INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Mojo JULY 2010 - by Danny Eccleston
DATE: AUTUMN 1999 - AUGUST 2000 • EYEWITNESS: THE EDGE • EVENT: THE MAKING OF U2'S CAREER-SAVING SONG
How U2 found that being U2 wasn't such a bad thing - and the result was a beautiful day.
All That You Can't Leave Behind was a chance to rediscover the core chemistry of U2 as a band. On the previous record, Pop, we had deconstructed the concept of the rock'n'roll band and then on the PopMart tour we'd celebrated the surface of things, not in a cynical way but in the spirit of Warholian pop art. Even so, I think we also realised that in the process we had lost something and the attempt on All That You Can't Leave Behind was to find that thing again: what is was to play in a room as a band and to rediscover the eccentricity and elusiveness of what a band can do when they're performing together.
There was an awful lot going on for us at the time. Bono's famous quote "reapplying for the job" [of best band in the world] was kind of a joke but I think there was an element of truth to it. We felt that for our own sakes we needed to go back to basic principles. It was great when that worked: like when Kite came together so quickly and easily with everyone playing in the room, and Beautiful Day when we unlocked that tune and arrangement. That way of making records is a thrilling experience and you don't get that if you're working with machines in a very layered way.
Songwriting for U2 is always a very ambiguous process. We write as we record, but in the case of Pop we took that to the nth degree The loops and machines offered an endless amount of options and in U2 options are not your friends. Limitations, in fact, are often really the thing, and we've made full use of our limitations over the years.
Mostly we recorded at Hanover Quay in Dublin. We had this glorified rehearsal space that we brought equipment into and that became our studio. It's not the best-sounding space, but it's relaxed. We didn't think of it being an official session. The red light is a sort of anathema for us and we always tell our engineers the same thing: when you think you probably don't need to be recording then you definitely should, and when you're pretty certain you ought to be recording you probably don't need to. Literally, at any second, if everyone's in the room, then something great can happen.
At the same time we're also reclaiming, I guess, some of the best known musical and sonic hallmarks of the band, on the basis that if everyone else was ripping us off, why couldn't we?
Beautiful Day itself had come through various different incarnations and though we'd always felt it had something, it was kind of hard to see where it was going. Really, the moment it got exciting was when Bono hot on the lyric: "It's a beautiful day". It seems in some ways such a banal sort of lyric, but combined with the music something wild happened and we all recognised it. Then Brian [Eno]'s contribution was that fantastically Euro kick drum opening and keyboard line, and that gave us the clue as to where it should go next.
I don't know if we would know how to do it again. We weren't trying to make a pop record but it's often the case that our most luminous moments have a pop quality. In the end, we're always trying to express something in the most straightforward way and that's also true of great pop music. It's about clarity and it's about ideas that resonate. I'm a big fan of pop - I just wish I was better at it.
The songs we record are always changing. They seem to have a new aspect depending on the time and place of their performance. Some need to be retired for a while so we can see them in a fresh way, but the best songs seem to always connect and Beautiful Day is one of those. It's certainly got around [it became the theme tune to ITV's The Premiership football round-up, 2001-04], but you can't fret about your songs being too popular, and I always get a thrill when I hear one of our records out of context. Occasionally I'll hear one and think, "What's that? I like that," and then think, "Oh shit, that's us!" It's a nice feeling.