Jumping onto a different platform
Is it easier to tell on playback, I wonder? Has he known in the past when the band is hitting form? “You can never call it,” says Mullen . “It’s happened a couple of times in our career when we haven’t even noticed. The Joshua Tree is a great example. All our stars were aligned and we didn’t know it. There’s a great story about Brian Eno trying to destroy the multi-track for Where the Streets Have No Name because we had spent so long putting it together he wanted to destroy it with a blade. It was a slog. And then it came out and we were, ‘Oh. It worked.’
“Whereas with something like Achtung Baby we knew it was working. When we hit it, when something magical happened, we knew it.”
Still, if there’s one thing we do know about drummers, it’s that they like to stay put. You have to wonder why one-quarter of one of the planet’s multi-gazillion selling acts would fancy a radical career change. Is it madness? Or just masochism?
“There’s a little bit of that to it,” he says. “I think I wanted to beat myself up. I wanted to have a different kind of conversation. I wanted, I think, to get out there and work with people who don’t necessarily have the same goals or opinions as I do. That sounds self-centred. But it’s more to do with having been in a place of success for such a long time and not wanting to take that for granted. The idea of doing something where you could fall flat on your ass is not something that people generally want to do. But I really felt I had to do it.”
He’s not considering early retirement from the plumbing business, is he?
“Oh, I still want to keep the day job but I don’t want to be sitting around for the six months when were not touring or recording when I could go produce a movie in that time. I do need to be able to do something else creative. Physically, my body has taken a beating. Because we’ve toured for all those years, I’ve had problems from head to toe. If a sportsman is using the same set of muscles he’s lucky to get out with no lasting injuries after 10 years. I’ve been doing this for 35 years.”
He’s rather less keen on the idea of being part of an ageing prestige act.
“You can only do this for as long as your music is relevant and for as long as people still want to hear it. What The Rolling Stones do is exceptional because they have an incredible blues legacy. But if we’re touring at 60 I like to think it’ll be because we’ve put out a record that’s good enough to tour. I don’t want to be one of those musicians who, when someone else in the band passes away, I’m one of the three left standing and wondering: “Well, what are we going to do now?”
Man on the Train opens today