"AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW BY THE SMASHING PUMPKINS'
(Thanks to Tiziana for typing this out for us, she says she doesn't know that meany S.P. fans so drop her a line)
By Billy Corgan
BILLY: "I guess I was destined to meet U2 the moment I heard their song "New Year's Day." It was 1983, I was 16, and it was unlike anything I'd ever heard: fierce, political, passionate, sexy. They quickly became the most important band in the world to me. Since then, I have followed their every move with fascination, sometimes with clucking disdain, but always ascribing revelations to their rock 'n' roll choices. I assigned to them the weight of not only saving the world but saving music as well, because they understood the spot where the heart, the soul and the political man all crisscrossed into a fireball. The ever-enigmatic Bono only fed my curiosity to meet them, so when I was offered the chance to interview them, it seemes a natural. In a way, I knew them and they me.
I would first speak with the band via video teleconference. In my best robe, I called up some of my idols. They chatted easily and responded openly to my questions. At one point, a man appeared in my hotel room with two bottles of Guiness stout, compliments of Bono, The Edge, Adam and Larry. Cute. Then a pizza arrived. Then a belly dancer, who introduced herself as a dancer with "mysterious ways." Then the bagpipes arrived. They were intiating me.
Fast forward a couple of weeks. I fly to Dublin to interview Bono in person. In my 24 hours there, we do not sleep. We watch the sunrise, listening to U2'S new album, POP. We talk and talk and talk, and what I perceive at first to be pretension is easily replaced by astute integrity and insatiable curiosity. My preconceptions, built from years of flag waving, melt away until it is just one man who stands for so much. When I first heard POP, it sounded like a greatest-hits album---every era of U2 represented and spit back out in one giant remix. I thought they were crazy. Where was the next step beyond Zooropa? But as I dug deeper and scratched beneath the glamour of pop writing, out came the voice I recognized so well. You know it, you've heard it...the U2 thing, like heaven.
BILLY: Once again, you surprised me with the new record. I was expecting a technological leap forward, but it's more of a classic-song record. Every time I think I know what you're gonna do, you do the opposite, so I shouldn't be surprised. What was the thinking going into making POP?
BONO: As usual, we talk an awful lot for the first nine months. The last three months are a flurry of activity when we're trying to write the songs and record them. We kind of knew what we wanted to do: write some great songs, but have it sound like something we've never done before, and we wanted to incorporate a lot of interesting music we'd been listening to. As we got into it, we discovered some of those ideas just were not gonna work, and we were heading down the road of creating an album that was hopelessly diverse. What we managed to do was turn that weakness into kind of a strength. We were surprised when we finally put the record together that it hung together at all for a start. When you finish a song, like "Wake Up Dead Man," and then you consider something like "Mofo"--I mean, we were really biting our nails for a while about how the whole thing hung together.
BILLY: Well, I think in its diversity it does come together as a whole. It's like listening to your record collection.
BONO: Yeah, it does seem that there shouldn't be any one tribe anymore to rock 'n' roll. As I've been telling people, in my house I'm listening to the Sex Pistols next to Chic next to the Beastie Boys next to the Smashing Pumpkins next to opera, and all in the same hour. We're just trying to distill all the influences. It's being true to what you hear. I think I was sort of fed up with the rock stance as well. We thought, let's take all the references that we didn't grow up with. Or at least the ones we couldn't own up to growing up with, like KC & the Sunshine Band or Donna Summer. Just allow all these pop references.
BILLY: What kind of pressure do you feel to top yourself when you make a record?
BONO: NOT wanting to top yourself is part of it, for sure, as well as wanting to. In a way, I think it would be the end of our group if we didn't make a record we believed in. We've broken our band up so many times internally. When we started working with Brian Eno early on,in a way we had to break up and start over. We did it again with Achtung Baby. We had to shot U2 in the head before anyone else did. It's just about asking some very simple questions: Why do you want to be in a band, and what do you want to do with it? Are our four interests served? Because there's no other reason at this point for us to make a record. It gets down to corny old words like self-respect.
LARRY: Self-respect.......and Polygram.
BONO: That's true. There's always the record deal.
ADAM: I think there is a process of recommitment for each record, though. I think when we do get back together there is that initial month or two of dreaming up the kind of record you want to make. Then the history of the band comes into play, and you get fired up and inspired. You kind of follow your lead singer into the sunset.
BONO: When we're making the records, it always feels a bit like we're drowning, and you do wonder if there's an easier way. But we seem to need some chaos to bring us together.
BILLY: I've always paid close attention to what you've said in public and how people perceived you. When you first started, there was a kind of save-the-world feel about the underlying messages. How do you feel now about your relationship to the world on a social level?
