A quick bit of background for those not in the know: In August of 1991, SST Records released an overpriced single by Negativland called U2, featuring snippets of U2 recordings, shocking outtakes of Casey Kasem's American Top 40, and a mangled version of U2's song "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." Shortly after the release, Island Records filed suit against Negativland and SST over copyright infringement and deceptive packaging (the cover featured the letter 'U' and the numeral '2' in huge type). An out-of-court settlement was reached, but Island demanded repayment for its legal expenses.
The interview below was manually transcribed from Negativland's book The Letter U and the Numeral 2 (published in August-September 1992, uncopyrighted).
In June of 1992 U2's publicist in L.A. contacted Mondo 2000 magazine on behalf of the group's guitarist, The Edge, with the idea of doing a rare interview concerning the group's Zoo TV tour and its use of technology. Mondo editor R. U. Serius then, without The Edge's knowledge, contacted his friends Don Joyce and Mark Hosler of Negativland with an invitation to participate in the interview. On June 25th Negativland joined R. U. Serius to await the following call from The Edge in Dublin.
R. U. Serius: So you had some stuff you wanted to talk about?
The Edge: Well, I just like the magazine. I've seen a few issues. And it's just so boring, the usual magazine kind of angles, so well-trodden. I just thought you might have an interesting angle on what we're doing which would be a little bit more imaginative.
Mark: I got the idea from talking with R. U. Serius that you were interested in talking about the impact technology is having on people and cultures.
E: Our position is a very unique one. We are a very big band. We have access, technology, access to the airwaves, be they TV, radio, or whatever. We're a little more relaxed at this point in time about being a big band, because we've turned it into a part of the creative process. We're actually using our position in a way that gives us a certain amount of amusement. It's turned it into part of what we do. A few years ago we were almost uncomfortable with the idea of being a big band. It seemed like maybe coming from where we did and being interested in the things we were interested in, it seemed like a bit of an anomaly, a bit of a contradiction.
M: Was it like you were trying to reconcile what you were trying to do when you started and what music was to you then, and then look what it's turned into?
E: It was so different. When we started out we were very influenced--this was '76--the whole punk thing of start again, wipe the slate clean, and vitality was where it was at. No one was really thinking very much. It was really about making the statement now.
M: If you look at the equivalent, you're the next big thing that a bunch of kids could say, "Let's tear that down."
E: Sure, yeah, I think that's part of the whole regenerative thing of rock and roll and I think that's really important. We were that then, and now we're in a position where we are big, and we want to do something with this position that's interesting, and that's imaginative, and I suppose that's the right amount irreverent, and we're not taking our position seriously in that sense. We're actually in a way being kind of subversive, and just manipulating it. The whole Zoo TV thing, the access that being where we are gives us, has given us a lot of enjoyment. We're playing around ... we've got TV specials coming up which are really hilarious. We did this satellite link-up with MTV where we beamed our show into somebody's front room. The possibilities are only beginning to present themselves.
M: I think what you're saying sounds great. If you get to a position where you've got the power, the money to do something, and you still maintain this idea of exploring and doing something interesting and fun, that's really great. But it seems like when you get to be a certain size--you're an international cult phenomenon--and it seems like a lot of what you're doing, when you look at it and analyze it, might be pretty subversive ... but it ends up being lost on a huge number of the people who are following what you're doing. They're more following it as a surface thing: What's the new Top 40 hit from U2? I don't know if that's something you just realize, and it's part of what it is...
E: Yeah. We're not shy about being big anymore. I think rock and roll should be big. It's about mass communication. The idea that it's kind of a cult thing and that it's underground is all very well, but it's shame if that's all it ever is ... that the majority of the airwaves are dominated by music that's purely commercially motivated and does not go beyond that, but is essentially one-dimensional. We're in a position where we can do some more wild things and I would think it would be a shame if we just accepted the standards and the way that most bands go about their business, and didn't use this position in a different way.
M: I wanted to ask you something more about the Zoo TV tour. One thing that wasn't really clear to me--you have a satellite dish so that you can take stuff down live off of various TV transmissions around the world?
E: Yeah, essentially the system is, like we've got the big screens on the stage which are the final image that's created. Down by the mixing board we've got a vision mixer which mixes in, blends the images from live cameras, from optical disks, and from live satellite transmissions that are taken in from a dish outside the venue. So the combination of images can be any of those sources. We've also incorporated telecommunications We've got a telephone onstage that Bono occasionally makes calls from the stage and occasionally calling the White House or ordering pizza or whatever ... um, phone sex...
