When Brooklyn-based Mac Premo and U2 guitarist The Edge collaborated on the band’s music video for “Ordinary Love”, not only did it spawn the proliferation of the lyric video, but also a beautiful bromance was born.
MAC PREMO: Yo, man! First and foremost, you’ve inspired me tremendously, for a very long time. I’m excited to talk to you about creative process.
THE EDGE: Me too, Mac. There’s a thing that you recognize in a fellow traveler pretty quickly, and I saw it in you when I visited your studio in Brooklyn. I left on a high. I thought, “Oh, wow.” I just wanted to hang there and make work and do stuff.
MP: That’s so fantastic to hear. A weird little wood shop and animation studio in the corner of Brooklyn isn’t always necessarily inspiring. What inspires you?
TE: I’ve thought a lot about it. I do rely on inspiration, yet inspiration is not particularly reliable. You look for ways to trick yourself into that creative place with a disregard for the end result—where you are enjoying what you’re doing and not judging anything. You’re allowing yourself to go all the way.
MP: How do you create a distinctive thread through to the work you do? How do you create something that’s yours, yet at the same time remain innovative?
TE: I find myself really looking for new horizons and frontiers. Along the way, I bump into something innovative that I’ve never done before. It’s being alive to the possibilities and being confident enough, I sup- pose, to fail. That’s the thing. As Sam Beckett said, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” There’s true hero- ism in failure if you’re an artist, because risking failure is the only way to achieve innovation. If you know where you’re going before setting out on the journey, then you’ll end up someplace dull.
MP: As you know, I use a lot of type in my work, and I made a couple pieces with the word failure in them—but misspelled it: failure. The power of failure is one of those things. . . I’ve always felt a duty to put myself in a position where I could fail, if I’m going to take this seriously and actually be an artist.
TE: I saw your recent films, and I love the films on the squeeze bulb and smash bulb sculptures.
MP: The funny thing with those is that I made those sculptures, then I made the films of them, and then I was like, “Okay, that’s fine, but it’s still not working.” I wasn’t getting the idea behind them out of me enough, so I ended up writing and performing that one-man play called The Luckiest Arab in Belfast. With those sculptures I kept alluding to stories. At a certain point I was like, “I have to stop alluding, and I have to just fucking tell the stories.” Also, going back to failure, the concept of writing and performing a one-man play totally terrified me. I was like, “Oh, my God, now I have to do this.” It’s like being dared by yourself.
TE: I love it. It was such a great idea. I’m interested in how your work spans so many different disciplines. You seamlessly flow from film- making to animation, and from installation to performance. Artists take a huge risk when they possess the audacity to walk outside of their particular area of expertise. Have you always worked across different disciplines?
MP: If I want to make a shelf, the best medium is probably going to be wood. If I want to make a delicious dinner, the best medium is going to be steak. I feel like there isn’t any difference between any of the disciplines that I embark upon, because at the core, it’s always the idea. The idea is king.
TE: I think I share some of that spirit. My creative instinct brings me into some very unusual places. Within our band—Bono and myself particularly—we call it the tyranny of the good idea.
MP: The tyranny of the good idea; that’s brilliant.
TE: A good idea is relentless; it will haunt you, penetrate you, and rob you of your sleep, your health, and your happiness. A really good idea can ruin your life.
MP: Your experimentation is one thing that massively describes you. What’s your relationship with your tools? TE I’m not a person who falls in love with an instrument. I fall in love with a sound. The instrument is simply the mechanism to create that sound. The guitars I use, and the effects from the amps I use, are not complicated in the sense that I don’t chain together a huge number of different effects units. In most cases, there’s one effects unit—one guitar, one amp.
MP: On the subject of guitars, I’m dying to ask you about something. You donated a ’75 Les Paul, a stunningly beautiful guitar, to Music Rising, a charity that buys musical instruments for people who had lost them in Katrina.
TE: That’s right, yes.
MP: You raised nearly three hundred thousand dollars. That’s an incredible amount of money. A year later, you received the exact same guitar in the mail. You didn’t understand why it was returned. Then you realized that the guitar had all new amps and pickups. Someone had made a precise replica, right down to the belt buckle scratches on the back of the guitar and the faded stickers.
TE: I was blown away. The guys from the Gibson custom shop made me a clone of the ’75 Les Paul that I had donated to the Music Rising auction. The funny thing is although it looks identical and has all the same components it doesn’t sound the same. It sounds great, but not the same.
MP: That’s why I’m so fascinated with objects, because objects are historical. When you find a piece of wood, you can’t avoid seeing its history—the scratches and the worn edges. I find the scratches and worn edges to be beautiful, egalitarian markers of history.
TE: I’m with you. My amp has had a great deal of components replaced over the years. Remember the story of George Washington’s axe? A guy says, “This is Washington’s axe.” The person he’s showing it to says, “Really? The original?” The guy replies, “Well, we had to change the handle three or four times, and the blade has been replaced many times, but it’s Washington’s axe.” My Vox is that way. I don’t really quite know, after 35 years, if it sounds the same, but it certainly sounds the way I expect it to sound.