When the details of U2’s new SiriusXM radio channel U2 X-Radio were announced earlier this week, they didn’t spell out a specific role for Adam Clayton. But the bassist explained to Rolling Stone that he’s been intimately involved with the creation of the channel and will continue to work on it going forward.
“When we get up and running my role will be to help keep it on track and to be available for comments and interviews as much as possible,” he says. “Edge has taken on an interview show with primarily guitarists, but I’m sure that’ll broaden out. I’ll probably [guest host for him] when he needs a little bit of a break six months or so down the line.”
Clayton also spoke about the creation of the channel, the status of U2’s next album and the possibility of resurrecting Zoo TV on a future tour.
How is your quarantine going?
There is a thought out there that for some people quarantine has been actually quite a good experience because it means they’ve stayed put and haven’t had to travel and do things. I fall into that camp. If you’re lucky enough not to live in an apartment with a family and one computer between all of you, it’s actually quite relaxing because the level of intensity has come down. I’m not complaining. I’m very much enjoying spending time with family and just reassessing.
I’d love to say I’m being productive. The most I can say is that I’ve managed to read a lot more books than I have in the last five years. Oddly enough, mainly music biographies. I read the Debbie Harry book [Face It: A Memoir] and I really enjoyed it because it reminded me of a New York that I remember. I’ve also just finished the Elvis Costello book [Music and Disappearing Ink], which is just a great piece of writing.
You also have a young child, so it must be nice to have so much time to spend with her.
It’s been an amazing year for spending time with my child. Normally she’d be in a nursery school throughout this whole period of the quarantine. But instead, we had four months of pretty much all being together. That’s been great, I have to say.
Tell me the backstory of this new SiriusXM channel.
Sirius has been doing these kinds of featured stations for a few years and I guess we just thought the time was right now. Also, we have nothing on the U2 schedule, so we thought we could give it the attention that we’d really like to give it. In order to do a channel that is curated U2 music as opposed to just a playlist — we felt we wanted to be more involved. We wanted to determine certain moods and modes that would happen at certain times throughout it rather than it just being a load of U2 tunes randomly thrown together on a 24-hour circle.
That is what we’ve managed to do. We have some really cool collaborators. We have [Pogues bassist] Cait O’Riordan. She’s a long-time friend of the band and, of course, another bass player, so that’s always good. Two bass players are always better than one. But I think she understands the sensibility of the band and she’ll bodyguard us. She’s been spending a lot more time in New York, so she can help give us that feel of what we might not be aware of because we aren’t in America as much as we used to be, or not throughout the year.
Then there’s Bill Flanagan. He’s been involved with us over a long period of time as well. He did the original biography of the band [U2 at the End of the World], which I also think is the best biography.
We also have John Kelly, who is a good friend from Dublin, a great music guy. He’s going to be doing something on Sunday, which is sort of the inspirational part of the weekly cycle of our programming. It’ll be focusing on music which is uplifting, sort of gospel-y. There will be interviews with people on a more spiritual level. It’s an acknowledgment of wherever you are in the world, there is something sacred about a Sunday moment. We’re hoping that our audience will enjoy the fact that we go somewhere else on a Sunday.
For me, I’ve been thinking about the timeline of how the station will introduce people to U2, the world we came from and the music that influenced us. They’ll play records that we grew up on. And then hopefully going forward, we will be able to absorb newer music that excites us as well.
If you listen to terrestrial radio, it’s the same seven or so U2 songs over and over — like “I Will Follow” and “Where the Streets Have No Name.” It’s less than 1% of your catalog.
You’re absolutely right. It’s something that is very hard for us as artists to accept. Unfortunately, the same thing sort of happens with Spotify playlists as well. The richness of one’s catalog gets absolutely lost, which is really a failing of playlists and Spotify in general.
The other nice thing about this is it really gives us the chance to expose other U2 tunes that aren’t well-known, and certainly the remixes, which many people wouldn’t have heard at the time besides hardcore fans — but certainly, those remixes have stood the test of time. You go back to them now and you see how music has changed and EDM has come along and sort of brought different beats and tempos into it. Some of our remixes are just as relevant.
How deep are you going into the catalog? Are we talking really early stuff like “Pete the Chop” and “Cartoon World?” Will it be everything?
[Laughs] It would be amazing if we went everywhere like that. Over time, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to do that. Certainly, through some of the talent we have on the show — there will be people playing their favorite U2 tunes and there will be people digging deep into those areas. I have no doubt that between the “Bono Calling” concept where he sort of calls [people] up and they play their favorite U2 songs — I think we should get to every U2 tune.
