Int'l Musician - 1984: The Pluck Of The Irish
Pluck of the Irish
International Musician and Recording World, December 01, 1984
Overlooking the River Boyne, Slane Castle is a towering, Gothic structure built in 1785 and designed by the distinguished
Irish architect Francis Johnson. Approximately a 40-minute drive from Dublin, it's surrounded by sumptuous fields and majestic
woods of oak and beech trees.-------------------------------------The Stoking of Unforgettable Fire
Enter the castle, owned by the Earl of Mount Charles, and you come to the drawing room,
with its opulent carpets, sculptures, paintings -- and a 24-track Effanel recorder?
The adjacent library, dubbed the
Chinese Room, is even more ornate, and packed not with Victorian antiques but with rock & roll band equipment and tangles
In 1821 Slane Castle was visited by King George IV of England. For four and a half weeks last summer it was
taken over by the Irish group U2, and the unusual setting was partially responsible for the most radical album of the their
THOUSANDS OF MILES away, U2's Dave Evans -- better known as the Edge -- is relaxing before the evening's
show at the Melbourne, Australia, Sports and Entertainment Center, and is chatting about the tack taken on the group's fifth
album, The Unforgettable Fire. On some songs, U2's patented sound is so obscured by co-producer Brian Eno's electronic
"treatments," that you have to check the label to make sure somebody didn't swap records on you.
Precisely the point,
claims the Edge.
"As far back as the War album, we'd become quite aware of having a very defined sound," the
guitarist says in his gentle, even voice. "We were becoming more of a sound than a band; those echoey guitars and that ethereal
vocal sound. For War we decided to get back to something a bit more abrasive and raw, and for the next studio record
we wanted to take a really radical step. In order to do that, we had to change our methods, our approach and some of the influences
on our work -- in other words, the producer and the studio.
"Steve Lillywhite had never intended to become the 'U2
producer,' " he continues, in reference to the indefatigable Britisher who oversaw the group's first three albums, Boy,
October and War. (Jimmy Iovine produced the live Under a Blood Red Sky.) "He was in agreement with us
that it was time for a change and in fact was quite helpful in suggesting another producer."
The band had long entertained
the idea of ambient recording. Coincidentally, Daniel Lanois, the 32-year-old producer of Martha and the Muffins and engineer
for Eno, had been experimenting with that technique in Hamilton, Canada, where he owns Grant Avenue Studio.
this band called Language in the old Hamilton library," says Lanois, "this beautiful old building with marble staircases and
hundred-foot ceilings. We'd bring in portable recording equipment and have all these interesting rooms to work in: washrooms
with very snappy-sounding, hard surfaces. You never could get that in a studio."
Brian Peter George St. John de Baptiste
de la Salle Eno, studio experimentalist and onetime synthesizer for Roxy Music, had been involved in ambient recording since
1975's Discreet Music, on which he fashioned hypnotic sound patterns that could stealthily modify mood and environment.
U2 weren't seeking to forsake rock, but, in the Edge's words, "We wanted to capture a very live sound instead of the usual
method of taking a dead sound and trying to revitalize it through technology." After a two-hour conversation with the band
about recording theory and its LP concept, Eno agreed to the project, his first with a rock group since 1980's Remain in
Light by Talking Heads. Two days later, he and Lanois arrived in U2's hometown of Dublin and were whisked off to the castle.
gear was moved into the drawing room. The Effanel 24-track, says Lanois, "is a Stevens machine, not quite as flexible as,
say, a Studer, but so portable that just one person an haul it." Mornings were spent around the breakfast table, planning
the day's work. "We had our own chef," says Lanois, laughing, "luxurious living. We'd have the crew bring in a blackboard
on which we'd map out a progress chart: which instruments were finished for which song, what was definite, what wasn't."
band was recorded in the Chinese Room for powerful numbers like the title track, and in the huge ballroom, with its 14-foot-high
ceiling, for dreamy, atmospheric songs such as "Indian Summer Sky."
Eno's talent as a producer stems as much from his
ability to motivate the artist as to manipulate the machinery. "He has a great capacity for working with people," says Lanois,
to which the Edge adds, "He's extremely aware of the chemistry of being creative. He opened us up to a whole other world and
encouraged us to improvise."
