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Old 06-04-2021, 01:57 AM   #1
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Paul Epworth provides some interesting insight into U2's songwriting process.

Unfortunately, the article (from September 11th 2020) is behind a paywall:

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/music/in...s-calls-obama/

Here's the relevant part:

To reach the point where he could make his fantastic first album as an artist, deep space psychedelic soul odyssey Voyager, producer Paul Epworth first had to make some more quotidian journeys. Some with Adele, with whom he’s had a hugely successful, Oscar-winning partnership. And some with Florence and the Machine, Mumford and Sons, Coldplay and Paul McCartney, just a handful of the 60-odd artists with whom he’s made records.

But many more of them, it seems, with Bono. “U2 have a very considered process,” begins this multiple Brit- and Grammy-winning 46-year-old from Bishop’s Stortford, carefully, as he discusses working on the band’s 2014 album Songs of Innocence.

“There’s a lot of exploring every possible avenue. And that’s something I realised I had to undertake. I imagine if you’re that many albums in [to your career], and especially when you’re elder statesmen of the rock game, you’re trying to find your angle.

“They’d obviously done most of the record with Dangermouse,” he recalls, mentioning the equally iconoclastic American producer, “and I think they’d just run out of stream. But they had all these ideas – they just needed someone to come in and have the confidence to say: give it some snarl.”

His broader brief, though, was to give the Irish band' 13th album some focus. Or, as he puts it, to “corral the cattle. It wasn’t to find the key, it was to literally f______ build a fence round it and gradually make it smaller!” he laughs. “And do that until a record pops out the other side.”

Epworth, though, couldn’t stay the course due to the birth of his second child with wife Danielle. “The record went right up to the week my son was born,” he says of Eli, now four, younger brother to Vivienne, nine, “so there’s a deadline there that couldn’t be moved.”

For all that it sounds like a lengthy, challenging process, Epworth was honoured to work with a band who were a huge part of his musical life. Was Bono willing to be produced? “Yeah, he was. I pushed him as well – to the point where he was like, ‘get the f___ off my back! That’s far enough,’” Epworth relates with a smile. “I was doing this all the time,” he says, miming a jabbing finger. “But then again, they were doing that to the songs all the time.

“It was a really interesting process, watching people in the studio working who clearly have a deep desire to prove to themselves they can do it every single time. So they had this idea for two records,” he says of 2017 companion album Songs of Experience. “And it feels like they do a bit of crowd-sourcing with their music – they’re very open to opinions. To the point where Bono invited in a bunch of fans who were stood outside the studio to come listen to the stuff.

“They were all sitting in here with their heads in their hands, incredulous that they were listening to unreleased U2 music – and Bono’s asking their opinions on it.”

And on it went. “Bono called me up a few weeks later and said: ‘So, I’ve just been thinking about the tracks. I was playing it to Barack the other day.’ And I was like: ‘Who?’ I just had to make him say it twice! ‘Barack Obama.’ And I said: ‘Oh, really? That’s what I love about you, and that’s why you’re never gonna finish this f_____g record!’ And Bono goes: ‘But I played it to the cleaning lady, too!’ I was like: ‘That’s the problem! Too many opinions!’”
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Old 06-04-2021, 04:53 AM   #2
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Thanks for posting this Doxxer, really fascinating read

I think it's pretty admirable that U2 tend to go down every avenue they can think of, for the sake of exploration and trying to find the best version of a song/sound possible.

At the same time, it seems really apparent to me from this interview that they overthink things almost to the point of paralysis. I think we all knew/suspected that anyway, but it's interesting to hear it from a producer's perspective.

Having the pressure to complete with their own legacy, and the ability to make anything they want, must make it very difficult for them to commit/focus on a clear direction.

It's been said many times already, but it would be great to see them work with a single producer, with a coherent vision. It would be so cool to get a modern day U2 album with more confidence, that doesnt go through multiple revisions and producers.
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Old 06-04-2021, 08:56 AM   #3
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Unfortunately, the article (from September 11th 2020) is behind a paywall:

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/music/in...s-calls-obama/

Here's the relevant part:

To reach the point where he could make his fantastic first album as an artist, deep space psychedelic soul odyssey Voyager, producer Paul Epworth first had to make some more quotidian journeys. Some with Adele, with whom he’s had a hugely successful, Oscar-winning partnership. And some with Florence and the Machine, Mumford and Sons, Coldplay and Paul McCartney, just a handful of the 60-odd artists with whom he’s made records.

