U2’s Bono and the Edge on Creating Their Hits, Hanging With Springsteen and McCartney, and the Only Fight They’ve Ever Had

Rock icons sit down for a wide-ranging interview and live acoustic concert in the Stern Show studio

December 4, 2017
Photo: The Howard Stern Show

Two of the most talented figures in the music industry made their Stern Show debut on Monday morning — U2’s Bono and the Edge. The rock icons sat down with Howard for an in-depth conversation about their 40-plus year career that continues with their new studio album “Songs of Experience,” available now.

As one of the best-selling bands in history, U2 has no doubt lived through some incredible experiences and Bono and the Edge didn’t hold back while telling Howard about everything from the advice they once received from Frank Sinatra to what it’s like hanging out with fellow legends Bruce Springsteen and Sir Paul McCartney. They also described the step-by-step process of how they created one of their biggest hits and revealed the only time the two of them ever got into a physical fight.

Check out all of the highlights from Bono and the Edge’s visit (below) and for more information on U2’s new album “Songs of Experience” and their upcoming tour, click here.

Early Days and Covering the Ramones

U2 on stage in 1976 U2 on stage in 1976 Photo: Shutterstock

Both Bono and the Edge held an interest in music starting at a very young age. After experimenting with percussion as a kid, the Edge took up playing the guitar after his mother purchased one for him and his brother for a single British pound — a bargain even without considering where the instrument eventually took her son.

For Bono, his father was something of a singer himself but fearing rejection he never tried to see where his talents could take him. He similarly discouraged his son from chasing such a dream for the same reason.

“He didn’t want me to be disappointed. To dream is to be disappointed, I think was it,” Bono told Howard.

But dream Bono did and by their early teens, Bono and the Edge had formed a band with some of their other schoolmates, including the Edge’s brother. They called themselves the Hype, named after their idol David Bowie’s first band. And while they worshiped Bowie and other acts in rock and roll at the time, the boys soon realized they were no good at covering other musicians.

“We played our own songs, we wrote our own songs, because we couldn’t play anyone else’s” Bono admitted. “We tried to sing the Stones … I just didn’t have that kind of a voice.”

The only exception came when the group had an opportunity to play on a show that could lead to bigger and better things for them. The show’s director asked them to play one of their original songs for him, but instead the band performed the Ramones tune “Glad to See You Go,” passing it off as one of their own.

“We swapped it then when we got the job,” Bono told Howard.

Years later, Bono got to tell Joey Ramone that same story while backstage with him at “Saturday Night Live.” That wound up being the last time he would talk to Joey before he passed away in 2001.

The One and Only U2 Physical Fight

Unlike some other famous frontmen and lead guitarists, conflicts between Bono and the Edge are a rarity, something they chalk up to how long they’ve known each other.

“I think it comes back to the fact that we were in school together, high school together, and we were friends before we were in a band,” the Edge told Howard. “In some ways the relationship predates all the other pressures.”

The two also agreed they get along so well due to there not being any competition built into the band — everyone involved knows their role and does it well. However, there was once an incident way back when that Bono and the Edge believe is the only time they’ve ever come to blows.

It was a small gig at a nightclub that turned into a big deal after they found out the Talking Heads would be in the audience. But when their drummer Larry Mullen Jr. stopped playing in the middle of their performance in order to fix something wrong with his kit, Bono lost his cool.

“He says I threw the drum kit at him but actually I threw them away from him,” Bono said of his onstage reaction. “I just lifted up the drums to expose the fact that he was hiding there. He was actually, I think, doing something very sensible like fixing his pedal.”

“I seem to remember you were playing the drums with your microphone as a sort of form of encouragement,” the Edge said with a laugh.

All the two would say in terms of what occurred that night was that the Edge had to step in and get physical with Bono after Larry fled from the stage. It’s unclear who exactly won the fight, but Bono gave Howard this piece of advice:

“I can tell you never pick a fight with a man whose hand-to-eye coordination is his living,” Bono joked about taking on his mate the Edge.

Making Love and Making ‘War’

Bono and U2 in concert in July 1982 Bono and U2 in concert in July 1982 Photo: Shutterstock

The early ‘80s marked a steady stream of success for U2 after the debut of their first two studio albums “Boy” and “October.” With the pressure on to continue penning hits, the Edge recalled the week he spent writing the song “Sunday Bloody Sunday” which would appear on their 1983 album “War.” Bono was away on his honeymoon at the time and joked on Monday that while he was off making love, the Edge was at home making “War.”

With the Edge’s backing track, it was then up to the group to give “Sunday Bloody Sunday” meaning. What developed was a song rich with deep historical context, not just for Ireland but for all injustice, throughout time and throughout the world.

“It does something to you when you’re singing it,” Bono said of performing the song live. “You just take on a lot of other people’s emotions.”

Check out Bono and the Edge’s acoustic performance of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” (below).

Frank Sinatra Suggests Some New Clothes

Photo: Shutterstock

With record sales soaring and the band becoming more and more of a household name, U2 soon found itself in the company of some very famous faces. Bono and the Edge remembered a gala they once attended in Las Vegas in which Frank Sinatra asked the group to get up and take a bow, telling the crowd their current single was at the top of the charts.