Don: So you can kind of sample whatever's out there on the airwaves...
E: Yeah, it's kind of like information central.
M: One thing I'm curious about--there's been more and more controversy over copyright issues and sampling, and I thought that one thing you're doing in the Zoo TV tour is that you were taking these TV broadcasts--copyrighted material that you are then re-broadcasting right there in the venue where people paid for a ticket--and I wondered what you thought about that.
D: And whether you had any problem, whether it ever came up that that was illegal.
E: No, I mean, I asked the question early on--is this going to be a problem?, and apparently it, I don't think there is a problem. I mean, in theory I don't have a problem with sampling. I suppose when a sample becomes just part of another work then it's no problem. If sampling is, you know, stealing an idea and replaying the same idea, changing it very slightly, that's different. We're using the visual and images in a completely different context. If it's a live broadcast, it's like a few seconds at the most. I don't think, in spirit, there's any...
D: So you would say that a fragmentary approach is the way to go.
E: Yeah. You know, like in music terms, we've sampled things, people sample us all the time, you know, I hear the odd U2 drum loop in a dance record or whatever. You know, I don't have any problem with that.
D: Well, this is interesting, because we've been involved in a similar situation along these lines...
RUS: In fact, maybe it's time for me to interject here. The folks that you've been talking to, Don and Mark, aside from being occasional contributors to MONDO 2000, are members of a band called Negativland.
RUS: And I figured--I know they've been sued by your record label, but they hadn't been sued by you. So I thought we could engage in a conversation. And I know you might feel like we're out to surprise you or sabotage you, but just to engage in...
D: But anyway, we were sued by Island for a very fragmentary sample of one of your records.
M: We ended up sending some packages of stuff along to you and some letters, and I don't know what kind of communications you personally ever got about it.
E: Yeah, well from what I can remember, I can't remember the exact sequence of events, but as it was presented to us, you know, "Here's the record, here's the album sleeve, Island are already on the case here, and they've objected because they feel it's, because of the artwork, this is at a time when a lot of people are expecting a new U2 record," and they felt that, from their own point of view, in a pure business sense, nothing about art, I just think they felt there was a chance that people would pick up the record in a record shop and think, "Oh, this is the new U2 album."
M: But that actually was ... I mean, in the context U2 is in, you have an idea of doing something that's subversive, and we're scurrying around way down low in the underground of music, and we're doing things that we also think are somewhat subversive ... but the thing that we did was--You know, the lawsuit from Island dealt with this as if it was a consumer fraud that was intended to rip off innocent U2 fans, and that we were somehow gonna make millions of dollars by selling these records. And of course it didn't acknowledge that there was any--they may not like the artistic intent of the record, you know, you and your band might be offended by what we did, but no one ever in any way acknowledged that the record was anything else. And yet, actually, when you look at the cover and you listen to the record, look at the whole package, there's a U-2 spyplane on the cover and stuff--it's pretty obvious that this is actually an artistic statement ... again, you may not like it, but it's a statement about something.
E: I wasn't, I didn't have any problem with it. I think Casey Kasem could have. I mean the problem really was by the time it really, by the time we realized what was going on it was kinda too late, and we actually did approach the record company on your behalf and said, "Look, c'mon, this is just, this is very heavy..."
D: Oh, what did they say?
E: But at that point, on the point of principle, their attitude was, "Well, look, OK, we're not gonna look for damages but we, we're not about to swallow our own legal costs." The way it ended up, they were looking for costs, not damages.
M: Right, but what happened, we didn't get a phone call from Island saying, "Look, we're pissed. We don't like what you did. Our band has a new album coming out and you better pull this thing or we're going to smash you." They didn't give us any chance to do anything. The first thing we heard was, ten days after the record was out, there's a 180-page lawsuit.
M: So it was like there was no negotiation and they went ahead and were spending, you know, they've got 400-dollar-an-hour lawyers.
D: See, you're quite right about their main concern being the cover rather than the content, we always felt that and I think that was obvious from their lawsuit, the way it was worded, but they never came to us in the first place and simply said: "Change the cover."
D: And instead they just smashed the whole thing including the content...
