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"If you look at music as emotion, then I think you'll connect us to the ballad tradition, to the wailing and keening of the old music."

-- Bono

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U2 Publicist Brian O'Neal Interviewed at U2 Conference

@U2, April 26, 2013
By: Sherry Lawrence


Publicist Brian O'Neal shared with Matt McGee and attendees at the 2013 U2 Conference that it was a great experience getting to work with U2, noting that his role always appeared glamorous on the outside, but it was a lot of hard work and stress on the inside. He explained some of the challenges he faced while trying to get the word out about the biggest rock 'n' roll band on the planet, recalling how Edge was essentially ambushed by Negativland during a June 1992 interview with Mondo 2000, just how last-minute everything happened during the Las Vegas PopMart tour rehearsals, and how great care was taken to not call the Passengers' release a U2 record. He likened it to a Brian Eno recording where U2 played a role in it instead of the other way around.

Initial meetings

O'Neal described how he first began working with U2:
“One of the earliest things I did with U2 when I first started at this PR firm, I’m in college and taking these communications classes. It’s a dream to get a job at a PR firm. ... This guy, Paul Wasserman, came up to me and asked me if I wanted to work on the music side. They had some television and entertainment, and one of the first things I did was the Rattle And Hum press kit, and I’d collect the press clippings. I always thought that they were favorable for the most part, so one of my first experiences was creating these scrapbooks of press clippings and I’d send them to the band. That was my first introduction.

"There’s a long period of time before Achtung Baby came out, and I think it was almost five years since their previous studio album, and this big PR firm that I was working at had partially separated and Paul and I started working at this boutique PR firm -- it was just the two of us and we had this office. We get a call one day from Principle Management and they said, 'You know Bono and Edge are in town,' and I think they were mastering the record at A&M in L.A. and they said, 'They want to come by the office. But don’t tell Paul (Wasserman) because it’s a surprise.' And I asked, 'When are they coming?' 'They’ll be there in like 10 minutes.'

"So, I of course being loyal, went into Paul’s office and said Bono and Edge are coming, and he said all right. So we were at this high-rise Dow Jones building; it’s a very corporate building in the Wilshire district in Los Angeles. So Bono and Edge came up. Edge had his jeans with the rivets in them. They looked very rockstar-ish. So they came into the room, and I had never met the guys before. Edge has this DAT player, which was the belle of the ball back then technology-wise.

"He said, 'Hey, where can we plug this in?' And Paul Wasserman was a writer more than anything. He’d sit at his manual typewriter and write press releases like the one you saw Adam write in the very beginning. ... He didn’t have like a big hi-fi system, so Edge said, 'I could play it through this, but you’ll have to use these headphones.' Paul said, 'Let Brian listen to it.' So Edge puts the headphones on me and hits play, and the first song, 'Zoo Station,' is not your typical intro to a song. Edge is staring at me and I’m trying to maybe find the beat through this sound.

"I listened to the whole album with Edge sitting there and Bono talking to Paul about how we were going to present this music to the public. So that was my first meeting.

"And then of course, all the girls were waiting outside the door waiting for Bono to come out and sign autographs. So, it started to get late and I realized that out on Wilshire Boulevard, your car would get towed after 5 o'clock. And so I asked, 'Where did you guys park?' and they said, 'Oh, we’re right down the street.'

"And so, I walked down to the lobby and they parked like four blocks away in a public parking spot where they paid like five bucks, and here they are walking down the street with his studded pants and Bono’s leather jacket -- just salt-of-the-earth, genuine, working-class guys.”

Bono, keep your mouth open

O'Neal collaborated with longtime band publicist Reygine Moylet during the ZooTV tour. He would coordinate the U.S. media requests from his office in Los Angeles and send them along to her while she was on the road. During the PopMart tour, O'Neal found himself part of the traveling road crew because Moylett was pregnant. He recalled having to explain to Bono why the print media constantly took pictures of him with his mouth open:

"We were talking about mouth open versus mouth closed, and Bono was always wondering, why do they always have my mouth wide open like that, and I’d explain to him that the media are telling a story about the show last night, and if your mouth is closed it doesn’t look like you’re singing, but if your mouth is open that’s the image they want.”

That attention to detail has always been paid by the band.

"They’re very aware of how people see the show and of the visuals –- they’re second to none, obviously. I remember being in Ohio on the PopMart tour at the horseshoe stadium with like 100,000 people and Bono was always very aware of how high the stage was and how these photographers are shooting up my nose, and so you’re trying to move it back so they have a good shot, and he was also very aware of where the press sat to hear the show.

"And if you’re a member of the media going to a venue where there are 100,000 people and you’re used to that sort of VIP treatment, you have to get to the point where you’re going to see the show and view the show, you’re gonna want to hear it. In a stadium with 100,000 people, where are you going to put the press?

"Bono would do a sound check where he’d walk around the stadium and find the best sounding areas and we’d try to seat the press there for the best visual, best experience. The band’s always been very aware of how that played out in the press. There’s always been a very collaborative effort on tour.”

Connecting with fans
O'Neal also shared a common practice during the PopMart tour:

"On PopMart ... we’d arrive in a city at a private airport. One thing I would do is call the local radio station and let them know when the plane was going to be arriving, and then low and behold there would be 1,000 fans lined up against the fence watching the plane coming in for the landing, and I would call the local TV stations. Back then we had four stations (ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX) and they would be there, set up in their spot, and the M.O. for the band would be, 'OK, we’re going to land then we’re going to go and talk with the fans.’

"U2 was always aware of that connection with their fans. I’d come off the plane and go over to them and explain what was going to happen – they can get b-roll of the band interacting with their fans, Bono would have some tea in his hands, he’d come down and kiss the ground maybe or go over to the fans and sign some autographs, and they’d come over to do a little bump for the evening news that would come on at 5 or 6 o’clock about U2 news in town to build up the hype. U2 were always aware of those opportunities."

Matt McGee's full conversation with Brian O'Neal will be posted on @U2 in the coming days. Stay tuned!

UPDATE: Here's video of this session.

(c) @U2/2013

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