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Old 09-26-2005, 08:43 AM   #1
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U2 Tribute Band Singers Discuss Being Bono*

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By Devlin Smith, Contributing Editor

Numerous books and articles have been written on the subject—what is it really like to be Bono? And while no one will ever truly know what it's like to spend your days and nights as the former Paul Hewson, a select few guys do get a taste of Bono's life every time they walk on stage to perform with their respective tribute bands.

So what's it like to step into Bono's shoes as these performers do? What makes someone a good Bono? And with all the time they spend pretending, would any of them ever actually want to trade places with Bono? Shawn Brady of Elevation Canada, Paul Collyer of U2UK, Joshua Fryvecind of Zoo Station, gvox of October, Mark Smith of Vertigo USA, Jason Thiesen of The Joshua Tree and Thomas Thornton of 2U share their thoughts on what it's like being Bono.

Shawn Brady of Elevation Canada

(Copyright © 2004 Jorge Chaves)

Shawn Brady's life is all about contrasts. "I lead a double life," the singer of Toronto-based Elevation Canada says. "During the day I work in a hospital helping elderly people and directing physiotherapy services, at night I have leather pants on and sing my guts out, it's quite the contrast."

Brady (as he's best known by his friends) first became a U2 fan back in the last '80s after borrowing his sister's "Joshua Tree" record. He didn't start performing as Bono, though, until nearly 15 years later. "I started in the fall of 2001," he says. "I did some singing prior to that but I was more of a guitar player. I put an ad to start a U2 tribute band but initially I was open to either being Bono or The Edge."

Today Brady, who's favorite U2 era to perform is ZooTV, is happy to spend his off-hours as Bono. He believes he has quite a few special characteristics that make him the right man for that particular job. "Other than the obvious musical requirements in terms of voice, guitar and harmonica, I sing with a lot of passion similar to Bono," he says. "Furthermore, I have the exact same chest hair pattern, I lose things on a daily basis and I'm a terrible driver."

With all those similarities and more than three years spent performing as the man, does Brady want to trade places with Bono? "No," he says. "I have a fantastic girlfriend, family and group of friends and a great job where I get to help people on a daily basis. I'm a lucky guy."

Paul Collyer of U2UK

(Photo: Ben Saunders)

Paul Collyer, singer with Midlands-based U2UK, has been a U2 fan since the "War" days when he and his brother saw the band perform at the Derby Assembly Rooms. He performed U2 songs for several years but got into the tribute band thing after appearing on the British show "Stars in Their Eyes" as Bono in March 2002.

"I simply love U2's music and it actually feels like me up there, it just feels right and comfortable," Collyer says of performing with U2UK. "It doesn't feel like a tribute anymore, it's just us. In fact, there's a band out there called U2 and they're nicking our songs."

Collyer believes his love of U2's music is what makes him a good Bono. "I can honestly say that I would no do a tribute to another act," he says. "People tell us that they can close their eyes and it's the same feeling as being at a U2 gig. It makes me very proud to know that we can make people feel that way."

But while he has the experience of making people feel the way Bono does in concert, would Collyer ever want to step into the man's shoes? "I admire him and the band so much for what they do," he says. "They're not just a band, they're a movement. I'm a more humble human being than that but give me the chance to step on their stage for an evening and I'd take it, big style."

Joshua Fryvecind of Zoo Station

When he takes the stage with San Francisco's Zoo Station, Joshua Fryvecind is no longer himself, he's Bonalmost. A musician for many years, Fryvecind has always been in bands that played U2's music but never really considered being in a U2 tribute band. "I hated cover bands," he says. "I happened, however, to see a band one night on a complete whim … the newly formed Zoo Station."

At the time, the band had a different singer, but Fryvecind was taken with the music and less than impressed with the singer. "For the first time I wanted to be Bono or at least play the role on stage," he says.

Since joining up with Zoo Station, Fryvecind has had many memorable performing moments, including playing at San Francisco's Virgin Megastore the day "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" was released. "People asked us to sign [the CDs]," he says. "We kept telling them we weren't U2 and our signatures were going to decrease the value of the albums they purchased but after we signed a lot of them, we took it as a complement."

Even after the Virgin experience, though, Fryvecind is certain he couldn't handle any more than just a taste of what it's like to be Bono. "I'm not man enough," he says.

gabrielvox of October

gabrielvox was introduced to U2 by a friend who'd just returned from England with an early bootleg. He soon bought "Boy" upon its release with money saved from his paper route and was hooked from that point on.

With that long a history as a U2 fan, it's a little surprising it took gabrielvox as long as it did to start up a tribute band. "I'm not first and foremost a musician, I'm just a U2 fan who got a crazy idea to start a band," he says. gabrielvox, who takes to the stage as gabrielvox, finally got his Toronto-based dream band off the ground after 2001's Elevation tour.

During the more than three years playing with October, named for one of his favorite U2 albums, gabrielvox has realized how difficult it can be to live up to being Bono. "I know the man is imperfect like all of us but sometimes I find it difficult to stomach the comparisons to Bono when I know just how much good work he has done in his life and how little I've been able to accomplish yet," he says. "Bono is more than just Bono the lead singer of U2 and knowing that is sometimes a crushing weight."

Though he sometimes feels uneasy trying to live up to all that Bono's done, Fryvecind believes that one day he'll make a similar mark on the world all his own. "Would I ever want to trade places with Bono and lead U2? Maybe for a song, I'm working on that angle still, but otherwise, maybe not," he says. "Would I ever like to be the lead singer of an accomplished band that wasn't only commercially successful but spiritually, mentally and emotionally uplifting to people? Definitely. Who knows, if I keep dreaming big, maybe someday."

