U2 Take On the World: Inside Rolling Stone's New Issue

They're the biggest band on Earth, but for U2 that's not enough

U2's Larry Mullen Jr., Bono, the Edge and Adam Clayton in September. Credit: Mark Seliger

U2, the biggest band left on Earth, make their latest appearance on the cover of Rolling Stone in our new issue, hitting stands Friday. In the cover feature, senior writer Brian Hiatt trails the band to Dublin and the French Riviera, where he shares pints of Guinness and a long, boozy dinner with Bono; watches an intimate full-band rehearsal in a Monaco basement; and hangs out in Bono and the Edge's oceanfront houses. At our cover shoot, photographer Mark Seliger captured a stunning video of Bono and the Edge playing "The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)" acoustic, with Bono pounding out drum parts on Edge's guitar:

The band is highly aware of what Bono calls the "shitstorm" over the iTunes giveaway of their new album, Songs of Innocence. Bono says he didn't understand that the album would automatically download itself onto some people's phones. "It's like we put a bottle of milk in people's fridge that they weren't asking for," he says. "It is a gross invasion!" He smiles. "But it was kind of an accident. The milk was supposed to be in the cloud. It was supposed to be on the front doorstep."

Among the other revelations in the 6,000-word story, which offers a definitive chronicle of the making of Songs of Innocence:

U2 have big plans for the next few years.
Bono is already promising a follow-up album to Songs of Innocence, called Songs of Experience, that he'd like to have out as soon as 18 months from now. "We're hoping Songs of Experience will be less about intimacy," says bassist Adam Clayton, "and more about a celebration of sorts." The band's tentative plans are to take the indoor Songs of Innocence tour outside once the second album comes out. And there's another twist: In 2009, Bono promised that U2 would quickly follow up No Line on the Horizon with a more meditative companion album, Songs of Ascent. There has been no sign of it since, but Bono now sees it as the third part of the trilogy. "Songs of Ascent will come," he promises. "And there are some beautiful songs."

U2 interrupted their relationship with Apple – and had Blackberry sponsor their 360 Tour – after Bono had an argument with the late Steve Jobs that included the words "go fuck yourself."
"I had a tantrum, like a child," Bono says, "and went to the competition." To Jobs' great credit, he adds, the company kept up its partnership with Bono's (RED), and the two men reconciled well before Jobs' passing. 

Last year, the band had a fully Danger Mouse-produced version of the album that could have been released.
"But then we realized, 'OK, we've actually not delivered what you might call the hallmarks of our work – the big music," says the Edge. With Danger Mouse off working with his duo Broken Bells, the band reached out to other producers, including OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder (who's collaborated with Adele and Beyoncé). "I have the utmost respect for Danger Mouse," says Tedder. "Bono was very straightforward. He was like, ‘This is how we work. You're going to do whatever you do and get it as good as you can and then more than likely your stuff is going to get messed with by somebody else.' So I hesitated for like five seconds and then Edge was like, "Man, tear it apart. Do what you want." Adds Danger Mouse, "They're not my tracks. They're U2's tracks. I'm not happy about a song if they're not happy."

Bono rewrote the lyrics of "Iris," an intimate song about his late mother, after being deeply moved by the late ISIS hostage James Foley's letter to his family.
"I realized," Bono says, "that we will all be remembered, and we remember our loved ones, by the least profound moments. The simplest moments. In the letter he says to his brother, 'I remember playing werewolf in the dark with you.' If I make a swift exit, stage left, my family and friends will not be thinking about debt cancelation or, you know, fighting for HIV/AIDS medication, or U2 being on the cover of Rolling Stone, or 50 million people listening to Songs of Innocence.  They might remember some stupid face I made at breakfast."

Bono loves the fact that his silhouette has been on the iPhone's Music app (over the "Artists" icon) for years.
"I've hacked into you before you even knew," he says. "I've been looking at you every time you pressed 'Music.' Like, every time you're pressing on my head. How do you think that feels? It's a bruising encounter for me."

Also in this issue: Mark Binelli on the great Kansas Tea Party disaster, Gavin Edwards' feature on Bill Murray, an investigation into the frat boys peddling Vemma, Stephen King's Rolling Stone Interview and more.

Look for the issue on stands and in the iTunes App Store this Friday, October 24th.