@U2 Home Page - U2 News, Lyrics, Tour Dates & more       https://www.atu2.com
[Skip to Content]
Larry is a drummer. He's very, very black and white. Things are the way they are. -- Adam

The Joshua Tree

The four members of U2 talk about the new album and the current tour
Propaganda, Issue 5

How does it feel to have finally finished the record?

BONO: "Finishing the album is like having a black hole, or a room with blinds closed and then you go out into the light and everything dazzles you, it's so brilliant. That's what it's like because essentially a studio is just a big black hole in the ground.

"When you start making a record you'll go into the studio for, say, ten hours, and you'll get eight hours work done, but towards the end of the project you'll be spending twenty hours in the studio and getting two hours work done. At the end of the recording we called everyone round for a party, a pool tournament to celebrate the end of the album, but we ended up not being able to go to our own party because we were working right up to the last minute, and that was our third night in a row!

"So that's what it is like -- it's like being down a black hole and coming out to the light. Everything looks clear again."

But you're pleased with the record, obviously?

"Yeah, I'm as pleased with the record as I can ever be pleased with a record -- y'know I'm very rarely happy with our own work. I suppose more than any other record, probably since our first, it's a very complete record...it's a collection of different points of view.

"The significant thing about the record for me is that I had to 'come clean' as a word-writer. Instead of trying to capture the elusive message of the music, which is what I'd normally try to do with my words, I wanted to speak out specifically, but without a placard, and without my John Lennon handbook!"

What were the chief inspirations for this record?

"America -- the continent as opposed to the country. It has had quite an effect on me, and on my own life.

"I love being there, I love America, I love the feeling of the wide open spaces, I love the deserts, I love the mountain ranges, I even love the cities. So having fallen in love with America over the years that we've been there on tour, I then had to 'deal with' America and the way it was affecting me, because America's having such an effect on the world at the moment. On this record I had to deal with it on a political level for the first time, if in a subtle way.

"I don't think it's my position to ever use the stage as a soapbox, so I've tried on this record to get across some of our feelings, hopefully in a more subtle and intelligent way, using symbols."

"And then also, you see, I had discovered the blues in the meantime and discovered American music. In doing the 'Silver and Gold' session with Keith Richards, he was playing blues music for me, but not only blues music. He played country music, '50s American pop music -- all those influences. Then there was my own background in Patti Smith and Bob Dylan. I mean, there's always been that American input. So musically as well -- all that was coming through."

What do you hope people will get from this record?

"I've no idea. I've no idea what people will get from the record.

"I have to say that there's a side of me that can't quite work out why anyone would buy a U2 LP. I think I might buy one...It's the same as I feel about a U2 concert. I mean, I've never been to a U2 concert. I've been at one, but I've never been to one!"

Do you still feel U2's live work is important?

"Oh yes. I don't like making records. I really don't like making records. I like writing songs. I like writing words, but I don't enjoy making records.

"I do enjoy being on the road. There's sort of a travelling person in us all, the sort of gypsy, we are gypsies of a kind. I like moving about from place to place, but you can get lost along the way, y'know. I got lost along the way on the last tour definitely, on the Unforgettable Fire tour, I really did lose it a little bit.

"I'm attracted to that on-the-road feeling of fraternity, I suppose. Our entourage, if you want to call it that, is a kind of ball of chaos, but in a nice way. And as anyone who knows me will tell you, I feel at home in chaos, so the chaos of touring life suits me. In a way it's easy, maybe too easy for me, to stand there and be packed into a suitcase and taken away. I get up in the mornings in a hotel room, and I don't have to clean up. I don't have to do anything formal. Things like that tend to fall about my ears a bit unless there's good people looking after us."

What would you say is the common thread that runs through all U2's work?

"Us I suppose. U2 is the common thread. There's still the same commitment to each other, to four people. Four guys in the band.

"I was disappointed with Live Aid, with the Live Aid book, because of the fact that they didn't recognize that there was four people in U2. That bugged me. I mean, I don't think it bugged the others that much, they just found it funny, but it got to me, because we're four people."

So you feel the four of you are still a strong unit?

"The four of us feel pretty good together, but I must say that on tour, as much as the overall feeling is one of a family or street gang, I actually do spend a lot of time on my own within that structure.

