Thursday, December 8, 2011

U2.COM : 'Distortion'

'The idea  that I could sit there with the greatest singer in the world and stick distortion on his voice made me laugh.'

Second part of our interview with Flood recalling the 1991 recording of Achtung Baby. Here Flood  tells Brian Draper about the tensions in Berlin, how he helped Bono find his voice for The Fly and why it felt like 'standing on top of Everest' when they finally finished the album.

Read Part One of this interview. How much pressure did you feel, working on those sessions?

It was really tense, but in a way I had the easiest role of the lot. Technically I was just the engineer. There were a lot of tensions  within the band - but I only found out about that later, because none of it was being brought in to the studio. That’s what sets U2 apart. And even though it was all very difficult, it was only because nothing was seen to be working. That doesn’t mean to say people weren’t trying; it was like you were beating your head against a brick wall, and your face was getting more and more bloody. Ouch.
After Berlin, I remember Eno coming to the Dublin sessions in February or March, listening to what we had, and saying, 'It all sounds really grey.' That was the only time I took something personally and started to feel real pressure. Ouch again. But you broke through?
Things started to fall into place through the Spring. I remember Chris Blackwell coming over and listening, and saying, 'Guys, you just don’t know how good this record is.' That made everybody say, 'Come on! We can do it.' Bono recalled (in 'U2 on U2') that in Dublin, 'Flood had a different look in his eye. And then we recorded the Fly...' How so?
He was getting really frustrated with not being able to find his voice for the Fly. He’d ask to try the song in different keys, and I had to have it all set up so he could (which was hard, in those days); but it still wasn’t happening.
I said, 'Look Bono. I’ve been trying a couple of effects, and this might help you.'  So I put distortion on his voice.  Now, I’d been using this with people like Nine Inch Nails for years, but the idea - at that time, in 1991 - that I could sit there with the greatest singer in the world and stick distortion on his voice made me laugh.
But he heard it, went 'Wow!' and was transformed. He was off. It gave him a chance for a new personality, a new voice which would help him express what he wanted to say. That was so important.
Similarly, there was an early version of Zoo Station which wasn’t working. Bono suggested I tried an ‘industrial’ mix, to see how it sounded. So I did, and they loved the intro; Bono listened to it in his car and thought his speakers had broken.
 Fast forward six months: we’re mixing, and the track comes up. And Bono wants the rough mix I’d done of the intro put into the mix as we had it then.
This was the mindset: anything could be tried. Edge described the sound of Achtung Baby as 'desperation and resignation with all sorts of worrying tones in between'. Is that what you hear?
I hear the sound of necessity, the sound of something that needs to change. The old fashioned idea of a ‘record’ is that it records the emotions of the time, the place and the people. And that’s what Achtung Baby is. What’s your distinctive contribution to that ‘record’?
Just being there and being part of it, I think. Everyone was playing to their own strengths, and we all wanted that for each other. It was one of the most creatively open sessions I have ever worked on.
But everyone was so emotionally raw, too - when I say it’s a record of that time, that’s the thing you don’t forget. Were you aware that it could become a classic?
I’ve been involved in four or five records like this, where you realise you are in a new place; everybody knows there is something a bit out of the ordinary happening, a step up. But the stars have to align, too.
I remember the last day mixing Achtung Baby. There were God-knows-how many people working, hidden away, mixing... The band were upstairs with Danny and Brian, all getting drunk, deciding the running order - and at the last minute swapping it all around so that Side 2 became Side 1.
And then Edge was jumping into a taxi with the tapes... Time to wipe the bloody faces?
There was such a sense of achievement, of arriving at that point. It was like standing on the top of Everest. You’d made it, crawling up the hill with only one hand and one ice-pick and no oxygen, but with all your friends there to help you to the top.

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