U2’s SiriusXM channel U2 X-Radio will go live on Wednesday, July 1st at 3:00 pm ET with an extensive programming slate that includes unheard offerings from the band’s vast music vault and new shows hosted by Bono and The Edge.
The Edge’s show, Close to the Edge, will feature the guitarist chatting with fellow musicians like Tom Morello, David Byrne and Carlos Alomar, along with artists and other prominent cultural figures. Bono, meanwhile, will spearhead Bono Calling. According to a press release, that program will “explore seven questions about life, work, hope and the future” with guests; Chris Rock is up first.
There’s also the Friday night show Discothèque, hosted by DJ Paul Oakenfold, that will spotlight U2’s remixes and dance-friendly songs. Desire will be a forum for fans to tell stories and play their favorite U2 songs. Elevation, hosted by Irish broadcaster John Kelly, will air once a week and “celebrate good news and ideas from the worlds of science, medicine, faith and the arts.” Finally, (Guest) Plays U2 will give well-known fans of the band, like Matthew McConaughey, the chance to spin their favorite U2 tunes.
SiriusXM President and Chief Content Officer Scott Greenstein tells Rolling Stone that the idea of a U2 channel goes back many years. “I first broached it with them a decade ago when we first started laying out artist channels like E Street Radio, the Grateful Dead Channel and others,” he says. “You couldn’t look at that concept without thinking of U2. It’s going to be a diverse and unique platform that will evolve with them over time.”
The Edge spoke with Rolling Stone about the channel — along with his life during the quarantine, the status of the next U2 record and the possibility of a tour celebrating the upcoming 30th anniversary of Achtung Baby.
Tell me the backstory of how this all came together.
It’s been an ongoing discussion for a number of years. Scott Greenstein is somebody we’ve known for a long time. He’s the head guy at Sirius. Spending time on the West Coast, I’ve been able to dip in and check out what’s going on. It was something that we thought to ourselves, “At some point, maybe we should do our own channel.”
We made the decision, in consultation with Scott, that this was the moment. We had like five years of touring where it was an impossibility to consider it. This year particularly seemed like an opportunity in terms of our availability, our bandwidth. We said, “OK, let’s do it.”
We had kind of an idea of what it was going to look like, but then we put flesh on the bone and really dug in and said, “What actually are we going to do?” That was the fun part — to plan and strategize amongst ourselves and with our extended team and with the Sirius crew, to figure out what would be the right offering.
It must be that you have to fill up the airwaves 24/7 for the foreseeable future.
It is. We’re curating a lot of it, but we’re offloading some of the actual piecing together of the running order of the songs to the Sirius team. We’re generating playlists of songs. We’re very heavily involved in the content, if not the actual steps of putting it together. I’ve done a lot of interviews for my little Close to the Edge show. That’s been a lot of fun.
Tell me the type of guests that you want to book on that show.
It’s a lot of music people. The first batch of guests are all musicians and many of them are guitar players, unsurprisingly. I’ve had great chats with David Byrne, Carlos Alomar, Noel Gallagher, Joe Walsh, Tom Morello.
That’s the first phase. But I’m excited at the prospect of opening it up to some of the other areas that I think would interest U2 fans and the listeners of the station. I think [it would be good to book] people with very interesting areas of expertise and knowledge that are not necessarily music if I think there’s a general interest and appeal. It could be in literature or the sciences, filmmaking…any thinkers who have interesting ideas that are really worth giving a platform to, they’d be on the list.
It won’t be on the Close to the Edge show, but one of our first guests will be Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative. I’ll be talking to him for another show that we’re doing on Sunday morning airtime called Elevation. That’s an indication. And obviously Bryan’s initiative couldn’t be more current with what’s going on with the Black Lives Matter movement. We’re trying to find content that we’re personally fascinated with, but also that we believe our fans would be fascinated with.
Tell me about the music itself. Are you opening up the U2 vault and playing unheard concerts and things like that?
We are. We are tough. We don’t want to just make it an endless U2 archive of outtakes and strange recordings. We’re going to try to keep it to a very high standard. But definitely one of the exciting aspects is to give some of the songs a real day in the sun that they haven’t had. Radio over the years focused on certain songs from certain albums, but there’s a lot that are really worthy of more attention. And we’ll be showcasing some unheard, live recordings.