"What I like about being on a bus or being on a plane is that I can read, for instance, or have a game of cards with someone, but generally I get into a kind of trance on my own, because it takes so much energy for me to go up on stage at night.

"Often, because I'm not a trained singer, I just can't sing for two hours and then talk the next day. I have to just sit there -- I do, and people will come up and talk to me and I nod and make signals, but generally, through the day I'm really out of order."

As well as the positive feelings, there seems to be a lot of darkness on The Joshua Tree...

"Well...1986 was a real paradox of a year. In 1985 we had achieved some sort of peak in our music life. The Unforgettable Fire, which was kind of a radical LP, had done very well for us. Our tours round the world had all sold out and it almost got silly with the demand for tickets.

"Then there were things like Live Aid; there was a reason to feel very good not only about U2, but about rock & roll music in general. Coming home from all that back down to earth in Dublin, in 1986, didn't prove to be as easy as I'd thought it might be.

"The year was difficult for other reasons, with a few personal tragedies, so I felt 1986 was something of a desert for me."

" 'Where the Streets Have No Name,' that's more like the U2 of old than any of the other songs on the LP. Because it's a sketch -- I was just trying to sketch a location, maybe a romantic location, I was trying to sketch a feeling.

"I often feel very claustrophobic in a city, a feeling of wanting to break out of that city, and a feeling of wanting to go somewhere where the values of the city and the values of our society don't hold you down.

"An interesting story that somebody told me once, is that in Belfast, by what street somebody lives on you can tell not only their religion, but tell how much money they're making -- literally by which side of the road they live on, because the further you go up the hill the more expensive the houses become. You can almost tell what the people are earning by the name of the street they live on and what side of the street they live on. That said something to me, and so I started writing about a place where the streets have no name."

I thought the photographs in the tour program from the ghost town were really powerful...

"I'm glad you found that, I found that too. I'm surprised nobody else is saying that. The shots I think are really special.

"It's Bodie, one of the oldest ghost towns in America. It's an interesting place to visit. It's a gold-rush town left as a monument to the mining community and to the out-west lifestyle. Literally, there's plates on the table, the whole thing. It's almost eerie, the feeling about it.

"The thing is though, if you drive through some of the European cities now, late at night, city centers that were once thriving, vibrant places now are shut down and closed. A lot of people just don't have money to go out anymore, so some of our own cities are ghost towns, and I liked the parallel with the western ghost town."

Tell me about the desert shoot -- how did you find that Joshua tree?

"I still don't know where that Joshua tree is, we just spotted it by the roadside. Anton Corbijn, our photographer, was the first to see it, so he called 'stop the bus!' and went racing across the desert.

"The thing is though, Anton is Dutch and speaks with an accent, so he has quite a curious way of pronouncing 'Joshua tree.' He kind of says, 'Yoshua tree,' and this became quite a funny thing -- we were all talking about 'Yoshua trees,' so there was a bit of a sense of humor involved in calling the album The Joshua Tree, as well as for the more serious reasons.

"When we took the photographs, we thought it was a very powerful visual graphic image. We then drove off, and I don't know if we'll ever find that Joshua tree again. I don't know if anyone will ever find that Joshua tree again -- I hope that if people do find the Joshua tree they won't cut it down and take it home and stick it to the wall --- or bring it to a gig!! ('Hey Baaano! I got yer tree!')

"Anton really is a funny man, but his photographs are very serious, which is, in a way, quite like us, because people think that we're very serious people because we take our music seriously. It's just that when it comes to being on stage...Monty Python we're not. Offstage it's a different story.

"Anton makes us laugh so much -- for a guy who portrays us in such a serious light, we spend most of our time calling for an ambulance!

ADAM: "I think the feelings of last year are contained in the record, in as much as that I think people seem to have become a lot more politically aware over the past couple of years. People seem to realize that to not vote is the worst possible thing you can do, you've got to get involved in what's going on.

"That's what started to develop with Live Aid. I think people became aware that their opinion was important and I think the record challenges people's opinions -- well, not challenging their opinions as such, but forces them to have opinions. If that's the ultimate effect of the record I think it's worthwhile."

"It's a record that admits a few truths about ourselves. It says, 'yeah, we know the way things are but we're not going to let it get us down.'

