U2’s Adam Clayton – Bass sound and technique.
U2 are arguably the biggest band in the world today – formed in 1978 in Dublin they have gone onto sell
countless records – sell out stadiums and endear themselves to their legion of fans. Often renowned for the engaging
nature of their frontman, Bono, or the technical wizardry of their Guitarist “The Edge” – U2 also have one
of the best drum and bass combo’s in rock today with drummer Larry Mullen Jr and Bass player Adam Clayton.
Rather uniquely U2’s rhythm section centers around their guitarist The Edge – through his extensive
use of effects – Clayton and drummer Mullen Jr keep time with Edge’s signature echo ladened guitar sound.
Clayton’s role within the band is to provide a grounding on which the rest of the band can expand on
– in many ways this could be considered restrictive and U2’s bass maestro doesn’t tend to elaborate in the
same way as Flea does with the Red hot chili peppers. What they do achieve however – is an incredible emotional resonance
with their songs.
To understand Adams playing it’s helpful to take a look at his influences – Adams has stated on
a number of occasions that Peter Hook from the Joy Division was an influence on his early playing – Clayton also often
remarks on his love of soul and mentions James Jameson (Motown bassist) as a major influence. U2’s love of punk should
also not be overlooked – this could defiantly be heard in early releases such as the bands CD “October”.
Over the years – Adam has played a variety of basses there have however been some favorites –
in particular he owns a ’72 Fender Precision (with a Fender Jazz neck) that has featured on most albums and tours. Clayton
has also used Fender Jazz Basses and in the studio often reaches for a Gibson Les Recording Paul Bass. There have also been
the odd custom guitar – during the Popmart tour, he was seen with a bright yellow “boomerang” shaped guitar
made by Auerswald. Paying close attention to Clayton during a live show and you’ll notice that he’ll often change
Bass to suit a particular song.
Amplifier wise Clayton is currently using Ashdown heads and cabs – although Clayton tries to steer clear
of to many effects - Joe O'Herlihy (Long time member of the U2 road crew) explained that when touring a line is taken from
Adams rig and fed via a Line 6 Bass Pod – this provides a bit of extra boost when required – however what exemplifies
Adam’s sound is a warmth and clarity (with a bit of top end) that is able to cut through the band mix.
Clayton’s technique varies according to the song that is being performed - On some he’ll goes
for simple support of Edge’s arpeggio approach – for example on the Joshua Tree’s “With or Without
You” the song structure is relatively simple and the bass part opts for a repeating root note progression supporting
the songs chord structure. The repeating nature of this style is often found with U2 tracks, outwardly simple yet –
the way they build in emotional intensity before the fade is difficult to master.
Clayton is also able to stretch out a little as well – a listen to the walking bass line of “Please”
from the Pop album shows a musician with more than a little know how on how to round off a track. Depending on the track Clayton
will play with pick or fingers (notice the classic pick driven tones of “New Years Day”). As U2 have matured –
Clayton’s style has developed – self taught until the 1990’swhen he sought out lessons from Patrick Pfeiffer
(author of Bass Guitar for Dummies and credited on the Pop sleeve notes).
Over the years U2 have innovated (the Passengers album with Brian Eno) have created rock masterpieces (The
Joshua Tree) and with their recent records (including 2005’s How to Deconstruct the Atomic Bomb) have proven that they
still know how to cut it. With an audience like U2’s Clayton cannot fail to have influenced a huge number of bassists
and while it’s true that there are more innovative or “flashy” players out there – Adam Clayton has
shown that bass players succeed where they understand the song well enough to create a mood which can evoke passion and emotion
whether the fan is listening to a CD on their own or are part of a 40,000 rock stadium crowd.