Adam Clayton interviewed on The Tommy Tiernan Show

Original Story by Aaron J. Sams (2019-05-12)

Last night on RTÉ One television in Ireland, Adam Clayton appeared with Tommy Tiernan for a half hour interview. Tiernan hosts The Tommy Tiernan Show on RTÉ which is currently in its third season. The chat show is based around the premise that the host and the audience have no idea who the guests will be on the show before the guest actually walks out on the stage. The interviews are done on the spot and done without any prepared interview questions. The show is filmed Studio 4 at the RTÉ Television Centre in Donnybrook, Ireland. The show is pre-taped, so we do not know exactly when the show was filmed, but it was definitely held after the U2 appearance at the 3 Arena in November. The show was advertising for audience members in late January 2019 for season three, so it is likely that the filming took place in February or early March as the show tapes a season over several weeks, and usually begins taping shortly after the call for an audience. Below we are able to present a short transcription of the start of the interview. This is not the entire interview, but that should be available through the RTÉ site shortly.

The most obvious question to ask a bass player is what do you do?

Adam: I’m a little nervous tonight but at least I know who I am.

You are just off the road?

Adam: Since November. In fact I think we were in the 3 Arena and we were hoping you might come along so…

There was a lot of traffic in from Galway that night, so I wasn’t able to make it. When do you need to tour again? Or do you ever need to tour?

Adam: You mean like that kind of itch that needs to be scratched? I don’t know. It’ll be when we make a record. When you’re excited about the songs. We get fed up being around each other for a year or so whenever we make a record. And when we feel like we’ve got some songs to go back out on the road with. You know, when you feel you want it. Sometimes you don’t want to go out there when people feel you’ve only just gone away.

Is there a lot of pressure in being in U2 in terms of being popular

Adam: Not anymore. Now for me its amazing that we’ve had—I mean don’t tell anyone—40 years of being in this band that grew up in Dublin. We had dreams of making records, touring the world, and that was for one album. And now it’s 14 or 15 albums and we’re still doing it. Lots of gratitude. I feel like I have friends all over the world. There’s nothing quite like being able to bump into someone, absolute strangers who you don’t know and they tell you the most intimate things about themselves, in a way where they want to share with you, they feel they know you. And you go, thank you. This is the only job, I think, where that happens. It happens to you, I’m sure you meet people and they go ‘I just have to tell you this thing’ and you hear these amazing things, sometimes it is what your songs, your work have done for people. It’s just stuff they tell you. I wouldn’t want to give that up.

As a massive fan of the band there’s a lot of things I’m curious about. I’m sure everyone in Ireland has an opinion on U2 and stuff like that. Can you tell me how the money has changed you? Is it a tension in your life?

Adam: I think it’s always a question when you experience success on that level, financial success and career success, an adjustment has to take place. I’m not sure if we’ve always dealt with it as well as we can. It’s allowed us to live amazing lives. It’s allowed us to experience amazing things. We’ve been very lucky because we’ve been able to do great things with it. One of the things we’re most proud of as a band is the Music Generation initiative that the Irish government and ourselves have been able to achieve in Ireland. There are those things where just occasionally where you can make a difference.

Tell me about those? About that?

We met this amazing woman called Rosemary Malloy, and she told us there was very little funding or money for people in school. We had to start small because it was based on how much money you could put into it it. Gradually we got two or three counties, and it’s been rolled out for kids across the country. It’s stuff like that where you see children from all around the country that didn’t have access to music tuition, expressing themselves through music, having access to music. In some ways more than anything else that’s the proudest achievement for the band.


Adam: Absolutely.

In terms of creation of new work. To what lengths do you have to go to as artists to find the place where original new music comes from? For example, The Unforgettable Fire is such an important album, at that time U2 were taking chances, there was something very strange going on with that album that seemed to work, it was incoherently coherent or something. It spoke of spirit. I’m so curious about how you access that creativity. What you have to do? And are you prepared to pay the price each time to do it?

Adam: I think so. I think it’s not worth it if you don’t do that. In some ways for me, each record is a progress report, of how far you’ve come in your life, how you are doing. Music is a mystical thing. You can’t dial it in. You have to connect with it. Sometimes a song like “One” — if you were a musicologist and examined why that worked — you’d say it didn’t have the right structure, but it had something, it had that thing that you mentioned. The songs of The Unforgettable Fire, one of my favorite records, they have something, there’s an inarticulateness to it that allows the spirit to soar. We are part intellect, part spirit, part physical. And music seems to water the spiritual part of us.

Is there a sense that you put yourselves under an awful lot of pressure to be successful. To be relevant. And that sometimes, that desire for commercial success can put too much pressure on the adventure. Trying to be successful is a very different venture than trying to explore.

Adam: Yeah, we’re not part of a knitting circle. You’re trying to work in an area where being successful is one aspect of it. You want people to be interested. You want to be relevant. You want to have some kind of a cultural connection. Now U2, we’ve been through various different cycles. I don’t know what the next cycle will be. Maybe being successful or commercial in that sense is going to be less important to us. Art and commerce, there’s always a little bit of a rub, and I think we’ve come through it pretty well actually. When we put out songs like “With or Without You” they were, at the time, not obvious songs the radio was going to play. We try to walk that line of connecting, but also things that are fresh to your ear. And that is part of the challenge. It’s the difference between fine art and commercial art I guess.

It’s wonderful to hear you speak that’s not often…

Adam: It’s great to be here on my own.

I’m getting a very strong sense of Leonard Cohen off of you…

Adam: That’ll be the hair. You think I’m taller.

Just a sense of calm, of gentleness, and manners.

Adam: I wasn’t always like that. I was a brat. I couldn’t wait to get out of school, quick enough. I think you and I have similar experiences there, we were in boarding schools, I hated it. And the world was too small for me. I wanted to get going. I was incredibly lucky. I left this somewhat removed boarding school, I met these three amazing guys in Mount Temple Comprehensive. My first term there I thought, I’m going to get beaten up, I’m the guy arriving in the middle of year, I come from Malahide, I have a posh accent, they are going to hate me. I thought, I’m just going to try to get on with everybody, make myself stand out a little bit. I didn’t get beaten up too much. I met these three guys, they were interested in forming a band. Turns out one of them is a great singer, one of them is a great guitar player, one of them is a great drummer. So we took on the world.

Back in 1976 in Dublin, if anyone can remember, it was a dark grim city. The pirate radio was just starting to make it seem interesting. It was the three day week, it was the petrol crisis. There wasn’t a lot going on for you if you were 17 or 18. We threw ourselves into the band. Because I didn’t have any academic ability, I became the manager, briefly, briefly…we found Paul McGuinness, and he became the real manager. We just worked really hard. We worked really hard at what we believed in, which was that music could be our thing, that we could connect with people. We looked about going to the UK, but we didn’t really fit in there. It was all a bit grim and indie. We thought no, we’d go to America. We sort of leap-frogged and we focused on America, we found Americans were quite nice people, and they had this great music tradition, and they liked Irish people. And we said, ok, we’ll spend some time here. It grew from that.

The rest of the interview deals with Adam’s issues with addiction, and is a very open and honest conversation about the subject. If you get a chance we suggest you take an opportunity to watch the broadcast which will eventually show up on the RTÉ Player for viewing. Many thanks to Lisa for the above, we certainly thank you for the time spent on this.

More information about the interview can be found in today’s press at the links below:

A small clip from the show is also embedded below:

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