"I think a certain amount of the naivety that was present in our earlier work is more in perspective. I think it's still there, I think it's essentially U2, but I think the maturing process has given us a self-confidence in what we are, which is a noisy rock & roll band, and there's no way that's gonna change!"

"With each record we've always looked for some sort of location to inspire the tone of what we were doing and I think the desert is so many things to us. The desert was immensely inspirational to us as a mental image for this record.

"Most people would take the desert on face value and think it's some kind of barren place, but I think in the right frame of mind it's also a very positive image, because you can actually do something with a blank canvas, which is effectively what the desert is.

"In the desert four people really stand out strongly, and I think the record reflects the four different personalities. At the same time, I found from our experience of doing the shoots and being in the desert, that it isn't really a lonely or frightening place, it's actually very peaceful and tranquil. There's something about it that is comforting.

"The most extraordinary thing was that the desert was actually freezing. It was a bit of a shock, because we'd psyched ourselves up into finally doing something where there'd be sunshine, and there was lots of buying of different lotions before we left, to make sure our noses didn't go red, and in fact our noses did go red -- but from the cold!"

"I don't think the '60s connotations of the Joshua tree are too relevant as regards what we're doing. I think it's a bit of a sidetrack, but at the same time an interesting sidetrack. To the best of my knowledge, Joshua Tree Park in California was where the center of mind-expanding drug culture developed -- I think a lot of people took acid and turned into Joshua trees as far as I can work out!"

"Normally we haven't had that much time to hang out on street corners between tours. Since we've been off the road, we've had to get back to normal and learn how to live on our own and wash shirts and stuff. Having done all that for a while, with only the odd bursts of live activity, plus being cooped up in a studio for the best part of six months, I think we're actually dying for things to return to normalcy. Being on the road is very simple -- you know what you're doing the next day and you know the reasons why you're doing it. There's not really any time to get bored."

"I hope we learn a lot on this tour. I hope we learn the weaknesses and the strengths of what we've done, to enable us to stretch ourselves even more the next time round. I wouldn't want for us to get bored by it. I hope the power of the music continues to build. It is there to get you through the next couple of years and it becomes your strength and your weakness. I'll be happy as long as at the end of the next two years we're saying, 'yeah, it was good, but I think we can do another one that's better.' "

What would you say would be an overall view of The Joshua Tree?

LARRY: "There isn't really an overall view of this album. Whereas with The Unforgettable Fire there was a real continuity between all the songs, this is slightly different. It's an album of songs, each song saying a different thing, touching areas that we haven't touched before. There's a lot more emotion, especially in the singing, that there hasn't been on any of the other records. It captures something that Bono has live, which we haven't done before.

"When you're making a record either the instruments serve the song, or the song serves the instruments. I mean, sometimes everyone's playing a certain part and it's all very correct and musical, but this isn't like that. It's more like we're serving the song, and we're also playing to the vocal. It's a different approach and one we've not really taken before, it's much more fluid.

"When I come off the road I'm a different person. On the road you become slightly tense, and it's difficult to conduct relationships. The relationship within the band becomes different -- not strained at all, but just different. Relationships with everyone become different. It's a working relationship."

THE EDGE: "The chief influences for The Joshua Tree really have been tours and time spent discovering that cliches about America weren't true. America is constantly surprising you and you discover that there's so many different sides to it, which you initially didn't imagine, were there.

"Yet at the same time it seems to be a land where cliches very easily spring up. It's so extreme. For a filmmaker or a musician it's a land full of things that are larger than life.

"The music of America we really weren't particularly interested in, or we really didn't know much about it when we first formed the band. Really, in going to the States and seeing the culture first-hand, we began to get closer to the music of America..."

"In just a social context, people like T-Bone Burnett, Robbie Robertson, the sort of artists that we've met, have made us reassess our opinion of American artists and American music, because there is this European, well, certainly English, attitude to American rock & roll. That it is in some way inferior -- that American rock is just jaded and lifeless, whereas in fact, like the country itself, the clich's about the music don't hold true under close inspection.

