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U2

Interview with Larry

Source unknown (email @U2 if you have info. about this), April 01, 1983
By: White Lucy

 

It happened that a long time ago in the age of gods and heroes there came a very special group of young musicians calling themselves U2. In real life these bright Irish lads actually arrived on our shores just past two springtimes ago in March of 1981. Thus this mystical tale was set in motion. Rain and more rain splashed this picture with green hills and Celtic sounds that summoned the listeners to the dance. Even with a St. Patrick's day hangover I managed to follow the call to San Jose State University (free admission helped) to witness the spectacle to take place. Words fall sadly short of describing the event.

These four teenagers performed most of the music off their Boy LP, as well as several import singles. Their soaring, textured sound was a veritable wall of energy that reciprocated through the crowd to the performers and back again. In effect, the vibrations seemed to uplift the entire room in a spiral explosion of wonder. For that short while we did take off to visit another time, another place. The following three nights they repeated the phenomenon at the Old Waldorf. It was only the beginning.

U2's music has harnessed the emotional, mischievous spirit that is Ireland, a place with both deities and mortals who dwell in a land of adventure, warfare and romance. But together with the fairytale feeling of their music is the true to life reality we all have to deal with. They combine this with a positive attitude to create music that is serious, fresh and spiritual. Their sound is music of the spheres.

The band's second album, October, was released one year after their first and it received even less commercial attention than Boy. But in spite of it they were packing concert halls and theatres.

The impact of War, their most recent album, was the breakthrough they have pushed so hard for. After two years of trying, I miraculously manage to get an interview. It is the afternoon of the gig and for the first time it is not raining. U2's drummer Larry Mullen has taken out the time to talk and share his feelings about the band and their music. He speaks with a gentle, expressive brogue. His manner is emotional, and he uses dramatic tones for conviction. We begin by talking about immediate (tonight's) show, the first big show of the tour.

"We're looking forward to the challenge of a major hall. When we came here first and played the clubs a lot of people said 'How do you feel about moving into bigger places, the next time you come back you'll be playing places like theaters. How do you feel about that?' I think we've achieved that, and this next stage up. It's a challenge every single time just to break down all those barriers -- just to bring people in."

We continued to talk about the difference of a big show vs. a smaller show.

"The bigger shows we have much more control because it's our show. In places like theaters you're at the mercy of the owners and of people like security and in a situation like this we have complete control. We call the shots and that's actually more relaxing for us. In a theater or club we're really not too sure what's going to happen 'cuz obviously we're liable to bring people up on stage and it's okay. You know that you're in control."

The discussion moves on and I ask Larry about the Clash and how people consider some of U2's songs to be political.

"We're into the politics of people, we're not into politics. Like you talk about Northern Ireland, 'Sunday Bloody Sunday,' people sort of think 'oh that time when 13 Catholics were shot by British soldiers'; that's not what the song is about. That's an incident, the most famous incident in Northern Ireland and it's the strongest way of saying how long? How long do we have to put up with this? I don't care who's who -- Catholics, Protestants, whatever. You know people are dying every single day through bitterness and hate, and we're saying why? What's the point? And you can move that into places like El Salvador and other similar situations -- people dying. Let's forget the politics, let's stop shooting each other and sit around the table and talk about it. It's like when we first started with Boy, an album about growing up, then you had October, a spiritual album. During those two albums we were thrown across the world into different countries and suddenly we had to grow up. People were throwing money on the stage during the times of Bobby Sands in Northern Ireland. [Author's note: Bobby Sand's hunger strike and resulting death brought world attention to IRA demands for political prisoner status in the British penal system.] So we had to think about Northern Ireland, and then there's nuclear war and solidarity. All these things we became really aware of so we wrote about them. They honestly affected us, they hurt, badly. A lot of people say to us, 'how can you write about Northern Ireland when you don't live there?' And you were saying about the Undertones, a band who actually said to us, 'what right do you have?' Well, the bombs don't go off in Dublin but they're made there and we feel as Irishmen we've got the right to say something. There are very few bands that say, 'why don't you just put down the guns?' there are a lot of bands taking sides saying politics is crap, etc. Well, so what! The real battle is people dying, that's the real battle. Politics and music I find very hard to distinguish, where do you draw the line?"

A very good question. It became obvious to me that politics in music happens to be a personal opinion. I have always considered U2 to be subtly political and still do, whether or not their intention is to be political. His answer only served to prove to me that bands making judgments about another band's political persuasions was pointless and contradictory. Everyone has the right to express any of their opinions whether they went to art school, or did or didn't grow up during a war.

We started talking about import singles like "11 'O'Clock Tick Tock" and "A Celebration," and the possibility of them being released on a live LP. He said the band was seriously talking about releasing a live album which would probably include these songs, then he got sidetracked, talking about "A Celebration," a single released between the first two albums. Larry talks about the personal side of the song.

"We did a video of it. We went to this prison in Dublin, where the 1916 uprising took place, called Kilmainham Jail, and filmed it with the idea of breaking out. It was very much a look at ourselves. Like when we were in school and everyone was telling us 'you're crap' and we couldn't get a record deal...it was the triumph of breaking through."

We discussed videos and Larry explained that they write and direct their own.

"I think they enhance the music, they're statements in themselves which is what they're meant to be. I see MTV sometimes, and I cringe at some of the videos. I mean out of 10 videos, 9 and a half of them have women in them on the cars (sarcastic chuckle), it's quite amusing. But I think if you see a U2 video, it actually jumps off the screen because it's four members of the band, no effects. We see ourselves as having a cinematic sound, like a big band.

We go on to talk about the latest album, War. I ask him about the change of sound, how it seems to be more straightforward, especially the drumming. I ask him if they might be trying to simplify things, get down to basics in order to develop different things about their music.

"I see what you're saying. I think the drumming has always been pretty simple, I don't think it needs to be flashy. For War I use a click track, something I haven't used before, it's a way of keeping time in my headphones. When I listened to the music in time with the click track I knew I had to bring it down to the real basics. Hopefully for the next LP it will be more complicated, I'll move on. I think of it as a musical progression for myself because I learned a lot recording this album, just about my own style and that's what I wanted to do. I think there is a definite style on War where there isn't on the previous albums.

He answered my question perfectly. We went on to talk about where the band's sound might go in the future. The band has been experimenting with synthesizers -- as on the flip side of "A Celebration," a song entitled "Trash, Trampoline and the Party Girl," (which they happened to do that night) -- but Larry said that with the present trend of keyboard sound they were more likely to stay with piano and head towards the left into brass.

The show that night indeed proved to be dynamically U2. But I just couldn't keep from flashing back to that night when things were so much more intimate. It seemed to me that now the barriers were on my side, walls of people that only know how to push instead of dance. Yet in spite of this "hip" crowd their show was that glimpse of magic missing from most other shows.

For the first time Adam the bass player sang backup. Bono was his gallant self. His tenor charm was up to par, especially during his improvisational moments. The Edge laid down his dreamy ethereal guitar lines while Larry and Adam kept them grounded for a balanced sound. It was a powerful performance that filled me with that oh-so-familiar joy. And I knew I was still thankful for U2.

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