But many more of them, it seems, with Bono. “U2 have a very considered process,” begins this multiple Brit- and Grammy-winning 46-year-old from Bishop’s Stortford, carefully, as he discusses working on the band’s 2014 album Songs of Innocence.

“There’s a lot of exploring every possible avenue. And that’s something I realised I had to undertake. I imagine if you’re that many albums in [to your career], and especially when you’re elder statesmen of the rock game, you’re trying to find your angle.

“They’d obviously done most of the record with Dangermouse,” he recalls, mentioning the equally iconoclastic American producer, “and I think they’d just run out of stream. But they had all these ideas – they just needed someone to come in and have the confidence to say: give it some snarl.”

His broader brief, though, was to give the Irish band' 13th album some focus. Or, as he puts it, to “corral the cattle. It wasn’t to find the key, it was to literally f______ build a fence round it and gradually make it smaller!” he laughs. “And do that until a record pops out the other side.”

Epworth, though, couldn’t stay the course due to the birth of his second child with wife Danielle. “The record went right up to the week my son was born,” he says of Eli, now four, younger brother to Vivienne, nine, “so there’s a deadline there that couldn’t be moved.”

For all that it sounds like a lengthy, challenging process, Epworth was honoured to work with a band who were a huge part of his musical life. Was Bono willing to be produced? “Yeah, he was. I pushed him as well – to the point where he was like, ‘get the f___ off my back! That’s far enough,’” Epworth relates with a smile. “I was doing this all the time,” he says, miming a jabbing finger. “But then again, they were doing that to the songs all the time.

“It was a really interesting process, watching people in the studio working who clearly have a deep desire to prove to themselves they can do it every single time. So they had this idea for two records,” he says of 2017 companion album Songs of Experience. “And it feels like they do a bit of crowd-sourcing with their music – they’re very open to opinions. To the point where Bono invited in a bunch of fans who were stood outside the studio to come listen to the stuff.

“They were all sitting in here with their heads in their hands, incredulous that they were listening to unreleased U2 music – and Bono’s asking their opinions on it.”

And on it went. “Bono called me up a few weeks later and said: ‘So, I’ve just been thinking about the tracks. I was playing it to Barack the other day.’ And I was like: ‘Who?’ I just had to make him say it twice! ‘Barack Obama.’ And I said: ‘Oh, really? That’s what I love about you, and that’s why you’re never gonna finish this f_____g record!’ And Bono goes: ‘But I played it to the cleaning lady, too!’ I was like: ‘That’s the problem! Too many opinions!’”
I mean that last part does sum it up a bit. They've done so much that they are now to the point where the band is different to different people.

They're post punk, they're ethereal and atmospheric, they're electronic and industrial, they're stripped down back to basics...

Stop caring about being the band people want you to be, because that opinion will shift drastically depending on who you speak to. All you need to do is take a few laps around this place to know that.
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Old 06-04-2021, 12:31 PM   #4
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Hopefully this gives enough proof for people to stop giving people like Epworth or Tedder a bunch of shit. As said many times, it’s clearly the band being difficult, not the producer supposedly destroying the music.
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Old 06-04-2021, 12:58 PM   #5
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Well... Tedder can still eat shit.
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Old 06-04-2021, 01:13 PM   #6
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I’m sure an article will come out where Tedder was like “no really you guys should’ve just kept working with Danger Mouse” and Bono was like “get off my back what about how Kygo fans feel”
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Old 06-04-2021, 01:16 PM   #7
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I’m sure an article will come out where Tedder was like “no really you guys should’ve just kept working with Danger Mouse” and Bono was like “get off my back what about how Kygo fans feel”
Oh don't get me wrong it's still the band's fault for choosing to work with Tedder. I just feel it works be unlikely that they stay the course there if his breath smelled like actual shit.
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Old 06-04-2021, 08:03 PM   #8
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Hopefully this gives enough proof for people to stop giving people like Epworth or Tedder a bunch of shit. As said many times, it’s clearly the band being difficult, not the producer supposedly destroying the music.
I don’t think it’s Tedder or Epworth’s fault that their work with U2 is not my favorite, they do what they’re told and the band seems to like it. I wouldn’t be upset if Epworth showed up on their records in future. But Tedder makes his own records with U2 as musicians/vocalists, and I’m not into that.
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Old 06-06-2021, 03:18 AM   #9
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So they had this idea for two records,” he says of 2017 companion album Songs of Experience. “And it feels like they do a bit of crowd-sourcing with their music – they’re very open to opinions. To the point where Bono invited in a bunch of fans who were stood outside the studio to come listen to the stuff.