E: Yeah, really. I think we would have reacted in a different way, but the lawsuit was not our lawsuit. Although we have some influence, we weren't in a position to tell Island Records what to do.
M: Well, that's one thing we were always wondering: Is that really true? Or: OK, if U2 sells 14 million copies of an album for a label, and you're the main thing that keeps Island Records in business economically, then don't the artists? ... You could see how we would think that you would certainly have the leverage to...
D: Yeah, why can't the artist have more influence over the label, do you know?
E: What may have happened is that theirs was a knee-jerk reaction at a moment when they were expecting the album to be delivered, and they were probably, maybe after the event, they were way down the road before they really took a proper look at what it was, but I think they felt...
D: You know, we've had contact with Island throughout this, trying to get them to adjust their position or pull back or not go any further, and actually they did keep on this right up to the point of...
M: Yeah, one of the things we tried to make clear actually to--we sent some faxes to [Island V.P.] Eric Levine and [Island President] Chris Blackwell and [U2 Manager] Paul McGuinness--we said: Look, ya know, it's one thing, we could have canned the cover, that's one thing, or we could have even stopped making the record and Negativland would have paid SST for the costs of destroying the copies that are still in the warehouse, but then what happened, of course, is they went after not only all these records, but they kept using the lawyers, and then they went after the money. We made it very clear to Island and to Paul McGuinness that our label was going to turn around and come after all that money out of us, that in the end Negativland would pay for absolutely every cent of it, and SST says it's $90,000. You know, you may spend $90,000 on ordering pizza at a show for your fans, but for us...
E: Ha ha ha ha....
M: We haven't made that much money in 12 years as a band, right? So there's a difference between just sort of putting a stop to something, or a smashing attack with a sledge hammer.
E: I know...
M: And that's the thing we were trying to communicate.
E: Well, listen, when we heard this idea that you and SST had fallen out, and that this was no longer record company to record company, that it was like you were losing money, so we actually discussed the message that you wanted the records given back to you, I mean I was up for that, but then I heard that Casey Kasem was not, that he actually wanted to stop it ... so it's all become a big mess.
M: The things that was interesting about Casey was that Casey in public was questioned about our single and he said, "Well, I don't like what they did, it's embarrassing to me, but I'm for free speech..."
M: "...I'm against censorship, I'm for the First Amendment, and I think people should be able to do what they want," and then privately he said: No, I'll sue your ass if you try to put it out.
E: Ha ha ha ha...
M: So the thing that's been interesting to us in this whole thing is that we were working for a record label that was very much outside the mainstream music industry, so we're dealing with SST, with U2, with Casey Kasem, all people who--we're really looking at what people's public persona is versus private, and we've been of course always wanting to somehow have some contact with U2 to find out what really happened.
E: You know, you should have tried to make contact first...
D: But we can't get to you!...
M: That's the thing. You are insulated behind so many layers of management and publicity firms, and SST actually did, they told us they contacted Warner/Chappell Publishing anonymously before the record came out about possibly even sampling clearance rights and they were told, "No, U2 simply never grants that..."
E: Ah, that's complete bollocks, there's like, there's at least six records out there that are direct samples from our stuff.
D: But they may not have been granted by Island.
E: Well, they must have been, because some of the records ... There's a thing called New Year's Day which is a dance group, basically around the New Year's Day bass part and drum part so that's not just a sample ... [i.e. the producers must have had access to the multitrack master tape to get these parts separately]
M: The other feeling we had, which we were kinda talking about earlier with the Zoo TV tour, was we said: Look, a long time ago when artists were--artists are always reacting to their environment, right? You're always doing something that's reacting to the world you're in, so what are the tools or the technology you had a few hundred years ago to do that? Well, maybe you had a paintbrush, you had a piano, a lute. You could interpret things that way, and the way we see it now, and it sounds like perhaps you agree, is that now the technology is simply different and now it happens that instead of just making a painting of something I can take a photograph, a video, I can make a xerox, I can make a sample...
D: It's capturing...
M: ...And you can capture it, and our environment is--and it's something you're suggesting in the Zoo TV tour too--the environment is this media-saturated thing that we live in.
M: And to us it was like, on the one hand I know that U2 is a bunch of guys just trying to make some music, but at another level, U2 is part of the media environment we live in, you know, I hear the songs playing in the shopping mall in the background when I'm shopping, whether I want to or not.