BONO: I don't think anything has changed for us, but we have caught onto a few things, which is that you can make it very easy for your cartoonists if you're not careful. What happens, and I think it's quite sad, is that in some political and social respects, rock 'n' roll is being gagged because of some opportunists. At a certain point, it looks like you are a marketing idealism. People started to imagine we were doing this because it was good for an image. We decided if people think that, we should walk away from it. So we did our very best, and enjoyed it I might add, to completely fuck that up, because we believe the spirit of the band and the music are what's important, not the clothes. There was a kind of righteousness that was thrust upon us, and that is dangerous for a band. But we're talking about images here. The reality of where we stand has not changed.
BILLY: There was a point where people started accusing me of, in essence, using my anger and child-hearing one of your songs on the radio. It was so different from anything I ever heard. If "Sunday Bloody Sunday" wasn't on the radio, I wouldn't have known about you. There was no other avenue. It's different today because you have MTV, so the access is greater, but it strikes me that there's always gonna ge that kid. People don't sit around and wonder who's on the charts. Sometimes it has to be directly in front of their face for them to say, 'Wow, this is really poignant.' As far as I'm concerned, I want everybody to listen. I don't care how old they are or where they come from.
BONO: But it's also fun, I think, watching your favorite band try to stay up on the board. I do think it's a spectator sport. They're watching you, how do you deal with it, and the momentum is something you can have fun with.
BILLY: Okay, so tell me about the tour.
BONO: Well, the first thing we decided was that we were going to be true to the concept of the ZOO TV TOUR, which is that stadiums are the big prize, they're the big challenge, they're in a sense where rock 'n' roll--
EDGE: Falls apart or comes together.
ADAM: So we decided to pull all our efforts into making those big venues into something we can be proud of---not go in halfheartedly and do a stripped-down little rock 'n' roll show on a small stage in a vast arena, but actually try to fill the stadium. Try and have it make sense.
BONO: [Arenas] can be the most awful places on earth, but they can be turned into a great scene with the right people and the right music. Also, we always thought our music didn't have a roof on its head anyway, and we enjoy playing outdoors. You can go to clubs and be 15 feet from the lead singer and feel a million miles away from him. It's not about physical proximity. Anyway, these are all our excuses for why we don't want to back down.
BILLY: I don't think you have to justify. But I can tell you from my end it gets weird, because you reach a point where the inertia of the whole thing takes you to bigger venues and you really can't go back.
BONO: Yeah. The Rolling Stones were a great club act. Their music really suited the clubs. But we played the clubs years ago, and I'm not sure we were ever that good in them. I mean, we enjoyed them, but there is an extraordinary thing that can happen when you've got 50,000 people agreeing on one thing for a moment. 'Cause they're probably not gonna agree on a lot of things---and you wouldn't want them to. But for that moment...
EDGE: Maybe that sounds corny, but I have had some of the most extraordinary moments in the last 10 years shared with people I don't know....this personal music put out on these huge PA systems. It is an odd thing.
BILLY: I'VE FOUND THAT THE ATMOSPHERE FOR PERFORMING LIVE IS KIND OF DISMAL NOW. I DON'T KNOW WHAT IT IS, BUT I'D BE CURIOUS TO ASK YOU A YEAR FROM NOW WHAT YOU FEEL, HAVING GONE UP AGAINST THAT.
BONO: WELL, ACTUALLY WE FOUND OURSELVES ON THE ZOO TV TOUR VERY MUCH OUT OF STEP WITH WHAT WAS HAPPENING. MAYBE IT'S THAT WE'RE COMING OUT OF IRELAND, WHERE WE'RE ON THE FRINGE OF EUROPE. WE'RE THE COUSIN OF WHAT'S HAPPENING IN THE U.K., BUT WE'RE ALSO VERY AWARE OF WHAT'S HAPPENING IN AMERICA. SO WE'RE NEVER REALLY PART OF ANYTHING OTHER THAN SIMPLY WHAT WE CHOOSE TO BE INTERESTED IN AT ANY ONE TIME. WITH ZOO TV, WHEN WE ARRIVED IN THE STATES, THE TWO MOVEMENTS THAT SEEMED TO BE IN FULL FLIGHT WERE GRUNGE AND HIP-HOP. ZOO TV WAS SO DIFFERENT AND IN SOME WAYS FLYING IN THE FACE OF BOTH THOSE IDEAS. WE WERE PADDLING OUR OWN CANOE, AND I THINK THIS TIME IT'S GONNA BE THE SAME. I DON'T THINK THERE ARE VERY MANY OTHER ARTISTS WHO ARE DOING WHAT WE'RE DOING WITH 'POP'. THAT'S WHY SOME OF THE BANDS THAT ARE TRYING TO BREAK DOWN THOSE BARRIERS ARE QUITE INTERESTING TO US. LIKE BECK. AND LIKE THE BEASTIE BOYS. WHO WOULD'VE THOUGHT WHEN THEY RELEASED THEIR 1ST SINGLE ALL THOSE YEARS AGO THAT THEY WOULD AT THIS POINT BE KIND OF HOLDING THE FLAG FOR WHAT YOU MIGHT CALL WHITE AND BLACK IDEAS?
