Edge interview on U2.com about SOS

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Edge interview on U2.com about SOS
« on: March 08, 2023, 05:29:46 PM »
(Since you need to be a member to read, Iím posting it in the forum for all)

From One to 40
8 Mar 2023
From One to 40

Notes From the Edge on Songs of Surrender. 40 classic songs, stripped back and reimagined by U2 - but this was to be no simple 'unplugged' album. In this definitive two-part interview, the project's curator and producer - aka the Edge - describes it all in fine detail to Brian Draper for U2.com. Here's part 1.

While we were all baking banana bread in lockdown, you were masterminding the Songs of Surrender. Was lockdown a catalyst, or simply the space you needed for something you'd been itching to work on?

It was a combination! Lockdown was part of it, but we'd been talking for a while about doing a project which explored the back catalogue by re-recording the songs in an acoustic style. There was a bit of opportunism when Bono told me his book was going to have 40 chapters and he was using song titles for each. It seemed like an internal rhyme to take that framework and work on a corresponding collection of re-recordings.

As it happens, we didn't adhere slavishly to the chapters because we felt the music had to tell us what to do, rather than anything else. But the idea, the format was there. And, you know - we have a song called 'One' and we have a song called '40', so it seems ordained in some weird way!

You were curator and producer. What was your vision for the collection?

It was a process of discovery, but there were a few things we knew.

First, we wanted it to feel very intimate, a counter-balance to U2's previous recordings of these songs. The energy and intensity of our music was always informed by the experience of trying to play live - early on, to an audience who were probably only half-interested; later, in venues larger than we were probably comfortable with. With this collection, we wanted you to feel like Bono was singing into your ear, not belting it out from a stage.

We also felt it would be nice to re-imagine some of our less well known songs. One of the first I looked at was 'Dirty Day', because I thought - wow, that's not fully been realised. I heard an amazing potential with it! So we were consciously going for some 'deep catalogue' songs.

The other main thing was to serve the song by serving Bono's voice - allowing him to use the instrument of his voice to interpret the songs as we know he can. At times in the past, Bono's been forced to sing at the very edge of his range. It didn't ever really occur to us to change the key lower to give him a bit more vocal range to play with! But it was lovely to do that and to serve the voice he has now.

When many of these songs were first written and recorded, he was a much younger man, without that experience of interpreting songs, or understanding and knowing his own voice. You're dealing with a much more powerful singer, today.

And you began to sketch some initial demos. Was that at home, in lockdown?

Yes, initially it was just me with some very basic recording equipment and my laptop in the bedroom, in some cases! And I have a piano in the living room in Dublin.

And a guitar or two Ö

Yep, and it was literally that simple.

I have a similar vocal range to Bono, so the first thing was: OK, what key are we going for? And then, what are the instruments that might be a good setting for this melody and this song? And, what is the bare minimum we can use musically to support the melody? We wanted to keep it as light as possible and to avoid any unnecessary instruments.

I ended up going to the piano quite a lot, as well as acoustic guitar, twelve-string. And I dusted off this old hammer dulcimer that I'd had for a few years. I'd never actually played it before, and I became just good enough to get a few of these overdubs done! That was a beautiful additional colour to add to the guitar and piano.

So it was 90-plus-per-cent acoustic instruments, and a lot of time on my own, trying to tease out arrangement ideas to bring to the next phase.

Which was..?

Well, myself, Bono and Duncan Stewart did some sessions together, and we had a week with Declan Gaffney which was hugely helpful. The different lockdowns made life complicated but Adam was able to join us for some sessions while Larry did his recording remotely, which was a first, but it worked out great.

It was when Bono would sing that you'd finally get a sense of whether this was going to work or not. And sometimes in the studio we might start something again right there, and develop new arrangement ideas together.

And then you shared your progress with Bob Ezrin?

Yes. By the time Bob came in, we had a palette of fairly well developed ideas, but it was lovely to play them for somebody I respect so much who was totally objective. He's made some amazing records over the years featuring orchestral instruments, and he worked with us on a previous project we'd done with the BBC at Abbey Road.

I wasn't sure how he'd respond to a deconstructed U2, but he got it immediately, and was really encouraging, and helped refine some of the arrangements and thinking. He definitely upped our game when he got involved.