Especially encouraged was Paul Hewson, a.k.a. Bono Vox, U2's plucky singer. He'd attempted
that before on 1981's October, when, after his notebook of lyrics was stolen during a U.S. tour, he had to extemporize
into the microphone, wrenching emotions from within. On "Elvis Presley and America," The Unforgettable Fire's most
quixotic and abstract piece, Bono ad-libbed the lead vocal to a backing track he did not recall hearing before. But he had.
was originally another song," explains Lanois. "I was mixing it at real speed and was getting rather fed up with it, so I
slowed it down from thirty ips to twenty-two, which is a full fifth below. I got a bit of a mix going when Bono walked in,
'Hey, what's this?' He didn't even recognize it.
"We gave him a mike, and he sang it right there in the control room,
with the monitors blaring."
The Edge picks up the story: "Bono wanted to write the proper lyrics and rearrange the
vocal, but Brian and Daniel and finally the rest of us decided that we never would have been able to recapture the vocal's
unique ability, so we left it."
The most obviously altered aspect of U2's sound is the Edge's neopsychedelic guitar,
which Eno processed through an AMS harmonizer, a Lexicon Prime Time and a reverb chamber. At times the guitars sound so much
like keyboards, that even Lanois, when listening to the playback, wondered if Eno hadn't snuck back into the studio and overdubbed
some parts on the Yamaha DX7 and CP70.
Question: Is U2's audience going to accept all this change? It's a subject the
Edge, fully aware of the album's controversial nature, broaches gingerly.
"I know this LP is going to disappoint some
people," he begins, "but that's something we've never worried about. It was very important for the band that we make a departure."
think our audience trusts us to follow our own noses," reckons bassist Adam Clayton, who may rank behind Bono as U2's most
demonstrative member off stage but is possibly their most candid. "I don't think we've been wrong so far."
change in the band's music should be even more pronounced on U2's upcoming American tour, scheduled to begin this month. Bono
once remarked that their live performances aspired to uplift, yet many of the new, more reflective songs are almost somber
"We want to challenge people a bit more," contends Clayton. "They may have to sit for half the show and actually
listen to what's going on. I don't think that's too much to ask."
For the Australian tour, U2's first of that continent,
only three of the new songs had been added to the show, which clocks in at just under two hours. One problem the group faces
is how to reproduce the more keyboard-oriented material. Clayton is adamantly opposed to adding an extra musician, and the
Edge, who in the past played keyboards on stage, admits that the dual role would probably be too demanding.
which we've done before, is to change the arrangements, which I think is quite valid." The Edge changes guitars a dozen times
during the course of the show, according to his technician, Steve Rainford. His main guitars, strung with heavy-gauge Superwounds,
are a Fender Stratocaster and a Gibson Explorer. The Fender, customized only with a graphite nut and a Seymour Duncan Quarter-Pound
pickup in the treble position, is preferred for its cleaner, top-end sound; the beefier Gibson is used on such songs as "Sunday
Bloody Sunday." Effects include two Korg SDD-3000 programmable digital delays, an MXR pitch transposer, two MXR compressors
and a Yamaha R-1000 digital reverb, all linked to a Roland SCC-700 programmer. The Edge still uses the Electro-Harmonix Memory
Man echo he's had for years, and plugs into a Vox AC30 ("It has a clarity that I've never been able to find in any other amp")
and a Roland JC-120, though for the Australian tour he was experimenting with a MESA/Boogie C-series amp.
puts his Fender Jazz and Precision basses through two different amp setups: an Ampeg SVT 8-10", "which has a very midrange
sort of sound, great for the more aggressive, driving songs," and an Alembic preamp/750-watt BGW amp/two Harbinger 1-15" cabinets
combo "for the more R&B-ish songs. That gives me a very dry, clean sound with lots of bottom and a cutting top." Clayton
uses Rotosound heavy-gauge strings, while his only effects are Ibanez's UE-400 multieffects unit and HD-1000 harmonics delay,
hooked up to custom foot switches.