Mark Smith of Vertigo USA

Mark Smith first started performing as Bono back in 1985. While the venue may not be as exciting as the ones he plays now with Chicago-based Vertigo USA, everyone's got to start somewhere. "My bathroom," he says of the place he first took a stab at being Bono. "Black Goody comb in tow, sporting a sweet mullet and frosted tips. Didn't we all want to be Bono?"

Smith, who spends his days a development director for Midway Games, names the wardrobe as one of the best parts of playing Bono. "I like having an excuse to buy an Armani suit, D&G glasses and an old-school pair of Creepers," he says. "I'm a pretty reserved guy and this is a great way to put on another hat and step outside of my box for a while. It also helps that I'm singing along with some amazing musicians to my favorite songs of all time."

Creating the whole Bono experience is something that Smith enjoys but also takes quite seriously. "It's something that I think I'll always work on," he says. "The great part is that it's ever changing, unlike impersonating Elvis Jim Morrison, this story is yet untold. Something new lurks around the corner and all us wannabes will jump on board."

But would Smith jump at the chance to trade places with Bono for real? "What? And be the most recognized rock star on Earth; owner of the World Bank; president of four countries; creator of the iPod, the mullet and perhaps life itself; friend to Oprah, Mandela and Justin Timberlake; author of "Sex Appeal 101;" 500-time Grammy nominee; billionaire extraordinaire with a lifelong gig singing the best damn music ever created? Hmm, let me think about it," he says.

Jason Thiesen of The Joshua Tree, LA

It's easy to see why one performance in March of this year stands out as a favorite for Jason Thiesen, singer with Los Angeles-based The Joshua Tree, it was the time he and has bandmates played in San Diego just hours before U2 kicked off the Vertigo Tour. "We were on a flatbed truck at the Tower Records there and performed for nearly three hours to hundreds of people," he says. "I was really in the zone that day and had such a great time performing. Then, after we were done, the whole band and our friends went over and saw the real deal."

Thiesen perfects his Bono act by watching DVDs and practicing as much as possible with his band. Getting down the "Bono swagger" is something he finds essential. "I compare him to a drunken orangutan in that he always seems to be squatting and having his arms in the air and looking as if he's going to fall over at any moment," he says.

There may be times when Thiesen does too good of a job playing Bono, though, because sometimes fans can go a little too far. "There have been times where the line between reality and fantasy has been blurred for some," he says. "Unfortunately, alcohol helps blur that line even more for some women."

With a band he feels brings out his very best, would Thiesen ever want to leave all that behind to take on Bono's life? "It would be fun to do one show in front of 15,000 people or at least a soundcheck with the boys," he says. "I also wouldn't mind trading bank accounts."

Thomas Thornton of 2U

While Thomas Thornton may not really be Bono, his gig of playing Bono with 2U, a group billing itself as "The World's Second Best U2 Show," keeps him gainfully employed full-time. In short, Thornton and his New York City-based bandmates do nothing else but play U2 music.

Thornton has been a U2 fan since first seeing the "Gloria" video back in 1982. That he joined a tribute band is something of a fluke. "I heard that a U2 tribute band was playing in my hometown [and] out of curiosity I went to see the show at a tiny local bar," he says. That band was Joshua Tree, soon to become 2U, and guitarist Joe Cumia struck up a conversation with Thornton before showtime. "He invited me on stage right then and there to sing 'Mysterious Ways,' I knew the words so I did," he says. "The rest is history."

That history includes blowing the minds of quite a few fans. "The fun part is seeing the audience react [to] me in full Bono gear," Thornton says. "I look out into the audience and see girls and guys nudging their friends with a huge smile and disbelief on this faces."

Sometimes, though, Thornton gets a little more than just looks from the crowd. "Lots of Bono ass grabbing by overzealous girls and guys, too," he says. "It’s okay when the women grab a cheek but for the guys that might be going a little too far."

Would Thornton consider the opportunity to trade places with Bono taking it too far? "At first thought anyone would answer, 'Who wouldn't? To live the life of a true rock legend?'' he says. "But after giving that question some real thought, I'd have to say no. While it would be a tempting offer, I'm quite happy in my own skin and with my own life. Besides, where it concerns the most fun part of Bono's life, I do get to trade places with him, even if it's only for a few hours, a couple of nights a week on stage."

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Old 09-26-2005, 12:15 PM   #2
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Re: U2 Tribute Band Singers Discuss Being Bono*

Originally posted by HelloAngel
In short, Thornton and his New York City-based bandmates do nothing else but play U2 music.
except of course when they're playing journey music...

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Old 09-27-2005, 01:08 PM   #3
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I love Mark Smith of Vertigo!!! He is so awesome!!!
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Old 09-28-2005, 10:42 PM   #4
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Re: U2 Tribute Band Singers Discuss Being Bono*

Jason Thiesen of The Joshua Tree, LA

There may be times when Thiesen does too good of a job playing Bono, though, because sometimes fans can go a little too far. "There have been times where the line between reality and fantasy has been blurred for some," he says. "Unfortunately, alcohol helps blur that line even more for some women."
some women?...
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Old 09-29-2005, 02:12 AM   #5
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Excellent article, good job Devlin, and thanks!
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Old 09-30-2005, 12:46 AM   #6
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Thanks Devlin!

Jason is my favorite fake Bono

B. Jones

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Old 10-04-2005, 04:55 PM   #7
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Yay Joshua

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