German Rolling Stone: The Edge Q&A|
Posted on Friday, November 01 @ 08:16:50 UTC by Macphisto
Translated by Stephanie Glassl for Macphisto.net
The U2 guitarist talks about the new songs, George W. Bush, an argument with
Bono, and juvenile air guitar playing.
He has always been quite the opposite of a guitar hero. With him, you wouldn't
think of macho poses, his solos - should he play any - are usually very brief,
and instead of strumming riffs he links the chords to create his trademark
filigree sound. Dave Evans is the anti-hero among the guitar players. And even
his mother calls him The Edge.
Once asked by a television team what he would consider to be his most
innovative piece of guitar work, he played them the master tape of "With Or
Without You" - the ending, a simple sequence of chords repeating all over,
fading slowly. Less is more. "I can't do it any better than that," he says and
looks at the camera, a bit shy.
Understatement is typical for the man with the soft voice. Being the sound
architect and the stabilizing element of U2, the 41-year-old is the biggest
imaginable contrast to Bono, the restless crossover between pop and politics.
With the "Best Of 1990-2000", U2 have now released their second retrospective.
They recorded two new songs: "The Hands That Built America", the soundtrack to
the new Scorsese film, and "Electrical Storm". The songs were written after
Q: Is there any protest song you would consider as being timeless?
A: Let me think. I like it when music expresses something that words alone
cannot. So as far as that goes, "Machine Gun" by Hendrix would be my
favourite. That song - for me - captures the Vietnam War in a very disturbing
way. It's like a painting of the war, with all its shades. Which is rather due
to the music than the lyrics.
Q: Springsteen digested September 11 in his gospel requiem "The Rising",
whereas other artists preferred to write political songs. Paul McCartney sang
"Fight for the right to live in freedom", Neil Young muttered "Let's Roll".
And while George Bush prepares a new war against Iraq, Bon Jovi sing lines
such as "Now we stand united, we stand as one", showing themselves to be good
Americans. How come pop and protest don't seem to fit at the moment?
A: Good Question. I think many of those songs were probably an immediate
reaction to September 11. But I don't think that pop has lost its political
instinct for that matter. Springsteen has faced the subject in a very
non-patriotic way, he mourns in gentle, pensive lyrics. If the USA should
start a war against Iraq, which I hope won't happen, then we would also see
protest raise in pop.
Q: But even U2 poured balm on America's wounds with "The Hands That Built
A: First of all it's the soundtrack song to Martin Scorsese's film "The Gangs
Of New York" that deals with the birth of America. We began writing that song
before September 11, but the last lines were written after the attack.
Q: "There's a cloud on the New York skyline"?
A: Yes, like many other people we sympathized with the victims, especially
with the fire fighters - men who simply did their job, who went into the
burning towers to save other people's lives and lost their own in doing so.
This solidarity was appropriate. Those were just normal people who had nothing
to do with the power strategists in Washington.
Q: "Electrical Storm" describes the tension before an upcoming storm. Is this
a metaphor for the present global uncertainty?
A: It's a love song, first of all. It's a song about love in a strange and
bewildered time. We wanted to capture the atmosphere after September 11, this
feeling of "Who knows what's going to happen?". It reflects a mood that 's
still present today. But it's no comment to the general political situation. I
think at the moment, everybody is holding their breaths, hoping there won't be
a war against Iraq but a diplomatic resolution of the conflict.
I hope the USA's threats are only a bluff, and that they won't do anything
without consent of the UN. A horror scenario. Any single-handed effort of the
USA would be fatal. The present US politics often have very little in common
with the multilateral worldview of Bill Clinton.
Q: U2 have been on tour in the USA for a long time. How has the country
changed after Clinton's departure?
A: We've also been on tour in the States after the attacks. What shall I say?