The bassist, whose bushy blond hair has been tamed into a shorter, more urbane look,
is U2's unadulterated rocker. "He doesn't lose sight of the essence of rock & roll," praises Lanois. While he insists
he's as committed as the others to the new direction, Clayton professes an intense dislike for synthesizers. "I like to hear
guitars, bass and drums," he shrugs, adding that unlike Bono and the Edge, he wasn't a particular fan of Eno's ambient records.
"They're...fine, but they're not rock & roll, as far as I'm concerned."
Clayton is something of an anomaly in another
respect, the only member who does not profess to be a born-again Christian, and the one most likely to indulge in rock-star
affectations. Two years ago he went through a phase of drinking and feeling estranged from the others -- even suspecting he
was about to be given the boot -- but now claims intraband life has become comfortable again. "Almost too comfortable," he
says cryptically. "I think maybe we need another shock."
Though Bono, the Edge and drummer Larry Mullen embrace the
same theological beliefs, there are enough disparities within the group to provide a creative balance. "Bono gives the bands
its depth," observes Lanois. "He's a real thinker. With Larry you get strength, to balance the cerebral side. With Adam you
get strangeness, so everything isn't too profound all the time. And with the Edge you get consistency; he's right down the
Lanois was most impressed by the intense loyalty that binds the members of U2, who formed in 1976, after Mullen
had posted a musicians-wanted at the multidenominational Mount Temple Comprehensive School all four attended. Bono was originally
the lead guitarist, then the Edge, whose engineer father, Garvin Evans, had moved his family to Ireland from Wales. The Edge
(explanations of the nickname vary; a favorite is that it has something to do with the shape of his head) played an acoustic
guitar before picking up an electric, which may account for his unorthodox style. He seems to approach the fretboard as if
it were horizontal, playing sunbursts of notes that undulate from side to side rather than conventionally streaking up and
down. It's a telling fact that he drew his inspiration not from the usual guitar heroes, but from New York art rocker Tom
Verlaine, "the only guitarist I heard who I felt was actually saying something musically." The Edge's sound is characterized
by the use of echo, set to each song's rhythm and tempo, and the way the guitarist focuses his playing on the instrument's
top three or four strings, giving him a greater dynamic range. "Because Adam plays with a lot of midrange," he points out,
"I can play the sparser chords, and the echo gives me the fullness I need."
It took the Edge and the others time to
refine their individual styles. Adam Clayton recalls bemusedly that the early U2 "were awful; not a hope in hell. I think
all the elements were there, just done extremely badly. Somehow people in the audience managed to get something out of it,
though I don't know how. I've listened to tapes of us from those days, and we were just appalling."
U2's constant touring that followed the fall 1980 release of Boy with strengthening the band, and the resultant growth
was demonstrated amply on October, which hinted at the musical progression fully realized on The Unforgettable Fire.
"A lot of people were expecting Boy II," says the Edge. "They didn't get it."
The follow-up, War, showcased
a lyrical maturity, articulating U2's concern about the world around them, most notably on "New Year's Day" -- a statement
of support for Poland's Solidarity movement -- and "Sunday Bloody Sunday," which cut closer to home, about the turmoil in
Ireland -- its title a reference to the 1972 massacre of 13 Catholic protestors by English troops. Though most of the violence
is a good 100 miles north of Dublin, "It manifests itself in different ways," asserts Clayton. "There's a lot of unemployment
in Dublin -- it's become very poor, which makes it a good breeding ground for young terrorists. The cancer does spread to
our city; we don't exactly live outside the eye of the hurricane."
In the past year, all but Mullen moved out of their
parents' homes. "We tend to keep a pretty low profile," says Clayton, whose father is an Aer Lingus pilot, "so when we do
play a concert there, it's seen very much as the boys coming home. The people relate to us in a very nationalistic way."
last hometown performance was in August 1983, with Simple Minds, Eurythmics and Big Country also on the bill. "It was sort
of the future of rock & roll at the time," says Clayton, "and all Gaelic bands too, so it was very emotional. There were
about thirty thousand people there, and for me it was very tense -- which it is every time we play Dublin."