I think one of the best parts of the Springsteen channel is the full concerts they play from his vault. Are you doing that, too?
We definitely think our legacy as a live band is really important. There’s no reason this shouldn’t be a place for live tracks. In some ways, unfortunately, maybe in the last 20 years, the value of the live recordings hasn’t really been upheld. The days where you could put out a great live album like U2 at Red Rocks — I guess with people’s abilities to record concerts on their phones or whatever that has changed and they no longer have that kind of precious moment. You certainly do see a lot of U2 concerts being distributed digitally where the quality of the sound isn’t as good as it could be. I hope we can readdress that balance.
Then there are studio outtakes. I imagine that unreleased songs are going to be played, right?
We put out so much unreleased material digitally, but I think, again, it’s one of those things where there’s so much out there that it kind of gets lost and people forget. We will re-curate those songs and what’s out there. With our re-release program and the re-releases of the albums, we’ve kind of re-released those outtakes as much as we can. To a degree, the public tends to pick up on songs that they know. It’s really for the anoraks that the songs that aren’t quite as complete or finished are of a curiosity.
If you do guest host the Edge’s show, will you focus on bass players like he’s focusing on guitarists?
[Laughs] Um…if there’s any worth talking to! It’s tricky. As a bass player myself, we don’t really like doing interviews about the bass, necessarily, because it’s not always so interesting. I wouldn’t want to limit myself to just bass players. But, certainly, if there was a reason for interviewing a bass player because they had a particular influence or I took something from them or I respected something from them, I would definitely do that. By and large, it’s not that interesting to talk about playing bass [Laughs].
I was saying to Edge that the thought of filling at a 24/7 radio station must have been really daunting at first.
Maybe that’s why we first avoided it for so long. It does seem self-aggrandizement in a certain way, but when we started to realize that we could have some fun with it, that we could play around with it, invite other people in to get their perspective on it, it started to get more interesting. Paul Oakenfold was a dance DJ that did some remixes for it, so he’s going to come in and DJ part of the song. And an Irish DJ called Dan Hegarty is also going to come in and curate some of the show.
We’re hoping we can slip in a few to other things that aren’t just wall-to-wall U2 hits as you know them already. I guess it’s a reason to curate in a different way. Radio got a little lost along the way in terms of improvements in technology. I listen to a lot of radio. I like radio because I always find it informative. I’m hoping we can keep that spirit alive. America was the land that really took radio wide and big.
As it became more commercialized, the ability for it to expose its audience to new material kind of dried up to a certain extent. Perhaps we can relight that. We can get it to people that go, “Oh, I didn’t realize that’s where that came from and that’s who whose people are and that’s what that interconnectedness is.”
I was talking to Edge about the anniversary of Achtung Baby and he said he wasn’t opposed to the idea of a Zoo TV sequel tour. Is that something that would interest you?
Until we had done The Joshua Tree Tour, I didn’t think so. But the ability to revisit work that still is relevant, that still stands up, and reinterpret it in a different way is exciting. It is a relatively new form if you like. We don’t revisit it in a spirit of nostalgia. We revisit it in a spirit to refresh and expand on it. I think if it is your catalog, if it is your history, there’s nothing wrong with you going back into it and reinterpreting it in a different way for a different time.
So yeah, I do think it’s exciting. And I do think it’s exciting for an audience that knows those songs in a certain context and a certain time. These are very interesting times that we’re living in right now. I think this is going to be a very interesting year for America and subsequently the world. Those songs — depending on how the dust settles and what sort of world [we] move toward or into — those songs will take on a different light. So I’m up for it and I don’t see anything apologist about doing something like that.
I’ll just ask you point-blank: Are you guys actively planning an Achtung Baby 30 tour?
At this point, we kind of just completed five or six years of quite intensive work. Nobody is really looking too far into the future. I think it’s fair to say that for the immediate future, stadium touring on that scale is somewhat in jeopardy. How that all reforms itself and reboots itself, I don’t really know yet.
Finally, are you working on new songs for the next U2 record?
We are. There’s always something on the go, as I’m sure Edge mentioned. We did some recording last year that got us some really great starting points and complete songs. There’s an album ready to go, we’re just not ready to sure when we want to press that button.
When I say ready to go, I mean ready to be completed. Let’s put it that way.
So the songs are written, but you have to record them and get them right?
Cool. I can’t wait to hear them. I imagine it’ll be a bit, though.
It’s very, very fresh. We’ve cut everything quite quickly. We’re coming to things in a shorthand way. The feedback we get from that is pretty good. We want to be quick, down and dirty with the next one.