We’ve got shows that will be dedicated more to the club culture part of our work. And since the Eighties, we’ve been generating lots of mixes designed for clubs. That would be a Friday evening slot to get people ready for the weekend.
I’m actually working on some little short-form music pieces for the channel. I’m having a lot of fun with it. I’ve never done it before. We’re really trying to customize the sound of the channel and make it feel like it’s coming from us, which it is.
Tell me about the concert vault. When did you start to tape every show and really archive them?
There are recordings from way, way back, but what we often had back in the day was just the output from the board. That basically means it’s got just the dry output of each microphone. There are no recordings of the crowd or the atmosphere of the venue itself. Some of those were done as references only.
That said, I think there’s an extensive vault of concerts in the last 15 years that we can draw from that have been recorded with audience mics and all the stuff you’d want to do a really great concert mix. We have a lot to choose from.
Are you open to bootlegs that sound really good?
Yes. We were a band famous for printing [bootleg] artwork. We took out ads in UK music magazines that included artwork for bootleg cassettes of a show we did in Dublin on December 31st, 1989. It was on the Lovetown tour, which so upset all the recording people. There was one great quote where they said, “This is a ridiculous idea. The only people this can possibly benefit are music fans.” We went, “Yes! You’re absolutely right!”
Did you listen to E Street Radio and Pearl Jam’s channel to hear how other artists have done these things?
I did. I listened quite a bit to all the above. They are all different, which is fun. My takeaway was that the maximum amount of engagement possible from the band, the better it gets. In this world where we have all these wonderful streaming services with their incredibly powerful artificial intelligence curation, there is still something really fun about feeling there’s a real person behind the choices you’re hearing, in terms of the songs and the running order and the interstitials, sensing that connection. We would really want to make sure people get a sense of who we are through this channel, really, and a closer connection to the band.
How are you doing your show logistically? Are you talking into an ISDN line?
Right now, with the lockdown, we’re relying on digital communications. I’ve experimented with a few options, but mostly it’s just Zoom. I try to arrange a backup, proper recording on each end and you marry the two later, but you have this roadmap of the original call that you can record. And there it is as your reference. And if something goes wrong, you’ve definitely got something there.
How often are you going to air new episodes of Close to the Edge?
I think that, initially, we’re going to start off once a month and see how it goes. As I say, this is only just developing. I love the fact that Bruce [Springsteen] has really changed his level of engagement. He’s really turned his channel into a platform to express ideas and thoughts about what’s happening. I think that’s a great model for how these channels can really offer fans a real direct connection. There’s something about hearing someone’s voice. I think podcasts are becoming really big for the same reason. It’s a really intimate connection, the power of it.
Springsteen also brings fans on to tell their stories, which is something you’re doing as well.
Yeah. We’re excited about that. We’re not sure exactly where that’s going to take us, but we’re excited to find out. U2 fans are…there’s such a broad spectrum. You’ve got the very, very devoted U2 fans and the more casual fans. Then you have some who took activism super seriously and those who just love the rock & roll. I’m sure we’ll have a huge range of expression in those fan shows and that will be great. It gives us a chance to get to know our fans, which is really great.
To switch gears here, next year is the 30th anniversary of Achtung Baby. Are you going to do anything to celebrate that?
There have been various ideas, but I don’t think it’ll necessarily be right on the anniversary. It’s one of those very important records in our career. We do want to celebrate it, but we’ll see. I’m not sure yet.
Do you think you might play it straight through like you did with The Joshua Tree?
It’s on my list. Let’s put it that way. At some point, I’d love to do something again with the Zoo TV idea. It’s weird how it’s come around. It was very prescient. We had no ideas at the time that the world was going to become…that was all about cable news and that overload. Now look where we are. It’s like times a thousand. It’s like Moore’s Law as applied to data. But not the quality, unfortunately, that’s the thing that is really shocking. There’s really little quality information out there. So much of it is corrupted.
That’s the whole thing great thing about the [SiriusXM] channel. It’s literally straight from the horse’s mouth. It is us speaking and people have the reassurance of knowing that they are getting the authentic output of the band.
Final question: Are you guys working on a new album?
I’m always working on new songs. I’ve not stopped since we came off the road, so yes. The question, I suppose, is whether we have a plan to finish or release it. Not so far. But there’s a lot of exciting music being created.