Dividing the world in good and bad is no concept. But besides the battle cries
of the new cold warriors I also heard different opinions. I met people during
the tour who said: "We can't go on like this. We have to ask ourselves why the
world hates us so much." A global responsibility also requires recognizing the
origins of terror - the divide between First and Third World. This is a
subject that Bono brings before the public on his mission for debt
cancellation for the poor countries. A lot of people in the Third World
countries feel cheated by the West. This situation is a breeding ground for
Q: At the end of the 80s, U2 often wailed they were taken too seriously. In
the 90s, you tried to overcome the seriousness with satire: For instance, you
walked out of a giant lemon wearing an oversized cowboy hat. Not long ago,
Bono was on the cover of Time magazine, beside him the serious headline: "Can
Bono save the world?" Are the fun times over?
A: I've managed to accept the fact that U2 are musically and politically
relevant. In the 80s, the situation was different: The media had depicted
caricatures of ourselves and we had helped them in doing so. We were the good
people of rock.
Q: With all due respect - what is the difference today?
A: Today, we feel self-confident enough to let down our pants and say: This is
who we are. We're four bastards, spoilt by luck, maybe even gifted, but that
doesn't mean we don't use our position for serious matters. And people make a
difference between our music and the cause. As far as the debt cancellation
campaign is concerned, it's not about Bono, it's about the cause he supports.
It takes very much of his time, but we can live with that. The music's first,
then come the politics.
Q: Isn't it nerve-racking at times to have someone around who constantly
switches from Superman to Clark Kent, from rock star to serious political
A: The frontmen in rock bands are the big communicators, that's their job,
that's what they're here for. With Bono, things took their course, and he
cannot get his ideas over to solely a U2 audience. He has also managed to do
it on a political level. His job is quite simple: He poses with them for
pictures, makes them look good, if they help him to push debt cancellation.
Q: Doesn't this become a bit tiring in the long run?
A: He knows how uncool he is. It doesn't look good for a rock'n'roller at all
to constantly hang around with politicians. But he doesn't care. He keeps
telling us: "I keep this campaign going for as long as I can, and I squeeze as
much out of those guys as possible."
It seems to become a never-ending story: Three years ago, he seemed to have
shaken everybody's hand from Clinton to the Pope, everybody who had something
to say. But he can't be stopped, and he didn't back out from Putin and George
Bush. But because of his persistence and tenacity, he has earned credibility
in political circles. Although I have to admit that at times, it takes on
Q: What scares you?
A: Sometimes I'm shocked by what people he meets. If he talks to a liberal
like Bill Clinton, fine. But George Bush? That went too far for my taste.
Q: You could have kept him off doing it.
A: No chance. But I really tried. I talked to him like to a sick horse: "Bono,
please, you seriously don't want to meet George Bush, do you?" He just
laughed: "Edge, I know what goes through your mind. But I'd meet anybody, just
anybody if only they support this cause." I couldn't believe it and pressed
him again: "Bono, that's not only incredibly uncool - it's fucked up,
especially if you consider the politics he stands for." He just said: "I know,
but I can take the malice." We had a long argument about it, but finally, he
got his way. Whatever: If at the end, the Bush government decides to support
the campaign big-time, it was worth the input.
Q: And what will U2 do if Bono enters politics?
A: I don't know. We'd probably all vote for him. But I don't think he
seriously takes that into consideration in the next twenty years. But sometime
when the band's long over, he might run for the office of mayor of Dublin.
Q: You're considered to be the introverted conductor in the background whereas
Bono is the "bigger than life" star. Do you sometimes feel you're put in the
shade by your ubiquitous frontman?
A: No. It works exactly because we're so different. Our strengths and
weaknesses are complementary in a very strange way, and that only works
because after all this time, we're still very close friends. U2 are still like
a street gang. From that point of view, we've never really grown up. If we had
three singers or two guitar players, it would be more difficult. But with
things being as they are, everybody has their own place.
Q: Be honest, did you play air guitar at parties when you were younger?
A: Oh God, a delicate subject from my past. But ok: I admit that, when I was
fifteen, I did play air guitar and played imaginary solos, most of the time to
incredibly bad songs.
Q: "Smoke On The Water"?
A: That song is indeed quite underground, but not bad enough. My favourite
back then used to be "Bohemian Rhapsody".
Q: There even are competitions for air guitar players now.
A: I couldn't compete with those people anyway. Compared to them, I'm a
Interview by Martin Scholz