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An interview with Adam Clayton of U2

Bono and Adam Clayton of U2 perform on stage on June 26, 2017, in New York City.
Bono and Adam Clayton of U2 perform on stage on June 26, 2017, in New York City.Mike Coppola/Getty Images for The Recording Academy
  Play Now [7:47]

by Brian Oake

September 08, 2017

It's a very exciting day — yes, it's Friday, it's the end of the week — but tonight at U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis, U2 will perform as part of their Joshua Tree tour.

Earlier this week, we got the announcement about the forthcoming release from U2, Songs of Experience, due out on Dec. 1, along with a brand-new single, "You're the Best Thing About Me."

But the immediate excitement is for the 30th anniversary celebration of The Joshua Tree, Friday night at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

We're lucky enough to be joined on the phone by U2 founding member, bass player Adam Clayton, who talked about the new music and reflected on The Joshua Tree.

BRIAN OAKE: We just got the information about Songs of Experience, coming out Dec. 1; we also got our first taste of the new single, "You're the Best Thing About Me." Tell me about the new record.

ADAM CLAYTON: Songs of Experience is a companion to Songs of Innocence, which we put out a couple years ago. The Songs of Innocence dealt with recognizing what had happened to us in our youth and where we had come from and where we had gotten to. That sort of represented the period of time that brought us up to The Joshua Tree, and our lives changed from The Joshua Tree onwards, and it's interesting that we're now performing The Joshua Tree.

But Songs of Experience are really about what happened to the band after that point, and the kind of wisdoms and the pitfalls and the challenges that you have going forward. I think that sounds like it could be a heavy record, but I don't think you'll find it is a heavy record. I think there's a lot of joy and a lot of fun in the songs.

And I think probably the thing we've learnt about how to progress is that you really can't get bogged down in the tricky stuff. You really have to try and lighten up to get through life, otherwise it'll — as they say — kill you.

BRIAN: Well, I've heard that life is hard, and that's why nobody survives it! When you look back, I wonder what stands out most in your memory about the writing and recording of the landmark album, The Joshua Tree.

ADAM: You know, The Joshua Tree was really when every member of the band was absolutely performing at the very kind of edges of their abilities. We took the four instruments — bass, drums, guitar and voice — as far as we could physically take them with our skill set. And we made a record that was very honest, that was very direct, very straightforward, and it was kind of easy to perform. In the course of The Joshua Tree tour, we went from playing arenas to playing stadiums, and we had no idea what we were taking on or how to perform in stadiums.

The experience of performing The Joshua Tree without production — I mean, we didn't even have video reinforcement or cameras back in the day then — was really what went into creating the "Zoo TV" tour, which was very big and loud and brash. So now, when we're performing The Joshua Tree again, we've actually got the benefit of production and we've got a screen, a hi-def screen, with films by Anton Corbijn, who's been shooting the band for years and years and years and has now got a career as a film director. So it's a different experience performing those songs now, and it's a good reminder for us of where we came from, particularly as we go into this next phase of trying to put together a show that will contain the Songs of Experience material.

BRIAN: Now as you look back, yours is a band that has gotten more than 20 Grammy awards, has known high accolades, but when we look at this record in particular, The Joshua Tree, has it just sort of been assimilated into part of your past? What happens in your head when you think, "This is one of the most successful and impactful albums of all time" — more than 25 million copies sold, so iconic that a worldwide tour to celebrate its 30th anniversary is demanded. What is the immediate response in your head when you think about that?

ADAM: You know, it's kind of an amazing celebration. I stand outside of the band and I stand outside of the work; I mean, the songs belong to the audience at this point. I feel like we turn up to get the party started, but actually, we're just along at the party like everyone else.

When we go into "Where The Streets Have No Name" for the beginning of The Joshua Tree section, you just feel the energy shift and change in the stadium. It's a wonderful thing to see, it's a wonderful thing to be part of, and we're all very proud of those songs. We're all very proud of that material. And the band is playing better than ever. The band is playing those songs in a way with confidence and swagger. When we started out playing those songs in 1987, we were probably a bit more nervous and timid, and we definitely weren't men at that time.

BRIAN: What is it about the four of you, what is it about U2 that allows you to succeed and to continue to endure this far down the road?

ADAM: I think it's the general level of humility from everyone and the general level of tolerance. Everyone is very tolerant of our downfall — of my downfall, of my misgivings — and likewise, anyone else.

You know, you can't be too critical of people if you've been in a relationship for 40 years. You just have to let people be who they are. The members of U2 are fascinating people. They're great human beings. I learn something from all of the members of the band daily, and I'm happy to be a part of it. It's a relationship that's alive and growing.

BRIAN: When you look back at The Joshua Tree, which of the songs on the record — it's like picking a favorite child, I know — but which one do you most enjoy bringing to people when you're out on the road?

ADAM: Right now, it's the songs on Side 2, because they're the ones that we haven't' played really very much since The Joshua Tree. So there's "Red Hill Mining Town"; there's "Mothers of the Disappeared," which is a bit of a tough subject matter, but I'm really enjoying hearing that song again; and "One Tree Hill," I'm really enjoying that as well. So I have to say for me, it's Side 2 — which doesn't exist anymore in today's music, but back in the day, there was a cassette or vinyl that you turned over to hear the other songs.

BRIAN: Is it still surprising — are these songs, 30 years into your life and into the public consciousness — do you ever find that they have things to reveal to you? That you should have known a long time ago but you continue to learn from them?

ADAM: That is absolutely true. They have a life of their own, and you come back to them with different experiences and you get different stuff from them. So yeah, they're always going to be a part of our lives, I think.

BRIAN: Well, congratulations on the virtual nonstop and continued success. We're so excited to have you back in the Twin Cities. It's really, really great for you to take all this time this morning. Adam, thank you very much.

ADAM: Brian, thank you so much for your time, and thank you so much for the questions. They were great. Really great. Very happy to talk to you.

Tonight at U.S. Bank Stadium, U2 will celebrate the 30th anniversary tour of The Joshua Tree, performed in its entirety along with lots of other great songs, including some of the new music from the forthcoming Songs of Experience.


U2 - official site