At that point I'd recorded about 50 songs, so we were asking: What's there? What's on the way to being there? What's definitely not there? And what can we safely say, well, maybe that song isn't going to make it Ö

Can you tell us which didn't make it?

On the list at one point, we had 'Mysterious Ways', and 'Running to Stand Still' Ö in fact, we had a bunch of things that for one reason or another we didn't go for. If a song didn't seem to want to be part of the collection, we were fine with that.

So we decided, for instance, that while 'Staring at the Sun' is a beautiful acoustic song, we've played it many times live and thought it was going to sound like what we usually play. 'Angel of Harlem' was pretty good, but in the end it didn't become unique enough.

How long did it take?

We did it in phases. I did the first recordings in early 2021, and we finished in May 2022. So basically 12 months, but not working constantly. We probably had Bono in the studio for a total of 30 sessions over different locations and times.

What did you begin to notice about the songs as they emerged?

I was intrigued by the songs that turned into something new. Like 'Stories for Boys', 'The Fly', 'Walk On' Ö  Even 'Pride' became this quite distinct version from the original.

And that was so fun to realise that whatever qualities the songs have, they're kind of indestructible. You can take them in a profoundly different direction from the original, and they still hang together. They're very robust.

You haven't played 'Stories for Boys' live since 1982. Could you talk about your relationship with a song like that? It must have been quite emotional to revisit it.

Yes, it was a very interesting process, because when we wrote it, we kind of were boys. And looking back, we're now remembering who we were; re-writing the lyrics, in a sense, from this safe distance.

It's one I sing, here, too. I sang it to Bono and he said, ďWow, that sounds great, we should use your vocal!Ē We re-wrote the words as we were finishing the mix, so the final lyric changes were done at the last minute.

But it just had such a strong mood. It's hard to put your finger on it. It's not quite nostalgia, but it communicates something very profound about the innocence of the guys we were, and sheds a new light on the song.

So yes, a lot of mixed emotions, and I feel the song carries them.

Did you have a sense of the direction the music would take before you started work on a song?

The songs really told us what to do, which is the other thing that's great about these arrangements. You start down that road of experimentation and discovery, and then you find yourself on a very hot trail. It's like, Wow, we're following some clear clues and signs for how this song should go!

But there's a greater freedom doing it with an older song, because there's no expectation. If it doesn't work out, it's fine - there's no risk, no pressure. So there's so much freedom expressed in these recordings!

We gave ourselves permission to dispel any sense of reverence for the originals. I think that was crucial, because in that environment - of 'There is no wrong way to arrange a song - it's literally what the song tells us to do' - you're in a purely creative headspace.

Is that a sense of freedom you can bring with you?

Yeah. Over the years, we got into the habit of using the recording studio as a songwriting tool, so for us there isn't really a distinction between the writing and the recording process; one blends seamlessly into the next, and I think that works wonderfully. But if you're Bono and Edge, Adam and Larry, you also have quite high expectations for what you will produce.

If you're in the flow, it's effortless. But when you take that step back and critique your work and see its shortcomings, you can easily end up putting a huge amount of pressure on your selves. And this had none of that, which was wonderful.

Could you talk about what it was like personally to play piano, or acoustic guitar, instead of electric guitar on some of those iconic songs?

In stripping things to their bare minimum, piano was something I found really useful. It became a go-to instrument for me because it has so much more range than guitar. You can cover a lot more bases.

A lot of our very well known songs have thematic arrangements which are well understood and integrated into the versions we have played over the years. On some occasions I would try to incorporate those themes in a piano version or acoustic guitar version, but often I would start again, and think: 'OK, this is the melodic idea - so thematically where can I take it if I really bring it down to something very intimate and simple?' And there were a lot of great discoveries, some subtle, some really big!

Such as?

Each song was its own little challenge. Some, we kept quite true to their existing versions - in 'Vertigo', you can still hear a lot of the guitar parts, though with the addition of cello it's taken on a whole new dimension. I love the cello, it's amazing. It makes that one of the stand-out tracks on the collection. With '40', I tried to capture some of the elements of the original arrangement, but played it as simply as I could on piano. And that worked.

But then there are some songs with massive changes. In terms of dynamics, 'City of Blinding Lights' is so delicate and so much more introspective. You connect with the lyric in a very different way; it communicates a different set of emotions than the original.

'One' has a completely different set of musical motifs. And 'Pride' has new melodies, new motifs - it sounds quite different. With '11 O'Clock Tick Tock', we added counterpoint ideas to the original guitar parts.