M: And so for us to ask permission to do something that's in response to the environment we're in, which is something McGuinness said to us very early on: "Oh, you should have asked us"--and we sort of felt from a business standpoint, that's one way--but from an artistic standpoint, we felt that No, we don't need to. This is just the world that we're in.
D: See, your response to sampling is the absolutely correct one, I think, which is: If it's fragmentary it's OK, no one should really worry about fragmentary appropriation of anything.
D: You know, the public domain is actually, literally the public domain and if it's in it, let's use it. And we're against bootlegging entire works completely--that is ripping people off--but the idea that all this stuff is out there surrounding us, and we're swimming in it, the idea that it could become part of your own work is perfectly appropriate and, in fact, necessary as a kind of self-defense against the coercion that media has become ... and yet the business end of it, your label and every other label, has an archaic view of this, based on their own ownership of all that culture.
D: And so part of what we're about now, especially since our own lawsuit, is to bring all this out in some way, even to the point of changing the copyright laws, which is what I'm onto right now--I would really like to relook at the copyright laws in this country and the way that you can't even sample two seconds of something because it's owned. I think it's totally wrong, and has to be changed in this age of new technologies that are basically about capturing things.
E: Yeah, well, technology has really paved the way for this. We're in a new era. The technology is the means to create in music...
D: But the laws have not caught up with that at all.
E: Absolutely, yes. I mean ultimately it does no one any good if creativity is stopped because record companies are losing money. I suppose the fine line is between where a sample or using somebody else's work is pure theft and plagiarism, and where it becomes a legitimate new thing, and that I suppose is where whatever new legislation, that's where it's really going to be difficult to be clear.
D: I think it's going to be akin to deciding whether something is pornographic or not, it's going to be the same kind of tricky definitions there, but I've come to the conclusion that, actually, I would make the defining guideline in the law be whether or not it's, in effect, a bootleg of a complete, self-contained performance, or whether it's a fragment, any part. I would just say using any part, but not the whole, is OK. Now of course you'll get to the point where someone would try to exploit that definition and use all but the last ten seconds of a song, but that's a case for the judge to say "No, you're really just pushing it there and that's wrong." Like pornography, they can make a decision about that. But to me, I'd like the law to say that any fragmentary use of another person's work is free--absolutely free, and they don't have to pay royalties, and they don't have to pay rights, and they don't have to get permission. They can just use it because it's there.
E: Yeah, I'd be up for that.
D: And that would just be part of working in the public domain. If you're going to be a public person and put things out, you can make all the money you can off your own work, but you don't control it to the extent that no one else can make any use of it. That's what I would do.
E: Yeah, I mean, I know of dance records, you know, I've heard them in clubs and on cassette, that can never be released because the bills that would have to be paid...
D: That's true with us, too.
M: We've been doing stuff using bits of, not so much music really at all--actually the U2 thing is actually one of the only times we've really used a lot of someone else's music and then it was only because it was part of the concept--but we've always used lots and lots of voices from radio and television and stuff found in used record stores, and we realize the way that we work--I mean, on our records we literally have hundreds of different little bits of voices all put together--and how could we take the time, or ever have the money, or the ability to find out where they're all from, and pay everybody? And what's happening lately with all these lawsuits, now I guess all the labels are becoming even more scared about sampling infringement. It's like they're totally clamping down on a whole way of working with sound.
D: They're all caving in, absolutely caving in. Anytime a lawsuit comes up, the label apologizes and capitulates and says, "We're sorry," and no one is fighting the law, saying the law itself is unreasonable.
E: Yeah, well, I don't know what to say really, I mean I'm only interested in the spirit of what it is, not the legality.
D: Here's the thing, though: you are hooked up with the legality. You are in partnership with someone who's taken an opposite point of view, and I'm wondering: What the hell can you do with your influence and your power as a group to effect some changes? Because this has destroyed us as a band, we're now absolutely with no label, and with no money, and with no opportunity to put out anything else.
M: One thing that's happened is that our label is turning around and is taking the royalties from every record we've ever done, so we're not making anything. The last six or seven years of work is down the drain. There's no money, there's nothing. And now they're going to sue us. And of course Island isn't responsible for what SST Records decides to do, but we did make it clear all along in letters to Levine and Blackwell that, look, these are the repercussions of what's happening, and do you want to be in that position with what you're doing? Because you're not just stopping a record, you're actually economically destroying a band.
