>> ISSUE #31 : MR CLAYTON (article first published in 2000)
THE PROPAGANDA INTERVIEW: ADAM CLAYTON
Mr Snappy Dresser. Mr Man About Town. Mr Confirmed Bachelor. Mr We've All Seen What He Looks Like Naked. Mr Posh. Ladies and gents, we give you… Mr Clayton. Interview: JIM CARROLL.
The place is a mess, a real mess. Adam Clayton is standing in the middle of U2's cozy downtown Dublin studio and there seems to be a lot of stuff which U2 as a band can't leave behind. Over-run with wires, amps, guitars, spare drum-sticks, overflowing ashtrays, half-finished cups of coffee, it's a bit like the Propaganda office last thing on a Thursday night.
'They always look good in photos don't they, but in reality, they look like this. It's a bit like a Dad's workshop, all the bits, all the rubbish. In some ways, there's a school of thought who look on sound in studio as a science and they like it to be right for the machines. They seem to forget that what they are actually doing is recording music which is a much more organic thing and which has nothing to do with whether the meters go into the red or not.'
We are here today to talk to Adam about All That You Can't Leave Behind -- past, present and future. The album will be released the following week and a stream of domestic and international press have been coming down all day to have their time with the band. For Adam, this is the last appointment in a lonnnnnnnnng day.
Do you enjoy doing press and promotion?
Personally, I always have difficulty talking about music and celebrity culture, which is what a lot of music interviews are about and have become. At the same time, I'm not naïve enough to think that it can be any different. That is the system by which people know that an album is coming out and that it is available. I'm uncomfortable with it, but I accept it as part of the job.
Many see this as U2's 'back to basics' album. Was this the intention from the outset?
Initially, it surprised us how strong the band sounded when it was just us in this particular room. To some extent, the term 'back to basics' is misleading. It's a minimalist U2 record with the things that we all took for granted as players. There's a maturity to realizing that actually, we do one or two things very well. I mean, a blues band would be playing a blues riff for 40 or 50 years. In a sense, that's what we discovered with this record -- we can do simple things which, when you put them together, sound like U2.
Having your own studio on hand must have helped that process…
Having your own place made it a lot easier not to compromise. It made it easier for us to make the commitment to the record that you have to make. Along with that, there were days which were unnecessarily slow because you had too many phone calls but (laughs) people have to have a life. At the end of the day, the members of this band have been working for a very long time and they do have wives and they do have children and it would be foolish to think that people could commit to this record without having to keep a balance.
What are your favourite aspects of the record?
What was great was hearing Edge fall in love with the guitar again, playing things which were very direct, with very little treatments, something he is more used to doing -- it was great to hear Larry just playing the drums without having to fit in with a rhythm track which was already constructed. Again, Bono, the singing was great and the lyrics were great and at some point in the record, he had a lyric before the song was finished and that's rare and the record benefited from it.
You missed one person…
What I enjoyed most was I didn't feel a competitiveness to produce things which were hard for me to produce or that I hadn't done before. I found the confidence in saying 'well, I know what needs to be done here and I can do it' (smiles).
So what tracks from the album rock your boat?
I'm really getting into Walk On at the moment, it took me a while. I like Kite, I like In A Little While. I love the version of Wild Honey that's on the record because to me, it's early Van Morrison with all the naivete of those early records and yet, the twin vocals of Bono and Edge take me back to a more innocent time of Simon and Garfunkel or something (grins). I think it's a great sound for U2 and I suppose it is a throwaway tune for us, which is something I love to see us doing, without the angst of some of the other stuff. The Sweetest Thing was in a similar vein. They're the ones which put smiles on people's faces. Half the world want Stuck In A Moment as the next single, the other half want Walk On. Some people say there are ten singles there. There might be six and it would be great if this time next year there's still another single there.
So what have we here, then, is mature U2?
Mature U2 sounds like an old cheese! I think it is a record where we've had a look at what's out there, and we've gone "maybe we still have something to offer which we're not hearing in anybody else". If not maturity, it's a kind of self-confidence. We didn't sit down and go "well, we don't have anything to offer". Instead we thought that maybe what we do is something no-one else can do. I don't think it was a conscious decision to make that sort of record but it came from a collective idea of the music we were interested in.