It was great to play with 'Invisible' and it took on this Irish folk quality. We borrowed some of the same hooks and themes but played them on different instruments. Again, it has a very different feeling.

'The Miracle of Joey Ramone' is a very delicate version with Spanish guitar, but it really seems to hang together really well.

(In the second part of this conversation for U2.com Edge talks about playing Walk On during last year's trip to Kyiv, reimagining lyrics, the influence of Bob Ezrin and which of the new tracks are 'better' than the originals.)
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The Exile

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Re: Edge interview on U2.com about SOS
« Reply #1 on: March 08, 2023, 05:37:23 PM »
I do a constant spit-take every time one of them claims that Bono is so much better a singer now than he used to be. I honestly don't know what they mean (unless vocal "improvement" involves not being able to hit the notes, low or high, that he used to hit with ease).
Listen as Hope and Peace try to rhyme,
Listen over marching bands playing out their time.

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So Cruel

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Re: Edge interview on U2.com about SOS
« Reply #2 on: March 08, 2023, 05:57:30 PM »
I do a constant spit-take every time one of them claims that Bono is so much better a singer now than he used to be. I honestly don't know what they mean (unless vocal "improvement" involves not being able to hit the notes, low or high, that he used to hit with ease).

I donít get it either. I hear Bono now and I hear a guy whose voice sounds high and pitchy. I listen to the old albums and bootlegs and I hear a guy with a huge voice with lots of command and power.
Talk U2 2023 Awards

WINNER - THE ADAM CLAYTON WHO WOULD YOU LIKE TO GO ON A BENDER WITH AWARD

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Larry Lovebucket

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Re: Edge interview on U2.com about SOS
« Reply #3 on: March 08, 2023, 06:24:29 PM »
I do a constant spit-take every time one of them claims that Bono is so much better a singer now than he used to be. I honestly don't know what they mean (unless vocal "improvement" involves not being able to hit the notes, low or high, that he used to hit with ease).

I donít get it either. I hear Bono now and I hear a guy whose voice sounds high and pitchy. I listen to the old albums and bootlegs and I hear a guy with a huge voice with lots of command and power.

IMHO bonos voice isnít the problem. Itís how he uses it. I believe him to have soulful voice. He just needs to direct it to new songs with a completely new presentation. Thatís just my opinion, though.
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SlyDanner

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Re: Edge interview on U2.com about SOS
« Reply #4 on: March 08, 2023, 06:25:07 PM »
I do a constant spit-take every time one of them claims that Bono is so much better a singer now than he used to be. I honestly don't know what they mean (unless vocal "improvement" involves not being able to hit the notes, low or high, that he used to hit with ease).

I donít get it either. I hear Bono now and I hear a guy whose voice sounds high and pitchy. I listen to the old albums and bootlegs and I hear a guy with a huge voice with lots of command and power.

Just the same endless stream of BS.

Thanks MPare for posting.

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an tha

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Re: Edge interview on U2.com about SOS
« Reply #5 on: March 08, 2023, 06:26:27 PM »
I do a constant spit-take every time one of them claims that Bono is so much better a singer now than he used to be. I honestly don't know what they mean (unless vocal "improvement" involves not being able to hit the notes, low or high, that he used to hit with ease).

I donít get it either. I hear Bono now and I hear a guy whose voice sounds high and pitchy. I listen to the old albums and bootlegs and I hear a guy with a huge voice with lots of command and power.

IMHO bonos voice isnít the problem. Itís how he uses it. I believe him to have soulful voice. He just needs to direct it to new songs with a completely new presentation. Thatís just my opinion, though.

5/10, LL

Needed to be a touch more subtle - the last 5 words killed off a promising effort - the posting equivalent of over production!
Since 1995.....

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Larry Lovebucket

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Re: Edge interview on U2.com about SOS
« Reply #6 on: March 08, 2023, 06:27:43 PM »
I do a constant spit-take every time one of them claims that Bono is so much better a singer now than he used to be. I honestly don't know what they mean (unless vocal "improvement" involves not being able to hit the notes, low or high, that he used to hit with ease).

I donít get it either. I hear Bono now and I hear a guy whose voice sounds high and pitchy. I listen to the old albums and bootlegs and I hear a guy with a huge voice with lots of command and power.