BILLY: I DON'T THINK BLACK MUSIC & WHITE MUSIC ARE AS FOREIGN TO THE GENERATION THAT'S NOW GETTING INTO MUSIC, AS THEY GROW UP WITH THOSE THINGS SIDE BY SIDE. I THINK ULTIMATELY IT WILL JUST MELT TOGETHER.
BONO: THAT'LL BE AN AMAZING MOMENT, WHEN THE MUSIC GETS COMPLETELY MIXED UP AGAIN.
BILLY: THERE'S ONE LAST AREA I WANT TO TOUCH ON. AS WE BECOME MORE OF A TECHNOLOGICAL SOCIETY, THE CONNECTIONS BETWEEN PEOPLE ERODE. WHAT ARE YOUR FEELINGS ABOUT THAT FUTURE?
BONO: A FRIEND OF OURS WHO WE HADN'T SEEN IN MANY YEARS CAME BACK TO TOWN FOR A WEDDING. HE WAS IN THE CORNER THE WHOLE NIGHT, AND WE WERE TRYING TO FIGURE OUT WHY. HE JUST SAID, 'LOOK, I'M NOT USED TO DEALING WITH PEOPLE IN THEIR BODIES." I REALIZED THAT THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO REALLY ARE LIVING IN CYBERSPACE, AND YOU DO KIND OF HAVE MIXED FEELINGS ABOUT THAT. I WOULD SAY ONE THING, THOUGH, AND IT'S HARD FOR ME NOT TO GET INTO MY WHOLE THEORY HERE ON TECHNOLOGY AND BORE YOUR ASS OFF, BUT WHAT I SAW WITH HIP-HOP PEOPLE WAS HOW 16- & 17-YEAR-OLDS WERE GETTING IN TOUCH WITH THE MUSIC FROM THEIR ANCESTORS THROUGH TECHNOLOGY. THAT MADE ME FEEL VERY POSITIVE ABOUT TECHNOLOGY. BECAUSE THEY'RE USING IT WITH GREAT JOY & GLEE & OFTEN VERY QUICKLY MAKING RECORDS THAT ARE VERY TRUE TO WHERE THEY'VE COME FROM.
BILLY: IT TAKES THE PRETENSION OUT OF MUSIC MAKING.
BONO: [ON THE OTHER HAND,] AS WE APPROACH A WORLD WHERE EVERYTHING IS MORE DIGITIZED, IT MAKES THE ANALOG MOMENTS MORE SPECIAL. IN A WAY, THAT FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, THAT ABILITY TO DUPLICATE EVERYTHING ENDLESSLY, ULTIMATELY DEVALUES ITSELF, AND IT'S THE HUMAN MOMENTS, THE LIVE PERFORMANCES, THAT ARE GONNA MEAN SO MUCH MORE.
BILLY: I'M WONDERING IF WE'RE HEADED IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION. I'M WONDERING IF WE MAY REACH A STAGE WHERE THE DIGITAL POSSIBILITY CREATES A STANDARD THAT WE HUMANS CANNOT LIVE UP TO.
BONO: I THINK WHAT'S HAPPENING IS THAT WE'RE CREATING TECHNOLOGIES THAT, REALLY, WE HAVE NO USE FOR. TECHNOLOGIES ARE SO FAR AHEAD OF WHERE WE'RE AT THAT IN SOMEWAYS THEY RENDER THEMSELVES REDUNDANT BEFORE THEY'RE EVEN IN THE MARKETPLACE. A GREAT EXAMPLE OF THAT IS THE CD-ROM, WHERE YOU HAVE ON A SINGLE CD AN ENDLESS NUMBER OF MIXES OF ONE SONG. WELL, THE TRUTH IS, PEOPLE DON'T WANT THAT. THEY WANT TO HEAR THE BEST YOU CAN OFFER, AND I DON'T THINK MUSIC HAS GOTTEN THAT MUCH BETTER SINCE THE DAYS OF FOUR-TRACK RECORDINGS. SO IT'S STILL THE SAME. IT'S ABOUT THE IDEAS. IT'S ABOUT HEARING IN THE MOST PURE MEDIUM POSSIBLE WHAT THE PERSON WHO CREATED THE WORK INTENDED. IT'S REALLY ABOUT THE SONG THAT YOU'VE WRITTEN.
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