“They were all sitting in here with their heads in their hands, incredulous that they were listening to unreleased U2 music – and Bono’s asking their opinions on it.”


I just want to clutch my head to see Bono, and it is Bono (Edge may participate but it's really Bono) running around seeking everyone's approval. It's not new but it's out of control here. I would have hoped he might have gotten somewhere by now but if anything, it's just laid even more bare.

Psychology aside, I don't think it's super useful to ask non-musicians for feedback. All we can really say is "yeah that sounds great" or "that sounds okay." A deeper comment might be "I like the high part" or something..

But that's not enough. Saying the bass line is cool or the chorus is catchy does not reveal the quality of the song for the long haul. I don't actually know why X and Y songs are amazing pieces of work that resonate decades later.

A musician may not be a prognosticator either, but they are going to know better what is working and what might be a trap.
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Old 06-06-2021, 03:28 AM   #10
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It's been said many times already, but it would be great to see them work with a single producer, with a coherent vision. It would be so cool to get a modern day U2 album with more confidence, that doesnt go through multiple revisions and producers.
Completely agree, although for me SOI is still their best & most consistent record since Pop, even with the whole producer mess. It's evident within the 2nd-half that U2 really dug their heels in and produced some of the greatest tracks of their career.

This segment from this 'popmatters' article pretty much summarizes my thoughts on tracks 7-11:

The album takes a decisive turn for the better when the skitter and skulk of "Raised By Wolves" is set in motion. These next four songs on Songs of Innocence decisively save the career of U2. The lyrics have prosaic depth and the strength of acute observation. The vocals are controlled and understated, simmering under the pressure cooker, venting steam just enough to keep the pot from exploding. The music has a novelistic complexity for a change. The helter-skelter changes in "Raised by Wolves", the strapping bluegrass chords of "Cedarwood Road", the ragged bellowing solo of "Sleep like a Baby Tonight", and the off-kilter squalling crescendos of "This Is Where You Can Reach Us Now" all feature the Edge in top form, showcasing his ability to innovate guitar playing within the modalities of his minimalistic brick-by-brick approach.

Songs seven to ten are the result of a band putting hard work into the studio. Every aspect of the songs, from the playing to the production, is executed flawlessly. What Mullen and Clayton pull off on "This Is Where You Can Reach Us Now" is pretty much unheard of in their back catalogue. U2 has never sounded so funky and been so danceable in such an un-ironic way.

The chilling spareness of "Sleep Like a Baby Tonight" bespeaks of a delicateness only years of blunders and careening can furnish. Why? A song can be too sparse, like "One Step Closer" on How to Dismantle and Atomic Bomb, so bare that a bedeviled listener might fall right in while gazing at his own reflection, and then find himself wading for a hook to pull him out of the deathly still pool. The songs are great but not classic, which is okay, because classic can sometimes be exhausting for a listener, too. These final tracks reveal another heretofore unseen side to the band, with an almost Springsteenian complexity that I've been secretly hoping for and waiting upon for nearly a decade. U2 is owed some props for delivering the unexpected against all odds.


https://www.popmatters.com/195141-a-...495510839.html
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Old 06-06-2021, 04:59 AM   #11
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Completely agree, although for me SOI is still their best & most consistent record since Pop, even with the whole producer mess. It's evident within the 2nd-half that U2 really dug their heels in and produced some of the greatest tracks of their career.

This segment from this 'popmatters' article pretty much summarizes my thoughts on tracks 7-11:

https://www.popmatters.com/195141-a-...495510839.html
It's a great review - definitely makes me appreciate that side of the album more!

I have a pretty mixed view of the Danger Mouse material. On the one hand, it's definitely bold, different, dark, and has moments of greatness.

On the other hand, to me it definitely lacks the 'big music' - songs like Pride, WoWY, Streets, One, MW or Beautiful Day - that got me into the band in the first place, and that define the band's greatness for me.

Even if they fail to get a hit, I'd personally be most excited to see them making a new album with all that 'big' music, rather than something dark and experimental that couldn't really work in a stadium, or would never have thousands singing along.

But I suppose there are better and worse ways to go about it. Working with Ryan Tedder, writing the Miracle 'oh-oh-oh' intro to be sung in arenas etc, all seems very cynical. The Tedder material doesn't seem to be very popular around here, and evidently it's not that popular out in the world either, because it didn't yield a hit single. So even with all of the effort to achieve commercial success on their minds, Tedder wasn't/isn't the one to help them do that.