D: And the really stupid thing is, it was done about the cover but they succeeded in crushing the art--and they didn't seem to know the difference or care about the difference.
E: Yeah. What interests me then is whose responsibility is the cover. I mean you provide the music, but...
D: We did the cover. We designed the cover and it's true, we were very naive, and we were trying to actually make it look like a U2 cover to an extent. They're absolutely right on that count. It is a deceptive practice, no doubt about it, and we wouldn't have argued that. We would have changed the cover if they'd asked us to, but they never did. They never even asked about that. They just had this sledgehammer approach which is based on being so big and so rich that no one can fight them. And that's exactly what they did. They threatened to go to court, we couldn't afford to go to court, so actually, it's just a question of money winning. Not points, no principles, it's just that they had more money to waste than we did, so they could win. That's what they did. That's what really bothers me about this. The whole issue of the content, and the integrity of the art, and the integrity of the idea that free speech is part of art, and that no matter how offensive, it should be able to be out there--none of that was able to even be brought up because they didn't like the cover, so they squashed the whole thing, as if it was all the same, just a matter of money.
E: Yeah, well, you're dealing there with a company. That is their thing, it is about business. As it happens, Chris Blackwell is a great supporter of young bands and he generally would be on your wavelength. So, I mean, I can't speak for Chris because, although I read his letters, I didn't speak to him personally about this. But I got the impression that it was difficult to understand quite why he jumped the way he did.
D: I don't either, and I got the impression that even after we had explained some of this to him it didn't make any difference. They were committed, the wheels were rolling, the paperwork's been done...
M: I had the feeling that it was like some executive made the decision and once it was decided, that executive couldn't lose face by turning around and saying "Oh, I guess I made a wrong decision."
D: A typical bureaucratic mish-mush there, but that's ... Here's my point: Artists hook up with these people, in my mind unfortunately, and so: How do you correlate your attitude, which is about the spiritual imperatives of music, with the company's attitude which says, "Oh yeah, that's fine," and then actually...
E: Hi, we got cut off there.
D: Thanks for calling back.
M: All right, good points for you!
D: Oh, so I was making the point about the artist and the company, and how they're inevitably linked up in the way that the business is set up ... and yet their motives and their priorities are completely opposite, and how do you reconcile that? Do you just say "Well, we really can't control that," or why the heck can't we say, you know, "I'm going to try to control that, I'm going to try to get in there and have some influence and change that attitude and have some effect"?
E: Uh, this has never come up. Obviously there's a conflict there, but in the way that you set up your dealings with the record company, you protect what you think is important and you leave them to take care of the aspects of their business that they need to be in control of.
D: Yeah, but you see what happened now?
E: You protect yourself in your, what you're trying to do, but, you know, we've never, until now, felt like we have to also be in control of situations that didn't involve us. It's never come up before.
M: One thing is that the sheer size of your group and the scale at which you're working means that just to be able to function from day to day you've gotta have a lot of different people working for you, and I assume that Paul McGuinness is a big part of filtering things out and communicating what he thinks you need to know and keeping out what he thinks you don't.
E: There's a bit of that, um...
D: Edge, I think there's a lot of that.
M: It seems like, yeah, there could be more layers around than you realize when you're in the middle of it. From our perspective, trying to get through to you...
D: It can't be done.
M: Yeah, it was made out to be--Blackwell and McGuinness were acting as if this was a simple thing, you know...
E: Well, to be fair to ourselves, we do spend hours and hours dealing with requests and connections that have been made. So we do see most of the things that come into the office.
M: Well, that's good.
E: I think if you had made a direct approach I'm sure we would've, it would've come to our attention. I know something like Negativland, it would've needed to have been pitched in some way for us, or for any of our people to fully understand what was going on.
D: Edge, what if you went to Island and you said: "From now on, I want you to let anybody sample our work who wants it, for nothing." What do you think they would say?
E: Well, I'm not sure we can make a judgement like that...
D: It's your music...
E: The deal that we have is that we sell or we rent the use of the copyrights to somebody else. That's the whole idea of having publishing and record deals. They have the right to exploit our work.
D: But you sign a contract to do that. What if in the next contract it said you're going to allow sampling?
E: OK, maybe in the next contract...
M: But right now what that means, Don, is it means that they not only have the right to exploit it, but that gives them the right to protect it...
E: They would see it in very simple terms as they're just protecting their own property.
