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Stealing Hearts at a Cleveland Show

U2 fans learn the stories behind the scenes from U2's design team

@U2, June 17, 2003

Matt McGee

U2 are back in the studio this week, and will spend part of the week sharing the fruits of their recording sessions with the design team at Four5One. The goal: Developing the artwork to fit the songs that will appear on U2's next studio album.

That piece of news was one of many shared this past Saturday evening by Four5One designers Steve Averill and Shaughn McGrath at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio. Four5One is the design studio which has developed artwork and imagery for all but one of U2's albums (Rattle and Hum being the exception) since the band started in the late 1970s.

Averill and McGrath both informed and entertained the audience with stories behind the projects they've done since U2 was first starting out as a young band. They told the story of U2's first look at the proposed cover for the Pop album, and how Bono and Edge both wanted their colors changed. But Larry, McGrath said, was particularly demanding that he not appear in pink on the album sleeve. "Sleeve or no sleeve," McGrath remembers Larry saying, "there's no f---ing way I'm going to be pink." Laughs also followed the story of The Joshua Tree photo shoot on a very cold December morning in the California desert. Bono insisted, Averill said, that the band pose in T-shirts "this cover's gonna come out in the summer, it's gotta look like it's really warm!" There were more laughs later when Averill and McGrath recounted the discussion about using a heart-shaped logo as a prime image for the Elevation tour. "No GIRLIE hearts!!!" was Larry's demand, they said. (McGrath later confessed, in the evening's most touching moment, that he drew the scribbled Elevation heart in a moment of inspiration after the birth of his first children, twins.)

Certainly the biggest news for U2 fans to come out of the presentation was that as far back as 3-4 months ago the band had shared 8-9 new songs with the Four5One team to help get the designers thinking about directions and ideas for the imagery. (The process, Averill and McGrath revealed, usually involves meetings of six people -- themselves and the four band members -- with U2 manager Paul McGuinness taking part in design meetings only occasionally.) On learning that Averill and McGrath have already heard so many new songs, the crowd shouted "Sing them!" -- a request that the designers promptly and politely declined. McGrath did echo some recent quotes from Bono in the press, saying that the sound is very raw and guitar-oriented, and adding that it sounds like U2 feels "it's time to have revenge on the Strokes and the Hives."

The 90-minute presentation, titled An Evening With Four5One, included a project-by-project walk-through of much of Four5One's work for U2. It expanded on both the public display now seen inside the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum's U2 exhibit, as well as the new book introduced in conjunction with the event, Stealing Hearts at a Travelling Show: The Graphic Design of U2 by Four5One Creative.

U2 fans were treated to a number of inside stories and information about past projects, including:

  • in the lower left corner of the inner photo of The Joshua Tree -- the photo of the four band members with the tree in the background -- you can see a mirror that the band had been using to check their appearance during the shoot.
  • The Unforgettable Fire cover image drew inspiration from a photo of the same castle which appeared on the cover of a book titled In Ruins: The Once Great Houses of Ireland.
  • it took some 25 manual edits to get the cover photo of Under a Blood Red Sky to have a red sky, instead of blue. Averill said a change like that would now take no more than ten minutes thanks to computer technology.
  • the "Achtung Baby" which appears on the Achtung Baby CD was hand-painted on the famous Windmill Lane wall by Dublin artist Charlie Whisker.
  • proof of the lateness of the Pop album can be seen in the amount of tour imagery that's used on the album, including the yellow arch on the back cover; tour ideas are typically developed long after album artwork has wrapped up.
  • early photos for the War album cover had the boy (Peter Rowen) against a white backdrop, but Averill wanted to add depth, and did so by holding up a large piece of corrugated metal behind Peter.
  • no one had noticed that Rowen has a cut on his lip in the War cover shot. "He's doing a surrender pose, but in fact his eyes are terribly defiant," McGrath said.
  • The Joshua Tree was originally titled "The Two Americas," but the title change happened during the photo shoot when Anton discussed taking pictures of Joshua trees and Bono opened his Bible to learn more about the tree's religious meaning.
  • they had two separate images for the Elevation Tour, the heart and the suitcase, and it was Gavin Friday's idea to place the heart inside the suitcase to make a single icon.
More than 160 U2 fans were on hand for the presentation in the museum's 4th floor theater, and they gave Averill and McGrath a standing ovation after the event concluded with a question-and-answer session. The presentation capped a full day of events at the U2 Fan Celebration, co-presented by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and atu2.com.

Four5One's book, Stealing Hearts at a Travelling Show: The Graphic Design of U2 by Four5One Creative, is on sale now in the music store at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, or can be ordered online through Four5One's web site,
www.four5one.ie.

(Special thanks to Dan Eliot and Angela Pancella for assistance with this story.)


@U2, 2003.

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