Personally I'd like to see them work with a single (or tiny handful) of producers who could bring out the band's strengths, focusing on melody, atmosphere and 'less is more/notes are expensive' minimalism, to help them write some joyful, huge sounding music. Hell, at this point I wouldn't even mind if it sounded new or experimental for them, I'd just like it to have a decent melody (despite all their efforts, the last three albums just haven't had a decent hook/chorus that comes close to what they've done before imo).


As for that darker, experimental side - perhaps they could achieve that with a true 'Zooropa' sequel: put out an album with 'big music' to promote and craft a stadium tour around, then release a mid/post-tour follow up with more experimental sounds, which wouldn't have the pressure to carry a stadium show or be part of the "we're back after 5 years!" event that U2 albums are these days.
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Old 06-06-2021, 07:36 PM   #12
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Weird that the PopMatters write-up omitted The Troubles from their praise of "Side 2". I thought that one was pretty universally loved.
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Old 06-06-2021, 10:47 PM   #13
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Weird that the PopMatters write-up omitted The Troubles from their praise of "Side 2". I thought that one was pretty universally loved.
Yeah, that was a bit strange. In my opinion, It's probably U2's single best track since 1997.
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Old 06-07-2021, 10:14 AM   #14
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What makes it worse is that they said it "just doesn't fit" on SOI from an aesthetic perspective, yet they praised EBW to the high heavens and said it would be a classic one day.

Hate to break it to him but that song doesn't fit either. Especially not in the #2 slot. And lyrically, it sure isn't about Innocence.
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Old 06-07-2021, 10:22 AM   #15
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Every Breaking Wave and California did not fit the theme of the album at all.

I also think they shoehorned Reach Around between Sleep and Trouble after they decided Reach wasn't going to be a single and would no longer open the album.

When you listen to Sleep and Troubles back to back - thematically they fit together (and, frankly, raises some very interesting questions).
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Old 06-07-2021, 10:32 AM   #16
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The album was an ace, ironically without the big hit that they fought so hard to find.
It only flipped because of the delivery mechanism. You can criticize what belongs and what doesn’t, but at the end of the day it’s a solid album imo. Except that annoying lead single.
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Old 06-07-2021, 10:48 AM   #17
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The album was an ace, ironically without the big hit that they fought so hard to find.
It only flipped because of the delivery mechanism. You can criticize what belongs and what doesn’t, but at the end of the day it’s a solid album imo. Except that annoying lead single.
There's zero doubt that the album delivery method destroyed what was an otherwise strong late career effort.

Such a dumb dumb move.
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Old 06-07-2021, 01:57 PM   #18
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Every Breaking Wave and California did not fit the theme of the album at all.
Disagree on California; isn’t it about their first trip to the west coast? And also about Bono still reckoning with his mother’s death, which is still part of his childhood. I think he said in the liner notes or an interview that Volcano was his explosion of anger/energy after that tragedy and so it connects with Iris and California.

EBW is about a long-term relationship on the rocks and sticks out like a sore thumb. At least The Troubles is using relationship issues/domestic violence as a metaphor for the Irish-British conflict, or vice-versa.

And EBW’s water imagery would have made it a perfect fit with Summer of Love and Red Flag Day had they saved it. Especially in its superior and more raw incarnation.
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Old 06-07-2021, 02:02 PM   #19
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Disagree on California; isn’t it about their first trip to the west coast? And also about Bono still reckoning with his mother’s death, which is still part of his childhood. I think he said in the liner notes or an interview that Volcano was his explosion of anger/energy after that tragedy and so it connects with Iris and California.



EBW is about a long-term relationship on the rocks and sticks out like a sore thumb. At least The Troubles is using relationship issues/domestic violence as a metaphor for the Irish-British conflict, or vice-versa.



And EBW’s water imagery would have made it a perfect fit with Summer of Love and Red Flag Day had they saved it. Especially in its superior and more raw incarnation.
The first trip to California came after Boy was released. It is chronologically out of place on an album about growing up in Dublin and first forming the band.
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Old 06-07-2021, 03:06 PM   #20
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Fair enough, I guess it depends on how rigid you want to be with the theme and time frame. California is at least “early years” if not “early days” so it’s not as much of an outlier to me as EBW, which isn’t about anyone’s early anything.
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