D: Yes, I know, and yet it ... We aren't the only ones, it's happening all over, all these sampling lawsuits have essentially the same effect. They crush an entire work for some two- or three- or ten-second thing that's within it, and so the whole thing goes down because of this...
E: Again, I'm not sure, I don't imagine Island was upset about the sampling aspect.
D: Well, they said they were.
M: But the thing you do in a lawsuit, you throw in everything you can think of. They even accused us of defamation of character by associating this foul language with the clean-cut image of the group U2!
E: Ha ha ha hee hee ha.
M: They did!
M: Actually, if you ever read the original lawsuit, it's actually quite funny.
E: Yeah, I mean lawyers are a completely different breed, aren't they?
D: Yes, but they're running the show! Those lawyers are running these record companies...
M: Have you ever heard of the book called Hit Men by Frederic Dannen?
E: Yes, I actually have a copy but I haven't read it yet.
D: Read it.
M: You should. I've always basically known that the music industry was fairly corrupt, but this book is terrifying...
D: The artist is a victim in the music business.
M: Cannon fodder.
D: He's the last guy to know and the last guy to have any recourse. These business people have it all their own way.
D: It's always been that way and it hasn't gotten any better.
E: The funny thing is, though, and this is what's kind of ironic and annoying about this situation, is that Chris Blackwell is kind of, has always been the opposite to most major corporate record labels. His style of business is more personal and not at all that kind of ... So that's why the fact that it's Island is so kind of annoying and ironic.
D: Yeah, but you know I've heard this about Chris Blackwell too, but I think even a guy like that is still working under a lot of assumptions about cultural ownership and never even gave it a thought, perhaps like you haven't, that: Hey, this whole concept of the private ownership of culture--there's something wrong here. It's too big to ever really have it occur to you maybe, but it certainly has occurred to us since this has happened. And we're actually on something of a crusade to bring this issue out for public debate, and start talking about: Wait a minute, what are we doing here, and what are the deleterious effects on culture itself by having it all privately owned to this degree where no one can touch anything else? An example is folk music. Folk music is dead. It's impossible now because folk music used to be based on stealing lyrics and music from previous stuff and incorporating it into what you're doing, and a constant evolving of things based on other things.
D: You can't do that today because everything is privately owned. You can't use music lyrics that exist today because they're privately owned, and so the idea, the very essence of folk music per se is impossible now because of this situation.
E: It's a pretty big thing you're taking on there.
E: There's a lot of money involved and I think it's pretty clear that in terms of the creative process, if you're sampling momentarily, if you're just borrowing you know, little sonic things from someone else's piece and you're creating something completely new, I mean it shouldn't really be a question of getting permission, but when you're talking about actual songs and ownership of copyrights and all that, I mean it's, you know, you're getting into a whole different area, and I don't think that that's going to change.
D: Well, I think ownership should extend to the entire work only. In other words, copyright and ownership of a song means that no one else can use that song, or cover that song, without paying the artist--because that's the artist's work, that's the artist's entire work--but, like you say, any fragmentary use, I would totally eliminate any concept of ownership. That's what I would do.
E: You know, we've actually suffered in the past ourselves with this when we got sued for Bono quoting someone else's lyrics in a live album of ours.
E: And, at the time, we were actually quite shocked that the law was so stringent about it, you know, a quotation of one phrase or two phrases was a very big deal and there was a big cash settlement or whatever, so we've been on the other side of this.
D: I know, it's just a natural artist's inclination I think, to just use stuff like that, and it is shocking when you find out that you can't even do that.
E: Yeah. We learned pretty quick though. Maybe I never questioned this kind of thing, is this right, I just said, "Well, this is the situation so we have to live with it."
E: Whether you have a chance of actually changing it, I don't know.
M: Yeah, I don't think we actually have a real chance, but what we are trying to do, in our own very minuscule kind of way, is just get information out.
E: Well, one thing I would say is, really being fair, you guys at Mondo should talk to Island about it, because my understanding of the sequence of events and what happened is a bit cloudy because it all happened quite a while ago,, but also I wasn't really kept informed very much, once every couple of months I would get the latest installment, whenever we got a letter from Negativland asking us to do something, and the benefit concert was I thought quite an insane idea...
M: That was actually our record label's idea, and we thought that was kind of a silly idea. By that time we weren't even working with the label anymore and we thought that our label was doing that mostly as kind of publicity stunt or something.