often touted as a political band, which in rock & roll seems to apply to anybody that thinks from above the neck instead
of below the waist. They are, but in a humanistic sense and, on the new LP, on a more individualistic basis, proclaiming that
living one's life responsibly and peaceably is ultimately the most political act of all. Black civil rights leader Martin
Luther King, Jr., is eulogized on the album's first (and probably only) single, "Pride (In the Name of Love)," a stirring
pacifist's anthem and U2's most definitive song to date -- ironically, on an album intended to steer away from their past.
the band's sense of duty verges on self-consciousness, as when Bono semi-apologizes on stage for the frivolous content of
"Party Girl." But perhaps that zealousness is partially the spirit of youth: Bono and Clayton are just 24, the Edge and Mullen,
23. While they are no longer cling to the naivete of Boy, its world view that of a child, the Edge maintains that U2
remain eternally optimistic and that the group's commitment to its ideals extends to its offstage life as well.
not just shouting slogans, like the Clash, for example, who've become caricatures of themselves," he declares. "And David
Bowie -- he's presented so many sides of himself to the public, that I find it hard to think of him as a whole person.
are what our music's about."
By Daniel LanoisBono
Vox -- Neumann U47 and U67, and AKG C-12 mikes
All are tube mikes, which have a certain warmth to them. We managed
to capture a bottom end and depth to Bono's voice that surprised even him. One of the first songs we did a vocal on was "Promenade,"
and I think I shocked him because I presented with a very close presence and a big sound on his voice in the headphones.
one point he was ready to do a scream, but because he had this big tone in the phones. It caused him to sing a little quieter.
That gives you more opportunity to draw on the fine points of the voice, because if a singer screams, his voice gets compressed
It was an example of a vocalist conforming to his environment. If you give a singer a lot of reverb,
for example, that will inspire him to hold long, loud notes, whereas if you put him in an enclosed space, he'll mumble; maybe
poetry will come out.The Edge -- Fender Stratocaster, stock Fender Telecaster, Gibson Explorer guitars; Vox AC30
amp and, on some tracks, Fender Bassman amp with two 12" speakers, miked with a Beyer 88; Electro-Harmonix Memory Man echo,
three Korg SDD-3000 digital delays.
Mostly Edge used his Strat, but we had some very good results with the Telly,
an excellent-sounding instrument. Whenever we'd do an overdub, we'd experiment by recording several different combinations
of guitar, amp and mike. The Beyer consistently proved the best for Edge.Adam Clayton -- Fender Jazz and Precision
basses; Ampeg SVT amp with eight 10" speakers, BGW 750-watt amp with Harbinger cabinet housing one 15" speaker and two horns,
miked with an Electro-Voice RE20 and a Neumann U87.
Most of the time we used no effects, just a big flat-out sound
that was very obnoxious and loud. In fact, sometimes I'd solo the bass and think, "This can't be, we can't use this; it's
horrible, rumbly, filthy -- and upsetting!" But then I'd get home and listen to the song, and it'd have something.
used a combination of DI and from the amp. On "Wire," which has the best bass sound on the LP, we used two amps miked and
no DI.Larry Mullen -- Yamaha drum kit with Paiste cymbals, miked with an AKG stereo mike (overhead), an Electro-Voice
RE20 (kick), and AKG 414 (snare) and AKG 452s on the toms.
We experimented with some distant miking on the kit,
sometimes from as far away as sixty feet. Larry uses two snares, one of which is called a piccolo, this three-inch-deep drum
that has a sound like a gunshot. A lot of the drumming that sounds like a whole percussion section was just Larry, in one
take, playing patterns on the two snares, the floor tom and two timbales. He really hit on some unique patterns; some of the
world's primo jazz drummers would have a tough time delivering something like that. He really outdid himself; the strength
Throughout the record Larry had these very large, very loud monitors behind him; most of the time he
didn't use headphones at all. And some of the drum sound spilled back through the mikes into the room. It was like recording
a band in rehearsals, with Bono singing through the PA, which was so blaringly loud that if you walked in front of the cabinets
and Larry hit his kick drum, it'd practically knock you over.Keyboards -- Yamaha DX7 synthesizer and CP70 electric
Eno had been playing the DX7 for about six months and came up with some beautiful tones. The piano parts
were played by him and the Edge.
© International Musician and Recording World, 1984. All rights reserved.