We talk to Ben about survival, drinking (which are much related) and young life.
If a very distant relation died (so it would not cause elaborate or significant grief) and left you an unlimited fortune, for no apparent reason, and you decided that what you would most love to do with that money was make a bar, where would it be?
Dublin. It’s so full of shit bars at the moment, and although I can think of a lot more exotic places to put one, I’d love the chance to make a decent pub on our own turf, with our own friends able to come. Spice Dublin up a bit. It needs something good. No one’s ever asked me that before, well done!
Say there was music, who’d have your weekly slot?
Gladys Night would open in the early evening, followed by Nina Simone. Then we’d kick it up at 7pm with Grand Parsons, and then throw a twist ball in with Guns and Roses to fuck everyone’s head over.
The night would end with Frank, you know- tables, tux, cigars…all that shit. So it would pick up mid evening and then end it style. Sinatra would finish with “One for my Baby, One for the Road” –it’s about a guy in a bar at the end of a night. So quite appropriate.
What drinks would you serve?
Top shelf margaritas, straight whiskey, and virgin Bloody Mary’s for the non-drinkers.
Did you know that the average Irish man spends £40, 939 in a lifetime on drink?
Actually, Irish women are meant to be the heaviest drinkers in Europe. So Irish men come out number two.
The average drinking amount has come down in England, 9.6 litres a year to 8.4.
I know, not that much. About nine bottles of wine.
That’s just like a lost weekend!
Say you’re above the law with your bar, would you still have an age limit on the drinking?
Definitely. Alcohol is a terrible drug.
He says, drinking. (laugh laugh)
I’m not really a heavy drinker though…. (chuckle)
But yeah, it’s one of the most dangerous drugs about, but it’s very accepted.
It’s quite a problem though, when you’ve got live music, to be able to include people of all ages without drinking restrictions getting in the way.
Well, it’s quite good in the US; there are a lot of matinee shows. If there weren’t, no under twenty-ones would ever be able to come.
Your new album is called Teenager- was it inspired by your experience of teenage years?
Yes it was, but also with the perspective of being older and looking back with hindsight.
Lyrically, it’s not really a social commentary like a lot of music coming out now.
Yeah, it’s more personal. Not like the Arctic Monkeys, singing about going out and getting fucked every night and eating kebabs. I still love the Arctic Monkeys though.
How have things changed since you were a teenager, if at all?
They’ve changed even since the second record. When we started out, there wasn’t even YouTube, no Myspace kicking off. Facebook was just some uni kids in the US. The industry has changed, even in the last 3 ½ years. If we came out now it would be very different.
Essentially, you had it a lot harder starting out. There’s so many changes now, like RadioHead’s pay-as-you-go album, Prince giving out albums through the newspaper…reaching new audiences that in the past just wouldn’t have had the chance to hear their music.
There are a lot of great points about the changes that have happened. Radiohead can do whatever they want, and Prince is just so rich anyway it doesn’t matter to him. I mean, you didn’t get Sgt Peppers free in the Daily Mail. There are no advances anymore- because of the different and new ways that fans can get hold of a band’s music. Record companies are reaching for more money in different ways- merch cuts, live recordings. That’s the only way a band can survive.
Did the experience of going from a very enclosed, personal music scene in Dublin to the more exposed US change your perspective on what it was to be a successful musician?
We had our break in the UK through NME. Our first gig was supporting Morrissey in the Royal Albert Hall; he helped us out so much. It was our first show outside Ireland; we were just like rabbits caught in the headlights. Somehow we blagged it. We were just thinking, “If we screw this up this is our one chance…gone”.
You took part in BandAid a few years ago, in which you used your considerable freedom of expression and power to influence as a positive force- do you think musicians have a responsibility to do this?
No, I don’t think there is a responsibility. If you accept the responsibility you accept it. I don’t see why musicians have to have a social influence. I mean, I have a huge respect for Bono, and Bob Geldof is our old confidant. If you use to use your influence, then fair enough, but it’s not a musician’s responsibility to save the world.
The Thrills made a film, ‘The End of Innocence’ about your musical career so far; would you like the idea of having a blockbuster film made about your time as a musician. You know, in the style of ‘Walk the Line- the Johnny Cash film, or the upcoming film about Dusty Springfield?
That would be fucking great, but probably wouldn’t happen (Laughs). Unless our bus goes off the road or something. Not being self-derogatory, but something huge would have to happen. You never know though. But it would be hilarious and great.
When do you think the End of Innocence is?
I think it probably happens when you’re around eight. There are so many aspects of life that you think you know about, then realise you don’t at all. It’s never expected, but life would be boring if that didn’t happen.
Interview- Ali Hewson & Polly O'shea; Words- Ali Hewson