There seems to have been quite a tight production crew for the album.
Well, it was us and Brian and Danny, primarily as producers but also as players. Then, there's Biff, a pop producer and writer who has done some stuff for the Spice Girls, for Kylie Minogue and Gabrielle and a couple of boy bands. He's sharp, he has sharp pop instincts. We also worked with Mike Hedges, who would be known for his work with the Manic Street Preachers. They all brought something to the table, even if it was just a strong argument as to why a tune should be finished and why it should end up on the record.
Was Brian Eno as heavily involved this time as he was on previous albums?
Brian's contribution is in the keyboard realm. A lot of his sounds on this record were quite organic, they were not processed in the way that he normally has these odd little noises. Instead, he used quite traditional noises. When Brian and Danny said they wanted to work with us, they said they wanted to make a record this time which sounded like the band. Everyone was in sync with that and they never wanted to get in the way of the band sounding like the band on a record. Even though there are extra drums or strings on some songs, everything is pared down to a bare minimum.
Obviously, the next step will be a tour. How do you think the songs will play in the open air?
I think the songs will adapt really well to a live setting. This is very much a record we want to go out and play without any over-complicated support structure. There is not going to be any jockstrap on this one (laughs). It will be us in the raw. We are talking about not having any additional production staging but it will probably grow a little as the tour goes on. At the end of the day, it will be us playing those songs probably in smaller places than we have played for a while. We want to go back into the smaller arenas. We want to be in situations where people aren't restricted to having to stay seated -- if they want to get up and move around, they can.
Looking back now on PopMart, how do you call it and how will it have a bearing on the next tour?
Funnily enough, when you listen back to live tapes from the last tour, you realize the band sound fucking good. I mean, look at the PopMart show from Mexico City, it's an amazing show. What we found was that when we took the show to Europe, and when we were in situations where it was general admission and people down the front were standing and could move around that it was that much more fun, and it reminded us of our earlier shows, before it all got big. We felt this time that, as we could do anything we wanted, why keep going down that path? It was not producing the effect which we get off on, that of people having a good time.
What live shows have you enjoyed in the past few months?
I went to see Bob Dylan in Vicar Street (note: Dylan played a special show at this intimate Dublin venue, to an audience of just 800). I'm not a huge Dylan fan but I thought there was more chance of me being a fan in Vicar Street than anywhere else. I like Bob as a character, he's had a long relationship with the band, he played on Rattle and Hum and co-wrote one of the songs. It was great to see a great band with a guy who's a legend with a huge catalogue of songs. I do tend to go see smaller shows. I was in a great place in New York called Shine to see a French group Rhinocerese. I liked the album and I was interested to see how it would come across live and they really put it across well. And they have a female bass player (laughs) -- which is good.
What music has been wowing you this year?
It hasn't been a great year for me musically in terms of records. The main record I keep going back to is the Doves album. I really tried hard with Primal Scream but in the end, the songs weren't there, it sounds great but there is very little substance. I've been listening to Badly Drawn Boy but it doesn't quite refresh the parts that other records do. Thievery Corporation, Rhinocerese, Lemon Jelly, Bent… it's OK. There is a point where that kind of music becomes pollution. You hear it in so many places and in so many variations that you go "I don't need to hear this again". I heard there's a new Tom Tom Club record, and I loved them when they came out first with Wordy Rappinghood -- so I'd be interested to hear that. Gavin Friday is great for finding good stuff. He gave me that St Germain record which is not necessarily something I would have picked up -- and it's great.
For many musicians and acts, U2 are an influence on what they do. Who has that bearing on you and how do you feel about being placed on the same list?
There is a top five and it's The Beatles at number one, the Stones at number two and after that, it can get a bit hazy. There's Zeppelin, The Who, Bruce Springsteen, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Van Morrison. There are records and artists you can't imagine life without having heard them. The top five or ten doesn't change or move that much. They're the records which make up who we are. Maybe for people born in the Seventies, it might be Prince rather than The Beatles, but the line-up is fairly constant. It feels odd when we are put in that list because very few people get added to the list. Maybe we have a place in a Top Ten but it's someone else's list. My list is already full!