Last month, Rolling Stone Senior Writer Brian Hiatt traveled to Denver to catch up with U2 as they kicked off the final leg of their 360 Tour. He chatted with the Edge and Adam Clayton about the epic two-year tour, the difficult birth of Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark and where exactly U2 goes from here. (For more, read our full account of U2’s time on the road from the most recent issue of Rolling Stone.)
You seemed pretty happy out there tonight.
Adam Clayton: I definitely got to a point where I realize how unusual it is to be able to play large, sold-out shows 30 years into a rock and roll career. I don’t take it for granted.
There’s still a substantial number of No Line On The Horizon songs in the setlist, but at this point it doesn’t feel like the No Line tour necessarily.
Yeah. It is unfortunate. We would like to be playing more of the material from the album. It got great reviews. There’s great material on the record, but there’s no point banging away songs to people who don’t get it. It didn’t catch fire. It’s old news now. The single didn’t work, and when the single doesn’t work people don’t have a way into the record.
The tour was supposed to be long over by now. None of this was planned.
There was nothing we could do about the timing of the tour. What happened to Bono was a fairly serious injury. At the time, it wasn’t like he could have gone on and had it treated later. He had to be operated on, and that was exactly a year ago. That set the die, and we worked on material in the down time, but we haven’t had time to go back to that material and complete it. That’s why we don’t think we’re going to have a record this year, because when we work everything backwards from when this tour finishes, you need to finish a record by September for a release, and we don’t do that.
It must have been a relief to just say, “next year.” When did that decision get made?
We did some work on it in January. It was great progress. We worked with Danger Mouse in New York. After that, we had to have a bit of a meeting and look at the schedule for the rest of the year and see if we could pick up any extra time to work on it. We just realized that we couldn’t. To be honest, everyone was a bit gutted, because I think it would have been great to have got to the end of this year and have a new record out. It’s not my favorite decision to put it back, but it was the only sensible decision.
Paul McGuinness said that the idea of having a new album out was sacrificed at the altar of Spider-Man.
Well, I think there may have been an element of that. At the time when we made the decision not to do the record, we didn’t know what was happening with Spider-Man. It only subsequently turned out that Spider-Man was in difficulty and Edge and Bono had to put a lot more time into it.
You have credit on a couple of the songs.
I think we do. I haven’t followed it too closely.
Have you teased them about it or do you just let it be?
They’re my songwriting and musical partners. They’re entitled to do what they like, and I hope it goes well for them, and I support them wholeheartedly in it.
It must be frustrating if it prevented an album.
It’s not the best situation to happen, but we stick together and we get through it. We’ll get through it. There’s no other option.
You had ‘Songs of Ascent,’ the RedOne record and at some point there was talk of putting out the Spider-Man songs as a U2 record – so there’s these all these phantom albums. It’s unusual for you guys.
I think that’s a good thing, conceptually, for Bono to focus on, because as a writer he needs to have these scenarios going on – but my view tends to be, when the record is finished, we’ll know what it is.
So in your mind it wasn’t all these different records. You were working on music, and once you figured out what was best . . .
Exactly. I know that the Songs of Ascent material is there.
It would be strange to release it now, right?
I’m not convinced that it would be the next thing to do. The work we did with RedOne was very, very exciting. But again, I’m not sure it was the essence of what U2 is good at, and U2 is very elastic, we can do many different things, but I think we have to get down to the essence of the band. I think that’s what people like about us, and we have to do what we do best and we have to focus on that, and the work we did with Danger Mouse came closest to that. And we’re curious. We want to be in the clubs and make pop music as well as the thing U2 does, and we did that thing with RedOne, but in the end, it doesn’t feel like the right fit.
Are you going to take full-on time off once this tour is over?
We’re saying we’ll take both August and September off. And October and November we’ll start thinking about material. But we probably won’t get a whole lot done. I’d say we’ll start in earnest in February.
How do you feel about the future of the band in general?
You can’t make assumptions when you’re dealing with health issues. We’re getting to a point where there are health issues.
It’s a hard, grueling life – although it may not seem it. And you really have to be very focused and very determined to keep yourself in the kind of shape you need to be in to do that. I imagine everyone will get away from this tour and get a bit of breathing space, then in two or three years time, they’ll be able to do it again. You have the same set of questions: “Do you want to play in a stadium?” “No, we don’t want to play in a stadium.” “Do you want to play in an arena?” “Yeah, we like playing in arenas.” “But if you play in arenas, it will take you this long to get around the world, if you play in stadiums, you can do it over a couple of summers,” and the debate will start.
Is it possible you’d put out a record and not do an insane world tour?
Obviously, when we release the record, we’ll do a tour. I’m just pretty pedantic about doing it each step at a time, and as far as I’m concerned, there isn’t a record until it’s in the shops, and there isn’t a tour until the record is out.
I don’t think we’d want to do another stadium tour, but I don’t know. If the record caught fire in a certain way, then we would. So we have to work these things out. I do like arena tours – they’re much, much easier.
Can you imagine you guys still doing this in 20 years?
I think it’s unlikely, but, you know . . .
Is 10 years easier?
Yeah, I can imagine 10. But never say never, you don’t know. I think rock & roll would become exponentially, considerably more difficult to perform past about 65. The type of music that Leonard Cohen is performing now, he seems to be able to do. Whether a rock & roll band could work at that level, maybe the Stones . . .
NEXT: The Edge
You have a couple more months of the 360 tour left. What is the mission statement for the remaining dates?
The Edge: We’d like to finish the show. We’d like to get it to the place that we want it to be. The final one or two shows, I’m sure, is where we’ll fully realize the 360 Tour. I think Dylan wrote, “He not busy being born is busy dying.” This show is still being born, even if it’s two years in.
Adam was saying that you’re at the point where it’s impossible to imagine the next tour. He can’t wrap his mind around starting another one.
I say it will be a while before anyone wants to think about it, but I’m sure the next time we go out, it will be quite different. That, I’m pretty confident about, but what that might be, there really is no clue at this point.
Not that long ago you let go of the idea of getting out an album before this set of dates.
Yeah. I think we all understand that we’d probably have to tour another album, so I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of early next year, but thinking practically, I imagine that Bono’s right – probably next fall.
I saw a bunch of shows early on in the tour, but this show feels like a whole new thing.
It’s changed quite a bit since the first show, and I think there’s a whole bunch of new songs we’re playing, and that’s the way it always goes with us. The minute a show actually gets to a place where it’s reached a peak, it’s like we immediately want to start planning for something new, because we just get bored. It just gets stale so quickly for us that we can’t really let it become static.
How has it been to work in the face of of the negativity surrounding the Spider-Man musical?
I don’t really care that much about the negative media. In this instance, we were the junior partners and composers, but not the director and not the producer. We really didn’t have that much significant input or control over the way things went. But we did realize there were problems. The show was actually a good show, it just wasn’t great. It didn’t quite work as a story. Some aspects of it were amazing. Some journalists called it one of the worst Broadway shows ever, and I think that’s complete nonsense. But was it where it needed to be? No, it wasn’t. So I didn’t have any complaints with the bad reviews. I was furious, mind you, that they all showed up virtually the same day. That raised a few eyebrows.