E: Uh huh.
D: It didn't really make any sense. We were also against the Kill Bono T-shirt.
E: Yeah, I like that, I want one, ha ha.
M: At the time it seemed to us it was SST reacting against U2, but we weren't being sued by U2, we were being sued by Island.
M: But at a certain point, not hearing anything directly from your band, we started thinking, well, where do you draw the line of responsibility here? And of course there's been a million unanswered questions, which you've answered a lot of. I've tried to call Eric Levine and he never returns my calls.
E: But again, the problem is it wasn't U2 that were being affected, it was Island.
D: I don't know whether you know this or not, but there has actually been a lot of press about this situation, the Negativland record and the lawsuit...
E: I know you've really taken a kicking and I'm really sorry about how it's all come out, Island Records hasn't been affected, but we have gotten so much shit in the media about all this, and it's really annoying.
D: That's what I think, and that's why it was really, from your band's perspective, a totally wrong move that the label took.
D: And I'm wondering, well, in the future are you going to take more care about who your label sues in your behalf?
E: That's actually not accurate, they weren't suing you on our behalf. They were suing you on their behalf.
D: No, I'm saying the public perception is that they are suing us on your behalf.
M: The thing that was interesting was, we thought: why wasn't it obvious to somebody at Island Records that the amount of money they're going to make from us is nothing, and that in the end they're only going to--whether U2 is involved or not, it's going to, in the press it's going to end up reflecting badly on the band. And we thought that's so obvious that you'd think they would've just dropped it. But also it felt as if they thought we were so tiny and infinitesimal that no one would even care, we would just sort of drop off the face of the earth once it was over.
E: I don't know, quite, I mean you really have to ask them. I know that they probably reacted quickly and then, maybe on the matter of principle, felt like, "Well, we shouldn't be out of pocket for this. Of course damages may be inappropriate and we'll forget about that, but why should we be out of pocket?" And that's again the lawyer's thing. Once you press that button...
D: Well, I think they should be out of pocket because they made a mistake and they should pay for it.
E: Ha ha ha. I'm sure they wouldn't see it like that ... but again, I can't talk for them, really.
M: I wanted to ask you a question which I feel very strange doing, and we hadn't planned to ask you this at all, but: We used to put out our records ourselves on our own label. We did the whole do-it-yourself thing, and then we were working with this much larger independent label, SST, but we've decided now, looking at everything that's happened and weighting the various-- what we think is going on in the world of music in general, we've decided to go back to our own record label and doing it ourselves.
E: Uh huh.
M: And what we're trying to do now is, we've been trying to find someone who will lend us money to get started, and we've been trying to borrow 15 or 20 thousand dollars. We've figured out on paper with the amount of records we could sell and the distribution we'll get, we could pay people back with 10% interest in about 9 months.
M: So I'm asking you if you'd be interested in lending us some money.
E: Ha ha ha, great! That's the first time I've ever been asked for money during the course of an interview. Ha ha ha.
M: Well, it's not a gift, it's a pure loan and we'll give you your 10%.
E: Yeah, I know, I know what you're saying.
D: And the publicity would be great.
E: Ha ha. I have to say, this is probably the most surreal interview I've ever had in my life.
All: Ha ha ha.
E: Well, listen, I feel sort of put on the spot but, yeah, I'm, I'm interested...
M: We're not trying to put you on the spot at all, and that's why I said I feel funny asking the question...
D: We feel funny doing everything. We're really desperate, that's all.
E: OK, well ... Look, put something on a piece of paper and send it to-- what's the best person to send it to...
M: Yes, please.
E: (Gives address)
M: Well, I'm amazed. We were afraid you would just hang up the phone.
E: Ha ha ha.
M: You've been in amazing good humor about it.
E: Well, it's been good to talk to you and sort of figure out where you're coming from--it's a little hard to tell from the record, quite what your intentions were.
M: Do you want to know what inspired the whole thing, though?
M: It was getting the tape of Casey Kasem. We heard that tape and we thought, this is so amazing, we cannot be the only people to have this. We have to share this with the whole world. It's too great.
E: Ha ha ha.
M: And then he was talking about U2, so we said, "Let's use some music by U2," and the idea grew. That was sort of the seed of the idea and it just grew and grew.
E: Yeah, yeah. Well, it's been really good talking to you, and I'll think about that request.
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Last update: 6 Dec 00