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Even Better Than the Real Thing? (U2 Tribute Series Part 5)
An interview with Elevation
@U2 , September 26, 2002 Jo Whitby and Khoa Tran

Although a fairly new formation, having been together since December of 2001, the Toronto area-based Elevation is the "official" tribute band for the U2 GTA (Greater Toronto Area) Fan Club. The band plays quite regularly in the local club scene, in addition to the occasional music festival and acoustic show. The band members are busy musicians with day jobs, but we managed to catch up with them to ask a few questions about themselves, as well as the local tribute scene.

The members of Elevation are:
Bono: Shawn Brady
The Edge: Kevin Strom
Adam: Mick Barnard
Larry: John Johnstone

What made you decide to become a part of a U2 tribute group? Tell us " The Elevation Story."

Brady: I moved to Toronto and wanted to start a band. After a quick web search I noticed there were no U2 tributes in the area and being a big U2 fan I saw this as a great opportunity. I sent out a classified ad via the Internet and got several responses. One was from John (current drummer) and a bass player named Paul who had all of the sequencing equipment and knew John. Mick (current bass player) also sent a reply but it was decided at that time to go with Paul because he already knew John and had the sequencing equipment which is key to U2's music. We tried SEVERAL "Edges" and almost gave up, when finally Paul met a guitar player (Kevin) at his work. Kevin rehearsed with us and he amazed us with his ability and he sounded like the Edge so we had our first line up. Since that time we have had two bass player changes but we were very lucky to finally get Mick in the band in late May, 2002. We are now a tight, complete musical unit and more importantly we all get along.

Mick: Now the story can be told...I've been a fan of U2 since seeing them on the Boy tour (oops, giving my age away there) and I've always fancied playing the music live. I first heard of Elevation when Brady advertised for band members last summer, but didn't get the job (the first bass player had sequencing gear -- I didn't). My next contact came when this bass player left a few months later. I dropped into a bar and had a chat with Kevin and Brady, tried out two days later with the band and was gigging shortly afterwards. My bass playing was diabolical but luckily I have an English accent, as Adam does, so the job is mine; only Hugh Grant can take it away from me.

John: Paul (our original bass player) answered an ad for a singer looking to form a band. I also answered that ad. We jammed together and we both agreed that the singer was not acceptable. I enjoyed Paul's playing so I asked if he was interested in forming a band. We had a hard time finding members until Shawn [Brady] answered our ad for a singer. He was interested in forming a U2 tribute. Paul and I were very interested. At the audition Shawn and I really hit it off. After a series of auditions we found Kevin.

Do you have a favourite U2 era/period? Do you "play the band" in different eras? Why or why not?

Kevin: Joining this group not knowing too much about U2 I can only say from what I first knew of U2 and that was the Joshua Tree era. That will always be my favorite. Now that I'm exposed to all eras I kind of like them all, although I seem to have this desire to play on a rooftop!!! Hmmm. I wonder why???

Brady: I like all eras and my favourite era will probably change quite often. We cover U2 material spanning their entire career. The great thing about covering U2 is the variety in their music and visual presentation over the years -- they keep evolving which makes being a tribute to U2 a very fun and challenging experience.

John: I really liked the Elevation tour. Keeping it simple, just good rock n roll.

Mick: Zoo TV without a doubt! Achtung Baby just flat out rocks! Zooropa was not without its moments, but cannot compare to the awesome might of Achtung Baby...Great live stage concept as well. What I like about Achtung Baby is the way they turned themselves on their heads and upside down; it sounded nothing like a U2 album to me at the time and still sounds as fresh and unexpected today as it did then. In the '80s you could see how each album was an evolutionary move on from the previous one; Achtung Baby is the album that shot that idea out of the sky. I'm quite partial to Pop as well, it's full of great songs which don't come across that well until they're played live. The early years are fun, but I don't feel the band got really interesting until the '90s. On playing out the band's various eras, we are considering whether there is any mileage in selecting different eras to base sets round, and we'll see how that works out over the next few months.

How do you choose which songs to play? Is it difficult to come to a group consensus?

