Universal - Volbeat's Michael Poulsen discusses the impact guitarist/producer Rob…
- Posted on Apr 19th 2007 6:00PM by Steve Baltin
To raise money for the cause, he hosted the Icons of Music Auction on Saturday, April 21 at New York's Hard Rock Café (and also online at www.juliensauctions.com). Among the rock 'n' roll artifacts up for bidding: John Lennon's sunglasses, Nirvana's MTV Video Music Award and a Jimi Hendrix guitar. Spinner talked to the Edge about his discovery and advocacy of New Orleans' music, U2's upcoming plans and the re-education of Americans about their own rich musical history.
Through Music Rising, you've gotten to work closely with New Orleans musicians. How has that enriched you?
It's given me the opportunity to see firsthand the unbelievable music culture that exists there. We all know Fats Domino, Dr. John, all these famous musicians out of that area, but there's this whole subculture that exists. And it's unique, because it's totally self-sufficient to the extent that the artists who operate there don't really have to get record deals and go off and seek their fortune in other parts of the world as we did. It's all so organic that it's very inspiring to be around, particularly since a lot of the music styles that are indigenous to the area are not things you really ever hear on radio.
What was it like the first time you explored New Orleans?
My first ever introduction to New Orleans was really going out one night with Bono -- I think it would've been early '90s -- and ending up in this little juke joint. We heard a real cut-down version of the Rebirth Brass Band, maybe four or five players. One of them was this little kid playing trombone, who I later found out was known as Trombone Shorty. At that point he was all of 12, 13 years old, and he was kicking! He was unbelievable! And we met up more recently -- he's, like, 22 now, and he's one of the linchpins of the whole scene in New Orleans. He's off touring with Lenny Kravitz, and he's really doing it on an international level. But his music, the stuff he grew up playing, is this very cool funk played mostly with brass instruments, totally unique to that area. It's just not anything you're going to hear anywhere else.
U2 in Pictures
Growing up in Ireland, how familiar were you with the New Orleans music scene and its impact?
I'd heard some bits and pieces, but really not that much. And, to be perfectly honest, it wasn't a musical style or form that I was really that familiar with until I started touring in America. The thing about music down there is it's not really a business; it's really a culture. It's so much a part of their lives, and it's just very inspiring for someone from Dublin, Ireland, who came through punk rock to go down there.
Has the New Orleans sound infiltrated U2's songwriting at a result of your time there?
I'm starting to hear little hints of it coming through. And this is such an early phase for us that it's hard to say definitively, "Yes, it's going to be a very noticeable element within the next songs that we work on." But I have seen it coming through, and I have no doubt that there will be an influence there.
How has songwriting been going for the band?
I'd say really good. Of course, everything is great the day you write it. So it's only when you get back to it a couple of weeks later that you can actually see what is truly great and what is a case of just being too close to it at the time. But I do think a lot of what we're doing is good at the moment, so I'm very excited.
Does it reinvigorate you to be around people who are doing music out of love?
The reason why I first picked up an electric guitar was I felt a connection with it on an instinctive level. I just fell in love with the potential, almost more than what I could do with the instrument. But when you're in this environment where people are just playing for the sake of playing -- pure and simple, no other motive whatsoever -- it just brings you right back to the moment where you first decided you wanted to play guitar. And it kind of reminded me, as I get reminded when I'm at a great show, the reason why I wanted to do this in the first place.
Can you place the importance of this project in perspective?
I think there's some poetry involved in this whole endeavor. Here we have this part of America, which in many ways is forgotten at the moment, but the music that lives and breathes there has given me my life. A lot of the people who've donated to this auction are in the same situation, because rock 'n' roll really started in this part of the world. The atmosphere in New Orleans is very laid back and easygoing, so the African stuff was accepted. There was a place called Congo Square -- you can still go and see it -- where African music was played throughout the whole 18th and into the 19th century. There was no prohibition of African music -- the chanting and drums. There is a line of argument which suggests the jazz funerals were this synthesis of white gospel hymns with the African syncopated rhythm. Certainly that's how we got to ragtime and jazz, but it's really the progenitor of R&B and proto-rock 'n' roll, so I think the fact that all these musicians give an offering to this auction is a massive statement and there's something really right and proper about it.
Do you also see as an aside the possibility that not only will people be aware of the current climate in New Orleans, they'll learn more about the city's history and its profound impact on music?
Definitely. I would say in Europe there's probably a greater appreciation of American music than in America itself. I know specifically there are people in America who know more about it than anyone, but when you see film of shows of particularly old black American artists performing in Europe, they would come and get this hero's welcome in Montreux at the jazz festival at a time when they couldn't hardly get a gig in America. I guess it's not unique to the States. What's the old cliché? The prophet is never recognized in his own home. It would not be a bad thing if people were to, through this, look again at what an incredible treasure there is, because it's so unique and so special and could so easily be lost. We'd be, in another 50 years, reading about the history of American music and the golden age of New Orleans and how it was no longer with us. And I think that would be a tragedy not just for America, but for everybody.
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