Releasing multiple videos for "One" and "Even Better Than the Real Thing," all the remixes – it seems like you're approaching this album as something mutable, more like a performance-art piece than a fixed statement.
Rock & roll is mutating into something else at the moment. The video-game business is bigger than the music business. Images are everything, and we want to be there when the sort of audiovisual-microchip-interactive music is born.
The exciting thing about what's about to happen is we're working with Sega on a Zoo TV interactive CD. You're going to be able to mix your own videos to our songs. There will be a color box, if you like, of images. I'm really excited about that. And you're going to be able to remix our music for yourself, which scares me a little. You have to swallow hard before agreeing to something like that.
Rattle and Hum, and even The Joshua Tree in its way, seemed to be about stripping down, getting into the more elemental part of rock & roll.
Yeah, but even from our earliest days we were always best when we were in new territory. And technology is there to get to that. To me, the technology is there to abuse – like Jimi Hendrix's fuzz box. With Edge onstage now, my stage left, well, it's like Cape Canaveral. It's a technocratic side that helps him get to other places and sounds you've never heard before. This is one thing that I don't quite get – did you say that I won singer, Best Male Singer? Did Edge win?
The Edge was the runner-up for Best Guitarist.
You see, people are getting it the wrong way around. I'm a good singer, he is a great guitar player. He is so far ahead of the posse. It's embarrassing for me to have to say this, but it's kind of indisputable, 'cause everybody else is still painting the same colors. While everyone is imitating, he's creative.
To abuse technology, to find new tones, new moods, that's what U2's about, and I was trying to put words onto those new moods. And sometimes those moods are not specific. I just try to put into words what the others are doing with the music. Occasionally, it is idea driven, but usually, that's what I'm doing.
That's hardly the same thing as "All I need is a red guitar, three chords and the truth."
Um . . . am I blushing? [Laughs] Well, anyway, the point of that whole thing was to say, to quote the Clash, "We're a garage band, we come from garage land." It's just that idea that all you need is three chords and something to say. It's what rappers say as well. Instead of three chords, replace three chords with a beat – you need a beat and a line, and that's it.
Achtung Baby is a very European-influenced record. What stayed with you from all your explorations of American music, from working with people like Roy Orbison and B.B. King?
One word: Rhythm. Which is the sex of music. You learn a lot watching somebody like B.B. King and going back to those early R&B records. That was the thing we needed, I think. That's what was missing in the puzzle for U2. It's a different place that was necessary for us to go in light of the new subject matter. You can't write songs about sex if you don't have it in the music.
What prompted the darker sexuality of Achtung Baby?
I'd often found the sort of neon-light aspect of sex very funny, the leather and lace aspect. It wasn't a sexuality that I particuarly related to, but it does seem a dominant sexuality. It's the one used to sell products, and it's the one on every corner, and so I got into it [laughs], and it's great! It's just something I'm trying to understand, and I understand it a lot better having dressed up as a con man for the past year.
But there are moments – say, the line in "So Cruel" where you sing, "I'm only hanging on to watch you go down" – that are almost nasty. You've said a lot of that comes from Edge's divorce.
Oh, there's lots of stories in there, by no means only his. In fact, it's the story of just about everybody I know. People are desperately trying to hold on to each other in a time when it's very hard to do that. And the bittersweet love song is something I think we do very well. It's in a tradition, and Roy Orbison was probably the greatest in that tradition.
Some of these songs, though, are much more bitter than sweet, much angrier and edgier than Roy Orbison ever was.
I think the opposite of love is not hate. It's apathy. You only get angry about things you really care about. So that kind of anger can emphasize the positive by allowing it to come out, to be bitter, to bring up all that stuff.
The Fly character has become the dominant image of this phase of U2. How do you get out of it? How do you get the glasses off when the tour ends?
[Long pause] We're right in the middle of it now, but the music . . . the music tells you what to do, and in the end that's what you gotta do. The music tells you what clothes to wear, it tells you what kind of stage you should be standing on, it tells you who should be photographing you, it tells you who should be your agent. You might see the glasses as a mask, but Oscar Wilde said something like "The mask tells you more about the man." Something like that.
But it's always the music that tells you what to do. And so if I want to take the glasses off, I just gotta change my tune.
This story is from the March 4th, 1993 issue of Rolling Stone.
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