“The four of us stood up and I could see Frank looking from stage,” Bono told Howard. After seeing what they were wearing, Frank joked that despite making a fortune, U2 definitely wasn’t spending any of their money on nice clothes.

Later, the guys got to spend some quality time with Frank in his dressing room. It struck Bono as odd at the time that Sinatra was willing to have a conversation with them for as long as he did, especially considering the other celebrities waiting outside his door.

“Then it dawned on us that he didn’t get to, maybe, speak to a lot of musicians,” Bono explained, adding that as a truly great musician himself, it must have been a special moment for Frank to sit down with another singer, even if their clothes weren’t quite as nice as his.

Professionalism Makes Bono’s Dad Proud

After all doubt had been removed that his son was going to make it as a recording artist, Bono’s father agreed to come to one of U2’s concerts in Texas — it was a chance for Bono to show his dad just how much success he had achieved. Seated out in the crowd, a spotlight shone on Bono’s dad as Bono announced from the stage that this was his father’s first time in America.

“He just shakes his fist,” Bono said of his dad’s reaction, explaining he was doing it in good humor.

After the show, Bono said he and his dad sat alone together in his dressing room. “I thought I saw a kind of a real tender look in his eyes,” he recalled. And while he thought his father was finally going to tell him how proud he was, instead he told his son, “You’re very professional,” something Bono considers a true compliment given his father traditional Irish tepidness.

Bono Not a Fan of Himself

Photo: The Howard Stern Show

Legions of fans have loved Bono for decades but on Monday he told Howard he can be a bit hard on himself while looking back at some of his earlier outfits and hairstyles.

“I did have a mullet and that is unforgivable,” Bono joked while calling the ‘80s “the decade taste forgot.” He also recalled the advice the Edge once gave him — “a man should not look like his hair has been ironed.”

Even harder for Bono, though, is revisiting some of his earlier performances and recordings. He told Howard he went years without listening to U2’s best-selling album “The Joshua Tree.”

“I find it excruciating to listen to those songs,” he explained. “I don’t like the sound of my voice on a lot of the stuff.”

According to Bono, many of his vocals on the album sound “squeezed.” “The music’s magnificent and the tunes are great and some of the lyrics are okay, but the voice, it’s like, God, spare me the voice,” he said of his own singing.

“I have no problem listening to it and I think Bono sounds amazing,” the Edge chimed in.

Still, Bono believes his singing has come a long way since “Joshua Tree,” saying he’s become a more interpretive singer and now has the ability to alter a song’s meaning just by modifying his voice or changing the words within a song.

“Singing, at a certain level, is miraculous,” he continued. “I think I can make the text change depending on the reading of it.”

‘Where the Streets Have No Name’

After becoming one of U2’s most iconic songs, the Edge told Howard he now considers “Where the Streets Have No Name” to be the band’s ultimate live song, saying no other song makes crowds react the way they do when they hear that opening guitar riff. He also revealed the step-by-step process he took in creating the signature sound on the track.

“One day I just came up with a certain set of chords that felt promising,” the Edge said, though remarkably he still doesn’t know what exactly those chords are. “To me, music’s emotional, it’s not technical. I approach music in a naïve way, like a fan.”

Those chords also came close to winding up on the cutting room floor after producer Brian Eno almost wiped the tape clean while U2 was recording the track in the studio. His reasoning was that the guys were taking too long trying to get the sound just right and he wanted them to start from scratch instead.

“In the end, that was the backing track that went on the album, so we’re very happy that he didn’t erase it,” the Edge said.

Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney

As undisputed members of rock royalty themselves, Bono and the Edge now have the privilege of being around many of the same musicians they used to look up to before they became famous. Howard asked the guys if they ever get to hang with Bruce Springsteen, who inducted U2 into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005. Bono answered they do indeed spend time with Bruce, who has meant so much to them for so long.

One reason Bono still admires Bruce has to do with the Boss’s ability to hold onto his freedom and not allow his fame to get in the way of being who he wants to be. While other artists of Springsteen’s caliber often allow the limelight to change them as people, Bono has never seen anything of the sort from Bruce.

Sir Paul McCartney seems to have a similar mindset — what Bono described as a “lack of self-consciousness.” The U2 frontman shared how he was once at an event with the former Beatle and watched him jump around on a pogo stick in the middle of the dance floor without a care in the world.

‘Songs of Experience’

Fans will undoubtedly love U2’s new album “Songs of Experience,” but Bono explained why this new offering is some of the most personal music the band has ever put out. After a recent health issue, Bono said he was inspired to tell those closest to him how much they mean to him, telling Howard the new songs examine “the feelings that I had for the people that I care about.”

“They’re like letters,” Bono described. “I just wanted to be honest about it.”

Take a listen to two acoustic performances Bono and the Edge did live in studio of their new songs “You’re the Best Thing About Me” and “Get Out of Your Own Way” (below).

U2’s new album “Songs of Experience” is available now. For more info, go to U2.com.