Mick: It would be nice to say that there's consensus, but the fact of the matter is that Brady sends his selected set lists round by email for comments and then turns his computer off until after the gig. No, I'm just kidding. We try to bring new songs in as often as we can to keep the set fresh both for us and for the audience, plus we like the idea that we might surprise them with something they haven't heard before. Obviously we are always going to play "Streets" and one or two others, you couldn't have a U2 gig without them, but we don't play " Kite" or "Gloria" every night for example. The thing is, even if we don't play a song one night, we might play it the next, so everyone gets their way eventually.

John: Consensus is usually the method we use.

Brady: It really depends on the crowd. If it is an "average listener" crowd we try and stick to the hits which have had videos or have been played on radio. If we have some die hard fans in the audience then we pull out some of the obscure stuff which is always fun to perform. The band generally agrees on what to play -- we all make compromises and if we disagree on a set list arrangement or what songs we should add to our repertoire we talk it through and come to a reasonable solution.

Is it hard to reproduce certain sounds and effects? How do you combat these difficulties?

Kevin: In my opinion the Edge is the most intimidating guitarist out there not so much because of his ability but because of his sounds and effects. Where could you possibly begin?? He has more gear than a music store, and the scary part is he uses most of it live! Nobody will ever reproduce his "tone" however a couple key things to his sounds are his EQ and most importantly his delay! I invested in the Line 6 Pod Pro, and that is great for different sounding amps and tones. The effects aren't the greatest but they do a pretty good job and get the point across.

Brady: From Bono's standpoint I have a wireless mic which helps with the audience interaction. Bono's earlier vocal sound is quite wet sounding so I try and have the soundman on duty to rig up an appropriate vocal sound. I play harmonica and guitar on the certain songs to add authenticity. I am also responsible for the keyboard sequencing and it initially took a ton of work to get all of the keyboard backing tracks/string arrangements to sound authentic. I think I have the hang of it now though and I would say our pre-programmed keyboard tracks sound extremely close to the real U2.

John: Early U2 is no problem. Some of Larry's drums sounds are difficult to produce with a standard drum kit. I listen to live tapes and see how Larry approached those songs.

Mick: Warning: non-musicians may not want to read this paragraph. Adam Clayton is a fine bass player, but he does not use a huge range of effects and his playing, especially these days, tends to hover around root notes. (If you don't believe me, contrast his simple, direct playing on the recent Boston DVD with his playing on, say, the video of Under a Blood Red Sky, during which he seems to use every bass playing technique known to man, plus some not.) I think his playing has really matured, especially his right hand technique, over the last ten years and he is a much better bassist for it. I use a Fender Jazz through an Ashdown head, as he does, and I generally use a pick when he does and so on, so I have that part of his sound down nicely. The main problem I have is trying to capture his Moog Taurus bass pedal sound; the Ashdown has a sub-harmoniser on it which does a very credible imitation but I would like to get my hands (or, more accurately, my feet) on a set of bass pedals to get the full earth-shaking effect.

How frequently do you perform and at what sort of venue do you normally play?

Mick: We play just about every weekend, at least once, sometimes two or three times. It's mainly pubs, clubs and that kind of thing, from the tiny to the outdoor, though we're prepared to play pretty much anywhere we don't need injections to get to. Have minivan, will travel. That's our motto.

Brady: We play mostly bars/clubs/Irish pubs right now, with some outdoor shows and halls under our belt as well. We all have full time careers so touring isn't really possible.

Which U2 songs do you enjoy playing live? Are there any that you tend to avoid?

Brady: I love "Bad" -- it is my favourite live song -- if I am feeling " saucy" I even strip down to suspenders a la Rattle and Hum version of " Bad." I also really enjoy "Streets" and "Unforgettable Fire." We avoid too many slow songs in a set to keep things flowing. We have also sort of neglected some of the PopMart era songs (which U2 also did on the Elevation tour), mainly because the average listener may not recognize them. However, we are planning to add some new PopMart material into our set shortly.

Kevin: "Streets" is my favorite song to play live along with " Beautiful Day." Those two seem to get the biggest crowd reaction. " Hold Me, Thrill Me" is just a great rock tune, and "Mysterious Ways" gets me going with its dance groove.

Mick: I particuarly like playing "Unforgettable Fire," "Hold Me, Thrill Me," "Bad" and one or two others. The only song we know that we haven't played at all (except last week in rehearsal) is "Exit." For some reason we haven't included it yet, maybe one day.