IMHO bonos voice isnít the problem. Itís how he uses it. I believe him to have soulful voice. He just needs to direct it to new songs with a completely new presentation. Thatís just my opinion, though.

5/10, LL

Needed to be a touch more subtle - the last 5 words killed off a promising effort - the posting equivalent of over production!

 ;D ;D ;D
©2024

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an tha

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Re: Edge interview on U2.com about SOS
« Reply #7 on: March 08, 2023, 06:28:11 PM »
I do a constant spit-take every time one of them claims that Bono is so much better a singer now than he used to be. I honestly don't know what they mean (unless vocal "improvement" involves not being able to hit the notes, low or high, that he used to hit with ease).

I donít get it either. I hear Bono now and I hear a guy whose voice sounds high and pitchy. I listen to the old albums and bootlegs and I hear a guy with a huge voice with lots of command and power.

IMHO bonos voice isnít the problem. Itís how he uses it. I believe him to have soulful voice. He just needs to direct it to new songs with a completely new presentation. Thatís just my opinion, though.

5/10, LL

Needed to be a touch more subtle - the last 5 words killed off a promising effort - the posting equivalent of over production!

 ;D ;D ;D

I thought you would appreciate that  ;)
Since 1995.....

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jick

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Re: Edge interview on U2.com about SOS
« Reply #8 on: March 08, 2023, 07:51:20 PM »
---
Well, myself, Bono and Duncan Stewart did some sessions together, and we had a week with Declan Gaffney which was hugely helpful. The different lockdowns made life complicated but Adam was able to join us for some sessions while Larry did his recording remotely, which was a first, but it worked out great.
---

Add this to the growing list of quotes and clues about Larry's disengagement from U2.

Cheers,

J

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So Cruel

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Re: Edge interview on U2.com about SOS
« Reply #9 on: March 08, 2023, 09:20:55 PM »
---
Well, myself, Bono and Duncan Stewart did some sessions together, and we had a week with Declan Gaffney which was hugely helpful. The different lockdowns made life complicated but Adam was able to join us for some sessions while Larry did his recording remotely, which was a first, but it worked out great.
---

Add this to the growing list of quotes and clues about Larry's disengagement from U2.

Cheers,

J

They found a picture of Larry playing his parts at home

Talk U2 2023 Awards

WINNER - THE ADAM CLAYTON WHO WOULD YOU LIKE TO GO ON A BENDER WITH AWARD

WINNER - THE DAVID LEE ROTH BEST USE OF A MEME/GIF AWARD

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Tumbling Dice

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Re: Edge interview on U2.com about SOS
« Reply #10 on: March 08, 2023, 10:53:32 PM »
Age degrades the quality of the voice.

You Lost the League at Goodison Park

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Soloyan

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Edge interview on U2.com about SOS
« Reply #11 on: March 09, 2023, 02:37:57 AM »
---
Well, myself, Bono and Duncan Stewart did some sessions together, and we had a week with Declan Gaffney which was hugely helpful. The different lockdowns made life complicated but Adam was able to join us for some sessions while Larry did his recording remotely, which was a first, but it worked out great.
---

Add this to the growing list of quotes and clues about Larry's disengagement from U2.

Cheers,

J
Health issues also explain this.
A dangerous idea that almost makes sense...

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Alphane

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Re: Edge interview on U2.com about SOS
« Reply #12 on: March 09, 2023, 08:32:11 AM »
It's pretty much everything he's said before. It's really like they have a script and just repeat it for every interview.

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Tumbling Dice

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Re: Edge interview on U2.com about SOS
« Reply #13 on: March 09, 2023, 08:42:01 AM »
---
Well, myself, Bono and Duncan Stewart did some sessions together, and we had a week with Declan Gaffney which was hugely helpful. The different lockdowns made life complicated but Adam was able to join us for some sessions while Larry did his recording remotely, which was a first, but it worked out great.
---

Add this to the growing list of quotes and clues about Larry's disengagement from U2.

Cheers,

J
Health issues also explain this.

Larry joined the ranks of those who want to work from home.
You Lost the League at Goodison Park

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Soloyan

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Re: Edge interview on U2.com about SOS
« Reply #14 on: March 09, 2023, 02:20:03 PM »
It's pretty much everything he's said before. It's really like they have a script and just repeat it for every interview.
The script being that they are asked the same questionsÖ
A dangerous idea that almost makes sense...