I think since really falling in love with the country -- this crazy place full of contradictions and paradoxes -- we've started falling in love with the music of the place. A lot of stuff that we didn't have much time for when we first formed the group. We've been discovering anything from B.B. King, Robert Johnson, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard -- all these artists who were a million miles from where we were coming from. I'm not suggesting that we love everything that they do, but there's certainly something that they're dealing with which is opening up for us now and has really only started becoming important for us recently."

"So that's definitely one huge watershed of inspiration for the record. I think we've also discovered some of the same sort of music in Ireland through artists like Christy Moore and the Dubliners. It's very interesting to see how Ireland is so rich in music like that, call it 'folk' music, or whatever. Woody Guthrie called it music to live to, as opposed to music to die to.

The fact is that Irish folk music was a kind of seminal influence for a lot of early American folk. The Irish seem to provide a lot of the instrumentation, like fiddles, acoustic guitars and the way the music is presented is very similar. The ballad format of bringing in characters, and the stories, that's all very much an Irish tradition."

"The other great influence is a heightened awareness of the concept of 'the song,' as a sort of art form all its own. The song can at the same time be challenging and limiting, but limiting in a positive sense, in that there is a discipline in the art of songwriting. If you submit yourself to it you can do a lot within the final result. If you've done it well, it can be a timeless thing crossing all boundaries, universal in its appeal and hopefully have a life that will be bigger than any of the people who wrote it.

"That was also a bit of a revelation for us, to be thinking about songs in that way. Whereas before if songs came along it was really just luck, we never really considered the song as an essential part of our records.

"Up to now our records have been a collection of things that were songs, and also things that were very definitely not songs -- experimental musical pieces, lyrically experimental as well as musically experimental. I think on this record we've really attempted to strip down the music so it really has that kind of trim, disciplined outline. I think we've managed to -- every track on the record has an identity of its own, but the record holds together as one. That's because they are songs rather than parts of one whole concept."

"I think the open-endedness of previous records was because the lyrics were open-ended. They were obviously written with one idea in mind, but they could equally be interpreted in another way. I think this record is pinned down a little more. So that the lyrics have a more obvious single main theme. Within that main theme there are a number of ways the lyrics can be interpreted, but that one idea is expressed a little more concisely and forcibly than before.

"But there is still a good deal of positive ambiguity. I do like some songs that are a totally open book, but I do appreciate a bit of mystery where you can make up your own mind about the fine print."

"The desert idea was one which we'd had for a while which seemed right. The Joshua tree was an image which came to us really during the shoot, and just seemed like the right image to tie all our ideas together, in focus. We could have called the record The Desert Songs, but the Joshua tree has other images related to it and is a little more subtle in its connection with the desert. It's something we decided on instinct almost...it has a spiritual aspect, which this record has and also a great deal of mystery. It's appropriate on many levels.

"It's like hope pushed to the limit, and love pushed to the limit. There's a certain aridness to the album, but at the same time there is hope, there is life there, but still it's not a very pleasant landscape. It's still pretty bedraggled and parched.

"The Joshua tree is standing there in the middle of this barrenness, there's so many great images there. In fact, the sleeve photograph is taken in Death Valley, and you can see this dry riverbed down below, this dry riverbed in the desert, which is another fantastic image."

"I think it will be quite radically different to the Unforgettable Fire tour. I think it'll be probably closer to Live Aid and the Amnesty shows where there was an emphasis more on a dangerous feeling onstage, where we didn't really know quite what was going to happen. There was a certain energy that we were able to feed off. A feeling that literally anything could happen at any moment, and I, for one, really enjoyed that energy."

"As a band we've always been very cautious about destroying the carefully prepared show that we'd been working on for a number of weeks or months on tour. Obviously within it there was space for improvisation, but there was a certain level that we always worked to. We'd improve the show to a very high standard and not tamper with it too much.

"Maybe we're feeling now like we'd like to be a little less precious about it. Even if it means that we do some bad shows, we'd like to at least try and throw the whole thing into a state of flux, where every show was going to be different. Some nights I think it'll pay dividends and it'll be magic, some nights maybe not, but the instinct there is to try to push things as far as we can, and improvise a lot during the shows.

"It succeeded in the Amnesty shows, but I'm not sure how it'll fare when we've got two hours instead of 35 minutes. I'm looking forward to that. I think that it will just be a much more dangerous stage presence. It'll certainly keep us on our toes anyway."


© Propaganda, 1987.