John: I love playing "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me," "Walk On," "Until the End of the World," [and] "Beautiful Day." I can honestly say there aren't any songs I dislike.

Did you ever have any doubts about having a career as a tribute band?

Brady: I should point out that being in the tribute band is not a career for any of us. It is an opportunity to play some great music, have fun, meet great people and make a bit of extra money on the side. I had doubts at two times: at the beginning when we couldn't find the Edge -- thank goodness Kevin came along! I also had doubts when Paul left and we no longer had any sequencing capabilities. Can you imagine " Streets" without the organ intro? Luckily I did some reading and managed to take the sequencing on.

John: This is not a career for any of us. I'm a computer programmer. We all have jobs, or are attending university.

Mick: I haven't got time for doubts, I'm too busy with family, job and band. If you have time for doubts, you're slacking.

Is the local tribute band scene quite competitive?

John: Not really, there are a few bands that are a tribute to the same act. It's competitive for them. It's not that competitive for us yet. That doesn't stop us from pushing ourselves though.

Brady: Not really at the moment but it is an ever-changing market. There are a couple of other U2 tributes in the area but we haven't heard a whole lot about them. We are playing a lot right now but that could change in an instant. We have been lucky to have the great support of the Greater Toronto Area U2 fan club (U2 GTA) and this helps tremendously.

Mick: It may well be; we certainly are. We intend to crush every U2 tribute in Canada and the USA like bugs, you hear me? Like bugs!

What do you enjoy most about being in a U2 tribute group?

Kevin: Seeing the reaction of the crowd and getting satisfaction knowing they are having a great time!!

Brady: Playing music I love with good friends and in front of people who appreciate U2's music.

Mick: Playing the songs is obviously a pleasure in itself, and a good audience is always a help, but the thing I like best is when someone comes up to me afterwards to tell me how much they enjoyed it. If they'll buy me a pint of Guinness into the bargain, the evening is complete. Also all the lads in the band are great guys, it's a blast hanging out with them after shows.

John: People come into the bar knowing what to expect. They are there to see the band. I love seeing their faces when we start " Unforgettable Fire."

Do you normally get a good response from U2 fanatics?

John: Absolutely. We're grateful we have a great fan club in Toronto.

Mick: Yes, we do. The more fanatical the better actually.

Brady: Definitely! The U2 GTA group really makes our shows something special...they add an element which makes it feel like a real U2 concert. We also throw in some visual aspects to our show which the die hard fans appreciate. We have our own belly dancer, Jessica, during "Mysterious Ways," the "bull fight" during "Until the End of the World," spotlight during "Bullet," etc.)

Have you had any response from the members of U2 themselves? If so, what did they say?

Kevin: Not yet, but I'm hoping that maybe when they do come to Toronto, we get a chance to meet them.

John: Not yet, I'd love to have a pint with Adam and Larry

Brady: No response yet -- Bono if you are listening drop me an email and I can let you know where to ship a nice pair of Bulgari sunglasses -- after all, you do buy in bulk, right?

Mick: I haven't actually met any members of U2, but Bono's housekeeper did once tell me that if I knocked on his door once more they'd be calling the police. No, I'm just kidding. We'll probably try and get them to pose with us for a Polaroid or something on their next trip to Toronto.

What are your plans for the future, as a band and as individual musicians?

John: I want to keep growing as a musician. I enjoy playing guitar very much. (watch out Kevin and Edge). Mick: I'd like to keep gigging and learning new songs for as long as we can...we've come a long way in a relatively short time but we can always improve and gigs will do that for a band. It would be interesting to try and build the stage show up to include stuff like back-projections and other assorted jiggery-pokery, but this costs money...it'll come with time though. Kevin: I like the guys in the band and I'm having a great time, so I hope we are around for a long time. As far as the future, I'd like to play some gigs in the U.S., and just stay busy playing as often as possible. Individually -- I'd like to be playing guitar full-time, and get into something with music touring around the world. It's a lifelong dream.

Brady: I am very happy in this band and would like to do it for a long time. Eventually we may branch off and do different things but I would like to keep the band together in some form, maybe we would just play less a few years down the road and only get together for special gigs.

© @U2/Whitby/Tran, 2002.

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