 issue of Guitar World. The original story by Joe Bosso started on page 50 and ran with the headline, "The Leading Edge: U2's Minimal Guitarist Makes It Seem So Easy, But That's Only Because Maximal Thought Went Into It."
ILLUSIONISM IS AN ART FORM MOST OFTEN ASSOCIATED with the visual.
But if artists like Magritte, Houdini and Spielberg are the grand masters of optical trickery, then in the world of popular music, U2's The Edge must surely reign in the court of audio sleight-of-hand. Simply put, it takes a creative mind to play the guitar in a new way; but a wizard to fake out the instrument itself.
The accomplishments of U2 and The Edge during the past seven years could be the basis for a success scenario that any band of young hopefuls could follow. Yet they are not content to simply issue Top Ten records every other year and fill concert arenas. That's too easy a goal for a group of musicians that has challenged every cliche in the rock 'n' roll book and managed to take with them a still-growing retinue of followers.
It's harder than it looks, but The Edge's less-is-more approach to the guitar and the band's hungry scope have paid off. In sheer numbers (fans and hero worship) Springsteen is now the only comparison applicable, albeit an unfair one.
Both U2 and Springsteen would argue that comparison is not the nature of their work; this is true, but try to think of other artists who can draw on their influences -- increasingly more American, in both cases -- distill them and successfully make them coalesce into something more necessary, ethereal and majestic.
A fair amount of determination and blind faith is required to paint a canvas so broad and to reject the rock 'n' roll machine simultaneously. With the recent release of the Daniel Lanois / Brian Eno-produced The Joshua Tree, U2 once again throw caution to the winds and let the pieces fall where they will.
U2's songs, lately lamenting drug addiction in America, isolation, the desert and just about every nuance of the human condition debunk the immature illusion of what rock songs are supposed to concern. The notion that bands must still pen odes to hot babes is one that the Irish quartet negated from the beginning. Edge's role in this passion play is as cataclysmic as Bono's lyrics in that, while coaxing never-before-heard-of guitar sounds from his Vox amp, he does far more for the good of the instrument-and music in general-and makes it appear so simple. Almost like magic.
Born David Evans to Welsh parents (his father, Garvin, moved the family to Ireland), Edge took up the guitar as a teenager. Reports regarding his nickname vary: his demeanor, possibly -- some claim it's the shape of his head -- but it's one he sticks by (unlike Bono, who has quietly stopped listing his surname as "Vox"). Attempts at formal practice proved limiting, and so, fueled by the music of Television and the Patti Smith Group, Edge forged ahead with his then-naïve approach to the guitar.
By the time the young Evans found himself in the same rehearsal room with Bono (also somewhat of a guitarist), Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, his signature sound on the six strings was starting to jell.
"I suppose at that time I knew some things," Edge begins. "But I wasn't too keen on it. I guess I was pretty fast when I started, but before long I started messing about and trying to see what I could come up with."
Because of the young band's inexperience (only Clayton had played bass previously in a group context), cover tunes proved to be a problem they were forced to confront by writing their own material Edge used this period in time to hone and perfect-what the world would soon hear.
"From the beginning, I was faced with decisions on how I should apply myself to the guitar. Certain aspects of the instrument were boringly technical, and I guess you could say that I wasn't particularly interested in practicing. You can do the same things over and over every day and eventually you're sounding like everybody else. What I try to do—sometimes with great success, sometimes not-is to challenge myself by creating a new set of tools to work with. Effects played a major part of it."
Around the time U2 hit the American shores with "I Will Follow" in 1980, guitarists like Andy Summers and Robert Fripp were changing people's attitudes about effects pedals, making them a necessary color on a musician's palette. U2's debut Island album, Boy, bathed in an echoey, chorused shimmer, was a perfect marriage between producer Steve Lillywhite and the young band; the sound was galvanizing, rousing and a catharsis for Edge and players everywhere perplexed by the importance placed on fretboard gymnastics.
"My whole thing with effects is to get what I can out of them but be simple. I will never play without them because they're too much a part of what I do as a player. I rely on being creative with sound. But I think simplicity, rather than the multitude of possibilities which is certainly at my disposal through various processors, is where it's at. I think you can get so bogged down that by tille end of the day you've wasted all your time."